Report Card for “Bri-Fi,” 2018

September 10, 2018

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As we know, the mid-term elections are fast approaching, so I thought now was as good a time as any to take a look at what our Wet Noodle 2.0 U.S. House Rep for PA-01 was up to (I’m referring to Brian Fitzpatrick of course).

To begin, it should be noted that Bri-Fi sought to burnish his “pro-life” bona fides by voting for a 20-week abortion ban (that and other votes are noted here – fortunately, as noted here, the ban was rejected by the U.S. Senate in January).

As noted here, though…

Nearly 99 percent of abortions occur before 21 weeks, but when they are needed later in pregnancy, it’s often in very complex circumstances. For example, severe fetal anomalies and serious risks to the woman’s health — the kind of situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available.

20-week bans are also highly unpopular throughout the country. 61% of all voters say abortion should be legal after 20 weeks. Plus, Democrats (78%), Republicans (62%), and Independents (71%) say this is the wrong issue for lawmakers to be spending time on.

Fitzpatrick also voted for a permanent ban on federal funds for abortions or health coverage that includes abortions (which is pointless because federal funding for abortions is already banned under the Hyde Amendment, named after a serial philanderer in Congress – more here).

When it comes to civil liberties, Fitzpatrick also voted to reauthorize warrantless spying under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA); Republicans managed to make it worse in the process according to some fourth amendment advocates (a group which should include everyone I realize).

As noted here

“Not only does the (reauthorized) bill say you have our blessing to collect communications that contain a target’s email address, it also endorses collecting communications that merely contain a reference to the target,” says Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. “So literally if you and I sent an email to each other that had the word ISIS in it, if you and I send an email that talks about ISIS, under this bill the government is authorized to collect it.” (Assuming ISIS is a group that the NSA is specifically targeting.)

The bill does impose a warrant requirement upon the FBI, but the way it’s written appears to weaken privacy protections rather than strengthen them, says Goitein. Under the legislation, FBI agents need a warrant to search the Section 702 database when a criminal investigation has already been opened, but not when national security is involved. That means the FBI can query the database on nothing more than a tip. “It incentivizes doing searches earlier and earlier, when it’s less and less justified,” says Goitein.

Fitzpatrick also voted along with Generalissimo Trump (which he has done about 83 percent of the time according to Nate Silver) in the matter of disciplining VA whistleblowers (here).

Also, as noted here

The U.S. Government Accountability Office’s report says VA whistleblowers are far more likely than their colleagues to face discipline or removal after reporting misconduct.

The number of VA workers fired is up under President Trump. But congressional Democrats and the VA’s union cite VA data showing that the vast majority of those fired in the first five months of 2018 were low-level food service, laundry and custodial staff the majority of whom are veterans. In that same period, only 15 out of 1,096 employees fired were supervisors.

This report comes as the VA’s own inspector general has publicly clashed recently with the VA leadership over access to documents and information about whistleblower adjudication.

A recent NPR investigation showed a pattern of often vicious whistleblower retaliation at the VA in central Alabama and sidelining of whistleblowers in Indiana.

There’s also a news report this week that the VA, under Acting Secretary Peter O’Rourke, is aggressively reassigning or forcing out VA staff members thought to be disloyal to President Trump and his agenda for the agency.

I realize that we’ve had VA issues with both Democratic and Republican presidents (probably the result of too many damn wars and too many of our heroes getting maimed in our country’s service and putting a strain on available resources), but I don’t know of anyone being forced out for being “disloyal” to President Obama.

And speaking of Number 44, Fitzpatrick repeatedly attacked Obama-era rules, including a rule blocking states from defunding Planned Parenthood (here) as well as another rule requiring employers to keep better record of workplace injuries (here). He also voted to overturn a rule prohibiting labor law violators from eligibility for federal contracts, allowing these companies to underpay their workers once more and evade safety regulations (here).

Fitzpatrick also voted to overturn an Obama rule banning drug testing jobless applying for unemployment. As noted here

As things have long stood, states only had the authority to institute drug tests for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash welfare program. Thus far, 13 states have instituted such regimes. But what their experience has proven year after year is that the tests, while costly to administer, turn up very few positive test results. Out of about 250,000 applicants and recipients among these states in 2016, just 369 tested positive; in four states, exactly zero people tested positive for illegal drug use. In the states with positive results, they ranged from a low of 0.07 percent of all applicants to a high of 2.14 percent, rates far below the nearly 10 percent drug use rate among the general population.

Meanwhile, states collectively spent $1.6 million on drug testing, on top of the nearly $2 million spent during the previous two years, despite the apparent ineffectiveness of these programs. That’s money that could instead be used to expand welfare benefits or even drug treatment programs.

Another vote from Fitzpatrick to overturn Internet privacy rules allowed internet service providers, or ISPs, to sell “financial and medical information. Social Security numbers, web browsing history, mobile app usage (and) even the content of your emails and online chats,” according to Sam Gustin of the web site Motherboard (vote is here).

Fitzpatrick also voted to end federal checks preventing more than 167,000 veterans deemed “mentally incompetent” from keeping or purchasing firearms (H.R. 1181). This is part and parcel of Bri-Fi’s utterly craven voting recording in near-total fealty to the NRA. As noted here:

  • In February 2017, Fitzpatrick voted to block the Social Security Administration from sharing information with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System on people with mental disorders in order to prevent them from purchasing firearms.
  • In November, 2017 Fitzpatrick voted twice to block the establishment of a select committee on gun violence prevention.
  • In December 2017, Fitzpatrick said he supports concealed carry reciprocity which would force states like Pennsylvania to defer to the concealed carry weapon laws of more pro-gun states like Texas.
  • In February 2018, Fitzpatrick voted to kill consideration of legislation on gun regulations.
  • In March 2018, Fitzpatrick voted to block three bills to close gun safety loopholes including the gun show, internet sale, and classified ad background check loopholes to prevent the sale of guns without a completed background check.
  • Fitzpatrick also voted to prohibit Department of Justice (DOJ) settlements requiring parties to donate monies to outside groups. This may seem a bit obscure, but as a result, the following should be noted from here

    The decision (to distribute settlement funds only to those directly harmed by wrongdoing) by the Justice Department throws into question an upcoming $12 million settlement against Harley-Davidson. As part of the settlement, the motorcycle manufacturer agreed to stop selling illegal after-market devices that increase the air pollution emitted by the motorcycles.

    Harley-Davidson had agreed to donate $3 million to a project to reduce air pollution, the Justice Department said in August. With Sessions’s decision Monday, that settlement’s fate is now up in the air.

    Also, Fitzpatrick voted to get rid of financial protection regulations, otherwise known as the Dodd-Frank Act, put in place to increase financial stability and consumer protections in the wake of the 2008 recession. As Gregg Gelzinis of the Center for American Progress notes here

    The CHOICE Act also allows banks of any size to opt out of a suite of crucial regulations—such as stress testing, living wills, risk-based capital requirements, liquidity requirements and more—if they maintain a leverage ratio of 10 percent. And it repeals the Volcker Rule’s ban on risky proprietary trading bets. A 10 percent leverage ratio is not nearly enough capital to justify such drastic deregulation.

    Furthermore, the CHOICE Act shreds the authority and resources of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, the council of financial regulators tasked with looking at risks across the financial system. FSOC would no longer have the power to address dangers that emerge outside of the traditional banking sector, putting taxpayers at risk. The bill also eliminates the Office of Financial Research, which provides data-driven research support to FSOC to help identify emerging risks.

    Tax Cuts_Bri-Fi3 (1)

    And speaking of money matters, Fitzpatrick also voted for his party’s so-called tax reform bill last December, which adds about $1 trillion to the deficit (which, of course, Republicans only care about when they’re trying to utterly gut the social safety net). The non-partisan Tax Policy Center found that after the tax plan has taken full effect in 2027, 80 percent of the benefits would go to the top 1 percent of earners in this country. When it comes to tax cuts, the top 1 percent will get an average cut of $1,022,120, while the middle 20 percent will get an average cut of $420, eviscerating any notion that the middle class are the key beneficiaries of the Republicans’ “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code.”

    As noted here

    Should Trump-state Senate Democrats who voted against the tax bill, like Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), and Jon Tester (Montana), really fear electoral backlash?

    Absolutely not, according to our analysis. In fact, they should highlight their opposition to Trump’s tax bill even in these red states.

    Most polling about the bill has been national, and it suggests broad unpopularity. Our analysis of exclusive national data to model state support for the tax bill suggests that Democrats have little to fear from the GOP law and should embrace progressive policies to mobilize opposition.

    Update 10/5/18: For the record, here is Fitzpatrick’s vote from December, and here is a recent vote to make the tax cuts for the rich permanent – heckuva job!

    And for anyone out there who may have bought into the “trickle down” lie still after all this time, I give you the following (here)…

    In the first six months after the Trump tax cuts were passed, corporate investment in equipment declined, America’s projected long-term deficit swelled by nearly $2 trillion, and wages for the vast majority of American workers fell on an inflation-adjusted basis.

    And there is no sign that reality will start comporting with the GOP’s predictions any time soon. As the Washington Post’s Heather Long notes, Morgan Stanley reported last month that America’s businesses are planning less future capital spending now than they were a few months ago. And that finding is bolstered by a recent survey of 393 businesses from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the audit firm RSM, which found that only 38 percent of those firms plan to increase investment over the next three years.

    Instead of channeling their profits into productive investment, S&P 500 companies are on pace to plow a record-setting $800 billion into buying back their own stocks. The point of such “stock buybacks” is to increase a firm’s share price (and thus, in many cases, the performance-based pay of its CEO) by reducing the supply of shares on the market.

    Oh, and for good measure, it should be noted that, according to Nate Silver, Fitzpatrick voted no to impeachment resolutions against Trump at least twice (I realize this isn’t shocking given that they’re in the same party, but it should be pointed out for the record).

    By himself, as far as I’m concerned, Brian Fitzpatrick hasn’t done nearly enough to merit another two years in the U.S. Congress. Worse, he’s part of a majority that has done nothing whatsoever to rein in a calamitously unqualified individual currently taking up space in An Oval Office.

    Given that, I see absolutely no alternative than to vote for Scott Wallace for Congress from PA-01 on November 6th.


    Thursday Mashup (5/1/14)

    May 1, 2014

    voter id

  • Wonder if Voter ID is starting to “crash and burn,” people? We can only hope (here)…

    In a clear-cut victory for Wisconsin voters, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman came down on the side of foes of the state’s strict photo voter ID law Tuesday.

    In the 90-page decision, Adelman takes note of difficulties low-income citizens have in getting an ID, the cost of obtaining background documents to get an ID—such as a birth certificate—the cost of transportation to the DMV and work time lost…

    Of course, Gov. Hosni Mubarak Walker will probably appeal the ruling (and Repug Attorney General candidate Brad Schimel is trying to fundraise off the ruling as noted here).

    Not that we have anything to brag about on this subject in our beloved commonwealth of PA, of course, where Governor Tom “Space Cadet” Corbett has spent in excess of $2 million in state funds to defend voter ID (here) even though the PA Commonwealth Court recently affirmed its decision overturning it (here).

    But wait, there’s more…

  • A federal court ruled the same way about Texas’s voter ID law, one of the most restrictive in the nation (here), but the ruling was invalidated when The Supremes gutted the Voting Rights Act (yep, some nice “ROI” from The High Court of Hangin’ Judge JR to “the party of Lincoln” on that one).
  • As noted here, Judge Tim Fox of the Pulaski County Circuit Court recently struck down Arkansas’s voter ID law, quite rightly saying that it “illegally adds a requirement” voters must fulfill before going to the polls.
  • And in case anyone still had any doubt about this, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly pointed out here that North Carolina’s law in particular was aimed at minorities (yeah I know, duuuh, though, as noted here – in a surprising development – that state’s voter ID law could actually help with voter registration in that state).
  • Here and here are links to the voter ID issue and how it is playing out across all 50 states. And as noted here, the Voting Rights Act Amendment (VRAA), introduced in the Senate by Dem Pat Leahy and in the House by Repug James Sensenbrenner, could address the voter ID issue in a bit of a favorable manner also (but good luck seeing that passed in the U.S. House as it is currently constituted; another reason to vote early and often this fall).

    david-koch-and-charles-g.-007_0
    And lest we forget, Chuck and Dave are all too happy to see voter ID enshrined all over this country (here).

  • Next, this tells us the following…

    RICHMOND — Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell has landed a job as a part-time visiting professor of government at Liberty University’s Helms School of Government, the school announced Monday.

    McDonnell (R) will serve as a guest lecturer in other professors’ government classes at the Helms School, named for former senator Jesse Helms, a Republican from North Carolina.

    Any idea on McDonnell’s “course load”? These come to mind immediately for yours truly…

  • Influence Peddling 101 – How to Receive Money, Golf Fees, Other Equipment and Luxury Plane Flights to Resorts While Alleging That No Conflict of Interest Exists
  • Returning Obstetrics to the Middle Ages – Classroom Theory and Practical Working Exercises in Administering Fetal Ultrasounds, Plunging Virginia To The Same Depths As 23 Other States Advocating The Same Barbaric Procedure
  • Male-Only Human Sexuality – The Evils of (Pro) Contraception Legalization
  • And just as a reminder, the story also tells us the following…

    McDonnell left office in January and soon after was indicted with his wife, Maureen, on federal corruption charges related to about $165,000 in luxury gifts and loans that a businessman lavished on Virginia’s first family.

    The McDonnells, who have pleaded not guilty, were in financial distress when they accepted the largess of dietary supplement maker Jonnie R. Williams Sr., and their money woes have grown as they mount a legal defense in the case, scheduled to go to trial in July. Supporters have launched a fund to pay legal bills.

    The part-time position at the Lynchburg University is not likely to bring McDonnell the big bucks he could have counted on absent the scandal. Moore declined to disclose what Liberty will pay McDonnell, once regarded as a credible contender for president in 2016.

    Also, how apropos for “vaginal ultrasound” Bob to end up at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, where approval was revoked for a Democratic Party organization on campus here (wonder if I’ll get an Email blast about a Bias Alert! from Drudge and his pals – not holding my breath on that one), and where Glenn Beck, of all people, once gave a commencement address (here).

    And the cherry on the icing on the proverbial cake is the fact that McDonnell will now reside at the Helms School of Government, named after a noted racist, anti-immigrant homophobe and chauvinist (who, along with the rest of his party, ignored the al Qaeda threat in the ’90s, as noted here – Clinton stumbled a bit on that score also, but at least he did something).

    How much do you want to bet that (assuming a Dem wins in 2016) McDonnell ends up taking a shot at the 2020 Repug presidential nomination (and no, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence either)?

  • Continuing, I give you the latest in Repug Party hijinks over the environment (which has presented us with particularly extreme weather lately)…

    Republican lawmakers pushed back at Environmental Protection Agency Chief Gina McCarthy after she assailed critics for charging the agency with using “secret science” to support its regulations.

    Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said McCarthy is “ignoring the big picture” in her defense of the agency.

    Vitter and a majority of Republicans have continued to berate the EPA for its proposed carbon emissions limits on power plants, which they say are backed up by faulty science.

    “It is inexcusable for EPA to justify billions of dollar of economically significant regulations on science that is kept hidden from independent reanalysis and congressional oversight,” Vitter said in a statement on Monday.

    Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) echoed Vitter’s sentiment.

    “It’s disappointing that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy continues to try to justify her agency’s use of secret science,” Smith said in a statement. “Relying on undisclosed data is not good science and not good policy.”

    OK, so “secret science” is the latest wingnut catchphrase (poll tested and approved by Frank Luntz, no doubt). Which is particularly amusing to me because, as noted here, the “science” to support EPA regulation doesn’t look very “secret” to yours truly.

    And of course Smith would protest, he who, though he routinely ignores sound climate science, once held a hearing on aliens (and no, I’m not talking about immigrants) here. And what can you say about “Diaper Dave,” who cheered the last government shutdown because it temporarily put the brakes on EPA’s ability to enforce regulations to protect our water and monitor coal and gas-fired power plants (here)?

  • Further, it looks like Joke Line is back to heap more ridicule (here)…

    Time magazine columnist Joe Klein called CNN “an embarrassment to our profession,” surprising a New York City audience on Sunday by declaring Fox News “the only option” for straight news at 6 p.m.

    “I come home, and I turn on CNN at 6 o’clock at night — because that’s something I kind of do in preparation for the 6:30 network news, to see what Wolf [Blitzer] is being really hyperbolic about — and he’s talking about the plane!” Klein lamented.

    “It is such an embarrassment to our profession that CNN has gone in the toilet the way it has,” he continued. “You know, I miss being able to turn on a straight newscast. And it turns out, the only place you can go to get one, at 6 o’clock at night, is Fox.”

    “The other option is to go to MSBNC and see the Reverend Al Sharpton, who I still consider to be a major criminal,” Klein quipped, prompting audience applause. “I mean, the guy can have a job on network TV, on an NBC cable network, and he still hasn’t apologized for Tawana Brawley? Gimme a break.”

    I cannot fathom why Klein would defend a network that was once responsible for this.

    That being said, he actually has a point about CNN and its endless coverage on Flight 370, which, horribly, I’m sure is at the ocean floor somewhere. At this point, I cannot imagine where else it could be; if it had been hijacked somehow, we surely would have heard at this point.

    And not for a second am I going to defend Al Sharpton over the Tawana Brawley stuff; I don’t know if Sharpton ever apologized for it either. However, making the leap from shameless self-promoter at the expense of a young girl who apparently didn’t know better to a “major criminal” staggers the imagination. And there’s a reason why I include his videos at the site I link to from here, and that is because I find his commentary to be fundamentally sound and factually correct. When Klein or anyone else has a factual criticism to offer (and I’ll admit that MSNBC overall flubbed some of the Trayvon Martin stuff), then I’ll definitely give it a fair hearing.

    Also, when it comes to whether or not our supposedly elite journalists are doing their jobs, how does Klein account for this (and who knew besides me that Megyn Kelly of Fix Noise, for example, was a corporate attorney as opposed to a journalist, and she’s on the network Joe loves in bleeping prime time).

    Klein’s call for an “apology” is funny, though, when you consider that, to my knowledge, he never apologized for this.

  • Finally, Mikey the Beloved is back with another opinion column for the benefit of his PR factory (here)…

    Increasing and securing our investment in infrastructure is an investment in our country’s future. I am pleased to have worked across the aisle with Congressman John Delaney in supporting the Partnership to Build America Act (HR 2084). The bill will restore solvency to the Highway Trust Fund by revenues from repatriated earnings as a funding mechanism while the debate continues around ensuring long term solvency of the Fund. These efforts have merit, particularly if combined with other fiscally prudent ways of increasing infrastructure investment.

    The first question I have is why it took so damn long for Mikey or anyone else in his party (and the same goes for Delaney, to be fair) to say anything about HR 2084, seeing as how it was introduced about a year ago (here…and yes, I know the answer is that this is an election year).

    However, the more you look into this particular piece of legislation, the more problems you discover as far as I’m concerned. The bill establishes a government corporation headed by a board of trustees, appointed by the president (yeah, as if that will be OK with this Congress – the Teahadists are probably writing hate-filled blog posts and working on their misspelled signs even as I write this, and the bill hasn’t even come up for a vote yet).

    Also…

    The bill also “establish(es) the American Infrastructure Fund, to provide bond guarantees and make loans to States, local governments, and non-profit infrastructure providers for investments in certain infrastructure projects, and to provide equity investments in such projects, and for other purposes.”

    So it looks like the states will be responsible for funding infrastructure projects with minimal (at best) federal oversight (and yes, I realize that, since we’re talking about a Republican congress, they don’t want the federal government to be a “player” in this stuff at all, damn the consequences).

    Here is my concern: suppose the infrastructure projects blow up and the financial obligations cannot be satisfied. Is this yet another “bubble to bust” boondoggle where taxpayers will be called upon again to bail out the Fund if the infrastructure projects are cancelled because of, say, cost overruns (and another well-done Matt Taibbi comment on this whole potential mess will be written someday)?

    And did I mention that, according to Govtrack, the bill has about a 3 percent chance of being enacted anyway? More on the bill is here.

    Meanwhile (from here)…

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration sent a four-year, $302 billion transportation plan to Congress Tuesday, hoping to jump-start a national debate on how to repair and replace the nation’s aging infrastructure while accommodating the needs of a growing population.

    Action is urgently needed because the federal Highway Trust Fund is expected to run dry by late August, said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Unless Congress acts to shore up the fund, transportation aid to states will be held up and workers laid off at construction sites across the country.

    President Barack Obama has emphasized infrastructure spending throughout his presidency as a means to spur job growth and increase economic competitiveness, but the bill is the first detailed, long-term transportation bill his administration has sent to Congress.

    There isn’t much time for Congress to act before the trust fund can no longer meet its obligations, especially in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of an election year. Many transportation insiders predict Congress will wind up doing what it has done repeatedly over the past five years — dip into the general treasury for enough money for to keep programs going a few weeks or a few months, at which point the exercise will have to be repeated all over again.

    But keeping highway and transit aid constantly teetering on the edge of insolvency discourages state and local officials from moving ahead with bigger and more important projects that take many years to build. In 2012, Congress finally pieced together a series of one-time tax changes and spending cuts to programs unrelated to transportation in order to keep the trust fund solvent for about two years. Now, the money is nearly gone.

    So instead of passing the Obama bill, it looks like Mikey and his pals (including Delaney, who apparently isn’t much of a progressive, though he’s definitely an improvement over the odious Repug Roscoe Bartlett, who formerly held the seat) are cooking up this new scam that could come back and bite us one day. All just so they can say that they didn’t raise taxes or fees, or something (if doing this right means paying a few cents more a gallon for gas, for example, to me, that makes a hell of a lot more sense than this idiotic funding mechanism).

    All of this and much more is a reason to support Kevin Strouse for Congress (to help, click here).


  • Spy The Beloved Country – 2013 Edition

    June 19, 2013


    Still catching up on some stuff a bit – the following appeared last week in the Murdoch Street Journal (here)…

    Once again, the tanks-have-rolled left and the black-helicopters right have joined together in howls of protest. They were set off by last week’s revelations that the U.S. government has been collecting data that disclose the fact, but not the content, of electronic communications within the country, as well as some content data outside the U.S. that does not focus on American citizens. Once again, the outrage of the left-right coalition is misdirected.

    Libertarian Republicans and liberal—progressive, if you prefer—Democrats see the specter of George Orwell’s “1984” in what they claim is pervasive and unlawful government spying. These same groups summoned “1984” in 2001 after passage of the Patriot Act, in 2008 after renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, and many times in between and since.

    Oh, by the way, the author of this “trust your leaders,” feel-good pabulum on behalf of the “one percent” is Michael Mukasey, former Bushco attorney general. And for Mukasey to blame liberals for invoking “1984” is darkly humorous when you consider that he once said the following from here

    “I think one would have to concede that the USA Patriot Act has an awkward, even Orwellian, name, which is one of those Washington acronyms derived by calling the law ‘Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Interrupt and Obstruct Terrorism.’ You get the impression they started with the acronym first, and then offered a $50 savings bond to whoever could come up with a name to fit. Without offering my view on any case or controversy, current or future, I think that that awkward name may very well be the worst thing about the statute.”

    (The end of this post contains a link to a prior post from yours truly where Mukasey definitely supports the Patriot Act, by the way.)

    Continuing…

    Regrettably, those best positioned to defend such surveillance programs are least likely to do so out of obvious security concerns. Without getting into detail here, intelligence agencies, with court authorization, have been collecting data in an effort that is neither pervasive nor unlawful. As to the data culled within the U.S., the purpose is to permit analysts to map relationships between and among Islamist fanatics.

    For example, it would be helpful to know who communicated with the Tsarnaev brothers, who those people were in touch with, and whether there are overlapping circles that would reveal others bent on killing and maiming Americans—sort of a terrorist Venn diagram. Once these relationships are disclosed, information can be developed that would allow a court to give permission to monitor the content of communications.

    In response, this tells us the following (#2 on the list)…

    NSA Deputy Director John Inglis said that 22 NSA officials are authorized to approve requests to query an agency database that contains the cellphone metadata of American citizens. (Metadata includes the numbers of incoming and outgoing calls, the date and time the calls took place, and their duration.) Deputy AG Cole also said that all queries of this database must be documented and can be subject to audits. Cole also said that the NSA does not have to get separate Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approval for each query; instead, the agency merely has to file a monthly report with the court on how many times the database was queried, and how many of those searches targeted the phone records of Americans.

    This, to me, is another holdover from the rancid Bushco regime. There appears to be, more or less, retroactive judicial review going on here. If the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is going to be notified after surveillance has taken place, what the hell is the point of having “judicial review” at all?

    And yes, I know this utterly awful state of affairs was codified into law by a Democratic congress in 2008, one of the most cowardly acts I have ever seen.

    Continuing…

    As to monitoring content abroad, the utility is obvious. At least one conspiracy—headed by Najibullah Zazi and intended to maim and kill New York City subway riders—was disclosed through such monitoring and headed off. Zazi, arrested in 2009, pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.

    An opposing point of view on that claim is here, by the way.

    Continuing…

    Because intelligence does not arrive in orderly chronological ranks, and getting useful data is an incremental process that often requires matching information gathered in the past with more current data, storing the information is essential. But, say the critics, information in the hands of “the government” can be misused—just look at the IRS. The IRS, as it happens, has a history of misusing information for political purposes.

    That’s absolutely right, and Mukasey would know, having worked for the administration that was responsible for this.

    Continuing…

    To be sure, there have been transgressions within intelligence agencies, but these have involved the pursuit of an intelligence mission, not a political objective.

    Not according to William Binney, former head of the National Security Agency’s global digital data gathering program (here), noted from here.

    Continuing…

    Consider also that in a post-9/11 world all of those agencies live in dread of a similar attack. That ghastly prospect itself provides incentive for analysts to focus on the intelligence task at hand and not on political or recreational use of information.

    Translated from Mukasey: Don’t question the NSA spying program, or else the terrorists have already won.

    Continuing…

    Some wallow in the idea that they are being watched, their civil liberties endangered, simply because a handful of electrons they generated were among the vast billions being reviewed in a high-stakes antiterrorism effort. Of course, many are motivated politically or ideologically to oppose robust intelligence-gathering aimed at fending off Islamist terrorism. Criticism from that quarter can be left to lie where it fell.

    Speaking of “endangered civil liberties” (from the Source Watch post noted above)…

    As a judge, in October 2001 Mukasey “dismissed concerns by a 21-year old Jordanian immigrant that he had been beaten while in U.S. custody, leaving bruises that were hidden beneath his orange prison jumpsuit.”[9] “‘As far as the claim that he was beaten, I will tell you that he looks fine to me,’ said Judge Mukasey.”[10]

    Continuing…

    Nor do these programs violate the law. Start with the Constitution. The applicable provisions lie in two clauses in the Fourth Amendment. The first bars “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The second provides that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause” established by affidavit, and it requires that warrants describe with particularity what or who is to be seized, and from where.

    Notice that the first clause does not forbid warrantless searches, only unreasonable ones.

    Wow, talk about some legalese hair-splitting! In Mukasey’s legally compromised (IMHO) worldview, a “warrantless” search actually isn’t “unreasonable.”

    Continuing…

    And the second simply creates a warrant requirement that is read, with some exceptions, to bar evidence at trial if it is obtained without a valid warrant. The first clause has been read to protect the content of communications in which the speaker has a reasonable expectation of privacy—telephone conversations being an obvious example. It does not protect the fact of communications.

    As far as the “fact” of communications is concerned (here)…

    The National Security Agency has at times mistakenly intercepted the private email messages and phone calls of Americans who had no link to terrorism, requiring Justice Department officials to report the errors to a secret national security court and destroy the data, according to two former U.S. intelligence officials.

    At least some of the phone calls and emails were pulled from among the hundreds of millions stored by telecommunications companies as part of an NSA surveillance program. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Thursday night publicly acknowledged what he called “a sensitive intelligence collection program” after its existence was disclosed by the Guardian newspaper.

    Yes, it’s commendable that the mistaken intercepts were reported and the data destroyed (or so the story says), but suppose that didn’t happen? Suppose that, in the data mining process, it was falsely recorded that yours truly called an overseas number to book some travel arrangement (not likely, I’ll admit), but the phone number was transposed by accident, and instead, it was interpreted that I called someone with links to the Muslim Brotherhood instead? What about the “fact” of that communication?

    There’s other stuff I could get into on what Mukasey said, but I think this sums things up. To me, the real takeaway comes from here (turning to Mother Jones once again)…

    The problem is that this kind of indefinite data collection makes abuse far more likely in the future. Someday there will be a different president in the White House, there will be a different head of NSA, and there will be different professionals running the program. What will they do with all that data the next time something happens that makes America crazy for a few years? I don’t know, but I do know that if they don’t have the data in the first place they can’t abuse it.

    the future is what we should be talking about. Even if NSA’s programs haven’t been abused yet, that doesn’t mean they’re okay. Likewise, even if they haven’t produced any great benefits yet, that doesn’t mean they’re stupid and useless. It’s the future that matters.

    Oh, and as long as we’re talking about Mukasey, let’s not forget this little episode, where Dem Congressman Jim Moran said that anyone opposing a civilian trial for Khalid Sheik Mohammed was “un-American” (worse), but Mukasey responded by saying that Moran should seek counseling from Maj. Nidal Hassan (worst!) – also, here is the link to the post on the Patriot Act I noted above, pointing out that Mukasey supported Section 215 of the Act, which basically invalidates the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution.

    Despite the whole “nothing to see here, move along” narrative Mukasey is trying to inflict here, I should note that this tells us that a majority of those polled want those knuckleheads in Congress (and I’m thinking mainly, but not totally, of the House when I say that) to do their jobs and hold hearings on the whole surveillance issue (which should have taken place during Bushco, but better late than never I know…and I know doing that in the House is problematic because of the likely Repug grandstanding, but it still needs to happen). I mean, I think that would be the prudent thing to do so if, say, one day, I’m driving to work and I see or hear a drone flying overhead, at least I’ll have some idea of who sent it there and what’s going on with the damn thing (and hopefully that explanation will be the truth).

    The people of this country want answers on this issue in particular. And they deserve them, including me.


    Monday Mashup Part One (8/2/10)

    August 2, 2010

  • 1) I received the following communication from Democracy for America, and I’m going to share it with you because I was uncharacteristically disturbed by it…

    That’s right, I said it — Insider Democrats scored another epic fail.

    I mean, just take a look at this headline in yesterday’s New York Times — “Plan to Aid 9/11 Victims Is Rejected in House.”

    Here’s the best part — the vote was 255-159 in favor of the bill. Now, I wasn’t a math major, but 255 was bigger than 159 last I checked.

    So, what happened? Democrats brought up the bill under special rules requiring two-thirds support to pass. So even though the bill had clear majority support, it still failed.

    This isn’t the sort of bold progressive leadership I fought for in 2006 and 2008. I worked to elect Democrats to get stuff done, but they keep letting Republicans trip them up with parliamentary tricks. I’m sick of it.

    That’s why here at DFA we don’t support just any Democrat, we support Better Democrats. We support Democrats with backbone, who are willing to lead on the tough issues and get stuff done — Democrats like Howard Dean and Alan Grayson. But we can’t do it alone. We rely on small contributions from supporters across the country to get our work done. Contribute today to support our mission.

    Help elect Democrats with backbone, leaders who know that 255 is bigger than 159 — Contribute $10 right now.

    Progressive legislation has been killed or watered down over and over again. The public option — killed. Climate change legislation — killed. Wall Street reform — watered down. Now, Democrats are letting Republicans kill bills to help 9/11 victims.

    In 2006, Insider Democrats told us to sit down and be quiet — we needed to retake the Congress, even if it meant we weren’t electing the most progressive candidates.

    In 2008, Insider Democrats told us to sit down and be quiet — we needed to retake the White House and get 60 votes in the Senate, even if it meant we weren’t electing the most progressive candidates.

    Well, now it’s 2010 and it’s time they learned DFA members aren’t going to sit down and be quiet. We’re not going to support candidates just because they have a “D” next to their name.

    But if we’re going to fire up progressives and elect a real, progressive majority then we need to start today. So here’s the plan: We’re going to put staff on the ground in critical states where our progressive primary challengers won, like Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and Elaine Marshall in North Carolina. And we’re going to work to elect progressives like Beth Krom in so-called “red” districts, just like we did with Alan Grayson in 2008.

    Help elect a progressive majority with real backbone — Contribute today.

    I don’t want to see headlines like that one in the New York Times again. I want to wake up on the day after Election Day and see “Progressives Win” in big, bold letters. Contribute today to help make it happen.

    -Arshad

    Arshad Hasan, Executive Director
    Democracy for America

    If nothing else, this is one of the worst fundraising appeals I’ve ever seen.

    There have been plenty of episodes where the Democratic Party has not shown much of a spine (FISA, HAMP, not fighting enough for the public option in health care reform, not backing up the glowing rhetoric from Number 44 about the climate crisis with actual legislation to combat it, etc.), but the recent vote over funding health benefits for first responders on 9/11 is not one of them as far as I’m concerned (indeed, Anthony Weiner commendably flipped out at his fellow New York rep, Repug Peter King, over his parliamentary trick that helped defeat the bill, as noted here).

    As the HuffPo link tells us, the House Democrats brought up the bill in suspense of the rules to prevent the Repugs from gumming up the works with more of their pointless amendments, a tactic they’ve worked to near perfection in the Senate. However, by doing so, it dictated that a 2/3rds vote would be required for passage.

    To me, this is “epic fail” all right, but not on the part of the Democrats (who voted in their entirety for the bill along with 12 Republicans).

    As I said, if DFA wants to go after the party leadership for fundraising (a bit counterproductive, I would think, but oh well), they need to choose their targets better next time.

  • 2) Also, John Harwood of the New York Times tells us the following here today…

    …leading Democrats rule out a short-term, across-the-board extension of the expiring Bush tax cuts, even though a temporary extension might stimulate the economy.

    Does Harwood have a degree in economics or finance that we don’t know about? If he does, then why isn’t he writing for the business section?

    Continuing…

    Given the economy’s weakness, Mark Zandi, an independent economist, recently warned that letting taxes rise now would be a bad idea.


    With impressive discipline, Republicans have argued that Mr. Obama’s economic policies represent big-spending government gone wild. The argument starts with the 2009 stimulus law.

    Never mind that Mr. Zandi, whose message on taxes Republicans have welcomed, was a co-author of a paper last week that found “very substantial” economic benefit from the $787 billion spending bill. Republicans said it represented a wasteful and damaging increase in deficits.

    I thought Harwood’s explanation here of what Zandi said was confusing; this WaPo story clarifies things somewhat, telling us that Zandi said that “The Bush tax cuts should be extended permanently for families with annual incomes of less than $250,000 and should be phased out slowly for those making more than that.”

    And the Repugs oppose letting Dubya’s godawful tax cuts expire “with impressive discipline”? Is Harwood auditioning for The Weakly Standard?

    Or his he just taking hallucinogenic drugs?

  • 3) Finally (and concerning the economy and tax cuts also), Joe Pitts took time out from his busy schedule of voting No to concoct more drivel for The Tucker Carlson Vanity Project (here)…

    On January 1, 2010 Americans could see the largest tax increase in the history of our nation—$3.8 trillion over ten years. Every single tax bracket would be increased, child tax credits would be slashed and the estate tax would return in full force, if Congress does not act.

    This tax hike will affect every American individual and business. Most in Congress agree that we shouldn’t sit by idly and let the economy grind to a halt, but there is sharp disagreement about whether some Americans should have to pay more next year.

    I wonder if PA-16’s waste of protoplasm knows that, as noted here, “this year the Bush tax cuts will give millionaires more in tax breaks than 90 percent of Americans will make in total income”?

    And as dday tells us here…

    Returning the tax rates to the Clinton years, a time of historic prosperity, would bring $2.6 trillion dollars back into the government, which can roll back out in services in a highly progressive fashion. It saves the government money in the long-term and would allow the funding base for all kinds of programs that promote economic equality. It could also allow for immediate spending to arrest the jobs crisis, and the kind of larger deficit that we need immediately, with the funding rolling in down the road.

    I know it’s tempting to go “Nyah nyah” at the teabaggers and inform them that the Obama White House has cut taxes and not raised them, but the phrase “cutting off your nose to spite your face” comes to mind.

    Uh, yep.

    And Pitts tells us he’s concerned that “child tax credits could be slashed”?

    Is Pitts SERIOUSLY trying to communicate to us that he cares about kids?

    I don’t know whether to laugh or pick up my PC monitor and try to throw it out the window in response!

  • This tells us that Pitts opposed a five-year renewal of the Head Start antipoverty program for children of ages 3 to 5 and the Early Head Start program for infants, toddlers and pregnant women.
  • The same link also provides information on how Pitts voted against a bill empowering the FDA to regulate cigarette content, requiring disclosure of product ingredients, banning cigarette marketing to children, and requiring more prominent health warnings.
  • This tells us that Pitts voted against a bill providing federal employees with additional benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act; the bill would entitle civil servants to four to eight weeks of paid leave to care for a newly born, adopted, or fostered child (such leave is now available to civil servants without pay).
  • This tells us that Pitts voted No on HR 1256, a bill to begin federal regulation of tobacco products. The bill empowers the Food and Drug Administration to regulate cigarette content, require disclosure of product ingredients, ban cigarette marketing to children, and require more prominent health warnings (the bill would preempt state tobacco laws).
  • Also, Pitts tells the following…

    In my district in southeastern Pennsylvania, farmers are especially vulnerable to the estate tax. Many are eking out a living farming land that is worth millions to developers.

    I wonder if Pancake Joe is aware that Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Jon Kyl want to set the estate tax rate for family farms at 35 percent (here – argue about the merits of this if you wish, but I think it speaks volumes about how out of touch Pitts is that he somehow doesn’t know this).

    Residents of PA-16 who may happen to be reading this, please click here to do all you can on behalf of Lois Herr, Pitts’ Dem opponent this fall. By sending Pitts back to private life, you will, among other things, give him ample free time to write for The Daily Caller as much as he wants.


  • Saving A Life By A Slender Legal Thread

    August 19, 2009

    scaliagesture03302006While many of us are rightly gratified by the news that Troy Davis has been granted a new trial, I think it is important to consider how long a shot his appeal to the Supreme Court truly was (as the New York Times tells us in an editorial here today, Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah police officer and had resided on Georgia’s death row ever since; many witnesses have since recanted their testimony, according to Amnesty International).

    The Times’ editorial also points out the frightening extent to which Antonin “Red Queen” Scalia and Clarence Thomas felt “considerable doubt” that Davis’ claim was “constitutionally cognizable” (and by the way, kudos to Prof. Alan Dershowitz for claiming here that Scalia’s remarks are an “outrage against his church,” which would be the Roman Catholic one, by the way…not sure exactly what it says about those in the hierarchy of my faith that that needs to be pointed out a Jew, and I use that term towards Dershowitz with all due respect).

    As the Times tells us, the supposed legal rationale for Scalia and Thomas’ dissent in the Davis case was the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which the two claimed “prevent(ed) the courts from intervening on behalf of a death row inmate who claims to have proof of his own innocence” (fortunately, Justice John Paul Stevens explained in a separate opinion that Scalia and Thomas were wrong).

    And Elaine Cassel of Counterpunch tells us here that…

    The Antiterrorism Act of 1996 was a response to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. (Authors David) Cole and (James X.) Dempsey describe the Act as a massive assault on First Amendment rights of speech, assembly, and petition, and a deeper entrenchment of the “guilt by association” tradition active in the FBI.

    As noted above, the Act removed barriers to FBI investigation of activities protected under the First Amendment. It also removed some restrictions on the famous FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court–where federal judges sit in secret to consider, and mostly approve, Justice Department requests for widespread surveillance of “terrorists,” including pen registers and “trap-and-trace” surveillance, methods that can capture income and outgoing telephone calls. The law also opened the door for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to deport mostly Muslim citizens. The deportations were based on largely secret evidence, and no overt acts needed to be alleged.

    And this tells us that the 1996 Act “was introduced as part of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, passed with broad bipartisan support by Congress.”

    More fool them, including President Clinton for signing it into law.

    Finally, bmaz of firedoglake makes the following points here about the Supreme Court verdict that granted Davis a new trial…

    Scalia is right, this particular form of relief is exceedingly rare (that is the only thing he is right about here). What is even more shocking is that it got done in this case, with this court, at this time. While Davis’ family and attorneys maintained their optimism relief would be granted, scant few other folks experienced in these things did including, quite frankly, me. Sonia Sotomayor did not participate, so the majority had to find five votes somewhere, and this is a real head scratcher. The majority opinion was unsigned, but an attached concurring opinion was noted as “Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer join, concurring”. Thomas, predictably, tagged along with Nino on the dissent. That would appear to mean the majority found two more votes for Davis among Kennedy, Alito and Roberts. Now that is shocking.

    At the very least, I hope this prods Congress into reviewing the ’96 Act reinstituting the legal protections that were foolishly gutted in the panicked wake of the ‘90s terrorist attacks (all of this occurred before 9/11, of course).

    However, since this Congress is primarily the bunch that gutted FISA last year, I’m definitely not holding out much hope.


    “Spy The Beloved Country,” Obama Style

    June 4, 2009

    This, followed by what Keith Olbermann and Jonathan Turley discuss in this April video…

    …ultimately led to this.

    Update 6/5/09: And this sure as hell doesn’t help either – lots going on at the moment to try and kill Graham/Lieberman fortunately (action info is here).


    Honoring A Legal Giant

    January 6, 2009

    g_bell_84785062-b285-44f3-a12c-9089f1bf265enewsaporg_t350
    I’m not surprised that the Philadelphia Inquirer chose to magnify the misstep of former Carter Administration Attorney General Griffin Bell to the exclusion of all else in their writeup about Bell’s passing today.

    As the Inky tells us, Bell fired Philadelphia’s U.S. Attorney David Marston in 1978 at the urging of local Democratic congressman Joshua Eilberg and Wilkes Barre congressman Daniel Flood. Investigations by Marston led to corruption charges against both of them.

    However, as the Inquirer tells us…

    Despite the controversy, Marston was replaced by Peter Vaira, a career Justice Department lawyer who continued with aggressive investigation of corrupt politicians.

    Marston went on to a successful law practice after unsuccessful runs for governor and mayor in 1978 and 1979. He is still a practicing lawyer in Philadelphia.

    Firing Marston was a mistake, but at least he was replaced by a professional of comparable caliber.

    And I would ask that you keep this in mind when you read something as humorous as this U.S. News and World Report article that attempts to draw a parallel between former Dubya AG Abu Gonzales and his firing of U.S. Attorneys who refused to prosecute Democrats for allegations of “voter fraud” while they ran for re-election, and Bell’s firing of Marston.

    I want to point out, though, that no discussion of Griffin Bell is complete without acknowledging that, as Wikipedia tells us here, he “led the effort to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978,” which…

    …resulted from extensive investigations by Senate Committees into the legality of domestic intelligence activities. These investigations were led separately by Sam Ervin and Frank Church in 1978 as a response to President Richard Nixon’s usage of federal resources to spy on political and activist groups, which violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[4]

    Ah yes, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; I vaguely remember it. Maybe I’ll dust off one of my college law books and read about it just to refresh my memory (based on this).

    Also…

    The Carter administration, advised by Bell, greatly increased the number of women and minorities serving on the federal bench. Bell recruited an Eighth Circuit judge, Wade McCree, an African American, to serve as Solicitor General of the United States, and Drew S. Days, III, an African American lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund he had admired in oral arguments before him, to head the Civil Rights Division.

    So remember his misstep in the Marston case if you wish, but also recall that Griffin Bell was a prominent figure in our history who respected and honored the rule of law, truly understood our constitutional separation of powers, and sought to represent those for whom justice was deferred, but not denied.

    What a pity that, despite his many years, he did not live to see FISA restored to the law he originally supported after its evisceration by a congress of rampantly corporatist Republicans and spineless, equally co-opted Democrats.


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