What's a little domestic surveillance between friends?

I know it isn’t polite to say I told you so, but last year many of us warned that the Bush administration’s proposed amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act would increase domestic surveillance of American citizens. Congressional Republicans and a minority of Democrats didn’t heed those warnings, though, and in some cases ridiculed the critics of the FISA amendments.

Look what the New York Times reported on Wednesday:

The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.

I agree with Charles Lemos:

I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you. Massive domestic spying without meaningful oversight in the United States. No limits on surveillance power, what a grand idea.

Barack Obama voted for the bad FISA compromise, even though many of his supporters warned that the oversight provisions were inadequate. I expect his administration to do something to correct the abuses.

Josh Orton noted today that the Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division, David Kris, promised during his confirmation hearings “to get to the bottom of the FISA amendments act” and “to see how best to make any necessary improvements.” Sounds like he has his work cut out for him.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, says her committee will investigate the alleged violations by the National Security Agency.

UPDATE: Read this post by mcjoan for more good links and analysis.

Also, the New York Times reported that a member of Congress was wiretapped. Spencer Ackerman narrows the list of possible targets down to 27 members of Congress.

Continue Reading...

Obama taps Leon Panetta to head the CIA

In one of his most surprising picks, President-elect Barack Obama will nominate Leon Panetta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

I am inclined to think that this was a smart choice. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California was already griping that Panetta lacks significant intelligence experience, but I don’t want an insider at the CIA now. As Spencer Ackerman noted, Panetta is on record opposing the use of torture:

We cannot simply suspend [American ideals of human rights] in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground.

We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.

According to the New York Times, the Obama team was explicitly looking for someone without connections to controversial intelligence practices during George Bush’s presidency:

Aides have said Mr. Obama had originally hoped to select a C.I.A. head with extensive field experience, especially in combating terrorist networks. But his first choice for the job, John O. Brennan, had to withdraw his name amidst criticism over his role in the formation of the C.I.A’s detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Members of Mr. Obama’s transition also raised concerns about other candidates, even some Democratic lawmakers with intelligence experience. Representative Jane Harman of California, formerly the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was considered for the job, but she was ruled out as a candidate in part because of her early support for some Bush administration programs like the domestic eavesdropping program.

In disclosing the pick, officials pointed to Mr. Panetta’s sharp managerial skills, his strong bipartisan standing on Capitol Hill, his significant foreign policy experience in the White House and his service on the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel that examined the war and made recommendations on United States policy. The officials noted that he had a handle on intelligence spending from his days as director of the Office and Management and Budget.

Panetta ran the OMB for Clinton before being promoted to chief of staff, where he would have been privy to the president’s daily intelligence briefings.

Feinstein seems way off-base to suggest Panetta lacks the qualifications for this job. Her comments to the New York Times suggest that she’s offended not to have been informed about this pick in advance.

I am pleasantly surprised that Obama was looking for someone without connections to Bush’s eavesdropping program, given the way Obama caved on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act last summer.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Laura Rozen quotes a bunch of former intelligence officials and finds a mixed reaction to the choice.

Also, Bleeding Heartland commenter amcsepboe provides more reaction and background.

SECOND UPDATE: Other bloggers are already compiling evidence to show that Feinstein and her colleague on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, repeatedly enabled the Bush administration on torture and wiretapping.

EmperorHadrian goes over Feinstein’s history of supporting pro-torture Bush nominees.

Kula2316 has lots more reaction to the Panetta appointment here. The more I hear about the people who don’t like the pick, the more I think Panetta is the right person for the job.

Continue Reading...

Bleeding Heartland Year in Review: Iowa politics in 2008

Last year at this time I was scrambling to make as many phone calls and knock on as many doors as I could before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

This week I had a little more time to reflect on the year that just ended.

After the jump I’ve linked to Bleeding Heartland highlights in 2008. Most of the links relate to Iowa politics, but some also covered issues or strategy of national importance.

I only linked to a few posts about the presidential race. I’ll do a review of Bleeding Heartland’s 2008 presidential election coverage later this month.

You can use the search engine on the left side of the screen to look for past Bleeding Heartland diaries about any person or issue.

Continue Reading...

What can we learn from Congressional voting patterns in 2008?

Thanks to John Deeth, I learned that Congressional Quarterly has released its annual rankings of how members of Congress voted. The full chart is here. You can check how often the representatives and senators voted with President Bush, how often they voted with the majority of their own party, and how often they were present to vote.

Deeth noticed that our own Senator Tom Harkin

voted against George Bush’s declared position more than any other senator in 2008, according to Congressional Quarterly vote scores. Harkin opposed Bush’s position 75 percent of the time.

Harkin voted with fellow Senate Democrats 97 percent of the time and participated in 98 percent of the Senate votes in 2008. That’s an impressive attendance record for a senator up for re-election, though admittedly Christopher Reed wasn’t much of an opponent.

Chuck Grassley had a perfect attendance record for Senate votes in 2008. He voted with Bush 72 percent of the time (that’s a low number for Grassley) and with the majority of Senate Republicans 93 percent of the time.

In our House delegation, Steve King (IA-05) voted with Bush the most often in 2008, 77 percent of the time. King voted with the majority in the Republican caucus 97 percent of the time and had a 98 percent attendance record.

Tom Latham (IA-04) was unusually willing to vote against Bush’s stated position this year, voting with Bush only 63 percent of the time. Latham recognized early that a Democratic wave was building and sought to rebrand himself as a moderate, independent thinker in his swing district. He still voted with fellow Republicans 90 percent of the time, and had a near-perfect 99 percent attendance record.

Congressional Quarterly’s rankings show surprisingly little difference between Iowa Democrats in the House. Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) both voted with Bush 13 percent of the time, while Leonard Boswell (IA-03) voted with Bush 17 percent of the time. Their party loyalty rankings were almost identical, with Braley and Boswell voting with the Democratic majority 98 percent of the time, and Loebsack hitting 97 percent on that metric. They all had good attendance, with Braley making 92 percent of the votes, Loebsack 93 percent, and Boswell 88 percent despite having surgery that required a two-week hospital stay in the summer.

The differences between Iowa’s Democratic members of Congress are more apparent when you look at their Progressive Punch rankings. Considering all his votes in 2007 and 2008, Boswell was the 180th most progressive member of the House, with a progressive score of 92.38. That’s a big improvement on his lifetime progressive score of 74.36; Boswell is clearly a more reliable vote when Democrats are the majority party that controls what comes up for a vote. Ed Fallon’s primary challenge probably nudged Boswell toward more progressive voting as well.

But even the new, improved Boswell had a progressive score of only 67.86 “when the chips were down” in 2007 and 2008. The Progressive Punch “chips are down” rankings take into account particularly important votes, such as the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Loebsack ranked 123rd among House Democrats with a progressive score of 95.41 for all his 2007 and 2008 votes and a score of 80.79 “when the chips were down.”

Braley was not far behind at number 147 among House Democrats, with an overall progressive score of 94.48 and a “chips are down” score of 76.65.

It will be interesting to see whether Boswell’s voting habits change much in 2009, with no primary challenger likely to emerge.

Looking at the big picture, Congressional Quarterly’s Richard Rubin draws some conclusions from that publication’s analysis of voting in 2008:

Bush’s side prevailed on just 47.8 percent of roll call votes in 2008 where he took a clear position. That is the eighth-lowest score in the 56-year history of the survey, although it was higher than Bush’s 38.3 percent success rate in 2007. Congress forced him to accept a farm bill and Medicare doctor-payment changes he didn’t want, and lawmakers challenged him repeatedly on issues from tobacco regulation to infrastructure spending.

Moderate Republicans fled from the president as the election neared, and the average House Republican supported Bush just 64 percent of the time. That’s down 8 percentage points from a year ago and the lowest for a president’s party since 1990, midway through Bush’s father’s term in the White House. His average support score of 70 percent among GOP senators was also the lowest for a president’s party since 1990.

As in 2007, Democrats voted with Bush far less often than they had when the Republicans were in charge and could set the agenda. House Democrats voted with Bush just 16 percent of the time on average — above their 2007 support score of 7 percent but still the second lowest for any president. Democratic senators joined Bush on 34 percent of roll call votes, down from their average support score of 37 percent a year ago. […]

At the same time, despite his political weakness, Democratic control of Congress and frequent defeats, Bush got his way on some of the biggest issues of the year.

Playing offense, the administration secured more money for his effort to fight AIDS globally and cemented a nuclear-cooperation deal with India. But Bush scored most often with blocking tactics, using threatened vetoes and the Senate filibuster to avoid significant changes to his Iraq policies, major restrictions on intelligence- gathering tactics, and removal of tax breaks for oil and gas companies. He was a resilient pinata, losing plenty of votes along the way but remaining the biggest obstacle to the Democrats’ ability to turn their campaign agenda into law.

Rubin’s analysis shows that Latham is far from a maverick within the Republican caucus. He moved away from Bush in 2008 almost exactly in step with fellow House Republicans.

Taking a broader look at the trends, I see two lessons for Democrats here. First, Barack Obama should understand that driving a very hard bargain with Congress often pays off. You don’t have to back down at the first sign of serious opposition. If even an extremely unpopular president was able to do reasonably well with a Congress controlled by the other party, a new president who is quite popular like Obama should be able to get most of what he wants from a Congress controlled by his own party.

If any of Obama’s proposals fail the first year, he should consider trying again later without watering them down. Bush wasn’t able to get everything he wanted out of the Republican-controlled Congress during his first year or two, but he kept at it and was able to get much of his agenda through eventually. Many tax cuts not included in the 2001 package got through in later years. He didn’t get the energy bill he wanted until 2005.

The second lesson is for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It’s long past time to start making the Republicans pay a price for using the filibuster. Otherwise they will continue to use it routinely to block Obama’s agenda.

Nate Silver recently looked at how Republicans have used the filibuster since Democrats gained the majority in Congress. He concluded that Reid “has been exceptionally ineffective”:

There are basically two mechanisms that a majority leader can employ to limit filibusters: firstly, he can threaten to block votes on certain of the opposition party’s legislation (or alternatively, present carrots to them for allowing a vote to proceed), and secondly, he can publicly shame them. Reid managed to do neither, and the Senate Republicans did fairly well for themselves considering that they were in a minority and were burdened by a President with negative political capital.

Time to play hardball in the Senate, not only with Republicans but also with Evan Bayh and his merry band of “Blue Dogs” if they collude with Republicans to obstruct Obama’s agenda.

Continue Reading...
View More...