Why Don't More Senators Take Pride in Being Senators?

Ben_Franklin.jpgU.S. Senator Martin Henrich’s (D-NM) strongly-worded statement this week cautioning the CIA that “The Senate Intelligence Committee oversees the CIA, not the other way around” is – in my mind – remarkable for the sheer fact that it’s remarkable.  

One of the things I have most struggled to understand about elected officials is how few of them seem to revel in the role of being an elected official.  Maybe it’s just me, but if I ever put myself through the hell necessary to become a U.S. Senator, I’d take a lot of pride in being a U.S. Senator.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d wake up every day trying to figure out how to be the best U.S. senator ever.

Think about it.  If you were a member of Congress wouldn’t you want that to mean something?  If – for example - you got to serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wouldn’t you want the Senate Intelligence Committee to be a really important and powerful committee?  If your job was to conduct oversight, wouldn’t you get ticked at the suggestion that oversight isn’t valuable or that your contributions would be anything other than worthwhile?   Wouldn’t you want your constituents to look at your work and say: “I’m proud that MY senator is the one asking tough questions.”  “I feel safer knowing that MY senator is ensuring that the intelligence community really is doing its best to keep me safe.”  Call me crazy, but I’d be furious if I found out that the NSA or CIA was hiding stuff from me, if only because it implies that they think they care more about my constituents’ safety than I do.

Again, maybe it’s just me, but if I spent my work days surrounded by statues and paintings of the courageous leaders who came before me, I’d say to myself, “Self, how can I be more like THEM?” 

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Republicans Don't Hate Obamacare

hate_obamacare_than_love_US.jpgMSNBC’s Thomas Roberts recently asked GOP Representative Marsha Blackburn if she “hated Obamacare” more than she “loved her country.”  She dismissed the question as “incredibly inappropriate.”  Personally, I don’t think the question was inappropriate as much as it was dumb.

I’m not saying Thomas Roberts was dumb for asking the question.  Quite the opposite.  By cable news standards, it was a smart move, the perfect kind of pointed, gotcha question destined to be cut, posted and shared across the Internet by the droves of Obama-fans MSNBC counts on to cheer when points get scored for their team.  Every angry click earns ad revenue for the network, inching Mr. Roberts closer and closer to liberal cable star status.

No, it was a dumb question because Republicans don’t actually hate Obamacare. 

Seriously.  You can’t hate something if you don’t know what it does and I highly doubt most members of Congress (Republican or Democrat) could give you an accurate description of what the Affordable Care Act actually does.   

But – let’s be honest for a second – they don’t care what it does.  Because – with all due respect to my Republican friends – Republicans don't view the Affordable Care Act as a law that will make it easier for some Americans (myself included) to purchase health care.  Rather, Republicans see the Affordable Care Act as a highly successful campaign message they’re loathe to lose.  

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What Convinced Obama to Reverse His Position on NSA Surveillance?

8734868513_42f8f0e4dd_m.jpgSince details of the NSA’s surveillance programs started coming to light in early June – and President Obama’s been forced to publicly answer for its activities – the president has repeatedly reminded us that he came into office with a “healthy skepticism about these programs.”  But, after careful evaluation, he determined “that on, you know, net, it was worth doing.”

Some of these programs I had been critical of when I was in the Senate. When I looked through specifically what was being done, my determination was that the two programs in particular that had been at issue, 215 and 702, offered valuable intelligence that helps us protect the American people and they're worth preserving. (From his August 9th Press Conference.)

It’s a rhetorical strategy intended to win his critics’ trust by demonstrating that he understands our concerns because he used to share them.  The message he wants us to take away is: if we had been in his shoes and saw the evidence he saw when he got into office, we would have signed off on these programs too. 

Well, yesterday we got a glimpse of some of the evidence he saw when he assumed office – at least in connection to the NSA’s collection of U.S. phone call records -- and, it begs the question, what exactly changed his mind about the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs?  What did the President see that led him to the conclusion that everything he had previously said on the topic was wrong because allowing the NSA to collect everyone’s phone call records really is a constitutionally-supported, great idea?

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5 Things ODNI Officials Get Wrong in Just One Washington Post Story

saul-goodman.jpgOver the weekend, the Washington Post reported that back in 2011, the Obama Administration secretly convinced the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow them to peruse the NSA’s massive database of communications for information on American citizens. 

What’s the big deal?

Well, there is this thing called the Fourth Amendment that our founding fathers dreamed up to prevent the use of general warrants.  Few things ticked colonial Americans off more than the British claim that their special search warrants gave them unlimited authority to search for whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.  So, when it came time to list the rights that the U.S. would guarantee its citizens, requiring government officials to get warrants – not only supported by probable cause but “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” – was high on the list.   

How does this pertain to the NSA’s massive database of communications?  Well, if an American’s communication is in that database, odds are it was seized without a warrant. 

You see, back in 2006 (after the NSA was caught conducting a massive warrantless wiretapping program) the NSA argued that having to get a warrant every time it wanted to review a communication that involved an American citizen hurt its ability to track terrorists in real time.  Because it meant that every time a terrorist made a call or got an email, it had to stop and figure out who was on the other end and whether or not they were an American citizen before they could review it.  

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Jen Discusses the Ever-Troubling NSA w/ Abby Martin on Breaking the Set

Fortunately, you can't see the tears literally streaming down my face (the bright lights were not my friend) but all in all a great conversation covering everything from recent revelations that the Intelligence Community gave itself the authority to target Americans in the NSA database to General Clapper's ability to oversee himself.  Let me know what you think (although please be kind about my eye - I seriously couldn't see for the second half of the interview.)  

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The NSA Didn't Actually Address All of FISC's Section 702 Concerns

4724093713_fb65eca648_z.jpgThe Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, would very much like you to view the previously classified documents his office released last month as proof that the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance activities have not only been subjected to vigorous oversight, they have taken it seriously. 

I mean, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) didn’t just declassify the long sought Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinion that indicated the NSA’s foreign intelligence collection activities haven’t been as problem free as the administration’s suggested.

No, the ODNI – not exactly known for its fondness for declassification - also declassified the government’s response to the FISC opinion, and the FISC opinion on the government’s response to the original FISC opinion, and the minimization procedures the NSA uses “in connection with acquisitions of foreign intelligence information pursuant to Section 702” and the “Semi-Annual Assessment of Compliance with the Procedures and Guidelines issued pursuant to Section 702” plus all of the previously classified testimony the Administration gave to Congress discussing 702, including a memo that the administration had previously made available to members of Congress in which they described FISC’s having raised concerns about the Administration’s collection activities as an example of “how well the existing oversight regime works.”   (An ironic choice of words given that they were being used to describe a legal opinion in which a federal judge used a footnote to smack the Administration for substantially misrepresenting the “scope of a major collection program”)

And, if all of that information wasn’t enough to convince you that FISC’s concerns about the Administration’s compliance with Section 702 of the FAA were nothing when compared to the extraordinary efforts the government employs to ensure that these programs are conducted with respect to the rule of law, the Director of National Intelligence himself wrote a three page cover letter to accompany the release of these documents. The letter acknowledged that the court had determined that:

For highly technical reasons…the minimization procedures proposed by the government as applied to a discrete subset of NSA’s upstream collection of electronic communications did not satisfy certain statutory requirements in FISA and that the targeting and minimization procedures as applied to the same subset of communications did not satisfy Fourth Amendment requirements. 

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