In the USA...United Surveillance AmericaWatchdog Report Says N.S.A. Program Is Illegal and Should End
By CHARLIE SAVAGEJ
JAN. 23, 2014
WASHINGTON — An independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the National Security Agency’s program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down.
The findings are laid out in a 238-page report, scheduled for release by Thursday and obtained by The New York Times, that represent the first major public statement by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress made an independent agency in 2007 and only recently became fully operational.
The report is likely to inject a significant new voice into the debate over surveillance, underscoring that the issue was not settled by a high-profile speech President Obama gave last week. Mr. Obama consulted with the board, along with a separate review group that last month delivered its own report about surveillance policies. But while he said in his speech that he was tightening access to the data and declared his intention to find a way to end government collection of the bulk records, he said the program’s capabilities should be preserved.
The Obama administration has portrayed the bulk collection program as useful and lawful while at the same time acknowledging concerns about privacy and potential abuse. But in its report, the board lays out what may be the most detailed critique of the government’s once-secret legal theory behind the program: that a law known as Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the F.B.I. to obtain business records deemed “relevant” to an investigation, can be legitimately interpreted as authorizing the N.S.A. to collect all calling records in the country.
The program “lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value,” the report said. “As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.”
While a majority of the five-member board embraced that conclusion, two members dissented from the view that the program was illegal. But the panel was united in 10 other recommendations, including deleting raw phone records after three years instead of five and tightening access to search results.
The report also sheds light on the history of the once-secret bulk collection program. It contains the first official acknowledgment that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court produced no judicial opinion detailing its legal rationale for the program until last August, even though it had been issuing orders to phone companies for the records and to the N.S.A. for how it could handle them since May 2006.
The privacy board’s legal critique of the program was approved by David Medine, the board’s chairman and a former Federal Trade Commission official in the Clinton administration; Patricia M. Wald, a retired federal appeals court judge named to the bench by President Jimmy Carter; and James X. Dempsey, a civil liberties advocate who specializes in technology issues.
But the other two members — Rachel L. Brand and Elisebeth Collins Cook, both of whom were Justice Department lawyers in the George W. Bush administration — rejected the finding that the program was illegal.
They wrote in separate dissents that the board should have focused exclusively on policy and left legal analysis to the courts. Last month, two Federal District Court judges reached opposite legal conclusions in separate lawsuits challenging the program.
Ms. Brand wrote that while the legal question was “difficult,” the government’s legal theory was “at least a reasonable reading, made in good faith by numerous officials in two administrations of different parties.” She also worried that declaring that counterterrorism officials “have been operating this program unlawfully for years” could damage morale and make agencies overly cautious in taking steps to protect the country.
But the privacy board was unanimous in recommending a series of immediate changes to the program. The three in the majority wanted those changes as part of a brief wind-down period, while the two in dissent wanted them to be structural for a program that would continue.
Some of those recommendations dovetailed with the steps Mr. Obama announced last week, including limiting analysts’ access to the call records of people no further than two links removed from a suspect, instead of three, and creating a panel of outside lawyers to serve as public advocates in major cases involving secret surveillance programs.
The fact that "that Congress acquiesced to that secret interpretation of the law" is hardly a valid argument for its legality.
Other recommendations — like deleting data faster — were not mentioned in the president’s speech. And all members of the board expressed privacy concerns about requiring phone companies to retain call records longer than they normally would, which might be necessary to meet Mr. Obama’s stated goal of finding a way to preserve the program’s ability without having the government collect the bulk data.
The program began in late 2001 based on wartime authority claimed by President Bush. In 2006, the Bush administration persuaded the surveillance court to begin authorizing the program based on the Patriot Act under a theory the Obama administration would later embrace.
But the privacy board’s report criticized that, saying that the legal theory was a “subversion” of the law’s intent, and that the program also violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
“It may have been a laudable goal for the executive branch to bring this program under the supervision” of the court, the report says. “Ultimately, however, that effort represents an unsustainable attempt to shoehorn a pre-existing surveillance program into the text of a statute with which it is not compatible.”
Defenders of the program have argued that Congress acquiesced to that secret interpretation of the law by twice extending its expiration without changes. But the report rejects that idea as “both unsupported by legal precedent and unacceptable as a matter of democratic accountability.”
The report also scrutinizes in detail a handful of investigations in which the program was used, finding “no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”
Still, in her dissent, Ms. Cook criticized judging the program’s worth based only on whether it had stopped an attack to date. It also has value as a tool that can allow investigators to “triage” threats and provide “peace of mind” if it uncovers no domestic links to a newly discovered terrorism suspect, she wrote.
***************We’ve Got Your Number
JAN. 22, 2014
A generation ago, the Supreme Court was faced with deciding whether the police needed a warrant before installing a newfangled device at a telephone company switching office that could record the numbers dialed from a particular telephone. The answer the court gave was no.
After all, Justice Harry A. Blackmun explained in his majority opinion, people know that the telephone company keeps track of the numbers they call -- they see their long-distance calls listed on their monthly bill. “It is too much to believe,” he wrote, “that telephone subscribers, under these circumstances, harbor any general expectation that the numbers they dial will remain secret.” The absence of a “legitimate expectation of privacy” in information voluntarily conveyed to the phone company, the court concluded, meant that the use of the device, a “pen register,” was not even a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches. Hence, no warrant was required.
This case, Smith v. Maryland, was no big deal in its day. (And the defendant in the garden-variety case that led to the decision was no criminal mastermind -- he was making harassing calls from his home phone.) The majority opinion was only 11 pages long. There were three dissenting votes, but the dissenting opinions lacked passion. After Justice Blackmun circulated his final draft in June 1979, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger responded by agreeing that “the urge for privacy does not rise to the level of a constitutionally protected right.” The chief justice added that “Congress could require a warrant but the Constitution does not.”
He ended his note with a lighthearted P.S.: “I’m going to use a public phone for my calls to my bookie.”
Thirty-five years later, telephones and their users’ privacy concerns are obviously no joking matter. They are the question of the hour. Constitutional challenges to the National Security Agency’s bulk telephone data collection produced opposing Federal District Court rulings last month, and the issue appears destined for the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the justices last week accepted two cases with less obvious national security implications but much greater relevance to many Americans: whether the police need a warrant in order to search the contents of a cellphone of a person they have just arrested. These cases, United States v. Wurie and Riley v. California, will probably be argued in April and decided in June.
All the cases will be dissected in minute detail in the coming months, but that’s not my goal here. I’m interested in the ultimate answers, of course, but what I find most intriguing at the moment is watching how judges respond to the challenge of figuring out how old precedents fit with new realities.
The fit is awkward at best; the Supreme Court’s description of a pen register -- “a mechanical device that records” on a paper tape “the numbers dialed on a telephone by monitoring the electrical impulses caused when the dial on the telephone is released” -- reads like something from Alexander Graham Bell’s laboratory. Differing conclusions about whether the old cases are even relevant, let alone controlling, have divided the lower courts, state as well as federal. For anyone interested in how the law develops in a system ostensibly governed by precedent, the progress of these cases promises to be the best show in town.
Take the N.S.A. cases. The government’s constitutional defense relies heavily on the pen-register decision for the argument that anyone who voluntarily uses a phone yields up any reasonable privacy interest in the “bulk telephony metadata,” consisting of the numbers from which calls were made and received.
Judge Richard J. Leon of the Federal District Court in Washington was having none of it. In the Smith case, he said, the Supreme Court “considered a one-time, targeted request for data regarding an individual suspect in a criminal investigation.” He suggested that the court that issued that decision would agree that it was of “little value” in assessing the N.S.A. program: “The notion that the government could collect similar data on hundreds of millions of people and retain that data for a five-year period, updating it with new data every day in perpetuity, was at best, in 1979, the stuff of science fiction.” Judge Leon ordered the government to stop collecting telephone data on the two plaintiffs in the case, Klayman v. Obama. He then granted a stay to permit the government to appeal.
But barely a week later, another federal district judge, William H. Pauley III of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, gave a very different reading to Smith v. Maryland. He suggested that the pen register, aimed at a known individual, entailed a more direct invasion of personal privacy than does the N.S.A.'s collection of anonymous data: “Smith involved the investigation of a single crime and the collection of telephone call detail records collected by the telephone company at its central office, examined by the police, and related to the target of their investigation, a person identified previously by law enforcement.” If that wasn’t a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, Judge Pauley concluded, then neither was the N.S.A.'s program. “Clear precedent applies because Smith held that a subscriber has no legitimate expectation of privacy in telephony metadata created by third parties.”
In his opinion in A.C.L.U. v. Clapper, Judge Pauley took note of the Supreme Court’s own worries about adapting old cases to new technologies. Two years ago this week, in United States v. Jones, the court ruled 9 to 0 that the placement by the police of a GPS device on a suspect’s car in order to monitor his whereabouts over a period of weeks was a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion decided the case the old-fashioned way: that by attaching the device to the suspect’s car, the police had committed a physical trespass. But five justices, in concurring opinions, warned that the deeper doctrinal implications of the case couldn’t be so easily avoided. For one thing, many cars come already equipped with GPS systems, Justice Samuel A. Alito observed.
And Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in perhaps the best-known opinion of her tenure so far, wrote that “it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties.” Citing Maryland v. Smith, she added, “This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”
Still, as Judge Pauley noted in his opinion in the New York case, “The Supreme Court did not overrule Smith.”
The cellphone cases the court accepted last week challenge the applicability of another Fourth Amendment precedent from the 1970s. United States v. Robinson applied a doctrine known as “search incident to arrest” to uphold the warrantless search of a cigarette pack in the coat pocket of a man they had just arrested for driving without a license. Inside the pack were 14 capsules filled with heroin. Writing for the court, then-Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist said that as long as there was probable cause to make an arrest in the first place, “a full search of the person is not only an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment, but is also a ‘reasonable’ search under that Amendment.”
But a cellphone is much more revealing than a pack of cigarettes, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston, said last May in one of the cases the Supreme Court has agreed to review. By a vote of 2 to 1, the appeals court suppressed the evidence -- drugs, a gun and ammunition -- the police found when they tracked the address of “my house” from the call log of a cellphone belonging to a man they had just arrested after witnessing his involvement in an apparent drug sale.
Writing for the appeals court, Judge Norman H. Stahl criticized the government for having “hewed to a formalistic interpretation of the case law,” namely the “search incident to arrest” doctrine of the Robinson case. “The court, more than 35 years ago,” Judge Stahl wrote, “could not have envisioned a world in which the vast majority of arrestees would be carrying on their person an item containing not physical evidence but a vast store of intangible data -- data that is not immediately destructible and poses no threat to the arresting officers.”
On the other hand, the California Supreme Court in 2011 adopted the Robinson decision as part of its own interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, meaning that the police in California can routinely search the cellphones of the people they arrest. The California case the justices accepted is an appeal by a man who was arrested for having loaded weapons in his car and whose cellphone contained text and photographs suggesting involvement in a gang shooting.
Three years ago, the California Legislature passed a bill to require the police to obtain a warrant before searching a cellphone. But Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, saying that “courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case-specific issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizure protections.”
It’s not every day that an elected official invites judges to legislate from the bench. I don’t know what the Supreme Court will do. But the justices surely know that they can’t put the future on hold. It’s here.
************Tech leaders at Davos: Mass Internet surveillance is bad for business
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 13:42 EST
Hi-tech bosses on Wednesday demanded that authorities change their murky ways in the wake of revelations of vast snooping by the United States and other governments that have raised concerns over privacy.
Just days after President Barack Obama unveiled measures to fight back against accusations of government overreach, executives at the swanky World Economic Forum in Davos said security demands by state authorities posed a business risk.
“We need to be able to rebuild trust with our users,” said Marissa Mayer, chief executive of Internet portal Yahoo!
“It’s been the wild, wild West around the world,” said John T. Chambers, chief executive of data systems company Cisco on a panel discussing the state of the digital world.
The warning shots came after a widespread furore over claims by Edward Snowden, the fugitive US contractor now exiled in Russia, that US spies were accessing the data of Internet users around the world, bypassing privacy laws and national safeguards.
“Trust has suffered not only in the US but also internationally in countries that really have concerns about what the NSA is looking at,” Mayer said.
Snowden’s revelations have raised fears of a user backlash against US Internet giants such as Yahoo! and Google, seen as too compliant with Washington’s demands for information on web surfers.
Mayer said Internet users needed reassurances, including “the ability to understand what type of data we’re being asked (to provide) and how that data is going to be used,” she said.
Her concerns came just days after Obama trimmed the powers of the secretive US eavesdropping agency by calling for new privacy safeguards, but allowed bulk phone data sweeps to continue as an anti-terror tool.
While privacy watchers called Obama’s measures insufficient, the executives in Davos said the dialogue had just begun.
“It’s too murky at the moment,” said Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT Group, the British telecom group. “The legislation and the regulation has to catch up,” he said.
Randall Stephenson, boss of US telecom giant AT&T, said the debate really began after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, when security worries became paramount.
But now the pendulum is swinging back and an equilibrium needs to be found, he said: “There’s a balance to be had here.
“And I think the customer really has to have a lot of say on where that pendulum sits.”
Obama’s proposals were interpreted as a way to strike a balance between the demands of civil liberties advocates and the security concerns of the US intelligence community.
But a survey published Tuesday in the United States found that Obama had failed to reassure most Americans, with three-quarters saying their privacy would not be better protected under the changes.
BT’s Patterson said he did not believe 100 percent privacy was possible because of security concerns.
Most of the Davos participants cited transparency as a key concern.
Mayer said local authorities in the United States had already provided her company with some information about why the data were being requested.
She said this policy should be expanded to the powerful NSA.
Cisco’s Chambers called for “rules of the road that everyone can live with, especially among countries that are very closely allied,” in a veiled reference to allegations that the United States also closely spies on its friends.
Speakers in a later panel on “The Big Brother Problem” were more emphatic.
“You cannot have mass surveillance, it is simply a violation of international law,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, who dismissed the choice between privacy and security as “a false debate”.
“This question of the right to privacy has to be one of the defining issues of our times,” he said.
US Senator Patrick J. Leahy, who works on security and privacy issues, said the United States was “collecting far too much information, and it’s not making us safer.”
“My concern is the extent a government can snoop on you and alter your ability to act as a free individual,” he said.
He feared a world where an individual’s personal history on the Internet, stored away forever, could far too easily be turned against the innocent user.
****************McDonnell case should spark debate over corporate influence, say experts
Ex-Virginia governor blasts prosecutors after being accused of accepting gifts from local businessman in return for favours
Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 22 January 2014 20.01 GMT
Bob McDonnell and Maureen McDonnell Republican Bob McDonnell alongside his wife, Maureen during a news conference in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday. Photograph: Steve Helber/AP
Federal corruption charges against former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell should spur a wider debate about how business executives are able to legally buy political influence, even if they don’t excuse his alleged private enrichment, independent legal experts say.
McDonnell, a Republican who left office due to term limits just 10 days before he was indicted, lashed out at prosecutors in a press conference on Tuesday after he and his wife were each charged with 13 counts of fraud and conspiracy for accepting scores of personal gifts and loans in exchange for lending support to a local businessman.
“The federal government's case rests entirely on a misguided legal theory, that facilitating an introduction or a meeting, appearing at a reception or expressing support for a Virginia business is a serious federal crime if it involves a political donor or someone who gave an official a gift,” said McDonnell.
“The United States supreme court has already rejected this radical idea, and for good reason, because if it were applied as the law of the land then nearly every elected official from President Obama on down would have to be charged for providing tangible benefits to donors.”
McDonnell's defence was dismissed on Wednesday by various experts on campaign finance regulations, who say the law still makes a clear distinction between the lavish private gifts of the type he admits accepting, and donations that are used to fund political campaigns, which are kept to certain financial limits under the law and are not supposed to be diverted for personal use.
“There is absolutely a difference between personal and private, even if it can sometimes be difficult to define in every instance,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
“The magic words are: is it used for a 'political, legislative or governmental purpose', and a Rolex is not, a dress is not. You don't get to use campaign funds as a personal piggybank.”
But Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, believes the supreme court ruling that McDonnell cited does leave a grey area over what businesses can expect in return for payments to politicians, especially after Congress failed to tighten the law in the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.
“The [McDonnell] case adds weight to the argument that the system is corrupting,” said McGehee. “In the public's eyes, they don't differentiate. It is only campaign finance lawyers in Washington who draw these fine distinctions. For the public, all they see is a guy on the take,”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the supreme court’s landmark Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission case in 2010, argued that political spending by businesses was protected under the first amendment and does not undermine faith in politicians.
A ruling in a case that could lead to the supreme court lifting caps on individual donations to campaigns on similar free speech grounds is expected in the next few weeks.
Though neither case would allow private use of funds in the way allegedly seen in McDonnell’s case,, the scandal does support fears raised by former justice John Stevens, who dissented in the Citizens judgement, arguing that “corruption operates along a spectrum”.
While she rejected the claims McDonnell made in his own defence on Tuesday, McGehee believes the case will add pressure to calls to tighten, rather than relax, federal rules on what donors are allowed to seek in return for their money.
“It is a good development in the sense that it shows how dangerous the current system is,” she said. “And it's bad because it destroys public confidence and fosters cynicism in the democratic process.”
McDonnell's claim that all politicians offer benefits to their donors in some way may also resonate with the public, especially since the favours he allegedly provided his benefactor appear to have come mainly in the form of providing endorsement and access, rather than changing the law or granting public contracts.
Few politicians in Washington could argue they never gave preferential personal access to donors. Barack Obama, for example, was instructed by Hollywood donor Jeffrey Katzenberg to make sure he personally spent time at each table of paying guests during a recent campaign fundraiser, according to claims recounted in a New Yorker profile of Obama published this week.
“What President Obama does is not illegal, but unquestionably those who can give large sums obtain different types of access and a different type of relationship from those who don't: that's our current legal framework,” said Levinson. “The difference here is that McDonnell kicked it over on to the illegal side, but in terms of what he provided? A lot of people do that.”
Most observers scoff at the idea that McDonnell didn't know where the boundary lay.
Kathy Kiely, a seasoned campaign finance expert at the Sunlight Foundation, said a politician letting a businessman buy them a Rolex could never been seen as a simple conflict of interest.
“From my years of covering politics, I think the big problem is guys and gals who start rubbing shoulders with rich folk and then feel a need to emulate them,” she said.
This view certainly seems supported by emails disclosed by prosecutors showing McDonnell's wife demanding that the donor buy her a designer dress to wear to the gubernatorial inauguration.
But politicians are often allowed to transfer funds from campaign coffers to fund other aspects of their inauguration, such as events.
“The accusations are absolutely qualitatively different from what happens elsewhere and I'm not forgiving anything,” said Levinson. “But there is an argument that if you say, 'Buy me a $50,000 watch and I'll do x for you', it's better than what happens now, which is a tacit version of that. It's at least out in the open.”
************Special Election Victory By Democrat Jennifer Wexton Completes GOP Collapse in Virginia
By: Keith Brekhus
Wednesday, January, 22nd, 2014, 8:53 pm
A year ago the Virginia Republican Party held the Governor’s office, the Lieutenant Governor’s office and the Attorney General’s office. In 2012, Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell was considered as a strong potential running mate for Mitt Romney. He was also billed as a possible presidential candidate for 2016. At the 2013 state GOP convention, delegates selected a slate of conservative candidates to run in the fall election that included Ken Cuccinelli for Governor, E.W. Jackson for Lt. Governor and Mark Obenshain for Attorney General. All three of them lost and their offices switched from red to blue.
However, last night the GOP had a chance for a small measure of redemption. In a special election to fill newly elected Attorney General Mark Herring’s old seat, and party control of the State Senate at stake, the Republicans at least had an opportunity to halt the bleeding. Although Virginia’s 33rd Senate District leans Democratic, Republicans were hopeful that a low turnout special election in the midst of a winter snowstorm, would give them a chance to win the race and secure a Republican majority in the State Senate.
Voters decided otherwise. Democrat Jennifer Wexton coasted to a resounding 53-37 victory over Republican John Whitbeck. Joe T. May, a former Republican, running as an Independent garnered the remaining ten percent. The Republicans still hold a majority in the state’s lower house (the House of Delegates), but Wexton’s victory gives Democrats control of the upper chamber, although the 6th District race won by Democrat Lynwood Lewis is still undergoing a recount.
With last night’s demoralizing defeat, the collapse of the Virginia Republican Party is nearly complete. Republicans won Virginia in ten state Presidential elections from 1968 to 2004. Barack Obama swung the commonwealth into the blue column in 2008, but the GOP regained their footing in 2009, sweeping the statewide races of Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General. The revival proved short lived however. Now Bob McDonnell is more likely to find himself living in a prison cell than in the White House. Democrats not only control the state offices of Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, but they also hold both US Senate seats. A recent poll shows Incumbent Senator Mark Warner (D) leading GOP challenger Ed Gillespie by a daunting 29 points, 50-21.
Yesterday’s special election merely underscored what has already become obvious to many political observers. The Republican message is falling flat on its face in Virginia. The state is turning blue and there is no evidence that it has any intentions of turning back.
***************Mitch McConnell Embarrasses Himself and Insults Kentucky Voters With First Ad of 2014
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, January, 22nd, 2014, 11:48 am
In an embarrassing display of laziness, Mitch McConnell’s first campaign ad of 2014 is actually a lie filled recycled ad from 2008 that is an insult to Kentucky voters.
Here is the original ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4u_oIL-9v7I
Here is the 2014 version of the same ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4u_oIL-9v7I
The ad uses the same message, tells the same story, and even the same throat cancer surviving energy worker Robert Pierce. The ad isn’t even true. Instead of delivering for the workers who were exposed to dangerous chemicals in Paducah, McConnell didn’t take action for 14 years.
According to a HuffPost story, McConnell ignored the pleas of people who lived near the plant, and had been exposed to toxins, “In the late ’80s, wells near the plant were showing signs of possible contamination. Ronald Lamb helped run a mechanic shop on his family’s old farmland a few miles from the plant. He and his father and mother all drank from the same well and started getting sick. ‘We thought we were dying,’ Lamb told HuffPost. ‘I lost the hair on my arms. It looked like I had chemo.’ On Aug. 12, 1988, government officials contacted 10 households with an ominous directive: Stop drinking and bathing in the water from their wells. The Department of Energy began sealing off wells near the plant and re-routing the water supply for roughly 100 residences. Lamb says he repeatedly wrote letters to his local elected officials, including McConnell, but didn’t get much more than a form letter in response. ‘They felt your pain but felt like you were being taken care of,’ Lamb recalls… Ruby English, a West Paducah resident whose well was shut off, says her husband Ray had also written to McConnell without success. English had thyroid and colon cancer. Ray worked in the nearby wildlife refuge bordering the plant, she says, and he’d come home with stories about seeing the creek water turn purple and yellow. He’d drink from the well and wash in the creek. He died a few years ago, his immune system a wreck. ‘The damage is done. I feel sorry for the workers the most,’ English says. ‘They’re right in the middle of it. … It’s pathetic, it really is.’
By using a recycled ad as his first ad of 2014, Mitch McConnell is sending several unintended messages to Kentucky voters. The first message is that he and his campaign are lazy. There is nothing new in the 2014 version of this ad. This kind of behavior is the mark of a lazy and arrogant campaign who believe that they already have the election won. Reviving an old ad also reveals a candidate that has nothing new to say. McConnell is telling voters that he intends on doing nothing for the future. He has no future vision or direction. McConnell displays this same mentality as a Senate Minority Leader whose only purpose is to obstruct everything. McConnell is telegraphing that he can’t run on his record, so the campaign is going to be about distractions, recycled ads, and personal attacks on his opponent.
This ad was an embarrassment. The Beltway media (MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and The Washington Post among others) are playing along with McConnell and selling this ad as new.
If McConnell had a conscience he would be ashamed of this ad. It is an embarrassing insult to the voters to recycle an ad that isn’t even true.
If Mitch McConnell isn’t even going to try, why should Kentucky voters bother voting for him? McConnell looks ready for retirement, and voters can help send him there this November.
**************Game On: Alison Grimes Launches a Jobs Missile at Mitch McConnell
by: Sarah Jones
Thursday, January, 23rd, 2014, 8:00 am
Kentucky Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes has launched a where are the jobs missile at struggling Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with a new ad, in which a constituent says, “Mitch McConnell has been in there for 30 years, and I have yet to see his jobs plan.” Ouch.
Alison for Kentucky released “Our Strength Is Our People: David’s Story,” featuring Harlan County’s David Kennedy. Watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdLLsQ3KWwE
Mr. Kennedy laid out how Mitch McConnell abandoned the county, “Mitch McConnell has been in there for 30 years, and I have yet to see his jobs plan.” He continued, “About five or six years ago, Mitch McConnell came into Harlan County, talked for a few minutes and then he got on his bus and he went on his way and we haven’t seen him since.”
Mr. Kennedy sees Alison Grimes as someone who will get things done. There can be no bigger dig at a Republican – party of the Government Shutdown – than this. And Mitch McConnell clearly couldn’t control the junior senator from Texas who shut the country down and cost us all millions of dollars doing it.
Kennedy said, “The first time I met Alison Grimes, she was running for Secretary of State. When the lady got up and spoke, I immediately turned my head and I said, ‘Wow. She’s sharp, she’s smart, she knows what she’s talking about. She’s quick on her feet. She would be one of the greatest things we could do for Kentucky, to send her on to Washington.’ We’ve heard a lot of politicians talk in the past, and I have confidence that Alison Grimes is not just a talker, but a doer.”
Republicans have made easy targets of themselves by making history doing nothing. Mitch McConnell can’t be held personally responsible for the Republican-led House of Representatives, but Mitch McConnell can be held personally responsible for turning his back on the middle class in his home state.
It’s awkward because Alison Grimes is not in office as Senator to her state, and yet she has a real jobs plan. She is the only Kentucky Senatorial candidate to have a real jobs plan. McConnell has been trying to tie Grimes to Obama on any issue he can since he can’t very well be honest about his own policies and get re-elected. McConnell has tried hard to tie Grimes to Obama on coal because it’s a such a sensitive issue in the state, and yet this is one of the few issues the Republican and Democrat agree upon (the regulations issue re coal is off the table, now what, McConnell?).
While Grimes and McConnell both take pot shots at coal regulations as a job deterrent, analysts say that “federal regulations are only one factor in the regional downturn.” Thus, it’s rather important to have a jobs plan that focuses on something other than coal — in addition to promising to deregulate coal, if you will.
The point really is that McConnell has been blaming regulations for the lack of jobs, but what has he done about bringing in new jobs? Is he going to whinge on about regulations forever and act like he’s impotent to do anything else for another 30 years? Republicans sure had no problem shutting down the government over their angst at millions getting access to affordable healthcare, so if they wanted to make a stink about actual jobs for the middle class, they could and they would.
Kentucky.Com laid out her jobs plan, which you can also read in detail here.
Grimes’ plan addressed a wide range of issues, calling for more affordable child care; improved education in science, math and computers; more support for entrepreneurs and workforce training; expanded early-childhood education; and improved high-speed Internet access in rural areas.
Grimes also advocated raising the minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 to $10.10, arguing it would raise the standard of living for many families. She elicited a standing ovation by saying that a minimum wage increase is long past due.
McConnell has voted against raising the minimum wage and for some reason is against pay equity for women, calling equal pay for equal work just another “special interest vote”. Do tell, Senator.
JOBS. DOING SOMETHING.
The Grimes campaign explained in a statement, “Unlike Mitch McConnell, Alison understands that unemployment and under-employment are more than a set of numbers; they are the stories of real people.”
Just how long can Mitch McConnell and the GOP get away with not having a real jobs plan and just pointing their fingers and whining?
Jobs. Doing something. It’s what the people really want.
It’s only a matter of time until Democrats started attacking Republicans over their historical laziness and refusal to govern.
While Republicans did their victory dance over glitches in the Obamacare website, and foolishly banked on running against glitches and evil healthcare for the people, Democratic candidates were just waiting in the wings to hit Republicans over the head with their refusal to do anything about jobs.
***************Wendy Davis’ Ex-Husband Admirably Refuses To Play GOP’s Gotcha Game
By: Justin Baragona
Wednesday, January, 22nd, 2014, 3:18 pm
On Tuesday, Jeff Davis declined CNN’s request to appear in an on-camera interview regarding Wendy Davis’ personal life story. Instead, he gave them an email response stating that he feels that Wendy Davis “would make a very capable governor.” This was not only an instance of Mr. Davis showing the utmost respect for his ex-wife and her current situation, but also his refusal to play the media ‘gotcha’ game that the GOP was hoping for. He is not allowing himself to get caught up in a non-story that is only out there in an attempt to bring down a person that scares the crap out of the Republican Party and Texas conservatives.
This all stems from supposed ‘discrepancies’ in Wendy Davis’ past comments about her life. Basically, Republicans are trying to discredit her story that she went from being a young, single mother who lived in a trailer and that she was able to work her way up through Harvard Law School and is now on the verge up being Governor of Texas. Since conservatives in Texas see her as a huge threat to the political status quo there, recently they’ve decided to play semantics with the details and question her honesty.
Due to an article that was published on Sunday in the Dallas Morning News, Republicans, and especially her gubernatorial opponent Greg Abbott’s campaign, have grabbed hold of the narrative that Davis did not have it nearly as hard as she’s stated and that she is a liar. And since she is a liar and a fake, she cannot be trusted. Essentially, they are making it seem like she had an easy road to get where she is now and that things were never tough for her. That she made it all up. In fact, conservatives made #MoreFakeThanWendyDavis trend on Twitter earlier this week.
Davis herself decided to address this ‘controversy’ head on, and released a bullet-point, detailed history of her adult life. While she didn’t technically get divorced until she was 21, she was separated from her first husband when she was 19 and lived in a trailer at that point with her daughter. Therefore, her saying she was a single mother living in a trailer when she was 19 may not be ‘technically’ correct, but only an obtuse a-hole would make an issue of it.
Apparently, another issue for the Republicans is that Wendy Davis hasn’t given enough credit to her second husband regarding the assistance he gave towards her getting her law degree at Harvard. While this is completely false, as she has on many times in interviews stated that Jeff Davis was pivotal in helping her achieve her current position, it shouldn’t be surprising that a husband assists his wife financially and vice versa. That is what marriage is. The family finances go towards all of the family members. Why was it necessary for Wendy Davis to have to explain that they used money form her husband’s 401(k) loan to help pay for tuition?
Thankfully, Jeff Davis isn’t playing along with the narrative that the media and Republicans want to play out. In his email to CNN, he even stated that while the 401(k) loan was used partially to help pay for Wendy’s tuition, he did it for other reasons. Because, you know, those are decisions that families have to make when it comes to finances. It almost seems like there was a hope by Republicans and their willing media lackeys that Jeff Davis was going to joyfully roll over on his ex-wife and give them a juicy story that they could use to shred her. Instead, he basically told them all to shove off.
The fear that Texas, and national, Republicans feel of Wendy Davis is palpable. With the Texas gubernatorial election fast approaching, Abbott and his cohorts can sense that Davis is just going to keep building on her growing popularity and possibly turn Texas blue. They will do anything they can to tear her down, make her seem disingenuous and fake. However, the more they go after her with sexist and specious attacks like this, the more it will backfire on them. The fact is, Wendy Davis isn’t going away anytime soon, and that scares the hell out of them.
***************Evidence Is Building to Support Hoboken Mayor’s Christie Sandy Aid Allegations
By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, January, 22nd, 2014, 1:55 pm
They say a picture speaks a thousand words, and this picture is one that Republican Governor Chris Christie (N.J.) probably wishes had not been unearthed today. The Newark Star-Ledger newspaper was first in line to republish the photo (courtesy of Daytop NJ) of a September 26, 2013 meeting between the Governor, his wife, and Leslie Smith.
Smith is the executive vice president of the Rockefeller Group. The same Leslie Smith who has donated to Christie’s campaign and the same Rockefeller Group that is at the center of the allegations made by Mayor Dawn Zimmer, of Hoboken New Jersey.
But associations don’t translate to guilt. We leave that to the “pallin’ around with terrorists” types. The goal here should be the facts. To that end, Christopher Baxter of the Star Ledger reports, “The Rockefeller Group at the time was represented by Wolff & Samson, the law firm of David Samson, a former state attorney general and close Christie ally who also serves as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.”
Samson, a huge behind the scenes power broker, is a Christie appointee, in fact. Smith has donated to two of Christie’s campaigns and to his 2010 inaugural committee. Smith also leads the Rockefeller Group’s developments in New Jersey.
Why does this matter? Because last weekend, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer made stunning allegations on MSNBC that the Christie administration had threatened to make her town’s Sandy Aid contingent upon allowing the Rockefeller Group to develop a specific area that the residents had been objecting to.
Zimmer met with U.S. Attorney’s office last Sunday, at their request, just a day after her allegations. She provided them with documents to back up her claims, including her diary.
I noted at the time that if indeed Hoboken, one of the areas that got hit the hardest, had not gotten that aid, the Christie administration would have some explaining to do. It turns out that the not only did they not get the aid they should have, but Brian Murphy, a TPM reporter from New Jersey, explained that tremendous pressure was brought to down upon Hoboken to move forward with the Rockefeller Group’s development. He opined, “And the Hoboken story clearly demonstrates the Christie administration took steps to aid the material interest of a client of the chairman of that agency.”
Murphy did the math, “Hoboken received only 1% of the aid they had requested for Hurricane Sandy relief and planning funds even though it was one of the hardest-hit communities in the state during the storm. At one point, 80% of the 50,000 person city was flooded…. 50,000 people. 80% flooded. $6 a head.”
Those are horrific numbers. 1% of the aid requested for a city that was 80% flooded?
Murphy’s insight into the politics of the area, specifically the long charge the Rockefeller Group has been waging against the wishes of some of the town’s citizens, merits a close read. He also revealed that there may be more than a diary to back up Zimmer’s claims, as she says that another Christie appointee made the offer that Sandy Aid money would flow if she would move forward with the Rockefeller project while miked, with audio technicians able to hear. She recorded their conversation in her diary:
In a diary entry made the next day, May 17, Zimmer wrote that Constable (Richard Constable, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who worked in Chris Christie’s office when Christie was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, and who was subsequently named commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs) said, “I hear you are against the Rockefeller project.” The mayor said she was not. “Oh really?” Constable asked in reply. “Everyone in the State House believes you are against it – the buzz is that you are against it.”
According to Zimmer, he added: “If you move that forward, the money would start flowing to you.”
If you’re counting, that’s two people from the Christie administration who dangled the Sandy Aid as a reward for going along with the Rockerfeller development plans, according to the Hoboken Mayor.
So with all of that history, you can imagine that the Christie administration doesn’t want Chris Christie associated in any way with the Rockefeller Group. This picture is not in and of itself damning, but it’s a bad visual for the embattled Governor, especially because it’s not just a picture. There’s history there. And Hoboken didn’t get its money. And the Mayor of Hoboken used to be a big Christie fan, so this isn’t easily dismissed as a political agenda.
The pieces of the puzzle are in the early stages of coming together, and it doesn’t look good for Chris Christie. Republicans want to paint this as a case of she said/he said, but the she in this case has a growing amount of evidence of wrongdoing by the Christie administration on her side.
The thing that might save Chris Christie is his willingness to throw everyone who worked for him under the bus. This character trait isn’t nearly as attractive to voters as it is to conservatives, however.
It’s hard to run for President as the guy who sold out all of his underlings, because eventually someone will ask him if he really knew nothing, what kind of leader is he?
**************In New Jersey, Claims Elevate Mayor’s Profile
By N. R. KLEINFIELD
JAN. 22, 2014
Friends call Dawn Zimmer the “accidental politician.”
If there is a starting point for her unplanned drift into politics in Hoboken, N.J., it might be the day eight years ago when she found a note on her door from an advocacy group craving more park space and urging attendance at a City Council meeting. Well, Ms. Zimmer wanted more park space and so she went.
This was when she was at home raising two sons and earning some money as a photographer. Her husband ran a diamond business.
Soon she belonged to a parks committee. Then she was running for a Council seat. She unexpectedly became Hoboken’s mayor when the F.B.I., in a familiar New Jersey ritual, hauled away the sitting officeholder.
Ms. Zimmer vaulted to national attention last week when she accused Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno of threatening to withhold federal funds to help Hoboken recover from Hurricane Sandy unless the mayor, a Democrat, backed a real-estate project Ms. Guadagno said was important to Gov. Chris Christie, a fellow Republican.
Aides to Ms. Zimmer told the F.B.I. she had mentioned the threat to them.
And thus she has quickly been woven into the traffic retribution scandal engulfing the governor’s administration.
State officials have aggressively denied that the threat took place. Political operatives and onlookers are vigorously debating where the truth lies. Was there an unmistakable ultimatum made to an unbendable person? Or was this a misconstrued try at political horse-trading, the commingling of politics and policy?
From the beginning of her involvement in politics, Ms. Zimmer found it much more vicious than she imagined. “I joke that if I had had a crystal ball, I’m not sure if I would have done it,” she said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “But when you’re in, you’re in.”
After giving numerous interviews on her allegations, Ms. Zimmer, who had previously been complimentary of Mr. Christie, said that federal authorities looking into the episode asked if she would stop talking about it to avoid complicating their inquiry, and she has agreed, and would not discuss the topic during the interview on Wednesday.
People who deal with her in Hoboken, a thickly populated waterfront city across the Hudson River from Manhattan, depict her variously as strait-laced, aggressive, serious, unassuming and not always the easiest person to bond with. Few, though, outright question her honesty.
Someone versed in politics who knows her fairly well, but did not want to be attached to the controversy, said: “She’s very intense. She’s not big on glad-handing and that sort of stuff. You wouldn’t pick her out of a crowd as someone who’s a politician.”
Hoboken and Hudson County politics are unapologetically brass-knuckled and frequently involve an expansive view of the law. Two of Ms. Zimmer’s immediate predecessors as mayor went to prison.
Viewpoints on her tend to arrive from opposite corners. Rantings pro and con flood blogs obsessed with Hoboken goings-on.
She experienced the disputatious nature of politics in her initial Council race, when she won by six votes and the outcome was challenged. “I joke with people, I grew a thicker skin,” she said. “It grew thicker by the day. My approach was let things roll off my shoulders.”
Ruben Ramos, a teacher who ran against her in the last election, said he felt she had shortcomings as a leader that have meant “we have government by hysteria; everything that comes up, it’s a crisis.”
Beth Mason, a Democratic council member who often clashes with her, said, “I find her personally as someone who has very strong opinions but finds it difficult to compromise.”
Many others feel quite the opposite.
Tony Soares, a real estate broker and former leader of the local zoning board, said: “She’s just what the city needed. She’s a citizen activist who became a mayor. She’s not a professional politician. I know I’m never going to see her on a black-and-white video and see her taken away in shackles.”
In real estate circles, Ms. Zimmer, 45, tends to be portrayed as cool to development, a contentious issue in Hoboken, a city of 50,000 that is a mesh of old guard Italian and Irish Americans and a newer wave of transplanted professionals. Ms. Zimmer said she views herself as working for “balanced development, because we’re the fourth-densest city in the country.”
Ms. Zimmer, who was recently elected to a second term as mayor, is married to Stan Grossbard, who runs a family diamond and jewelry business, and they have two sons, 12 and 13.
She traced a winding path to Hoboken and politics. She was born in Towson, Md., and grew up in Laconia, N.H. She received a history degree from the University of New Hampshire, where she rowed crew. For several years, she taught English at a private language school in a rural area of Japan. Subsequently, she worked in public relations, before quitting to raise her children.
She and her family moved to Hoboken from Manhattan in 2002. Her growing involvement in community affairs led to her being elected to the Council in 2007. Two years later, she ran for mayor. She said she was motivated while reading a passage in a book that mentioned how political activity at the local level could make a difference in addressing climate change. One of her goals is to “make Hoboken as green as possible.” All excited, she woke up her husband at 2 a.m. to tell him she had to run.
She lost by 161 votes in a runoff to Peter Cammarano III.
Less than a month after being sworn in, he resigned after he was caught accepting $25,000 in bribe money from an F.B.I. cooperating witness who posed as a developer, part of a broad corruption sting. Ms. Zimmer said her campaign was also approached in the sting but she would not agree to a meeting.
As Council president, Ms. Zimmer became interim mayor, then prevailed in a special election. “A big part of my job was to build back the public trust,” she said.
Soon after she took office, a collision between a tour helicopter and small plane off the Hoboken coast killed nine people. Other preoccupying issues included termites in the basement of City Hall and shipworms that were chewing up the wood supporting the pier containing Frank Sinatra Park.
Looking back, she said she was proudest of the lengthy and complicated effort to save the financially strained Hoboken University Medical Center, after steering it through bankruptcy and a sale.
She has had to grapple with a discrimination lawsuit brought by Angel Alicea, a former Hoboken public safety director. Ms. Zimmer asked for his resignation in 2011, because she said he had lied about being offered illegal contributions as part of the same F.B.I. sting operation, though he was never accused of a crime. A Hudson County jury recently found that Hoboken discriminated against him and awarded him over $1 million in back pay and damages. Ms. Zimmer said the verdict would be appealed.
She said that the recent intense swirl of attention was not inhibiting her work.
“I’m going to keep doing my job,” she said. “I do recognize there are going to be attacks on me and people looking to find whatever they can on me and try to smear my name. It is what it is.”
***************Ken Cuccinelli Calls Out Scandal-Ridden Christie And Asks Him To Resign As Head Of RGA
By: Justin Baragona
Wednesday, January, 22nd, 2014, 10:16 am
On Tuesday night’s edition of CNN’s Crossfire, former Virginia Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, called for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to resign as head of the Republican Governors Association. Christie took on the position of chairman of the RGA towards the end of 2013. In that position, he gets to travel across the nation and help raise funds or campaign for various Republican governors and candidates. In the end, it is a spot that would help a potential Presidential candidate.
Cuccinelli picked his words very carefully, as he wanted to make sure to state that the allegations towards Christie regarding Bridgegate and misuse and abuse of Sandy relief funds have not been found true. Instead, he made the case that all of these things are a distraction and that it would be best for Christie to step aside as, overall, this appears to be hurting the party.
“I think just from the perspective of setting aside this as an issue in other races, it makes sense for him to step aside in that role. He does not serve the goals of that organization by staying as chairman. And that doesn’t mean that any of the charges, political or otherwise are substantive or not. It doesn’t matter. Perception is reality.”
Now, it is also possible that Cuccinelli is holding a grudge towards Christie and the RGA due to his own election failure. In what turned out to be a tight race against eventual winner and current Governor Terry McAuliffe, the RGA provided quite a bit of money for Cuccinelli. However, while they sent $8 million over the course of the entire race, the spigot turned off weeks before Election Day, as Cuccinelli was far down in the polls and appeared to be a lost cause. In the end, Cuccinell lost by less than 3 points.
Regardless of Cuccinelli’s reasons behind his calls for Christie to step down, I highly doubt that he’ll be the last prominent Republican to call for Christie’s resignation from this prime post. With 36 gubernatorial races occurring this year, the last thing the GOP wants is a scandal-ridden national figure attempting to raise funds for their candidates. For his part, I doubt Christie will want to step down voluntarily, as being chairman of the RGA is a perfect vaulting point for anyone looking to make a Preisdential run.
So, in the end, what will it take for the GOP to convince Christie to step aside? Will they have to forcibly remove him? The scandals plaguing Christie are going to be swirling around him for months, if not longer. His candidacy for President in 2016 is looking less and less viable, and it is even possible that he won’t be able to hold on to his governorship when it is all said and done. How long can the GOP allow Christie to have a negative impact on other races before they have to step in and push him out?