Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Shocker: Blue Dogs Thwart Fellow Democrat

Posted in corporations, environment, politics by allisonkilkenny on April 28, 2009

blue_dogIn an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel, Congressman Jim Matheson said he has many problems with the global warming bill currently in committee. The bill is Henry Waxman’s creation, and is already under fire from his fellow Democrats.

But it’s no shocker that Matheson is one of the first suits to screech at the bill, since he receives over 20% of his campaign donations from energy, natural resource, transportation, construction, and agribusiness industries. Such industries normally aren’t on the forefront of asking Congress to cap their own emissions.

During opening statements, the Utah Democrat detailed 14 big problems he had with the bill, and told me later that if he hadn’t been limited to five minutes, “I might have had more.” 

I’ll bet. Matheson is one of 10 moderate Democrats (see: Blue Dog Democrats, or what they call themselves so people stop confusing them with Republicans) who are all worked up over Waxman’s bill. Strassel calls the bill “liberal overreach.” 

Really. Strassel doesn’t bother to then explain why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest climate report states the following:

  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.”
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activities has increased by 70% between 1970 and 2004
  • Continued GHG emissions “at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.”

Considering a bill that would stem these awful trends is “overreaching,” according to Ms. Strassel. Of course, she doesn’t mean “overreaching” in the sense that caring for the planet isn’t important. She means “overreaching” in the sense that it could cost politicians like Mr. Matheson their donors. Strassel writes:

Design a bill that socks it to all those manufacturing, oil-producing, coal-producing, coal-using states, and say goodbye to the very Democrats necessary to pass that bill.

Yes, it could cost poor Mr. Matheson over 20% of his donations. But on the upside, it could save the planet. Strassel taps into a very important issue here. Obviously, most politicians aren’t going to bite the hands of their donors. We’ve seen this trend extend from debate over the financial bailout, which was ripe with cronyism and corruption, to the debate over how to deal with our warming environment.

Corporate money corrupts, absolutely. During the bailout, politicians with close ties to the financial industries were put in charge of the bailouts, including the Senate Banking committee Chairman, Chris Dodd. Dodd receives most of his campaign contributions from the securities and investment industry, and two of his biggest donors are Citigroup and AIG. The problem is systemic as we see in the environment debate with “Democrats” like Mr. Matheson. He won’t be voting against his corporate donors anytime soon. Daddy needs his sweet, sweet corporate cash, or as Strassel puts it, Matheson is “championing energy diversity and his state’s fossil fuels” i.e. tearing up and selling everything that isn’t nailed down.

Other Democrats standing in the way of Waxman’s bill are Baron Hill (IN), Rick Bouche (VA), Gene Green (TX), Charles Gonzalez (TX), Charlie Melancon (LA), Mike Doyle (PA,) many of whom are quite publicly in the pocket of the oil industry.  This isn’t some kind of scandalous secret. Most of their corporate donors are visible on public websites like OpenSecrets.org.

The scandal is that writing about such things is considered a platitude, an utterly banal thing to point out. The future of the planet is at stake, and pointing out the dirty money pouring from Washington  politicians’ pockets evokes an eye roll from the mainstream press. Journalists like Strassel write about dirty donations as though she were reporting on the weather.

Politicians, who are reliant upon donations from industries that poison the environment, cannot be trusted to then form legislation to protect the planet. At the risk of publishing more liberal “overreach,” such conflicts of interest (the financial bailouts, and now the energy/environment debate,) are both excellent examples of why publicly financed elections are so important. If corporate money isn’t permitted to infect politics, then bills that could potentially save the planet may have a fair chance of surviving committee.

Strassel, Matheson, and company will surely roll their eyes at such a naive statement, but that’s to be expected. If you spend your life swimming in pig shit, after a while, you’ll swear it doesn’t smell.

Intelligence Policy to Stay Largely Intact

Posted in Barack Obama, torture by allisonkilkenny on November 11, 2008
Former National Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan, leader of Obama's intelligence-transition team. (AP)

Former National Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan, leader of Obama intelligence transition team. (AP)

Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama is unlikely to radically overhaul controversial Bush administration intelligence policies, advisers say, an approach that is almost certain to create tension within the Democratic Party.

Civil-liberties groups were among those outraged that the White House sanctioned the use of harsh intelligence techniques — which some consider torture — by the Central Intelligence Agency, and expanded domestic spy powers. These groups are demanding quick action to reverse these policies.

Mr. Obama is being advised largely by a group of intelligence professionals, including some who have supported Republicans, and centrist former officials in the Clinton administration. They say he is likely to fill key intelligence posts with pragmatists.

“He’s going to take a very centrist approach to these issues,” said Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations. “Whenever an administration swings too far on the spectrum left or right, we end up getting ourselves in big trouble.”

On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama criticized many of President George W. Bush’s counterterrorism policies. He condemned Mr. Bush for promoting “excessive secrecy, indefinite detention, warrantless wiretapping and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ like simulated drowning that qualify as torture through any careful measure of the law or appeal to human decency.”

As a candidate, Mr. Obama said the CIA’s interrogation program should adhere to the same rules that apply to the military, which would prohibit the use of techniques such as waterboarding. He has also said the program should be investigated.

Yet he more recently voted for a White House-backed law to expand eavesdropping powers for the National Security Agency. Mr. Obama said he opposed providing legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided warrantless surveillance, but ultimately voted for the bill, which included an immunity provision.

The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight.

The intelligence-transition team is led by former National Counterterrorism Center chief John Brennan and former CIA intelligence-analysis director Jami Miscik, say officials close to the matter. Mr. Brennan is viewed as a potential candidate for a top intelligence post. Ms. Miscik left amid a slew of departures from the CIA under then-Director Porter Goss.

Advisers caution that few decisions will be made until the team gets a better picture of how the Bush administration actually goes about gathering intelligence, including covert programs, and there could be a greater shift after a full review.

The Obama team plans to review secret and public executive orders and recent Justice Department guidelines that eased restrictions on domestic intelligence collection. “They’ll be looking at existing executive orders, then making sure from Jan. 20 on there’s going to be appropriate executive-branch oversight of intelligence functions,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview shortly before Election Day.

The early transition effort is winning praise from moderate Democrats. “He’s surrounded himself with excellent people — an excellent bipartisan group,” said Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat who is chairwoman of the House homeland-security subcommittee on intelligence.

Civil-liberties and human-rights advocates, who helped Mr. Obama win election, are seeking both a reversal of Bush administration policies and expanded investigations into possible illegal actions when the administration sought to track down terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“We need to understand what happened,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office.

Most of those being discussed as candidates for director of national intelligence and director of the CIA have staked out a middle ground between safeguarding civil liberties and aggressively pursuing nontraditional adversaries.

Mr. Brennan is a leading contender for one of the two jobs, say some advisers. He declined to comment on personnel matters. Gen. James L. Jones, a former North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander; Thomas Fingar, the chief of analysis for the intelligence director; Joan A. Dempsey, who served in top intelligence and Pentagon posts; former Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, who served on the 9/11 Commission; and Ms. Harman have also been mentioned. Ms. Harman has also been cited as a potential secretary of homeland security.

“I’m very flattered that some folks somewhere think I would be qualified for a number of positions,” she said. “But I’m also looking forward to an eighth term in Congress working on many of these issues.”

None of the others could be reached for comment.

Another option for Mr. Obama would be to retain current intelligence Director Mike McConnell, who has said he would stay on for a reasonable time until a successor is named. CIA Director Michael V. Hayden also is open to considering an extension of his time in office, according to a senior intelligence official.

However, Mr. Obama voted against Mr. Hayden’s nomination as CIA director to signal his frustration with the administration’s warrantless-surveillance program, which Mr. Hayden helped launch as National Security Agency director.

Write to Siobhan Gorman at siobhan.gorman@wsj.com