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A Progressive Congressman Who Lost His Seat Because Of Obamacare Explains Why It Was Worth It
March 29th, 2017, 10:52 PM

Former Democratic congressman Tom Perriello has a word of advice for public servants: do what's right, even if it costs you your job.

In a new op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, the progressive politician says that voting in favor of the Affordable Care Act was the right thing to do, despite the fact that it cost him his seat in Congress.

Perriello was elected to represent Virginia’s 5th District in 2008 in the Democratic wave that put President Obama in the White House. In 2010, he voted for the Affordable Care Act, knowing that the then-unpopular bill would dim his reelection prospects.

During the contentious healthcare debate, I held more than 23 town hall meetings, in every county of my district. More than 18,000 Virginians attended these events. Thousands more dialed in to participate in conference calls. Most constituents at these meetings had already decided whether or not to support the Affordable Care Act. Many of them were angry. I was literally spit on and verbally berated regularly, but still always respected the rights of conservative constituents to face me unfiltered.

Though he was indeed ousted in the 2010 Tea Party shellacking, Perriello says “I never regretted my vote. Not once.” The Democrat, now running for the Virginia governorship, says he still receives notes of gratitude from voters about how the ACA lowered their insurance bills and extended their coverage for life-saving procedures.

"It may sound cheesy in this polarized, chaotic and cynical political moment, but public office is not about doing what's easy. It’s about service. In voting to pass the ACA, I made a long-term bet that it would save lives well worth the short-term political costs."

Read the whole thing.

Watch the rousing speech President Obama gave to House Democrats on the eve of the vote for the Affordable Care Act in 2010. "We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true."

Remember When Trump Said He Cared About the Opioid Crisis? Fast Forward to Now.
March 29th, 2017, 10:52 PM

During his campaign, Trump said that his supporters were "always" bringing up opiate addiction. "We’re going to take all of these kids—and people, not just kids—that are totally addicted and they can’t break it," he promised at a Columbus, Ohio town hall meeting last August. "We’re going to work with them, we’re going to spend the money, we're gonna get that habit broken."

He's still talking a big game. At a much-hyped roundtable on Wednesday, the president announced a brand new commission to take on the issue, with New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R), who's been outspoken on the need for more addiction services, at the helm. Sounds great, right?

A few catches: The purpose of the commission, which will report to Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, is to write a report by October of this year on the status of the epidemic and make recommendations for the future, after which it will cease to exist. The Surgeon General's office under President Obama published a very similar report last November. Trump has yet to appoint a "drug czar", or director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, which is charged with evaluating and overseeing federal anti-drug efforts.

Meanwhile, Trump has repeatedly proposed taking resources away from the programs that could stop the epidemic. For example:

  • The president's proposed 2017 budget would cut $100 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's mental health block grants, which help provide substance abuse services across the country.
  • His proposed 2018 budget would cut 16.2 percent of funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, the umbrella agency that funds things like SAMHSA and other mental health and substance abuse programs.
  • The 2018 budget claims it would include a "$500 million increase above 2016 enacted levels to expand opioid misuse prevention efforts and to increase access to treatment and recovery services." When pressed by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), HHS Secretary Tom Price admitted that this $500 million is reference to funding from the 21st Century Cures Act, which Congress enacted under Obama signed into law late last year.
  • Though it didn't ultimately pass, Trump was hard-set on repealing the Affordable Care Act, which would have left nearly 3 million Americans without often life-saving addiction treatment.

The lack of substantive action on the issue is riling some politicians. "There is a massive gulf between President Trump's promises to tackle this crisis and the policies this administration has proposed during his first two months in office," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in a statement in response to Trump's roundtable.

Or, as one congressional staffer recently asked in an email, "How many more people will die of opioid overdose while they're pretending to care?"

A Scientist Just Spent 2 Hours Debating the Biggest Global Warming Deniers in Congress
March 29th, 2017, 10:52 PM

At a congressional hearing on climate science Wednesday, Michael Mann lamented that he was the only witness representing the overwhelming scientific consensus that manmade global warming poses a major threat.

"We find ourselves at this hearing today, with three individuals who represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance, and only one—myself—who is in the mainstream," he said in his opening testimony.

Sitting on either side of Mann were the other three witnesses: Judith Curry, John Christy, and Roger Pielke, Jr.—scientists who have clashed with Mann in the past and are frequently sought after by Republican politicians who reject mainstream climate science. Curry recently defended EPA chief Scott Pruitt's statement that scientists don't know whether human activity is "a primary contributor" to global warming. Christy claims that climate models overstate the role of human activity. Pielke accepts the role greenhouse gasses play in warming but has drawn criticism for arguing that links between extreme weather and climate change have been overstated.

Sitting on the dais across from Mann was House science committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a climate change denier who has made headlines in recent years by using his committee to investigate scientists and accuse them of rigging climate data. Last week, at the Heartland Institute's annual DC conference for climate change deniers, Smith boasted of his record of issuing dozens of subpoenas to government researchers, environmental groups, and Democratic attorneys general investigating ExxonMobil. He also previewed Wednesday's hearing, predicting that it was "going to be so much fun." He slow-rolled the names of the witnesses as conference attendees cheered—but he warned them they might want to hold their applause until he finished reading name of the final witness, which was Mann.

Smith summarized his own views of global warming in his opening statement Wednesday: "Alarmist predictions amount to nothing more than wild guesses. The ability to project far in to the future is impossible…All too often, scientists ignore the basic tenets of science in order to justify their claims. Their ultimate goal appears to be to promote a personal agenda even if the evidence doesn't support it."

Smith's remarks may have been a thinly veiled attack on Mann and his colleagues, but Mann had similar criticisms of Smith. The Penn State* climate scientist spent the hearing knocking down Smith's views. In particular, Mann pointed to an earlier hearing in which Smith had baselessly accused scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of "falsifying data to justify a partisan agenda" when they published a study showing that global warming had not stalled in recent years, as some have argued.

Mann took aim at Smith's tactics. "If you get attacked every time you publish an article" about global warming, "if that causes you to become subject to congressional inquiries and Freedom of Information Act requests, obviously that's very stifling, and I think the intention is to cause scientists to retreat," he said. Mann charged that the public attacks on Tom Karl—the NOAA scientist in charge of the study disputing the global warming "pause"—appeared to be intended "to send a chilling signal to the entire research community. That is: If you, too, publish and speak out on the threat of human-caused climate change, we're going to come after you."

Mann blasted Republicans for "going after scientists simply because you don't like their publications of their research—not because the science is bad, but because you find the research inconvenient to the special interests who fund your campaigns." He added, "I would hope we could all agree that is completely inappropriate."

*Correction: This story initially misstated Mann's university affiliation.

Ivanka Trump Will Become an Official Federal Employee
March 29th, 2017, 10:52 PM

Amid mounting ethical concerns about Ivanka Trump's already central role in her father's administration, the first daughter made this announcement today: She will become an official federal government employee, specifically a "special assistant" to President Donald Trump.

The New York Times reports the decision to take the unpaid position stems from questions over her original role as an informal adviser. Critics contended the position allowed her to bypass ethics rules typically required of federal employees.

"I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees," Ivanka Trump said in a statement.

The announcement comes just hours after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) penned a letter asking Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub to address the issue.

"Ms. Trump's increasing, albeit unspecified, White House role, her potential conflicts of interest, and her commitment to voluntarily comply with relevant ethics and conflicts of interest laws have resulted in substantial confusion," the letter read.

Here's a newly relevant New Yorker story detailing Ivanka Trump's role in assisting her father's shady Iranian hotel deal.

Trump’s New Executive Order Will Worsen Hunger in Africa
March 29th, 2017, 10:52 PM

This story first appeared on National Geographic Voices.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump took his most concrete step thus far to unravel his predecessor's legacy on climate change, with a wide-ranging executive order that dismantles several Obama-era policies to restrict greenhouse gas pollution. The order outraged environmentalists—Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called it "a declaration of war on American leadership on climate change"—but it wasn't very surprising: It simply followed through on a threat contained in the budget Trump proposed two weeks ago.

"We're not spending money on that anymore," Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget said then, in response to a question about climate change during a press conference. "We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that."

That stance could be a big problem for the dozens of farmers I've met across sub-Saharan Africa as a journalist reporting on climate change impacts to food security.

Christine Wasike is a maize farmer in Bungoma, an agricultural haven in western Kenya. She works half an acre by hand to produce food for her husband and several young children; if she's lucky, there is enough left over to sell for cash to pay for school fees, clothes, healthcare, farm equipment, and other necessities.

Like all but a handful of wealthy farmers in Kenya who can afford irrigation systems, she relies exclusively on rainfall to water her crops, and last year, which scientists recently confirmed was the hottest ever recorded, the rains came late and light. As a result, Wasike's harvest was disappointing, and her income for the season was less than $50, a net loss after covering the cost of seeds and other farm expenses.

"When there is drought farmers suffer a lot," she says. "There is a lot of hunger, especially with children at home."

Stories like Wasike's are increasingly commonplace in sub-Saharan Africa. A majority of people on the continent depend directly on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods, and because they rely almost exclusively on rainfall for water and often can't afford adaptive technologies, they are among the world's most vulnerable people to climate change. As a result, they are among those with the most to lose from if Trump reverses Obama's climate change policies.

As America walks away from its commitment to help slow the global warming that it holds the primary responsibility for creating in the first place, Wasike, her children, and millions of her peers will be much more likely to face a future defined by hunger and poverty.

The main target of Trump's executive order is the Clean Power Plan, a regulation hammered out during Obama's second term that imposes limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The regulation, which was Obama's signature achievement on climate change, aims to slash the carbon footprint of the nation's power sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. But to Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, it was never more than a plot to "kill jobs throughout the country," as he told ABC News on Sunday. As directed by Tuesday's order, the EPA will now review all policies that "serve as obstacles or impediments to energy production"—including the Clean Power Plan. At the same time, the Justice Department will back down from defending the Plan against legal attacks.

These policy changes will reverberate far beyond the coal-fired power plants they are meant to protect. That's because the Clean Power Plan is the domestic regulation underpinning the US commitment to the Paris Agreement, the groundbreaking global climate accord reached in December 2015. Although the agreement, signed by Obama shortly before he left office, contains language that would make it difficult for Trump to formally withdraw within the next few years, his order effectively accomplishes the same thing. Without the Clean Power Plan, America's participation in the agreement becomes meaningless. And without America, the world's second-biggest climate polluter after China, the whole agreement goes up in smoke.

As a result, the chance that global temperature rise will stay "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the limit agreed to in Paris, will vanish. That kind of warming will produce a variety of life-threatening effects in the US which, contrary to Mulvaney's assertion, would cost taxpayers far morein the form of damage to coastal property, lost agricultural production, increased electrical bills, public health threats, and other costs, according to a recent economic analysis lead by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg—than what they will save by slashing climate programs.

Still, the impact to developing countries—where livelihoods are more often linked directly to the land and where the money is scarce to, for example, build a storm surge barrier or develop a drought-resistant seed—will likely be even more severe. Millions of the world's most vulnerable people will suffer the consequences of industrial pollution they did not produce. In other words, they will be left to clean up America's mess.

In Africa, the most severe impacts will be to agriculture and food security. Sub-Saharan Africa already has the world's least-productive farms: Average yields of staple grains per hectare are only one-quarter of those in the US and Europe, according to the World Bank, due mainly to poor soil quality and lack of access to financing and the latest farming techniques and equipment. Low productivity not only leads to hunger—23 percent of Africans, 220 million people, are chronically undernourished, the world's highest rate—but also impedes economic growth, since agriculture is the main income source for a majority of people.

Rising temperatures (Africa has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last 50 years, and is expected to continue warming faster than the global average rate) and increasingly erratic rainfall are making the situation worse. An analysis for the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that prolonged dry spells and high temperatures could reduce yield of staple grains across the continent up to 35 percent by 2050, even as the continent sees its population double.

The consequences will be wide-reaching. Market prices will climb, calorie availability will drop, and national economies will suffer: A recent analysis by the OECD found that reduced agricultural productivity because of climate change could sap up to 4 percent of sub-Saharan Africa's GDP by 2060, the world's highest rate of loss. Some areas may become unusable for farming or grazing, forcing people to look for new land, which in turn can lead to territorial ethnic conflicts and deforestation. Food and water scarcity can prompt mass migrations, like the one currently underway in the Sahel, and humanitarian crises, like the 20 million people currently in need of emergency food assistance in southern Africa. It can contribute to radicalization and the empowerment of terrorist groups like Boko Haram, which has benefited from destitution caused by the desiccation of Lake Chad.

These impacts will be borne in particular by the rural poor, who often have no "plan B" when the harvest fails, and in particular by women, who typically are responsible for growing crops for food and cash (in addition to other household duties).

Fortunately, in most cases, the solutions needed to make Africa's farmers and pastoralists more resilient to climate change are nothing very fancy, expensive, or high-tech. People need training on basic techniques to conserve water and improve soil quality; they need access to microloans to afford better seeds, tools, fertilizer, and irrigation; they need secure land rights; they need better roads to take their produce to markets. The fate of programs to promote these solutions now in place at the the US Agency for International Development, now under the purview of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, remains unclear.

What farmers don't need are unchecked greenhouse gas emissions from the US The specific numbers on projections of crop yields, hunger, poverty, and other factors differ slightly depending on which analysis you read, but one trend is consistent: The hotter the world gets, the worse off Africa's rural poor will be. And if that doesn't bother this administration, it should, since economic depression and political instability are ultimately harmful to US business, military, and diplomatic interests in Africa.

Deleting climate change from the EPA's rulebook and the federal budget won't make it go away—and it won't settle our environmental debt to the rest of the world.

Holocaust Survivor Slams Top Immigration Official: "History Is Not on Your Side"
March 29th, 2017, 10:52 PM

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a surprise appearance at a White House press briefing to announce that the Justice Department would begin cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities that fail to comply with federal immigration laws. If local governments refuse to cooperate with federal efforts to detain undocumented immigrants, Sessions said, as much as $4 billion in grants across the country could be withheld.

Despite the stark warning this week, many residents opposing Trump's anti-immigration policies don't appear to be deterred. In the case of Sacramento County, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan was invited to speak at a town-hall style meeting Tuesday, hundreds of people turned out to blast the ongoing sweeps targeting undocumented immigrants in the state. The most powerful moment arrived when an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor named Bernard Marks took to the mic to warn Homan and Sheriff Scott Jones that "history was not on [their] side."

The remarks, as noted by CBS Sacramento, below:

When I was a little boy in Poland, for no other reason but for being Jewish, I was hauled off by the Nazis. And for no other reason I was picked up and separated from my family, who was exterminated in Auschwitz. And I am a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau.

I spent five and a half years in concentration camps, for one reason and one reason only—because we picked on people, and you as the sheriff, who we elected as sheriff of this county—we did not elect you for sheriff of Washington, DC. It's about time you side with the people here. And when this gentleman stands up there and says he doesn't go after people, he should read today's Bee. Because in today's Bee, the Supreme Court Justice of California objected to ICE coming in and taking people away from the courts. Don't tell me that this is a lie.

You stand up here Mr. Jones. Don't forget—history is not on your side.

The remarks were met with loud cheers from the audience. Homan responded to the speech by saying his agency will continue to arrest undocumented immigrants inside courthouses.

Senator Aims to End Phone Searches at Airports and Borders
March 29th, 2017, 10:52 PM

More than a month after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) requested information about US Customs and Border Protection's practice of searching cell phones at US borders and airports, he's still waiting for answers—but he's not waiting to introduce legislation to end the practice.

"It's very concerning that [the Department of Homeland Security] hasn't managed to answer my questions about the number of digital searches at the border, five weeks after I requested that basic information," Wyden, a leading congressional advocate for civil liberties and privacy, told Mother Jones on Tuesday through a spokesman. "If CBP were to undertake a system of indiscriminate digital searches, that would distract CBP from its core mission, dragging time and attention away from catching the bad guys."

Wyden's request to DHS and CBP came on the heels of a February 18 report from the Associated Press of a "fivefold increase" in electronic media searches in fiscal year 2016 over the previous year, from fewer than 5,000 to nearly 24,000. It also followed Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly's suggestion that visitors from a select group of countries, mainly Muslim, might be required to hand over passwords to their social media accounts as a condition of entry. (That comment came a week after President Donald Trump first unveiled his executive order⁠ banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries.)

The Knight First Amendment Institute, which advocates for freedom of speech, sued DHS on Monday for records relating to the seizure of electronic devices at border checkpoints. Wyden requested similar data on CBP device searches and demands for travelers' passwords.

"There are well-established legal rules governing how law enforcement agencies may obtain data from social media companies and email providers," Wyden wrote in the February 20 letter to DHS and CBP. "By requesting a traveler's credentials and then directly accessing their data, CBP would be short-circuiting the vital checks and balances that exist in our current system." The senator wrote that the searches not only violate civil liberties but could reduce international business travel or force companies to outfit employees with "burner" laptops and mobile devices, "which some firms already use when employees visit nations like China."

"Folks are going to be less likely to travel freely to the US with the devices they need if they don't feel their sensitive business information is going to be safe at the border," Wyden said Tuesday, noting that CBP can copy the information it views on a device. "Then they can store that information and search it without a warrant."

Wyden will soon introduce legislation to force law enforcement to obtain warrants before searching devices at the border. His bill would also prevent CBP from compelling travelers to reveal passwords to their accounts.

A DHS spokesman said in a statement that "all travelers arriving to the US are subject to CBP inspection," which includes inspection of any electronic devices they may be carrying. Access to these devices, the spokesman said, helps CBP agents ascertain the identity and admissibility of people from other countries and "deter the entry of possible terrorists, terrorist weapons, controlled substances," and other prohibited items. "CBP electronic media searches," the spokesman said, "have resulted in arrests for child pornography, evidence helpful in combating terrorist activity, violations of export controls, convictions for intellectual property rights violations, and visa fraud discoveries."

In a March 27 USA Today op-ed, Joseph B. Maher, DHS acting general counsel, compared device searches to searching luggage. "Just as Customs is charged with inspecting luggage, vehicles and cargo containers upon arrival to the USA, there are circumstances in this digital age when we must inspect an electronic device for violations of the law," Maher wrote.

But in a unanimous 2014 ruling, the Supreme Court found that police need warrants to search cell phones. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion that cell phones are "such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy." In response to a Justice Department argument that cell phones were akin to wallets, purses, and address books, Roberts wrote: "That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon."

The law, however, applies differently at the border because of the "border search doctrine," which has traditionally given law enforcement wider latitude under the Fourth Amendment to perform searches at borders and international airports. CBP says it keeps tight controls on its searches and is sensitive to personal privacy.

Wyden isn't convinced. "Given Trump's worrying track record so far, and the ease with which CBP could change its guidelines, it's important we create common-sense statutory protections for Americans' liberty and security," he says.

CBP provided data that confirmed the device search numbers reported earlier by the Associated Press but later told Mother Jones that the numbers are slightly off due to an "anomaly" in their tabulation. The agency has not yet provided corrected figures. "Despite an increase in electronic media searches during the last fiscal year," the CBP spokesman said, "it remains that CBP examines the electronic devices of less than one-hundredth of one percent of travelers arriving to the United States."

Sophia Cope, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has written extensively about searches of electronic devices, says that searches of mobile devices appear to be on the rise. "They realized that people are carrying these devices with them all the time, it's just another thing for them to search," she says. "But also it does seem that after the executive order that they've been emboldened to do this even more."

Wyden says that the data collection creates an opportunity for hackers. "Given how frequently hackers have stolen government information," he says, "I think a lot of Americans would be worried to know their whole lives could be sitting in a government database that's got a huge bull's-eye on it for hackers."

This story has been updated to include CBP's claim that the device search numbers are slightly inaccurate.

Stephen Colbert Mocks Donald Trump's "Clean Coal" Promise
March 29th, 2017, 10:52 PM

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump moved to effectively erase Barack Obama's record on climate change, by signing an executive order to roll back federal regulations aimed at protecting the environment and curb the effects of global warming. Hours later, Late Show host Stephen Colbert took the president to task for "repealing the environment," and specifically mocked Trump's promise to deliver on "clean coal."

"I know clean coal sounds like an oxymoron, but so does 'President Trump,'" he said, prompting loud cheers from the audience.

Colbert then turned to a special guest to provide a succinct summary of the controversial order: "You are not legally required to give a hoot, so go pollute. Fuck the planet!"

How Devin Nunes Is Threatening the Constitution
March 29th, 2017, 10:52 PM

With his bizarre antics and partisan-driven decisions the past week and a half, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the under-siege chairman of the House intelligence committee, has not only triggered a breakdown in the congressional oversight process; he has nearly sparked a constitutional crisis. This may sound hyperbolic, yet Nunes is undermining one of the core principles of the American republic: checks and balances. And there perhaps is no area of government where counterbalance is more needed than national security.

At the heart of the US political system is a bargain. The fundamental notion of the Constitution is that the government serves the citizenry and is accountable to the voters. Yet with the development of the modern national security state—and even before—the executive branch gained the power to engage in secret actions. The spies, covert operators, and eavesdroppers of the intelligence community and the military could perform their duties far from the prying eyes of citizens. This means a vast part of the government operates in secrecy and is free from public scrutiny. How can a democracy allow this? The answer is simple: congressional oversight. In theory, the common folks who are kept in the dark elect senators and representatives who monitor all the secret stuff on their behalf. The Capitol Hill overseers preserve the secrets, but they act as surrogates for the rest of the nation and ensure the covert warriors, spooks, and snoops are acting effectively, honorably, and lawfully in pursuit of the public interest.

That's the rosy-eyed version. True congressional oversight of the intelligence community didn't kick in until the 1970s, after a variety of spy-related scandals—secret assassination plots, coups, Watergate, and more. And in the decades since, Capitol Hill monitoring of the intelligence community has sometimes been lackadaisical. (It is almost an impossible task for the House and Senate intelligence committees to track the vast intelligence community, which now consists of 17 agencies.) At other points, there have been conflicts between the committees and the spies. In the 1980s, the late-Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican chair of the Senate intel committee, repeatedly clashed with Bill Casey, Ronald Reagan's free-wheelin', law-breakin' CIA chief. Three years ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chair of the committee, had an explosive confrontation with John Brennan, the CIA director at the time, over her committee's investigation of CIA torture. But in each case, oversight continued, with the House and Senate panels often displaying a bipartisanship not found in other corners of Congress.

It's been an imperfect system. In 2013, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper misled the Senate intelligence committee when he publicly testified that US intelligence did not collect data on Americans. (The Edward Snowden revelations showed otherwise, revealing a massive operation to collect metadata regarding the phone records of Americans.) But at the least, the pretense of intelligence oversight from the legislative branch allows for the clandestine operations conducted by the executive branch through intelligence agencies and the military. And this is but one element of the overall oversight Congress is supposed to mount as a check on the president and executive power. Oversight, an implied obligation within the Constitution, is a crucial function of the House and Senate.

Enter Nunes. He has recently demonstrated he cannot function in an independent, nonpartisan, or forthright manner when conducting intelligence oversight. As chair of the House intelligence committee, he is in charge of the panel's investigation of Vladimir Putin's attack on the 2016 campaign and the interactions between the Trump camp and Russia. This is a tough and sensitive assignment. Nunes was on Donald Trump's presidential election team, and now he is probing the actions of Trump's associates—and perhaps Trump himself—in an exercise that could produce information that threatens the Trump presidency. He is doing so while Trump is essentially waging war on the investigation. (For months, Trump has dismissed or downplayed the intelligence community's assessment that Moscow assaulted the election to help Trump. On Monday night, Trump tweeted that the Russia story is a "hoax.") In such a highly charged political environment, it would be challenging for anyone to lead an effective and independent investigation.

Still, Nunes has underperformed. He initially was reluctant to examine contacts between the Trump gang and Moscow. Then, during the committee's first public hearing (when FBI chief James Comey undercut Trump's claim that President Barack Obama had illegally spied on him and revealed the bureau was investigating Trump associates for possibly coordinating with Russians), Nunes behaved as a partisan. As if he were channeling Trump, he said virtually nothing about the main issue: Putin covertly intervening in a presidential election. Instead, he fixated on the (bad!) leak that had exposed former national security adviser Michael Flynn as a liar and forced his resignation. Nunes also repeatedly asked Comey if he would investigate Hillary Clinton and the Clinton campaign, if evidence of contacts between the campaign and Russia emerged. (There has been no evidence of that.) After the hearing, Nunes inexplicably claimed he had never heard of two key figures in the Trump-Russia scandal: Roger Stone and Carter Page.

All of this raised questions about Nunes' ability to handle an investigation that was scrutinizing people and actions related to the president he supports. Then things got worse. Two days later, Nunes held a surprise press conference—without consulting his staff or fellow members of the intelligence committee—to declare he had reviewed documents indicating that classified intelligence reporting based on lawfully authorized collection aimed at foreign targets might have revealed the identities of Trump transition team members (perhaps Trump himself) who were picked up via what's known as "incidental collection." Nunes rushed to the White House to brief Trump, who subsequently declared this "somewhat" validated his claim that Obama had illegally wiretapped him. (It had not.)

The episode appeared to be a stunt designed to provide Trump cover for his baseless charge against Obama—and perhaps to change the channel after the hearing that revealed the FBI investigation. And in the wake of his initial presser, Nunes kept bumbling his descriptions and explanations. It remained unclear if he had uncovered any wrongdoing. He ended up apologizing to his fellow committee members and essentially acknowledged he had gone off half-cocked. He came across as amateurish and erratic. (Three weeks earlier, Nunes had worked with the White House to counter news stories reporting on ties between Trump associates and Russia.)

And there was more. In the middle of this imbroglio, Nunes announced he had canceled the committee's next public hearing, scheduled for March 28, which was going to feature Clapper, former CIA chief John Brennan, and former Justice Department official Sally Yates, who in January had privately informed the White House that Flynn had lied when he said he had not spoken to the Russian ambassador about the sanctions Obama imposed on Russia as punishment for its hacking-and-leaking operation targeting the Clinton campaign. Nunes offered no good explanation for the scheduling move. (He claimed the committee could not fit in the hearing because of a private session scheduled with Comey and NSA chief Mike Rogers. But when that closed-door hearing was canceled, Nunes did not revive the Clapper-Brennan-Yates hearing.) Democrats on the committee concluded that Nunes had killed the public hearing to spare the Trump White House further embarrassment. That did seem a likely assessment.

By now, Democrats were calling for Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia investigation or quit his post as committee chair, and a handful of Republicans—namely Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham—were questioning Nunes' actions and ability to handle this probe. It was a shit storm, and it was hard to see how the House committee could proceed with a credible investigation or perhaps continue to function at all. Nunes blew up the bond of trust within the committee. He had acted in an impetuous manner. He seemed to care more about Trump's political standing than about the investigation. (On Fox News, he explained his actions by saying that Trump has "been taking a lot of heat in the news media.") He also undermined the committee's credibility. Citizens looking for answers about the Trump Russia scandal will find it hard to accept any conclusions from Nunes at face value.

So Nunes has harmed one of the key oversight mechanisms in the US government: his own committee. This means the check-and-balance process is weaker. That's not good at a time when the country faces serious national security issues and other matters and when the overall credibility of government is low. Whether Nunes recuses himself or not—for now, he says he won't—his committee's investigation is on the verge of irrelevancy, with its credibility shot. (On Tuesday, Nunes announced he was postponing further witness interviews until Comey returned for a private hearing, putting his probe on hold. This week, he also canceled regular committee meetings.) That leaves only the Senate intelligence committee in the driving seat for the Russia investigation. Its chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, was also reluctant to assume this mission, but so far there has been no open conflict within the committee, and Democratic members say the probe is moving forward. (The Senate committee will hold its first hearings related to this inquiry on Thursday.) The FBI investigation is also proceeding, but whether this is a counterintelligence probe or a criminal inquiry—or both—the investigation is not designed to yield a public accounting. (The FBI does not produce public reports.) That is the job of the congressional committees. Unfortunately, Nunes has essentially and maybe intentionally sidelined his own probe. In doing so, he renders it less likely the American public will learn the full truth. Moreover—and perhaps worse—he has demonstrated that the system designed to provide accountability for secret government might now be unworkable.

Republicans Just Voted to Let Internet Service Providers Sell Your Browsing History
March 28th, 2017, 10:52 PM

The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives on Tuesday repealed privacy rules that would have required internet service providers such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable to get consumers' consent before selling or sharing their web browsing data with advertisers and other companies.

"Consumers should be in control of their own information," Rep. Jared Polis, (D-Colo.) said in testifying against the bill. "They shouldn't be forced to sell and give that information to who-knows-who simply for the price of admission for access to the internet."

The vote overturned rules passed in October by the Federal Communications Commission that tightened limits on what internet service providers (ISPs) could do with their users' data. The rules, which would have taken effect later this year, required ISPs to notify consumers about the type of information they collect, and obtain their consent, before selling it to third parties. The rules also made ISPs more accountable for preventing data breaches.

The measure was passed on a 215-to-205 vote, with most Republicans in favor of the repeal and most Democrats against. It still needs to be signed by President Donald Trump before it will become law, though that appears to be a given after the White House expressed support for the repeal on Tuesday.

The repeal measure was originally introduced in the US Senate by Jeff Flake, (R-Ariz.), where it passed last week on a party-line vote. Flake has argued that the FCC rules could "limit consumer choice, stifle innovation, and jeopardize data security by destabilizing the internet ecosystem." Ajit Pai, Trump's FCC chairman, has argued that the rules put ISPs at a disadvantage to internet companies such as Google and Facebook, which are able to harvest and monetize personal information more freely.

But privacy advocates say stricter rules for ISPs make sense. "Google doesn't see everything you do on the Internet (neither does Facebook, for that matter, or any other online platform)—they only see the traffic you send to them," according to an explainer on the rules by Electronic Frontier Foundation. "And you can always choose to use a different website if you want to avoid Google's tracking. None of that is true about your ISP… That’s why we need the FCC’s privacy rules: ISPs are in a position of power, and they've shown they're willing to abuse that power."

The acronym "ISP" should now stand for "Information Sold For Profit" and "Invading Subscriber Privacy," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) during last week's debate over the bill in the Senate. "President Trump may be outraged by fake violations of his own privacy, but every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result [from] the Republican roll-back of broadband privacy protections."