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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Los Estados Banditos

Today, let’s consider the bombshell dropped by the Wall Street Journal. Apparently the NSA spied on the efforts of the Netanyahu government to purchase win support in Congress when they were considering approval of the Iran Nuclear Deal. A US intelligence official familiar with the intercepts said Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as:

How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?

There’s more. The Hill reported: The NSA helped the White House figure out which Israeli government officials had leaked information from confidential US briefings our government gave to the Israelis:

The NSA’s snooping allegedly found Netanyahu and his aides leaked details of the negotiations gained through Israeli spying, coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal and asked those lawmakers who were undecided on the deal how it could get their vote…

So, the WH knew that the NSA was spying on both Netanyahu and certain Congress critters. Some will say that the Executive Branch was spying on Congress. But there are two other ways to look at this.

• The NSA was spying on an ally, which we have done in the past (Merkel, Hollande).
• And that spying revealed that members of Congress were apparently working with Israel.

Either way, some in DC will be outraged. In fact, Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-CA) has already started an investigation into the allegations in the story. That is hilarious, since that spying is authorized by NSA procedures, procedures that Rep. Nunes has said are more than adequate to protect the privacy of US persons. You know, in his role as Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. From Emptywheel:

If NSA’s minimization procedures are inadequate to protect US persons, the first thing Nunes should do is repeal [the] FISA Amendments Act, which can expose far more people than the tailored…tap placed on Bibi…

However, you could also return to the basic question from last fall: Why are members of Congress working to help a foreign government derail a major foreign-policy initiative of the US? And be outraged yourself.

This is the reason that allowing lawmakers’ communications to be incidentally collected is such a risk — because it inevitably collects details about the legislative process. That can also disclose an untoward quid pro quo by foreign governments to members of Congress. Finding that is within the purview of the Executive branch’s mandate.

Maybe more privacy protections, including for Members of Congress, are needed. But wiretapping the communications with foreign leaders is solidly within the parameters of Congressionally-approved NSA spying, even if it incidentally collects information about members of Congress. Congress itself has deemed these actions may sometimes be important to protect the US.

And didn’t Congress approve all of this spying to catch terrorists? Or, was it just to get intelligence to assist our drone attacks. Or, to assist in the war on drugs, so that we can play catch-and-release a few more times with El Chapo. The problem is, when you build an intelligence gathering system this big and this technologically capable, it will inevitably intrude into domestic politics. Or vacuum up not-so-innocent information that is incidental to its intended target.

As for surveillance of members of Congress, surely everyone in Congress knows how that game works, THEY VOTED TO IMPLEMENT IT!

There’s a substantive difference between direct surveillance of members of Congress, and surveillance of a foreign ambassador’s reporting back to his government about communications with those Members.

If Nunes, et. al were simply trying to hang on to the remnants of our Constitution like the rest of us poor schlub voters, maybe the poutrage would be understandable.

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 27, 2015

The Connecticut Democratic Party has decided to change the name of its “Jefferson-Jackson Dinner”. Apparently prompted by the national controversy over the Confederate flag, the state’s Democratic Party last week voted unanimously to change the name of its annual fundraising dinner and remove the names of two slave-owning American presidents.

The clear implication is that there’s something wrong with Thomas Jefferson which puts him in the same category as the Confederate Flag. The Hartford Courant reported this quote from the state Democrats’ resolution:

As members of the Democratic Party, we are proud of our history as the party of inclusion. Democrats have led the way on civil rights, LGBT equality and equal rights for women…It is only fitting that the name of the party’s most visible annual event reflects our dedication to diversity and forward-looking vision.

Wrongo doesn’t care if the Democratic Party stops naming their fundraisers after Jefferson and Jackson.

What is bothersome is the implication that Jefferson is a pariah. Andrew Jackson is another matter, despite the fact that the symbol of the party is the donkey, or jackass. “Jackass,” stood for Andrew Jackson. It came from an 1837 political cartoon referring to Jackson as a “Jack-ass.” Jackson thought it was funny, and used it to his advantage. Democrats embraced the symbol, and it has stuck for nearly 180 years.

What message does the CT Dems public disowning of Jefferson send? Do CT Dems understand history? We owe a debt to Jefferson. It’s easy to say that Jefferson did things that were wrong, but he wrote the Declaration of Independence, managed our relationships with France during the Revolutionary War, and was a highly successful president. It is a huge mistake to invalidate his accomplishments because of his personal foibles. He was a man of his time, and did what he did. But, without him, our revolution would have been different.

Making perfection the enemy of great is wrong-headed. It places the CT Dems in a similar intellectual place as Donald Trump, who says McCain isn’t a war hero because he was captured, or that John Kerry wasn’t a good negotiator because he fell off his bike.

Maybe we could all be adults? The effort at political correctness by the modern Democratic Party is fine, but we should remember that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a perfect man. African-Americans know that, but Dr. King is still revered by almost all Americans.

And the fact that today’s GOP embraces Abraham Lincoln does not make the modern GOP a racism-free party, regardless of how often the GOP invokes Lincoln’s name to claim credit for his greatness. Judging our founders, or our heroes by today’s standards, would condemn almost everyone past and present. Maybe, Democrats in Washington, CT, named after George, will want to change its name, since George Washington owned slaves.

Yes, there are egalitarian threads in both the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian traditions that resonate with Democrats today—but both men based the equality of some men upon the subordination of others.

Since CT Democrats are determined to replace Jefferson and Jackson as patrons of these events, and are holding a meeting to decide the new name of the event in September, without question, FDR-JFK could serve pretty well, despite each man’s foibles. Or maybe, Joe Lieberman?

Are you the one American without personal foibles?

So, wake up Connecticut Democrats. To help with their wake-up, here is #4 in our songs of summer series, “Summertime Blues”, the great Eddie Cochran tune done here by Brian Setzer on MTV, recorded live for the ‘La Bamba’ concert. It reminds that there was a time when MTV was watchable:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can see the video here.

Monday’s Hot Links:
Foreign Policy reports that back in 2000, the NSA intercepted a call to Bin Laden’s operations center in Yemen from a 9/11 hijacker in San Diego. They failed to follow-up, which should set off warning bells. Now 16 years later, the NSA denies they knew where the calls originated. That’s bullshit two ways: In 2000, the telephone network’s technology automatically provided a digital equivalent of caller ID to every phone switch, including NSA’s. And former NSA people like Tom Drake and William Binney say there’s no way the NSA wouldn’t have tapped this line.

Dark matter is the stuff that cosmologists think makes up some 85% of all the matter in the universe. A new theory says dark matter might be a known particle. If true, that would open up a window onto an invisible, dark matter version of physics.

Turkey launches war on Islamic State’s worst enemies – The Kurds. This blog site, Moon of Alabama, can be decidedly anti-American, but this is a must read article.

Gun deaths will surpass automobile deaths in the US this year, says The Atlantic. Car crashes killed 33,561 people in 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Firearms killed 32,251 people in the US in 2011, the most recent year for which the CDC has data. The young are most at risk: CDC data show guns will kill more Americans under 25 than cars in 2015. Surely, a small price to pay for our Second Amendment freedoms?

Marilyn Tavenner, who served as the chief administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services from 2013 until February, is now in charge of an insurance industry lobby. This tells us all we need to know about where insurance companies see their next pot of gold. It is the Medicare Advantage program, which over the past several years, has become an increasingly important revenue stream for the country’s insurers. Revolving door much?

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