Sunday, January 31, 2016

WaPo Misreports Friday's State Department Statement On Hillary's Emails

Sec. Clinton in India, 2011 / US Consulate Chennai, CC BY-ND 2.0

The GOP narrative around Hillary Clinton's State Department emails got an assist from a seemingly unlikely source on Friday: the so-called “Mainstream Media,” in the persons of Washington Post reporters Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger, and Chris Cillizza, who writes WaPo politics blog, "The Fix.” 

Cillizza’s take on the story is, as of this writing, in the WaPo Top 5 most widely read pieces:

Unfortunately, they all read far too much into far too little.

Sayeth Cillizza:

For months, Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign have stuck to a consistent story line when faced with of classified information on the private server she used exclusively as secretary of state: She was the victim of an overzealous intelligence community bent on categorizing information as top secret or classified when it was, in fact, neither.
That defense hit a major snag on Friday when the State Department announced that it, too, had found “top secret” information on Clinton’s server — 22 emails across seven separate emails chains. The information, the State Department said, was so secret that those emails would never be released to the public.

Suddenly Clinton’s narrative of an overly aggressive intelligence community or a broader squabble between the intelligence world and the State Department didn’t hold water. Or at least held a whole lot less water than it did prior to Friday afternoon.

Only problem? The State Department said no such thing. Having heard part of the State Department’s briefing on [conservative] talk radio on Friday, I recalled it very differently.  So I looked it up.  Here’s what State Department Spokesman John Kirby actually said:
I can confirm that as part of this monthly FOIA production of former Secretary Clinton’s emails, the State Department will be denying in full seven email chains found in 22 documents, representing 37 pages. The documents are being upgraded at the request of the Intelligence Community because they contain a category of top secret information. These documents were not marked classified at the time that they were sent. We have worked closely with our interagency partners on this matter, and this dialogue with the interagency is exactly how the process is supposed to work. As to whether they were classified at the time they were sent, the State Department, in the FOIA process, is focusing on whether they need to be classified today. Questions about classification at the time they were sent are being and will be handled separately by the State Department.  [emphasis added]

Kirby explicitly stated that the classification upgrade was per request from the Intelligence Community, not “the State Department itself.”  This is completely consistent with what Secretary Clinton and her campaign have been saying all along.  A few moments later, Kirby further stated:

These emails denied in full are among the emails discussed recently by the Intelligence Community inspector general in a letter to Congress. We will not, however, be confirming or speaking, as I said, to every detail provided in the documents or in the ICIG’s letter. One of these emails was also among those identified by the ICIG last summer as possibly containing top secret information. [emphasis added]

To be fair to Cillizza, his analysis apparently relied on reporting by two of his Washington Post colleagues, who asserted:

The Friday announcement was significant because it appeared to undercut Clinton’s argument in recent months that she was merely the victim of a bureaucratic squabble between overly strict analysts at the intelligence agencies and more reasonable reviewers at the State Department.

The intelligence community’s inspector general had previously indicated that he thought that some of the emails contained top secret material. Until Friday, however, the State Department had declined to concur with that assessment.

But this isn’t an accurate reading of Kirby’s comments.  In his initial statement and in response to numerous reporters’ questions on Friday, Kirby repeatedly reiterated that State had agreed to upgrade the emails in question at the request of the Intelligence Community.  The only slight deviation from this response came when a reporter asked whether, “you guys [at State] were prepared to release [these emails] until the intel community came in and said hey, wait a second, you can’t do that?”  To that question, Kirby replied:

No, I wouldn’t say – I wouldn’t say that, Matt. As I said we had an ongoing discussion about this traffic with them. At their request we’ve decided to make this upgrade. It is a State Department decision. We’re doing it, but we’re doing it at the request of the Intelligence Community. And we’re going to continue to coordinate and consult with them going forward.

It does seem technically accurate to say that decisions about whether to release documents in State’s possession pursuant to a FOIA request is inherently a State Department decision.  But folks infinitely more expert on this topic than I have generally supported Clinton’s contention that some agencies have a tendency to be overly cautious in making security classification determinations.  And predictably, the overly cautious entity usually wins the day, unless or until the decision is overruled in an intra-agency MDR review or on appeal to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel.

The most recent Informational Security Oversight Office report (at pdf p. 16) indicates that 62% of pages of classified materials challenged by the public via the MDR process were wholly declassified at the initial review stage, while an additional 32% of the pages were at least partially declassified on review.  That’s right: 94% of classified pages reviewed under MDR were wholly or partially declassified in response.  Of the much smaller universe of cases that made it to review on appeal to ISCAP (at pdf p. 26), 75% of the 451 documents reviewed by ISCAP were ordered declassified, either wholly or in part.  These data points would tend to support the contention that some agencies, at least, have a substantial habit of overclassifying materials.

The National Security Archive, a non-profit based at George Washington University, provided this overview of the over-classification phenomenon just a few days ago:

National Security Archive director Tom Blanton’s July 2015 Washington Post op-ed further lays out the ongoing problem of overclassification. Blanton argues that “the real secrets make up only a fraction of the classified universe, and no secret deserves immortality. In fact, essential to the whole idea of democratic government is that secret deals with dictators will come out eventually, not least to deter the worst deals from being made…I showed Congress the estimates over the years of how much gets classified that doesn’t deserve to be. Ronald Reagan’s executive secretary for the National Security Council, Rodney B. McDaniel, said 90 percent. Thomas H. Kean, the Republican head of the 9/11 Commission, said 75 percent of what he saw that was classified should not have been.”

Blanton is far from alone in pointing out persistent overclassification. The latest Information Security Oversight Office report showed that the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) continues to overrule agency classification decisions in Mandatory Declassification Review appeals nearly 75% of the time.

Of lesser import – but still worth noting – is Cillizza’s contention that Clinton’s campaign “pivoted” on the email issue, supposedly in response to the comments from State:

The Clinton team quickly pivoted. “After a process that has been dominated by bureaucratic infighting that has too often played out in public view, the loudest and leakiest participants in this interagency dispute have now prevailed in blocking any release of these emails,” said campaign spokesman Brian Fallon.

Calling for the release of the allegedly top secret emails is a smart gambit by the Clinton folks since it makes them look as if they have nothing to hide while being protected by the near-certainty that the State Department won’t simply change its mind on the release because the Clinton team asked them to.

This wasn’t any kind of “pivot.”  Secretary Clinton has been saying for almost a full year that she wants the emails released (presumably to the extent that release would not jeopardize national security):

State Department spokesman John Kirby repeatedly reiterated on Friday that State had upgraded classification of the 22 emails “at the Intelligence Community’s request.”  That sounds like simple interagency comity.  It’s too much of a stretch from there to declaring that the State Department made some kind of important, revelatory, independent determination regarding the proper classification.

Monday, January 25, 2016

No, Elizabeth Warren Didn't "Sink" Hillary Endorsement Hopes

Senator and progressive girl-crush Elizabeth Warren / Image: Ninian Reid, CC BY 2.0

The essay hit Huffington Post earlier today and is already manically careening around Facebook and other social media:

Elizabeth Warren Sinks Clinton's Hopes for Endorsement


The Elizabeth-Warren-secretly-loves-Bernie-and-hates-Hillary stories have been circulating online for months, mostly among Sanders' supporters.  And they only seem to be multiplying as Iowa draws near: "Warren in talks to endorse Bernie," "Bernie will nominate Warren for VP," "This comment from Sen. Warren PROVES she hates Hillary's guts!"  None of the stories or headlines are supported by actual evidence. 

Listen for yourself to the speech where Sen. Warren supposedly "made it clear she won't endorse Hillary":  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

VIDEO: Bundy "Wouldn't Be Surprised" If Malheur Occupation Still Going Come Spring

Image: Donkey Hotey, CC BY-SA 2.0

Ammon Bundy has said it repeatedly: he doesn't plan on going anywhere any time soon.  Now you can watch him tell a reporter that just this last week.

Do we believe him yet? Or are the authorities going to let these guys keep telling them they're open to negotiating an exit while they tell everyone who will listen that they're not. Going. Anywhere.

Portland show "Your Voice, Your Vote" went to Burns and interviewed, at length, the County Sheriff, Ammon Bundy, and the Judge who ruled that the occupiers are on the hook for around $70k per week in local costs.  

The Sheriff's and Judge's interviews really shed light on just how intimidating and threatening these guys are being in the community - in some cases, explicitly, in others, implicitly.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tell President Obama - Daylight Dark Money Now!

An entertaining take on the issue: "Baby Got PACs"
Now for something completely different - policy action that progressives and Tea Party enthusiasts alike** should (theoretically) be able to get behind. Yesterday's Washington Post: "President Obama is weighing whether to invoke his executive authority to force federal contractors to disclose political contributions they make to independent groups, according to individuals briefed on the matter."
Spending by independent groups that aren't currently required to disclose their donors is often referred to as "dark money." The Center for Responsive Politics describes the problem thus:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Obama's 2016 State of the Union - Highlights & Lowlights

Here are the highlights from President Barack Obama's final State of the Union, along with an assortment of thoughts, impressions, and cheap wisecracks inspired by the speech.   [All times Pacific and approximate.]

6:14 PM

Obama: "But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don't worry, I've got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I'll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs doing.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  Protecting our kids from gun violence. ..."

Hmmm ... Is there going to be even a single point in this Presidential litany of progress that Speaker Paul Ryan can applaud for?

Obama: "... Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage.  All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done."

Nope.  Not a one.

6:17 PM

Obama: "... In fact, it's in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  {Applause}"

Maybe Ryan can find an applause line this time around??  He's not moved by talk of recovery, though.

"That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  {Applause}  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans. {Applause} That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love. {Applause}"

Again, nope, not so much.  Not even for the troops and veterans.  Surprising.  I thought he got a bye on ALL references to troops and veterans.  That Freedom Caucus is even more hardcore than I gave 'em credit for.

6:19 PM

Marco Rubio just looked terrified that he might be caught on camera applauding for *anything* President Obama has said.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Denis McDonough Loses His Cool About Guantanamo

Denis McDonough / Photo: Sam Kittner, CC BY 2.0

Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough got *very* agitated when discussing the issue of closing Guantanamo Bay and the supposed 30% of former detainees that are known or suspected to have returned to the battle field.**

White House Chiefs of Staff are traditionally cool and composed in media appearances.  To the best of my recollection, even notorious hothead Rahm Emanuel always kept his composure in press appearances, and did so through an epic financial crisis.

McDonough got ruffled and extremely defensive. Is it possible he's not comfortable with the Administration's policy? Was he just not well-prepared for this line of questioning? Or did he just hit his limit with the Bush administration's numbers being used against the Obama Administration?  

Watch the clip at 4:15 to 8:07 (especially after 6:11) and judge for yourself.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

No, Dianne Feinstein Is NOT Trying to Take Veterans' Guns

Senator Diane Feinstein / David Lee, CC BY 2.0

I love many things about modern technology.  The ease with which we can share information is absolutely amazing!  But that means it's also very easy for folks to share FALSE information.

For example, the following misinfographic ... which is a load of baloney.  

Graphic altered to prevent further circulation of its nonsense.  Original had "Idiot" at the top and the fabricated quote at the bottom.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) NEVER uttered these words, and sure as heck doesn't even think it.

After further conversation with my Facebook friend who posted this, I've been able to figure out the origin of this meme.  He argued that "it's a paraphrase of what she said."

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Scientific Evidence Shows Extensive Unconscious Race Bias

 Racism: The Elephant in the Room / John Duffy, CC BY 2.0

A recent Washington Post piece linked to an excellent overview of the current state of science around unconscious race bias, as of a year ago.

A number of studies have indicated a significant degree of unconscious race bias among Americans, particularly against African Americans.  Experts in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, and neuroscience have been exploring a variety of possible remedial measures to counteract unconscious bias.  Which is pretty damn exciting.