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“There’s Something About Darrell”: Issa Praises Waxman For Ideas Issa Opposed

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), one of the most effective federal legislators in a generation, announced he will retire at the end of this term. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a frequent sparring partner of Waxman, issued a nice statement honoring his fellow Californian’s “long and distinguished career.”

“While I didn’t always agree with Chairman Waxman on matters of both policy and oversight tactics, his tenure helming the Committee set important precedents and innovated new investigative tools such as the use of subpoenas for closed-door depositions.

“A number issues [Waxman] doggedly began to follow during his two years as Chairman such as the use of the White House Office of Political Affairs to advance partisan political agendas with taxpayer funds, the over-classification and pseudo-classification of information to hide embarrassing government blunders, and the problematic use of non-official e-mail accounts for official government business remain on the Committee’s agenda today.”

It is, to be sure, a nice gesture when a member from one party extends best wishes to a member from the other party.

But there’s something about Issa’s praise for Waxman’s investigations that seems odd.

In his press release, note that Issa expressed admiration for some specific efforts launched by Waxman during his two-year tenure as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, including the “use of the White House Office of Political Affairs to advance partisan political agendas with taxpayer funds” and “the problematic use of non-official e-mail accounts for official government business.”

Issa’s not wrong about the merit of Waxman’s efforts during the final two years of the Bush/Cheney presidency, but I was following the Oversight Committee pretty closely at the time and I recall a Republican member of the panel expressing outrage that Waxman would dare launch these investigations.

I believe the member’s name was Darrell Issa.

On the former, Bush’s Office of Political Affairs, as led by Karl Rove, engaged in alleged misconduct over and over again. Investigators later reported that Bush’s political office, in one of the era’s lesser-appreciated scandals, engaged in “a systematic misuse of federal resources.”

When Waxman began looking into this in 2007, Issa not only opposed congressional subpoenas intended to get to the bottom of the story, the Republican also rejected the very idea that there was anything untoward about a White House political office using taxpayer money for partisan purposes since Congress does the same thing. “It’s a little bit of hubris that one body can’t do something without the other body pretending that we don’t do what we do,” he said at the time.

And yet, now Issa is praising Waxman for launching the investigation Issa opposed.

As for using non-official e-mail accounts for official government business, when Waxman began looking into this in 2008, Issa could barely contain his disgust, accusing the committee of becoming a “Peeping Tom.”

“Mr. Chairman,” Issa said at the time to Waxman, “I think what you are doing is going to prove in retrospect to be shameful.”

So much for that idea.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 31, 2014

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Darrell Issa, Henry Waxman | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Fundamental Dynamic Hasn’t Changed”: No, We Aren’t Getting Closer To Immigration Reform

Yesterday, congressional Republicans released a set of principles on immigration reform which are supposed to guide the writing of an actual plan. This has led some optimistic people to say that perhaps some kind of compromise between the two parties might be worked out, and reform could actually pass. I’m sorry to say that they’re going to be disappointed.

I might be proved wrong in the end. But I doubt it, because the fundamental incentives and the dynamics of the issue haven’t changed. You still have a national party that would like very much to pass reform, and individual members of that party in the House of Representatives who have nothing to gain, and much to lose, by signing on to any reform that would be acceptable to Democrats and thus have a chance of passing the Senate and being signed by the President. So it isn’t going to happen.

Now it’s true that in the wake of the government shutdown and the various debt ceiling crises, House conservatives have slightly less power to force the rest of the GOP to bend to their will. But only slightly. One thing hasn’t changed: the average House Republican still comes from a safe district where the only real threat to his job is a primary challenge from the right. He knows that his primary voters are people who watch Fox News and listen to conservative talk radio, where they hear things like Laura Ingraham telling them that jingoistic Mexicans are trying to take over America, which is why “your language [that’d be English] is gone,” while Rush Limbaugh rails at the Republican immigration principles as the wolf of “amnesty” in sheep’s clothing. Today’s Drudge Report featured a graphic of John Boehner in a sombrero, and it wasn’t a compliment. As one Southern Republican member of Congress told Buzzfeed, “If you go to town halls people say things like, ‘These people have different cultural customs than we do.’ And that’s code for race.”

Even in the slightly less bombastic reaches of the conservative media, forces are pushing against doing anything on immigration. “Bringing immigration to the floor insures [sic] a circular GOP firing squad, instead of a nicely lined-up one shooting together and in unison at Obamacare and other horrors of big government liberalism,” advises the Weekly Standard. “Since there really is no need to act this year on immigration, don’t. Don’t even try.” The National Review offers the same counsel, for the same reason. “The correct course is easy and eminently achievable: Do nothing…the last thing the party needs is a brutal intramural fight when it has been dealt a winning hand on Obamacare.”

And here’s the thing: they’re right. The best outcome for the Republican party as a whole is the passage of reform with their cooperation, which might at least begin the process of healing all the damage they’ve done to their image with Hispanic voters. But the worst outcome is a lengthy, angry debate about immigration in which there are lots of ugly comments made by their more conservative members, and which ends in reform failing, which would of course be blamed on the GOP’s antipathy toward Hispanics. And that is by far the most likely outcome.

In theory, John Boehner could bring to the floor a bill like the one the Senate passed last June, with increases in border enforcement and a long and difficult process for undocumented immigrants to eventually find their way to citizenship. But he’s already promised never to do so. Too many House Republicans—and not just the most ardent Tea Partiers—won’t accept a bill that includes any path to citizenship.Somebody obviously told Republicans that they are no longer allowed to use the phrase “path to citizenship,” but must now use the phrase “special path to citizenship” when saying they oppose it. It’s ridiculous, because of course any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is going to be special—it will be particular to them, and different from the path that a documented immigrant will take, in that it will be much more difficult and take a lot longer. But saying they oppose a “special” path to citizenship is a handy excuse for opposing any path to citizenship. (This may remind you of how conservatives used to say they opposed “special rights” for gay people, which meant things like the right not to get fired or kicked out of your home for being gay.) The statement Republicans put out yesterday is a bit vague, but it seems to imply some kind of second-class citizenship for undocumented immigrants, wherein after jumping through a whole bunch of hoops, they’d be given some kind of legal status, but they couldn’t become citizens.

And for lots of House Republicans, even that’s too much. So I’m pretty sure that before too long, Boehner and the rest of the House leadership are going to realize that there’s just no point in moving forward. If anyone asks, they’ll say they put out a proposal, but it couldn’t go anywhere because of dastardly Democrats who wanted to give every undocumented immigrant amnesty. But mostly they’ll just try to find something else to talk about.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 31, 2014

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Breaking The Cycle Of School Shootings”: Too Many Shootings, Too Many Moments Of Silence

When the detective arrived at my home, he had a folder in his hand. “We just have some paperwork to take care of first,” he said. After I signed his forms, he gave me a box with the clothes my mother was wearing when she was murdered. It had been almost a year, but I needed to touch them, to know how many times she was shot, to see where she had been hurt.

My mom, Dawn Hochsprung, was the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Recently, I told a woman that my mother had passed away just over a year ago. I was trying to be polite, but I instantly felt disgusted with myself for using the term “passed away.” My mother was shot to death through no fault of her own. That is not “passing away.” She was killed, gunned down in what I would normally have called her haven — her school.

There have been at least 39 school shootings since the massacre in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012. Already this year there have been 10 school shootings, including one Thursday at Eastern Florida State College . Sadly, Americans seem to be getting used to seeing our nation’s youth, parents and educators gather outside schools, waiting to hear if their loved ones are safe.

This past December, the holiday season felt wrong. There was an empty place at our table, and traditions didn’t seem to matter anymore. My daughter was not yet 6 months old when my mother was killed. I tuck her into bed each night with a stuffed doll that was the first and only Christmas gift she’ll ever get from her grandmother. The doll is a nightly reminder that my daughter will never know my mother.

During my mother’s wake, my 10-year-old son burst into tears and asked me why, of all the schools in America, this had to happen at Grandma’s school. I didn’t know how to tell him the truth: that this could happen anywhere, that such shootings might continue to happen.

Immediately after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, discussion of safer gun laws consumed the nation. At the time, I thought it was too soon — 26 innocent people had just been slaughtered at the school, and we were mourning.

I realize now that I was wrong: It wasn’t too soon — it was already too late.

It was too late for my family and for all the families of Sandy Hook. It was too late for the families of the victims of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, Tucson, Aurora and Oak Creek .

Early last year it felt like the tragedy in Newtown was an eye-opener to the problem of gun violence in our country. But since Newtown, more than 12,000 Americans have been killed by gun violence. Last April, a majority of senators voted for a bipartisan bill to expand background checks and keep guns out of the wrong hands — but a minority caved to the gun lobby and was able to block passage.

I thought Congress’s failure to pass gun-safety legislation would shatter my hopes. But it did the opposite: I and others who make up the 90 percent of Americans who support comprehensive background checks aren’t going away. We’re here to share our stories and fight for our future.

As the daughter of a shooting victim, I hope no one else ever has to suffer through my experience. As a mother, I am horrified by the thought that this senseless violence could happen again anywhere, at any moment. There have been too many shootings and too many moments of silence. There is a national movement of Americans, from mayors to moms, raising our voices. We demand action — closing the private-sale loophole — from our leaders, and we will win the fight against gun violence.


By: Christina Lafferty Hassinger, Opinions, The Washington Post, January 30, 2014

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Entitled, Unhinged Nightmare”: The Real Problem With Dangerous Goon Michael Grimm

New York Rep. Michael Grimm is an unstable, possibly dangerous goon. That much was obvious in the video in which he corners and threatens NY1 reporter Michael Scotto. His act may not have surprised readers of the New Yorker’s 2011 profile of Grimm, which describes the 1999 night that Grimm, brandishing a gun, terrorized a nightclub full of people in search of a man with whom he’d fought earlier. Grimm’s propensity for abusive language and ridiculous macho posturing was also well-known to New York and Washington reporters.

Grimm’s actions that night at the Caribbean Tropics nightclub in Queens would have likely put a regular citizen in jail for years. But Grimm was not a regular citizen: He was an FBI agent at the time, and thus, after an internal investigation, he received no punishment at all. (The NYPD has declined repeated requests to release public records related to the incident.)

A former political opponent of Grimm’s, Mark Murphy, shared his explanation of Grimm’s behavior with TPM’s Hunter Walker:

Mark Murphy, a Democrat who lost a House race against Grimm in 2012, spoke to TPM and said that while he has no direct evidence he believes that steroid use is responsible for multiple incidents where Grimm and a man he described as the congressman’s “bodyguard” have lost their cool.

“These guys are wrapped so tight from the steroids that they’re on, it’s insane,” Murphy said.

Murphy could be purely speculating, or passing on rumors. But it’s not a wildly far-fetched theory. Steroid use in law enforcement is nearly impossible to study, because cops operate under a quasi-state-sanctioned code of silence regarding one another’s misdeeds, but it seems pervasive, and officers are busted regularly in cities across the country. Two NYPD deputy chiefs were even caught in a steroid probe in 2007 (neither was punished). The FBI has, I think, stricter drug screening protocols than most local police departments, but agents purchasing steroids is certainly not unheard of. (Also, if baseball has taught us nothing else about steroid use, it’s taught us that it’s easier to trace the purchasing of steroids than test for their use.)

But maybe Grimm isn’t roided out. It’s quite possible that Grimm is an unhinged nightmare of toxic, entitled machismo completely without the aid of chemical enhancement. People with those sorts of personalities seem for some reason particularly drawn to careers in law enforcement. It might have something to do with being allowed to wield power over others through physical intimidation and outright violence without fear of reprisal or even societal disapproval?

Because we for some reason allow law enforcement officers to steal money, raid homes, shoot pets and sometimes wave guns around in nightclubs without going to prison. Cops routinely plant drugs on suspects and lie about it in court. We indulge the widespread law enforcement belief that they are soldiers in a “war on crime,” and that the danger and importance of their mission justifies excessive force and rule-bending.

The FBI’s rule-bending is admittedly more sophisticated than that of your average urban police force. The bureau specializes in convincing nitwits to attempt ridiculous bombing plots that they otherwise would’ve never conceived of. They rely on sketchy criminal informants, like Josef von Habsburg, a con man who worked with Agent Grimm, ginning up federal crimes for cash, like so many other FBI informants.

Grimm is just what happens when the worst sort of hyper-aggressive lawman transitions into another field where being a short-tempered bullying prick is rewarded rather than punished: conservative politics. The sort of person who very much wants to be a cop or an FBI undercover agent is the sort of person we should least trust with the job. While it’s tempting to say we also shouldn’t trust those sorts of men in politics, we’re probably safer with Grimm in Congress than with a badge and a license to use deadly force. Now, after all, he actually gets in trouble for his gangster movie tough guy act.

And because he represents Staten Island, New York City’s incongruous outpost of white reactionary resentment, we should probably not get our hopes up about getting rid of him any time soon.

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, January 30, 2014

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Michael Grimm | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Do You Know Me Now?”: Ex-Port Authority Official Says ‘Evidence Exists’ Christie Knew About Lane Closings

The former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, central to the scandal now swirling around Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, said on Friday that “evidence exists” the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening.

In a letter released by his lawyer, the former official, David Wildstein, a high school friend of Mr. Christie’s who was appointed with the governor’s blessing at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge, described the order to close the lanes as “the Christie administration’s order” and said “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference” three weeks ago.

During his news conference, Mr. Christie specifically said he had no knowledge that traffic lanes leading to the bridge had been closed until after they were reopened. “I had no knowledge of this — of the planning, the execution or anything about it — and that I first found out about it after it was over,” he said. “And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study.”

The letter does not specify what the evidence was. Nonetheless, it is the first signal that Mr. Christie, a Republican, may have been aware of the closings, and marks a striking break with a previous ally.

The letter, sent from Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer, Alan Zegas, is to the Port Authority’s general counsel, contesting the agency’s decision over the legal fees. But it is clearly meant as a threat to the governor. Indeed, the allegations make up just one paragraph in a two-page letter that otherwise focuses on Mr. Wildstein’s demand that his legal fees be paid and that he be indemnified.

Mr. Zegas did not respond to requests to discuss the letter, which also consisted of a strong defense of Mr. Wildstein against negative comments Mr. Christie made about him during the news conference. “Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him, and he can prove the inaccuracy of some,” the letter added.

The bridge scandal erupted in early January, when documents emerged revealing that a deputy chief of staff to the governor, Bridget Anne Kelly, had sent an email to Mr. Wildstein saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” the town at the New Jersey end of the bridge, where Mr. Christie’s aides had pursued but failed to receive an endorsement from the mayor, who is a Democrat. The letter does not delve into the motives behind the lane closings.

A spokesman for Mr. Christie did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Friday.

Mr. Christie has steadfastly denied that he knew before this month that anyone in his administration was responsible for the lane closings, and his administration has tried to portray the closures as the actions of a rogue staff member.

The governor fired Ms. Kelly.

The closings caused extensive gridlock in Fort Lee, stretching some commutes to four hours and delaying emergency vehicles.

Mr. Wildstein communicated the order to close the lanes to bridge operators. He resigned from his position as the director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority in early December, saying that the scandal over the lane closings in September had become “a distraction.” In a statement that documents show was personally approved by the governor, the administration praised him as “a tireless advocate for New Jersey’s interests at the Port Authority.”

The Port Authority has since refused to pay his legal costs associated with inquiries by the New Jersey Legislature and United States attorney into the lane closings. In his two-hour news conference earlier this month, Mr. Christie said his friendship with Mr. Wildstein had been overstated; that while the governor had been class president and an athlete, he did not recall Mr. Wildstein well from that period and had rarely seen him in recent months.

The Wall Street Journal has since published photos showing the two men laughing together at a Sept. 11 anniversary event — which happened during the four days the lanes were closed. A high school baseball coach also recalled them as friends in high school.

The Legislature has sent subpoenas to Mr. Wildstein and 17 other people as well as the governor’s campaign and administration seeking information about the lane closings. That information is due back on Monday.

Ms. Kelly’s email was revealed in documents Mr. Wildstein submitted in response to an earlier subpoena from the legislature. But those documents were heavily redacted, leaving clues but no answers as to who else might have been involved in the lane closings. Some of the documents, for example, showed texts between Mr. Wildstein and Ms. Kelly trying to set up a meeting with the governor around the time the plan for the lane closings was hatched. But it is unclear what the meeting was about.

Other texts show Mr. Wildstein and Mr. Christie’s top appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, disparaging the mayor of Fort Lee during the lane closings, and discussing how to respond to the mayor’s complaints and inquiries from reporters. Those texts, too, are heavily redacted, but indicate that the two men were in contact with the governor’s office at the time.


By: Kate Zernike, The New York Times, January 31, 2014

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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