Abbreviated pundit roundup: The whistleblower complaint, climate change and more

We begin today’s roundup with former deputy CIA director Michael Morell and former assistant attorney general David Kris and their perspective on the appointed leadership in the intelligence  community willfully denying Congress its oversight responsibilities:

Though many of the details about the growing dispute between Congress and the acting director of national intelligence still remain secret, the implications are already disturbing. […] 

Congressional oversight of executive branch activities is a vitally important constitutional tool in maintaining our democracy. It is particularly important for intelligence activities because the intelligence community consists of secret organizations operating in a democracy. The actions of acting director Maguire risk weakening that oversight, the perceptions of the intelligence community on the part of the public, and the intelligence community itself.

The New York Times:

What we do know is there is an important principle at stake: that Congress is supposed to have oversight — through confidential hearings — of complaints like this. There’s a solid case to be made that Mr. Maguire, who has not invoked executive privilege as a reason for withholding the complaint, is ignoring the plain language of the law. While the lawyers battle over who is authorized to withhold what from whom, it’s worth making two observations: first, that the intelligence community’s watchdog — not some disgruntled denizen of the “deep state,” but a man appointed by Mr. Trump — was alarmed enough that he thought it necessary to inform Congress. 

Second, that the administration is doing whatever it can to keep the complaint from becoming known, even behind closed doors.

Zak Cheney-Rice at New York says that former Trump officials and staffers don’t just escape accountability for their actions, but they thrive after leaving their posts in an enabling media environment:

Three stalwarts of the Trump administration or presidential campaign — Sean Spicer, Kirstjen Nielsen, and Corey Lewandowski — have all made dramatic returns to public prominence on media platforms of national renown, as if they weren’t crucial abettors to the most flagrantly racist and dishonest president in recent memory — and in Nielsen’s case, culpable in the deaths of multiple children. If being publicly conservative in the Trump era does indeed presage pariahood, as many have claimed, then someone must have forgotten to tell the executives at ABC, Atlantic Media, and CNN.

Sam Brodey, Erin Banco. Asawin Suebsaeng and Sam Stein at The Daily Beast provide an excellent overview of the situation:

As The Daily Beast first reported in June, House Democrats had been looking for months to open a probe into Giuliani for his overseas political and consulting work, including his efforts to uncover dirt on Biden. And it could very well be that the whistleblower complaint adds fuel to those investigations, though so far lawmakers on the Hill seem to be as in the dark about the matter as the public itself.

On Thursday, the IC’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, held a four-hour closed-door briefing with members of the House Intelligence Committee. Members were tight-lipped over any details of the exchanges, save to say that Atkinson conducted the briefing in a hearing-like fashion, speaking for a length of time at the beginning before answering questions from the ranking chairs of the committee.

Overall, members said they left the briefing with the clear impression that the complaint raised grave concerns about U.S. national security interests and needed immediate attention. Days earlier, Atkinson had written a letter to committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) saying the complaint related to “one of the most significant and important of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”

Stephen Collinson at CNN:

The whistleblower didn’t have direct knowledge of the communications, an official briefed on the matter told CNN. Instead, the whistleblower’s concerns came in part from learning information that was not obtained during the course of their work, and those details have played a role in the administration’s determination that the complaint didn’t fit the reporting requirements under the intelligence whistleblower law, the official said. It is hard to know the potential exposure faced by the President.

But given the sensitivity of the issue, the complaint is likely to have come from an official familiar with the scope of presidential power. And it was signed off as “urgent and credible” by the inspector general — a Trump appointee — who thought Congress should know in line with whistleblowing laws.

The implication of such a fact pattern is staggering and opens up the potential of serious misconduct inside the White House — despite Trump‘s denials of any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Kolbert at The New Yorker analyzes the climate change protests:

Are the politics of climate change in America changing? There are positive signs. Earlier this month, the top ten candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination participated in a CNN town hall on the issue; according to the Times, this was “the first such prime-time event” in history. A recent Washington Post poll found that more than three-quarters of Americans now consider climate change a “crisis” or a “major problem.” A survey conducted this summer of voters in Texas showed that, even in the oil patch, a majority are concerned about climate change. Thunberg’s actions have inspired hundreds of thousands of young people around the globe to stage school strikes for climate action. Ahead of the strike called for the eve of the climate summit, the New York City school system said it would excuse students who skipped classes; Thunberg was set to speak to the strikers in Foley Square.

More from Diana Schoder:

As doctors, health activists, and medical associations increasingly recognize the climate emergency and take action to educate others and advocate for political change to fight it, they are applying their expertise and values to the environment. Nowhere is this clearer than the 70-plus-organization-strong Climate, Health, and Equity Policy Action Agenda, which joins the climate and health agendas while bringing equitable solutions to the forefront. For example, this agenda calls for a major transformation of the food system, which is, yes, extraordinarily ambitious but would also, if executed, help make people healthier, create economic independence, improve air and water quality, increase biodiversity, and reduce carbon emissions. This particular endeavor is compelling not only because of its revolutionary and holistic scope, but also because it takes into account the rural communities that will be hit hard by both climate change and economic transition. Achieving this has the potential for an enormous amount of payoff, and that’s what we should focus on, rather than the difficulty of implementation.

And, on a final note, Zoe Carpenter asks what would a real commitment to the Paris climate agreement look like?

All the major candidates on the Democratic side have said they’d recommit the country to the Paris process, and all have embraced an ambitious long-term target in line with the agreement: reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The fact that this target has become mainstream for Democrats obscures just how significant it is, as Vox’s David Roberts has written. Hitting it would require an unprecedented political and economic transformation, starting pretty much right now.

For that reason, what matters more than the 2050 target is what presidential candidates pledge to do in the next decade, said Leah Stokes, an assistant professor of climate politics at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “If you say, ‘Look, we’ve got to be doing this by 2030 so that we’re on track to doing things by 2050,’ you’re having to make harder choices that are not just ‘Hey, let’s have a more fuel efficient car—but it’s still a combustion engine,’” she said. The kinds of policies that the US would need to adopt to get on this trajectory are far more radical than raising fuel efficiency standards or imposing carbon taxes—both of which “are great,” Stokes continued, “but they do not drive technological innovation or deep decarbonization. They are really about efficiencies at the margins of a fossil-fuel-based system.”

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