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The Washington Report – November 20, 2015

20 Nov 2015

The Washington Report – November 20, 2015

Paris … we love you. Note to the forces of darkness, you will lose (h/t NYTs) … and other news of the week.
Best,
Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Steve Moffitt, Alan MacLeod, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala and Kayla Baca)

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POLITICAL RESPONSES TO PARIS The Fix: “As Rahm Emanuel said in 2008 (then President Obama’s Chief-of-staff), “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” paraphrasing Winston Churchill. “And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” This is not necessarily a new concept, and it is not an incorrect one. Crises have often been used to rationalize actions that might otherwise have been viewed disapprovingly. But it’s also politically tricky to suggest that one person’s tragedy should prove to be someone else’s gain. … Since the attacks in Paris that killed 129 people last Friday, we’ve discovered what opportunities politicians and activists see in that crisis. Most obvious is the question of whether or not to allow Syrian refugees into the United States. Leveraging reports that one of the terrorists may have arrived in France through the refugee-transit system that had already been flummoxing European leaders, American politicians — mostly, but not exclusively Republican — are pushing to restrict future refugees from that country. The political opportunity, in this case, is largely that candidates for the Republican nomination can position themselves in opposition to the administration. Then there’s the question of data encryption … former intelligence officials were pointing to encrypted communications between terrorists even while police were still scouring Paris on Friday night. Members of the Senate who’ve long backed stronger surveillance tools have already suggested that they will move new proposals forward. THE PROBLEM with these “opportunities” is that neither is grounded in the actual crisis. TURNS OUT SEVEN OF THE EIGHT ATTACKERS were apparently European passport-holders, as was the man credited with planning the attacks who was killed in Wednesday morning’s raid. Whether or not that eighth terrorist — the one found with the possibly stolen passport — was actually a Syrian refugee is not yet clear. Perhaps he was; perhaps there are other Syrian refugees in Europe who are connected to the Islamic State. But we don’t have evidence that they are. WERE COMMUNICATIONS ENCRYPTED? A report from Le Monde indicates that the terrorists communicated using ordinary text messages the night of the attack. In February, the attack’s planner apparently bragged about not even having to hide his identity in Belgium. He’d previously communicated without encryption regularly. A larger reason that authorities didn’t prevent the attack, it seems, is that they missed evidence that they should have spotted. THAT SAID: Just because we don’t have evidence that the Paris terrorists used encrypted communication methods doesn’t mean that they didn’t, just as the lack of evidence of any of the attackers slipping into the flow of refugees doesn’t mean that no refugees have. What it means, though, is that the crisis is being used as an excuse — an opportunity — despite there not being evidence that it necessarily should.

THE REAL LESSON IS THAT WE SHOULD NOTICE WHEN A CRISIS IS BEING LEVERAGED FOR A POLITICAL END You don’t want a crisis to go to waste as an opportunity to fix a problem or to finally enact the reforms that would have prevented the crisis in the first place. You simply want to assess those opportunities and the motivations for them as comprehensively as you can.

A HISTORY LESSON The more important lesson is to recognize that crises can cloud our judgment. In 1942, then-California attorney general Earl Warren was testifying before Congress about the perceived threat posed by Japanese-Americans on the West Coast. Warren was asked why he was worried about the threat of sabotage by Japanese sympathizers despite there being no examples of that happening. That absence of evidence, Warren suggested, reinforced the idea that saboteurs were simply biding their time and demonstrated to him that the risk was even higher than if actual sabotage had occurred. That’s nonsense, of course. But this was months after Pearl Harbor — one of the great crises in American history. President Franklin Roosevelt sent Japanese-Americans to internment camps shortly thereafter, which in 1988 President Ronald Reagan acknowledged was a mistake.”

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DIGGING DEEPER We think some of the best writing is being done by The Atlantic. To spark conversation — an excellent article writen last March “What ISIS Really Wants“, and a more recent one: “Obama’s Overlooked Challenge to Muslims

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BILL TO ‘PAUSE’ ADMITTANCE OF SOME REFUGEES Politico: “The House passed a bill Thursday that would block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the country unless they pass strict background checks – setting up a collision with President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats. The bill had near unanimous support from Republicans, who were joined by 47 Democrats – even after the Obama administration made a last-minute pitch to persuade wavering House Democrats to oppose the GOP-written bill. And with 289 ‘yes’ votes, Republicans also won a veto-proof majority for the measure. The bipartisan support was a rebuke of President Barack Obama by House Democrats who felt that the administration failed to make a compelling case as to why they should vote against the Republican-authored bill when it was bad politics to do so.” SENATE DEMS VOW TO WAGE REFUGEE FILIBUSTER, FLIP FOCUS TO VISAS “Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Thursday that he is no longer open to a so-called pause in the flow of Syrian refugees into the United States, as the nation’s resettlement program remains under sharp congressional scrutiny as a potential national security loophole. The Hill: “Senate Democrats will filibuster legislation halting the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States… Senate Democrats believe they can flip the issue by shifting the debate to the roughly 20 million people who come into the country each year through the visa waiver program. They also want to put Republicans on the spot by forcing a vote on a provision to bar people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns.” BUT, BUT, BUT … BIPARTISAN VISA CHANGES FACES BUSINESS BACKLASH Roll Call: “Efforts to curb a visa-waiver program in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks may win bipartisan support in Congress but already are stirring backlash from industries that thrive on foreign visitors. Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Thursday that they plan to introduce a bill after the Thanksgiving recess that would tighten up parts of a decades-old program aimed at increasing the number of international tourists visiting the United States. … industry groups argue that security backstops enacted in the 14 years since the Sept. 11 attacks are sufficient, and that overhauling the visa-waiver program would simply make it harder for law-abiding visitors to put the United States on their itineraries.”

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FRANCE STILL PLANS TO TAKE 30,000 REFUGEES NYTs “France will keep its promise to take in 30,000 refugees over the next two years, President François Hollande said on Wednesday. But he said they would be checked thoroughly to make sure they do not pose a threat. ‘Our country has the duty to respect this commitment,’ Mr. Hollande said, noting that those fleeing areas of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State were being ‘tormented’ by the ‘very same people who are attacking us today.'”

BEFORE LEAVING THE TOPIC Last weekend, Capstone CEO John Rogers wrote a note to his grown kids, one of whom lives abroad, the other at a large university on Surviving an Attack.” As many of you know, John has long been involved with matters of national security and countering violent extremism. We urged him to share it more broadly.

Dear kids (and loved ones),

Imagine you are sitting at an outdoor café and somebody throws a bunch of firecrackers under the tables. You’d most likely jump up to see what the commotion was. Don’t. It’s the wrong thing to do.
This is exactly what happened in Paris last Friday at le Petit Cambodge, an outdoor café and bar. One of the witnesses I saw interviewed said the terrorist threw a bunch of firecrackers into the restaurant and the patrons stood up. The terrorist then calmly and coldly started murdering them one at a time. Fifteen people died there.

My friends at the Magis Group (they train special ops guys how to be cool as cucumbers under immense pressure) would tell you that the unexpected can create an initial startle response … continue reading

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WHAT WE’VE LEARNED ABOUT PAUL RYAN Politico: “Paul Ryan has been speaker of the House for just three weeks… He’s deftly navigated a Syrian refugee crisis that might have crippled former Speaker John Boehner. He reformed an internal power center within the House Republican Conference. He’s reopened lines of constant communication with President Barack Obama. And he seems to be playing on an endless loop on cable television… Ryan believes that next year — an election year — should be heavy on legislating… Ryan is going to empower Kevin McCarthy… Ryan is keeping his word about changing how the House works….When disaster strikes — as it did last week in Paris — Ryan isn’t afraid to move fast, bypass committees and bring a bill to the floor quickly… Ryan likes being on TV — and other Republicans like to see him doing it.”

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FED TO CONGRESS: LAY OFF OUR DOUGH Politico, on the plan to take billions out of fed accounts to fund a HIGHWAY BILL “Even as members of Congress are slamming the Federal Reserve for being too political with its monetary policy, they are plotting to use the central bank as a government piggy bank. Congress is aiming to take billions out of the Fed’s accounts to help pay for a new highway and transit bill, but the Fed is balking, registering ‘strong concerns about using the resources of the Federal Reserve to finance fiscal spending.’ But members of Congress who consider the Fed money to be the only politically feasible way to fund a long-term transportation bill are wondering why the central bank didn’t try to stir up opposition sooner.” Congress has until Dec. 4 to vote on a bill, whether it be a long-term deal or another temporary patch. The broad outlines of a deal could be announced as soon as today.. BACK STORY Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen first reacted publicly in July as the Senate considered raising billions for roads by cutting the dividends banks earn on capital they pay into the Federal Reserve, which has a system of regional outposts across the country. During testimony at the Senate Banking Committee, she said she’d be concerned that reducing the dividend “could have unintended consequences for banks’ willingness to be part of the Federal Reserve system.” CAPITAL SURPLUS ACCOUNT The Senate passed the bill over the objections of the Fed and of banks, who were livid about the prospect of losing the payments. When the House took up the issue, Texas Republican Randy Neugebauer was unhappy that the Senate proposal would penalize banks and also raise some housing fees, so he and his staff dusted off a proposal they’d once developed for another bill that would tap the Fed’s capital surplus in a one-time withdrawal to satisfy House spending rules (co-authored by Bill Huizenga (R-MI)). The capital surplus account goes back to the beginning of the Federal Reserve, which was up and running beginning in 1914. According to a 2002 study by what was then called the General Accounting Office, the Federal Reserve’s regional banks drew on their capital surplus at least 158 times to absorb weekly losses from 1989 to 2001. Yellen appeared before the House Financial Services Committee Nov. 4 to talk about banking regulation … and said nothing about the highway bill.”

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OBAMACARE ANGST USA Today: “540,000 might be forced to find another provider,” – “If UnitedHealth drops out, consumers would lose one of the lowest-cost plans available in much of the country, and some wonder how smaller insurers could fill the void.” WSJ: “The industry’s woes, and broad rate increases aimed at stanching the red ink, are putting pressure on the Obama administration to tweak aspects of the law; the issues also risk pulling the ACA back into the political spotlight. Republicans … quickly jumped on the news.”

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GOP TO DENY OBAMA CLIMATE FUNDS The Hill: “Republicans are taking aim at a new “Green Climate Fund,” as they look to weaken President Obama’s hand in global climate talks later this month. The pot of money, a $3 billion climate change pledge the president’s administration made last year, is something officials hope to bring to the negotiating table at United Nations summit in Paris. But Republicans — hostile to the climate talks and bent on doing whatever they can to derail a deal in Paris next month — say they’re going to deny Obama the first tranche of money he hopes to inject into the fund … 37 Republican senators wrote in a letter to Obama on Thursday. The fund, a pool of public and private money, is meant to help poorer nations prepare for climate change.A Senate appropriations bill cleared the way for the first portion of American funding earlier this year, but Republicans committed this week to blocking it in a final budget deal. 2016 BUDGET In his 2016 budget request, Obama asked lawmakers to provide $500 million for the fund, but House and Senate appropriators have given him nothing. Congress has yet to finalize its 2016 spending plan, though the deadline to do so — Dec. 11 — is the last day of the U.N.’s climate talks, symmetry that may give Republicans a chance to complicate the process. Earlier this year, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR.) inserted a provision into a Senate appropriations bill giving the State Department the right to contribute to the Green Climate Fund using its own budget, without prior congressional approval. That amendment won bipartisan support in committee, but it must now survive funding negotiations ahead of a looming deadline.” TURNS OUT … even if Republicans can block federal financing for the Green Climate Fund, it won’t doom a climate accord. Other countries have contributed funding, the private sector is pitching in heavily, and the centerpiece of any deal would be countries’ carbon emission reduction goals — not funding. ON THE ONE HAND According to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, she expects Republicans won’t have the will to back out of commitments the U.S. has made to an international project that is already moving forward. AND THE OTHER But top Republicans — looking for whatever leverage they can find on a climate accord — have promised to hold out.”

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WHOA ON GITMO Politico: “The Obama administration has decided to hold off on releasing a plan to close the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay. The decision not to release the plan — which lawmakers had expected as early as last week — was triggered by financial concerns and was made before Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, said a Pentagon official involved in the discussions. The optics of proceeding with a plan to close the prison camp got uglier after Paris. … Efforts to move the prisoners to U.S. soil face stiff opposition in Congress, including from many Democrats, and lawmakers have passed multiple laws limiting what the administration can do with the inmates, including funding restrictions. Amid speculation that President Barack Obama would use his executive authority to bypass congressional statutes, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is threatening a court battle.”

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WAR AUTHORIZATION Politico: “Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced an authorization of military force (AUMF) to declare war on the Islamic State on Wednesday, an open-ended proposal that contains no limitations on deploying ground troops or geographic scope. The move from the South Carolina Republican, a longshot presidential candidate, marks a new phase in the debate over whether Congress should vote on war with the Islamic State.”

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AND THEN THERE WERE 14 Gov. Bobby Jindal’s dreams of being president came to a screeching halt Tuesday, when the Louisiana Republican dropped out of the 2016 race.

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BAR OFFICIALLY CANNOT BE LOWERED Borowitz Report (The New Yorker) A group of scholars who have been monitoring the descent of the bar over the past few decades have concluded that the bar can no longer be lowered, the scholars announced on Friday. The academics, led by Professor Davis Logsdon, of the University of Minnesota, published their conclusion after their research definitively found that the bar had finally dropped to its lowest possible position. “For those who thought the bar still had room to be lowered, our findings resoundingly contradict that assumption,” Logsdon said. “The bar is now essentially flush with the ground.” (Just sayin…)

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From our families to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

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