Fox News' GOP presidential candidate debate is the center of attention right now—for a lot of good reasons—so maybe that's why Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is not in the spotlight, picked tonight to announce that he's not supporting President Obama's Iran deal.
In a 1,600 word statement entitled "My Position on the Iran Deal" that he posted on Medium, he wrote:
Every several years or so a legislator is called upon to cast a momentous vote in which the stakes are high and both sides of the issue are vociferous in their views.
Over the years, I have learned that the best way to treat such decisions is to study the issue carefully, hear the full, unfiltered explanation of those for and against, and then, without regard to pressure, politics or party, make a decision solely based on the merits.
I have spent the last three weeks doing just that: carefully studying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, reading and re-reading the agreement and its annexes, questioning dozens of proponents and opponents, and seeking answers to questions that go beyond the text of the agreement but will have real consequences that must be considered.
Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed. This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor, and after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.
While we have come to different conclusions, I give tremendous credit to President Obama for his work on this issue. The President, Secretary Kerry and their team have spent painstaking months and years pushing Iran to come to an agreement. Iran would not have come to the table without the President’s persistent efforts to convince the Europeans, the Russians, and the Chinese to join in the sanctions. In addition, it was the President’s far-sighted focus that led our nation to accelerate development of the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), the best military deterrent and antidote to a nuclear Iran. So whichever side one comes down on in this agreement, all fair-minded Americans should acknowledge the President’s strong achievements in combatting and containing Iran.
In making my decision, I examined this deal in three parts: nuclear restrictions on Iran in the first ten years, nuclear restrictions on Iran after ten years, and non-nuclear components and consequences of a deal. In each case I have asked: are we better off with the agreement or without it?
In the first ten years of the deal, there are serious weaknesses in the agreement. First, inspections are not “anywhere, anytime”; the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling. While inspectors would likely be able to detect radioactive isotopes at a site after 24 days, that delay would enable Iran to escape detection of any illicit building and improving of possible military dimensions (PMD) — the tools that go into building a bomb but don’t emit radioactivity.
Furthermore, even when we detect radioactivity at a site where Iran is illicitly advancing its bomb-making capability, the 24-day delay would hinder our ability to determine precisely what was being done at that site.
Even more troubling is the fact that the U.S. cannot demand inspections unilaterally. By requiring the majority of the 8-member Joint Commission, and assuming that China, Russia, and Iran will not cooperate, inspections would require the votes of all three European members of the P5+1 as well as the EU representative. It is reasonable to fear that, once the Europeans become entangled in lucrative economic relations with Iran, they may well be inclined not to rock the boat by voting to allow inspections.
Additionally, the “snapback” provisions in the agreement seem cumbersome and difficult to use. While the U.S. could unilaterally cause snapback of allsanctions, there will be instances where it would be more appropriate to snapback some but not all of the sanctions, because the violation is significant but not severe. A partial snapback of multilateral sanctions could be difficult to obtain, because the U.S. would require the cooperation of other nations. If the U.S. insists on snapback of all the provisions, which it can do unilaterally, and the Europeans, Russians, or Chinese feel that is too severe a punishment, they may not comply.
Those who argue for the agreement say it is better to have an imperfect deal than to have nothing; that without the agreement, there would be no inspections, no snapback. When you consider only this portion of the deal — nuclear restrictions for the first ten years — that line of thinking is plausible, but even for this part of the agreement, the weaknesses mentioned above make this argument less compelling.
Second, we must evaluate how this deal would restrict Iran’s nuclear development after ten years.
Supporters argue that after ten years, a future President would be in no weaker a position than we are today to prevent Iran from racing to the bomb. That argument discounts the current sanctions regime. After fifteen years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program. Even more importantly, the agreement would allow Iran, after ten to fifteen years, to be a nuclear threshold state with the blessing of the world community. Iran would have a green light to be as close, if not closer to possessing a nuclear weapon than it is today. And the ability to thwart Iran if it is intent on becoming a nuclear power would have less moral and economic force.
If Iran’s true intent is to get a nuclear weapon, under this agreement, it must simply exercise patience. After ten years, it can be very close to achieving that goal, and, unlike its current unsanctioned pursuit of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear program will be codified in an agreement signed by the United States and other nations. To me, after ten years, if Iran is the same nation as it is today, we will be worse off with this agreement than without it.
In addition, we must consider the non-nuclear elements of the agreement. This aspect of the deal gives me the most pause. For years, Iran has used military force and terrorism to expand its influence in the Middle East, actively supporting military or terrorist actions in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza. That is why the U.S. has labeled Iran as one of only three nations in the world who are “state sponsors of terrorism.” Under this agreement, Iran would receive at least $50 billion dollars in the near future and would undoubtedly use some of that money to redouble its efforts to create even more trouble in the Middle East, and, perhaps, beyond.
To reduce the pain of sanctions, the Supreme Leader had to lean left and bend to the moderates in his country. It seems logical that to counterbalance, he will lean right and give the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and the hardliners resources so that they can pursue their number one goal: strengthening Iran’s armed forces and pursuing even more harmful military and terrorist actions.
Finally, the hardliners can use the freed-up funds to build an ICBM on their own as soon as sanctions are lifted (and then augment their ICBM capabilities in 8 years after the ban on importing ballistic weaponry is lifted), threatening the United States. Restrictions should have been put in place limiting how Iran could use its new resources.
When it comes to the non-nuclear aspects of the deal, I think there is a strong case that we are better off without an agreement than with one.
Using the proponents’ overall standard — which is not whether the agreement is ideal, but whether we are better with or without it — it seems to me, when it comes to the nuclear aspects of the agreement within ten years, we might be slightly better off with it. However, when it comes to the nuclear aspects after ten years and the non-nuclear aspects, we would be better off without it.
Ultimately, in my view, whether one supports or opposes the resolution of disapproval depends on how one thinks Iran will behave under this agreement.
If one thinks Iran will moderate, that contact with the West and a decrease in economic and political isolation will soften Iran’s hardline positions, one should approve the agreement. After all, a moderate Iran is less likely to exploit holes in the inspection and sanctions regime, is less likely to seek to become a threshold nuclear power after ten years, and is more likely to use its newfound resources for domestic growth, not international adventurism.
But if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.
Admittedly, no one can tell with certainty which way Iran will go. It is true that Iran has a large number of people who want their government to decrease its isolation from the world and focus on economic advancement at home. But it is also true that this desire has been evident in Iran for thirty-five years, yet the Iranian leaders have held a tight and undiminished grip on Iran, successfully maintaining their brutal, theocratic dictatorship with little threat. Who’s to say this dictatorship will not prevail for another ten, twenty, or thirty years?
To me, the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great.
Therefore, I will vote to disapprove the agreement, not because I believe war is a viable or desirable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy. It is because I believe Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power. Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.
For all of these reasons, I believe the vote to disapprove is the right one.
Republican presidential candidates from left, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, and George Pataki take the stage for a pre-debate forum at the Quicken Loans Arena, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. Seven of the candidates have not qualified for the prime time debate.
Fox News raised hackles when it announced the selection criteria for the first GOP presidential candidate debate: only the top-10, based on an average of selected national polls, would be allowed into the primetime debate. Rick Santorum called it "preposterous," but Fox had a solution. It would put on a pre-debate debate a couple hours before the main event, featuring the candidates that weren't quite fit for prime time. It wasn't a perfect solution, but at least they'd get a chance to air their views. But it was quickly clear that these were second-tier candidates, at least based on the way moderators Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer framed the early questions:
First question, essentially: aren't you a loser whose time has long passed. #FoxKiddieDebate
Demonstrators protest plans to privatize the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in Februrary 2013.
Puerto Rico's economic crisis has only gotten worse in the month since Gov. Alejandro García Padilla told the New York Times the island's $72 billion in debts was "not payable." Earlier this week, the island missed a key bond payment, making history and setting the stage for a bruising and protracted battle with creditors. There are many reasons Puerto Rico finds itself in this quandary, including its murky political status, and the situation seems to be deteriorating as time goes on.
Here are the direst problems facing Puerto Rico—and the impact they could have on the upcoming presidential election:
Default: In June, when García Padilla called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow Puerto Rico to get its debt in order under the US bankruptcy laws that apply to the 50 states, the idea that the island would default on loan payments was mostly theoretical. That's not the case anymore. The island's government paid just $628,000 of a $58 million debt payment due this week, triggering the first default since the island was taken over by the US in 1898. No state has defaulted since Arkansas failed to make its bond payments during the Great Depression in 1933.
The default complicates an already complicated situation. Since current law doesn't allow Puerto Rico to authorize its cities and publicly owned entities to seek bankruptcy protection through the courts, the island's government has to negotiate with each of its lenders individually. As anybody who has ever borrowed money knows, interest rates go up when your credit goes down. Puerto Rico's default, without any congressional intervention to change the bankruptcy laws, will likely lead to much more expensive borrowing in the future. "[The default] is consistent with our belief that Puerto Rico does not have the resources to make all of its forthcoming debt payments," Moody's Investors Service Vice President Emily Raimes said in a statement this week. "This is a first in what we believe will be broad defaults on commonwealth debt."
No Help From Congress: When American cities and political entities such as towns, water districts, counties, and publicly run corporations face similar financial problems, they reorganize their debt under Chapter 9 of the US Bankruptcy Code. Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, is perhaps the best-known example of this, but according to Governing magazine, it has happened nearly 50 times in the US since 2010. Federal bankruptcy law specifically excludes Puerto Rico, which means that the island's government is forced to negotiate directly with a range of lenders, all of whom have different requirements and some of whom recommended closing schools, cutting university subsidies, and firing teachers to repay the debt.
Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in Congress, has more than once introduced legislation that would allow Puerto Rico to be treated like the states when it comes to US bankruptcy laws, but it has gone nowhere. More recently, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced an identical bill to Pierluisi's, but some Republicans continue to oppose the idea on the grounds that it's a backdoor bailout, so any relief coming from Congress is unlikely.
Medical Issues: Puerto Ricans face a host of problems as a result of the economic implosion, but a looming health care crisis might be the most serious. As the New York Times reported over the weekend, Puerto Rico is bracing for large cuts to a Medicare program called Medicare Advantage, which is being pared back under the Affordable Care Act. The result is that tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans are expected to face higher copays, reduced services, and a shrinking network of already stressed doctors. Puerto Rico's Medicaid program, which serves nearly 1.6 million people, is also in danger of running out of federal grant money by the end of 2016. If the financially strapped government can't come up with funding, as many as 900,000 people could get dropped from the program, according to the Times—and funds are hard to come by these days.
The lack of Medicaid funding is partly responsible for $25 billion of the island's $73 billion debt burden,because the government has had to borrow to make up Medicaid funding gaps. Puerto Ricans pay Medicare taxes (along with many other federal taxes), but the federal government's funding to the island is capped, forcing Puerto Rico to try to make up the difference.
The Effect on Mainland Politics: Doctors aren't the only ones abandoning the island. As US citizens, Puerto Ricans can freely move to the US mainland, so now, there are more Puerto Ricans living on the mainland than on the island. The growing number of Puerto Ricans moving to the US, mainly Florida, will likely play a big role in the coming presidential election. As the Washington Post reported last week, politicians hoping to win Florida will face problems if they don't have Puerto Ricans backing them up at the polls. "Puerto Ricans are the swing voters in the swing region of a swing state," former Puerto Rico Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock told Mother Jones in July. "So, come March of next year, the presidential primaries in Florida will be very important in terms of what is done with Puerto Rico in the future."
The New York Times had a bombshell on its hands the other day: The paper of record reported that government investigators had asked the Justice Department to investigate possible criminal charges in relation to the emails Hillary Clinton kept on a private server. But the Times' scoop was way off. The government investigators had actually asked the Department of Justice to look into whether Clinton's emails that contained classified information might have been inadvertently released by the State Department. The story played right into the hands of Clinton's legion of enemies, who now had a cudgel to bang over the head of the presumptive Democratic nominee. The Times ended up changing its story, but that wasn't enough for the Clinton campaign. The campaign fired back at the Times on Tuesday with a nearly 2,000-word open letter to the paper's executive editor. It then posted the letter on hillaryclinton.com. Read the whole thing below:
Letter to the New York Times’ Dean Baquet
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, New York
July 28, 2015
Dear Mr. Baquet:
I am writing to officially register our campaign’s grave concern with the Times' publication of an inaccurate report related to Hillary Clinton and her email use.
I appreciate the fact that both you and the Public Editor have sought to publicly explain how this error could have been made. But we remain perplexed by the Times' slowness to acknowledge its errors after the fact, and some of the shaky justifications that Times' editors have made. We feel it important to outline these concerns with you directly so that they may be properly addressed and so our campaign can continue to have a productive working relationship with the Times.
I feel obliged to put into context just how egregious an error this story was. The New York Times is arguably the most important news outlet in the world and it rushed to put an erroneous story on the front page charging that a major candidate for President of the United States was the target of a criminal referral to federal law enforcement. Literally hundreds of outlets followed your story, creating a firestorm that had a deep impact that cannot be unwound. This problem was compounded by the fact that the Times took an inexplicable, let alone indefensible, delay in correcting the story and removing "criminal" from the headline and text of the story.
To review the facts, as the Times itself has acknowledged through multiple corrections, the paper's reporting was false in several key respects: first, contrary to what the Times stated, Mrs. Clinton is not the target of a criminal referral made by the State Department’s and Intelligence Community's Inspectors General, and second, the referral in question was not of a criminal nature at all.
Just as disturbing as the errors themselves is the Times' apparent abandonment of standard journalistic practices in the course of its reporting on this story.
First, the seriousness of the allegations that the Times rushed to report last Thursday evening demanded far more care and due diligence than the Times exhibited prior to this article's publication.
The Times' readers rightfully expect the paper to adhere to the most rigorous journalistic standards. To state the obvious, it is hard to imagine a situation more fitting for those standards to be applied than when a newspaper is preparing to allege that a major party candidate for President of the United States is the target of a criminal referral received by federal law enforcement.
This allegation, however, was reported hastily and without affording the campaign adequate opportunity to respond. It was not even mentioned by your reporter when our campaign was first contacted late Thursday afternoon. Initially, it was stated as reporting only on a memo – provided to Congress by the Inspectors General from the State Department and Intelligence Community – that raised the possibility of classified material traversing Secretary Clinton's email system. This memo — which was subsequently released publicly — did not reference a criminal referral at all. It was not until late Thursday night – at 8:36 pm – that your paper hurriedly followed up with our staff to explain that it had received a separate tip that the Inspectors General had additionally made a criminal referral to the Justice Department concerning Clinton's email use. Our staff indicated that we had no knowledge of any such referral – understandably, of course, since none actually existed – and further indicated that, for a variety of reasons, the reporter's allegation seemed implausible. Our campaign declined any immediate comment, but asked for additional time to attempt to investigate the allegation raised. In response, it was indicated that the campaign "had time," suggesting the publication of the report was not imminent.
Despite the late hour, our campaign quickly conferred and confirmed that we had no knowledge whatsoever of any criminal referral involving the Secretary. At 10:36 pm, our staff attempted to reach your reporters on the phone to reiterate this fact and ensure the paper would not be going forward with any such report. There was no answer. At 10:54 pm, our staff again attempted calling. Again, no answer. Minutes later, we received a call back. We sought to confirm that no story was imminent and were shocked at the reply: the story had just published on the Times' website.
This was, to put it mildly, an egregious breach of the process that should occur when a major newspaper like the Times is pursuing a story of this magnitude. Not only did the Times fail to engage in a proper discussion with the campaign ahead of publication; given the exceedingly short window of time between when the Times received the tip and rushed to publish, it hardly seems possible that the Times conducted sufficient deliberations within its own ranks before going ahead with the story.
Second, in its rush to publish what it clearly viewed as a major scoop, the Times relied on questionable sourcing and went ahead without bothering to seek corroborating evidence that could have supported its allegation.
In our conversations with the Times reporters, it was clear that they had not personally reviewed the IG's referral that they falsely described as both criminal and focused on Hillary Clinton. Instead, they relied on unnamed sources that characterized the referral as such. However, it is not at all clear that those sources had directly seen the referral, either. This should have represented too many "degrees of separation" for any newspaper to consider it reliable sourcing, least of all The New York Times.
Times' editors have attempted to explain these errors by claiming the fault for the misreporting resided with a Justice Department official whom other news outlets cited as confirming the Times' report after the fact. This suggestion does not add up. It is our understanding that this Justice Department official was not the original source of the Times' tip. Moreover, notwithstanding the official's inaccurate characterization of the referral as criminal in nature, this official does not appear to have told the Times that Mrs. Clinton was the target of that referral, as the paper falsely reported in its original story.
This raises the question of what other sources the Times may have relied on for its initial report. It clearly was not either of the referring officials – that is, the Inspectors General of either the State Department or intelligence agencies – since the Times' sources apparently lacked firsthand knowledge of the referral documents. It also seems unlikely the source could have been anyone affiliated with those offices, as it defies logic that anyone so closely involved could have so severely garbled the description of the referral.
Of course, the identity of the Times' sources would be deserving of far less scrutiny if the underlying information had been confirmed as true. However, the Times appears to have performed little, if any, work to corroborate the accuracy of its sources' characterizations of the IG's referral. Key details went uninvestigated in the Times' race to publish these erroneous allegations against Mrs. Clinton. For instance, high in the Times' initial story, the reporters acknowledged they had no knowledge of whether or not the documents that the Times claimed were mishandled by Mrs. Clinton contained any classified markings. In Mrs. Clinton's case, none of the emails at issue were marked. This fact was quickly acknowledged by the IC inspector general’s office within hours of the Times' report, but it was somehow left unaddressed in the initial story.
Even after the Times' reporting was revealed to be false, the Times incomprehensibly delayed the issuance of a full and true correction.
Our campaign first sought changes from the Times as soon as the initial story was published. Recognizing the implausibility that Mrs. Clinton herself could be the subject of any criminal probe, we immediately challenged the story's opening line, which said the referral sought an investigation into Mrs. Clinton specifically for the mishandling of classified materials. In response, the Times' reporters admitted that they themselves had never seen the IG's referral, and so acknowledged the possibility that the paper was overstating what it directly knew when it portrayed the potential investigation as centering on Mrs. Clinton. It corrected the lead sentence accordingly.
The speed with which the Times conceded that it could not defend its lead citing Mrs. Clinton as the referral's target raises questions about what inspired its confidence in the first place to frame the story that way. More importantly, the Times' change was not denoted in the form of a correction. Rather, it was performed quietly, overnight, without any accompanying note to readers. This was troubling in its lack of transparency and risks causing the Times to appear like it is trying to whitewash its misreporting. A correction should have been posted promptly that night.
Regardless, even after this change, a second error remained in the story: the characterization of the referral as criminal at all. By Friday morning, multiple members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (who had been briefed by the Inspectors General) challenged this portrayal—and ultimately, so did the Department of Justice itself. Only then did the Times finally print a correction acknowledging its misstatement of the nature of the referral to the Justice Department.
Of course, the correction, coming as it did on a Friday afternoon, was destined to reach a fraction of those who read the Times' original, erroneous report. As the Huffington Post observed:
"…it's unlikely that the same audience will see the updated version unless the paper were to send out a second breaking news email with its latest revisions. The Clinton story also appeared [on] the front page of Friday's print edition."
Most maddening of all, even after the correction fixed the description of the referral within the story, a headline remained on the front page of the Times' website that read, “Criminal Inquiry is Sought in Clinton Email Account." It was not until even later in the evening that the word "criminal" was finally dropped from the headline and an updated correction was issued to the story. The lateness of this second correction, however, prevented it from appearing in the paper the following morning. We simply do not understand how that was allowed to occur.
Lastly, the Times' official explanations for the misreporting is profoundly unsettling.
In a statement to the Times' public editor, you said that the errors in the Times' story Thursday night were "unavoidable." This is hard to accept. As noted above, the Justice Department official that incorrectly confirmed the Times' initial reports for other outlets does not appear to have been the initial source for the Times. Moreover, it is precisely because some individuals may provide erroneous information that it is important for the Times to sift the good information from the bad, and where there is doubt, insist on additional evidence. The Times was under no obligation to go forward on a story containing such explosive allegations coming only from sources who refused to be named. If nothing else, the Times could have allowed the campaign more time to understand the allegation being engaged. Unfortunately, the Times chose to take none of these steps.
In closing, I wish to emphasize our genuine wish to have a constructive relationship with The New York Times. But we also are extremely troubled by the events that went into this erroneous report, and will be looking forward to discussing our concerns related to this incident so we can have confidence that it is not repeated in the future.
Hillary for America
Cc: Margaret Sullivan,
New York Times
Hey political reporters: Hillary Clinton's emails are about to ruin another Friday night.
Are you a reporter working the Hillary Clinton beat? Hope you didn't have plans for Friday evening, because chances are you'll be spending a late night at the office going through thousands of new Clinton emails on the US State Department's clunky Freedom of Information Act site. The agency confirmed to Mother Jones that the next batch of emails from her time as secretary of state is due to be released tomorrow. Subsequent batches will be released on the last business day of the month.