Daily Archive: 09/05/2013

Sep 05 2013

Cats and Rugs are natural enemies

Sep 05 2013

Obama Defends NSA Surveillance on the Way to the G-20

During his stop over in Stockholm, Sweden on the way to the G-20, President Barack Obama renewed his defense of unfettered surveillance

“I can give assurances to the publics in Europe and around the world that we’re not going around snooping at people’s emails or listening to their phone calls,” Obama said in response to a Swedish reporter’s question during a news conference with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt as he began a whirlwind, 24-hour trip to Sweden. “What we try to do is to target very specifically areas of concern.”

Still, the president acknowledged that questions about privacy were likely to trail him in Europe – a continent that is protective of privacy rights – for some time. The issue also bubbled up during his trip to Germany in June, shortly after newspapers published reports based on documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

Despite Obama’s assertions of a more narrow-scope effort, the Snowden-leaked documents show the NSA collects and stores all kinds of data traveling through the Internet, including emails, video chats and instant messages. Under one such classified program, known as Prism, the government can obtain secret court orders and gather mass amounts of data from major Internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook.

The ACLU is challenging the constitutionality of the intelligence agency’s action filing a complaint in the Southern District of New York against James Clapper in June. An up date on that lawsuit was posted today on their web site. (please note that the link contains an interesting but really annoying gif).

An impressive array of organizations and individuals filed amicus briefs yesterday in support of the ACLU’s constitutional challenge to the government’s collection of the call records of virtually everyone in the United States. The range of voices joining the protest against mass government surveillance-not to mention the bipartisan storm that has swept Congress since the recent NSA disclosures – is a real testament to the fact that the government’s dragnet surveillance practices are offensive to Americans from across the political spectrum.

Among the groups supporting our lawsuit are the National Rifle Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the PEN American Center. Philosophy Professor Michael Lynch submitted a brief arguing that privacy is fundamental to human dignity. Our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation submitted a brief on behalf of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), one of the authors of the Patriot Act. Rep. Sensenbrenner has decried the now-public call-records program as outside the scope of the law he authored.

Yes, you’re reading that right, the NRA and Rep. Sensenbrenner.

NSA surveillance: National Rifle Association backs ACLU challenge

by Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian

Anger at US government’s data trawling creates unlikely alliance in court between NRA and American Civil Liberties Union

The NRA, in an amicus brief in support of the ACLU, argues that the mass surveillance programme provides “the government not only with the means of identifying members and others who communicate with the NRA and other advocacy groups, but also with the means of identifying gun owners without their knowledge or consent”.

EFF Files Brief on Behalf of Rep. Sensenbrenner in NSA Spying Case

Press release from Electronic Freedom Foundation

Original Patriot Act Author Says Call-Data Collection Exceeds Congressional Intent

San Francisco – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today filed a brief on behalf of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author of the original USA PATRIOT Act, in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the National Security Agency (NSA). In the brief, Sensenbrenner argues that Congress never intended the Patriot Act to permit the NSA’s collection of the records of every telephone call made to, from and within the United States. Sensenbrenner urges the court to deny the NSA’s motion to dismiss and grant the ACLU’s motion for a preliminary injunction, which would halt the program until the case is decided.

In another development today, hundreds of pages from NSA spying documents are to be released in response to an FOIA request by EFF:

In a major victory in one of EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits, the Justice Department conceded yesterday that it will release hundreds of pages of documents, including FISA court opinions, related to the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the law the NSA has relied upon for years to mass collect the phone records of millions of innocent Americans. [..]

While the government finally released a white paper detailing its expansive (and unconstitutional) interpretation of Section 215 last month, more important FISA court opinions adopting at least part of that interpretation have remained secret. The results of EFF’s FOIA lawsuit will finally lift the veil on the dubious legal underpinnings of NSA’s domestic phone surveillance program.

This victory for EFF comes on the heels of another FOIA success two weeks ago, when the Justice Department was also forced to release a 2011 FISA court opinion ruling some NSA surveillance unconstitutional.

Now to that gif. It is visualization demonstrating the staggering scope of the NSA’s surveillance. Click on the image to view.

ACLU NRA photo blog-3hops-500x280-v01_zpsa00e2a91.jpg

Sep 05 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

John Nichols: Attack Syria? ‘Nobody Wants This Except the Military-Industrial Complex’

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, backs President Obama’s request for authorization to intervene militarily in Syria, as does House Democratic Minority Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is similarly “in,” while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in mum.

The president has done a pretty good job of selling his plan to congressional leaders.

He has not, however, sold it to the American people.

Thus, when members of Congress decide which side they’re on in the Syrian intervention votes that are expected to take place next week, they will have to consider whether they want to respond to pro-war pressure from inside-the-Beltway – as so many did when they authorized action against Iraq – or to the anti-war sentiments of their constituents.

Reflecting on the proposed intervention, Congressman Alan Grayson, D-Florida, allowed as how: “Nobody wants this except the military-industrial complex.”

The level of opposition might not be quite so overwhelming.

But it is strikingly high.

Dean Baker: Washington Post Continues the Beatification Process of Larry Summers

If one were to list the people most responsible for the country’s dismal economic state few people other than Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin would rank higher than Larry Summers. After all, Summers was a huge proponent of financial deregulation in the 1990s and the last decade. He was a cheerleader for the stock bubble and never expressed any concerns about the housing bubble. He thought the over-valued dollar was good policy (and therefore also the enormous trade deficit that inevitably follows), and he was unconcerned that an inadequate stimulus would lead to a dismal employment picture long into the future.

However President Obama apparently wants to appoint Summers as Fed chair, so the Post is rising to the occasion and busily re-writing history. Today’s effort has Summers as a far-sighted oracle whose concerns were unfortunately dismissed by those in positions of power.

Mairead Maguire: The World Should Join in Call to Stop US War in Syria

Pope Francis has set Saturday September 7, 2013 as a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. The Vatican has declared that it is against “armed intervention,” pointing to the havoc caused by the United States led war to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003.

I would like to add my support t Pope Francis’ appeal and pledge to pray and fast for peace on September 7th. I encourage people of all faiths and none to join that global day of fasting and prayer for peace, and to act for peace and against U.S. military intervention by the United States in Syria.

One hundred years ago a small incident took place in Bosnia, and it escalated into the first world war, causing the death of millions. Every act has its consequences and every violent act, like the proposed U.S. military intervention, has its violent consequences which will cause the death of further Syrian civilians and result in many more refugees.

Jon Soltz: The Military Case Against Syria Strikes

The question of what to do, if anything, regarding Syria is a difficult one for me, especially as the Chairman of the largest progressive group of veterans in America, VoteVets.org, which represents over 360,000 supporters. This past week, we polled our supporters on whether or not they supported missile strikes against Syria. Roughly 80 percent said we should not. Though cut and dry for many, this issue is more complex for me, because of my history with some of the people now pushing for action.

The entire reason I become involved in politics and policy work is because, as a young veteran returning from my first tour in Iraq, I met then-Senator John Kerry. I felt lost — angered by a war in Iraq that I could no longer support waging, but with strong doubt over whether I could make a difference. John Kerry, one veteran to another, talked to me about the importance of becoming involved, and of the impact I could make, if I directed my energies into something constructive.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: New York City’s Populist Shift — And Why It Matters

For 12 years now they’ve been touting New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a model for the politics of the future. Beltway pundits have pushed hard for his amalgam of economically conservative policies and social-issues liberalism.

They seized on Bloomberg’s mayoralty as a vindication of their vision. They were eager to tell us that us his winning candidacy was the harbinger of a new political trend.

They have yet say the same about populist Bill de Blasio, who’s leading the polls to replace Bloomberg. And yet, it could be argued that de Blasio is already a more significant political bellwether than Bloomberg ever was.

The race isn’t over. But it’s beginning to look as if de Blasio, not Bloomberg, is the shape of things to come.

Robert Reich: Not Very Giving

AS school gets rolling across the country, many parents will be asked to make a large financial contribution to their children’s school. In Hillsborough, Calif., for example, parents receive a letter from the Hillsborough Schools Foundation in which the amount requested is $2,300 per child.

There have always been parent-teacher associations that raise modest or even not-so-modest amounts of money. But increasingly local school foundations are being created expressly for the purpose of raising private funds. [..]

According to the foundation, charitable gifts have financed class-size reductions, librarians, art and music teachers, and Smart technology in every classroom. These funds supplement the annual public spending of $13,500 per pupil. In the process, they increase property values in Hillsborough. In 2012 private contributions to the foundation amounted to $3.45 million, or $2,300 per pupil.

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Sep 05 2013

Syria’s Neglected Crisis

As you listen to the talking heads and browse through the news articles about the Syrian civil war, the is one crisis that is barely mentioned, the over two million refugees that the war has created, half of them are children. Men, women ans children are flooding neighboring Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon and rapidly spreading into Europe. Sweden has announced that it will give citizenship to all Syrian refugees. Sweden! The UN has warned that the crisis is reaching unprecedented numbers and warned that the world faces its greatest threat to peace since the Vietnam war.

The resident of Oxfam America, Raymond Offenheiser joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman and Naereem Shaikh to for a discussion of the global failure to address this crisis



Trancript can be read here

Sep 05 2013

Aggressive War on Syria: State of Play 2

Obama on the Verge of Being Handed a Major Defeat on Syria

Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Other writers have covered in gory detail how the US insistence that it has proof that Assad was behind the chemical attacks looks like a not-sufficiently-improved version of the Iraq WMD playbook. Nothing from the Administration in the last 48 hours has dented these critics’ case. Indeed, one has to wonder as to why the US is trying to pre-empt UN evidence-gathering and analysis. Might it be that it would finger the rebels, as in the folks the US has been funding? Are we prepared to go after them if they were the ones who crossed Obama’s red line?

But what is relevant right now is not what actually happened in Syria (why should we trouble ourselves with pesky details?) but that, as Lambert put it, the imperial reality-creating machine is starting to break down before our eyes. Since I am trying to minimize time on the Web this week (I am still in theory on vacation), it would have been easy to have been snookered by the news stories of the day: Boehner agrees to support Obama on Syria! Senate Foreign Relations Committee passes resolution authorizing an American strike on Syria! Both houses are falling into line, so resign yourself to more Middle Eastern misadventures.

Reports from inside the Beltway give a very different picture. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the authorization resolution with weak support, a 10-7-1 vote. This sends a message to the Senate that even some hawks are loath to throw their weight behind it. By contrast, with the Amash amendment (the amendment attached to a Defense Department funding bill that would have curbed the NSA), the House leadership of both parties were resoundingly opposed, and current and former military and intelligence officials sounded dire warnings as to all the terrible things that would happen if the resolution passed.



ThinkProgress’ House whip count as of the end of Wednesday broke down with 47 members of the House as firm or inclined to a yes vote, 187 firm or inclined to a no vote, and 220 unknown or undecided. Firedoglake comes up with a broadly similar picture: 55 firmly or inclined to a yes, 155 firmly or inclined to a negative vote. One of my Congressional sources says based on his conversations with Republicans he is pretty certain the Administration will be forced to withdraw the resolution or postpone a vote in the House.



This vote is turning out to be another TARP-type watershed, with the public virtually unified in its opposition (calls to Congresscrittters are reportedly running well over 90% against intervention). And remember, it took a market swan dive, a second TARP vote, and the additional of lots of pork to reverse the initial vote. But also bear in mind that the reason TARP was initially voted down was the barrage of voter phone calls and e-mails against it, reportedly 99% opposed until financial services firms started getting employees to call in favor of the bill, which shifted the tally to a mere 80% or so of callers opposed. So if you have not called or written your Congresscritters, be sure to do so pronto.

France won’t attack Syria if U.S. doesn’t, prime minister tells his Senate

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

French leaders warned Wednesday that failing to respond to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would send a dangerous signal to the dictators of the world.

But French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also said that his country would not launch a retaliatory strike on Syria if the United States decides not to do so.

“France will not act without U.S. support,” he told his country’s Senate as France’s Parliament began to debate whether the country should take military action to punish the government of President Bashar Assad for a chemical weapons attack that the U.S. and France claim his forces launched on Damascus suburbs Aug. 21.



Just hours before the French discussion of a response began, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’s consistently rejected the notion that Assad’s government used chemical weapons, seemed to open the door for possible Russian participation in a strike, telling a television interviewer that “if it is proven the government was behind the attacks, there will be a reaction.”



“My question is what will be the U.S. reaction if the evidence shows that the rebels were behind the use of chemical weapons?” he asked. “Will the U.S. stop providing the rebellion with weapons in that case?”



The leader of the primary opposition party in the French Senate warned, however, that any action without a United Nations mandate carried the risk of isolating France. Christian Jacob, the head of the center-right Union for Popular Movement, the party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, warned of “similarities with Iraq” in the run-up to any Syrian attack, saying there was no U.N. consensus and that the intelligence on which the U.S. and France have made their case is less than definitive.

“Where are our allies?” he asked. “Where is the United Nations Security Council resolution?”

Sep 05 2013

On This Day In History September 5

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

September 5 is the 248th day of the year (249th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 117 days remaining until the end of the year..

On this day in 1882, the first Labor Day was celebrated in NYC with a parade of 10,000 workers. The Parade started at City Hall, winding past the reviewing stands at Union Square and then uptown where it ended at 42nd St where the marcher’s and their families celebrated with a picnic, concert and speeches. The march was organized by New York’s Central Labor Union and while there has been debate as to who originated the idea, credit is given to Peter McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor.

It became a federal holiday in 1894, when, following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland  put reconciliation with the labor movement as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. The September date was chosen as Cleveland was concerned that aligning an American labor holiday with existing international May Day celebrations would stir up negative emotions linked to the Haymarket Affair. All 50 U.S. states have made Labor Day a state holiday.