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Digby notes that President Obama and Jack Lew was talking about "entitlement cuts" again at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council.  There are a number of people working to spread the word that nobody should get riled up about cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, there will be no grand bargain this year, blah blah, the NYT had a big article saying that even the Republicans don't want to vote for those cuts... blah blah.  And yet the President and the Sec of Treasury and others keep talking about it as if it's a given.  And now Harry Reid is supposedly considering the nuclear option again on the filibuster.  Supposedly it's a about appointments that keep getting blocked, but the timing is interesting.  I've said before that maybe Reid will reform the filibuster only when he wants to use it against progressive senators.

They can't stop flogging deficits
“We’ve made clear that in order to do the kind of entitlement reforms that are in the president’s budget it would require moving a tax reform and raising some additional revenue,” Lew added. “If that’s not a possibility for the Republicans then something large is not likely. But there’s other ways for these conferees to work things out but I’ll leave it to them.”
Yes, yes, yes. I am duly scolded for highlighting this since it's obvious the Republicans will never agree so it's pretty much a moot point. And Lew admits that they will probably only be able to get a less ambitious budget through this congress. So why does the administration put this "entitlement reform for revenue" plan forward in every, single public forum making it plain they believe "deficit reduction" is the key to future prosperity and this ridiculous formulation is the painless way to achieve it?

If the president's budget is as dead on arrival as everyone says, then maybe the president and his people should put it in the trash bin where it belongs and stop using it as the one true north of "responsible" adults. It's a dangerous document that's going to take years, if not decades, to shed from the Democratic party's economic platform. The policy of cutting the hell out of everything for some useless temporary chump change in the lobbyist playground known as the tax code is now "reasonable Democratic centrist" dogma and I don't know what it's going to take to get them to recognize that it's killing any hope for decent economic policy.

Update: At the same event the president reportedly said he (and Republicans) want to do "entitlement reform" so clearly he's on the same page.

NSA Deputy Director John C. (Chris) Inglis, 19 November 2013

Right-wing organizations are calling out the surveillance too.
Does NSA surveillance challenge political groups' First Amendment rights?

Advocates and attorneys are also concerned about who can access the information that the NSA collects.

In August, it was discovered that the the NSA has been turning over information to domestic law enforcement agencies. John Shiffman, one of the Reuters reporters who broke the story, said that the NSA sends information to a place called the Special Operations Division in Virginia. Then, Shiffman said, the division sends the evidence to multiple federal agencies, including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They use that information to track down and prosecute Americans in non-terrorism cases.

Much like the NSA, the Special Operations Division is cloaked in secrecy. According to one document obtained by Reuters, the division strictly forbids those who receive NSA information from revealing its true source. Shiffman laid out one possible scenario for America Tonight.

“The NSA will pass the information along to the DEA, who will pass the information along to local authorities,” Shiffman said. “And they will pull the person over on a pretext, say the person didn’t signal correctly to change lanes or a tail light is out. And lo and behold, they will find drugs in the trunk. The person who is arrested thinks the DEA just got lucky when, in fact, they got a whisper from the NSA or the CIA.”

Marcy Wheeler has written multiple posts since the latest document dump from DNI Clapper and promises more this week and next as she goes through them all.  This point about freedom of association and how the meta data analysis creates graphs of associations between people who communicate with each other, not only directly but indirectly, three or more "hops", is a point that I haven't seen anyone else make.  We've heard a lot of people wonder about it though, with the infamous "What if my pizza delivery guy is a terrorist?" question.  Association with that guy can be used to justify searching through all of your communications.  And then what if, within those communications, NSA finds a call between your kid and a drug dealer, or some other criminal activity, and NSA decides that's a lead that should be forwarded to the FBI, DEA or some local law enforcement agency?  Maybe it's even their policy to forward anything found that looks like law breaking.  Suppose the FBI decides that somewhere up the chain from that drug dealer there is someone they want to get their hands on and decides to recruit your kid as an informant, which puts him in a very dangerous situation? Suppose he was outted as an informant and killed?  We suspect that they use this meta data to recruit informants and the numbers of informants have increased greatly in recent years.  So a pizza delivery and the purchase of a bag of pot could lead to a really bad situation and one that would never have happened but for the illegal, unconstitutional hoovering up of all Americans' communications and routine analysis of associations, which the Constitution says we're allowed to have freely without jeopardy. In this hypothetical situation, the person whose phone line it was committed no crime, simply ordered a pizza and had a phone line that someone else in the household used.  

And then there is the whole idea of analyzing networks of people associated with political organizations or dissidents.  Imagine if the government had these tools under Hoover?  Even without them they tracked dissidents.  And the bottom line is that the Constitution guarantees us the right to associate freely without being criminalized by the people we associate with, as long as we're not committing a crime.  This meta data analysis seems to just blatantly violate that given that a connection with a terrorist or other criminal makes us a valid NSA target. How can that be constitutional?

Marcy points out that in the Kollar-Kotelly opinion that justifies the dragnet (meta data collection, both phone and email) she talks about the specific queries against that data in her opinion, not about the collection of the massive amounts of data itself. So her opinion is not a valid justification of the underlying bulk collection itself.  The only justification of that, that I've seen, is the investigation of international terrorism.  So the never ending investigation of international terrorism to protect the country, even if there are only a handful of terrorists in this country, is used to justify the collection and storage and analysis of the communications of 350 million people, the vast majority of whom are guilty of absolutely nothing.  It seems to me that if such an investigation can be used to justify this, it could be used to justify almost anything.  "There might be a terrorist somewhere in the world and we're looking for him" is their justification.  That's ridiculous on its face, but that's what is going on.

Freedom of Association: From Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to Three Degrees of Terry Stop

One thing the July 24, 2004 Colleen Kollar-Kotelly opinion and the May 23, 2006 phone dragnet application reveal is that the government and the court barely considered the First Amendment Freedom of Association implications of the dragnets.

[...]

By focusing on queries rather than collection, Kollar-Kotelly completely sidesteps the grave implications for forming databases of all the relationships in the US.

[...]

So: queries require only a Terry Stop standard, and from that, mapping out everyone who is three degrees of association — whose very association with the person should be protected by the First Amendment — is fair game too.

More from Marcy. Based on what she knows, she finds more evidence (or lack of) for her theory that there is no court opinion that authorizes the bulk collection of meta data.  
Colleen Kollar-Kotelly Ate the Serpent’s Fruit of Judicial “Oversight” in Lieu of Law

Sometime next week, I will have a post on what known documents the government chose not to release in yesterday’s dump — a significant chunk, for example, almost certainly show how the dragnet programs are tied inextricably to the content programs.

But for now, we’re getting increased clarity on the phone and Internet dragnet program.

One thing that seems clear is that there is no opinion authorizing the phone dragnet, as I suggested two months ago.

One more from Emptywheel.
Wrong Agency, Wrong Minimization: Two More Ways the Original Phone Dragnet Application Violated the Law

In addition to everything else several of us have been pointing out in the original Internet metadata opinion and the phone metadata application, there are two more problems with the phone dragnet.

They’re using the wrong agency and the wrong minimization procedures.

Richard Engel was on the Maddow show last night saying that his sources are telling him we're close to a deal with Afghanistan and it talks about a troop presence until 2024 and beyond and it's looking like the war in Afghanistan will essentially never end.  We're committing huge amounts of money to fund the Afghan forces, training, and other things too.  And Afghanistan is still thinking they can get more out of the deal.  He didn't mention, or at least I didn't hear it (I turned the show on during his interview) anything about immunity for our troops.  We had heard that we'd never get that from the Afghan officials and would never stay without it.  If we did get it, it would mean that, I suspect, we paid a hell of a lot for it (all while 80% of our country is at or on the verge of poverty).  It's an outrage. Americans don't want to stay in Afghanistan.  Most of us still don't know why we're even there now.  
Endless Afghanistan? US-Afghan agreement would keep troops in place and funds flowing, perhaps indefinitely
Israel targets southern Gaza

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli air forces on Tuesday launched airstrikes at targets in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, locals said and Israeli security officials confirmed.

Locals said the airstrikes targeted two chicken farms in the al-Manara neighborhood in Khan Younis and a tunnel belonging to Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades in the north.

Witnesses said Israeli forces also targeted a training site for Islamic Jihad's al-Quds Brigades. The site was empty and no injuries were reported.


Udall, Wyden, Heinrich Challenge Effectiveness of Dragnet Surveillance Program in NSA Court Case

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
WASHINGTON- U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today challenged the effectiveness of the National Security Agency's bulk phone records collection program. The senators' amicus curiae brief, filed in theFirst Unitarian Church vs. National Security Agency U.S. District Court case, questioned a central premise of the government's argument. The brief argues that after extensive review, the senators have seen no evidence the dragnet collection of Americans' private phone records has provided any intelligence of value that could not have been gathered through less intrusive means.

"Our number one priority must be to keep Americans safe while keeping faith with the values that make this country great. Yet in recent years the balance between protecting our liberties and ensuring our security has become fundamentally broken," Udall said. "The dragnet collection of millions of innocent Americans' private phone records is a clear threat to our constitutional rights, yet we have seen no evidence that this exceedingly intrusive monitoring has provided any uniquely valuable intelligence. The courts should exercise their power and call out the government's position."

"As members of the Senate Intelligence Committee we have a responsibility to conduct vigorous oversight and ensure that there is adequate openness and accountability regarding intelligence policies.  After spending many years reviewing the bulk phone records collection program I have yet to see any examples of it providing real intelligence value that could not be have been gained by more constitutionally sound means," Wyden said.  "I believe it was important for us to file an amicus brief in this case to ensure that the court is aware of our understanding of the facts as it considers the important constitutional questions raised by this case."  

"Collecting the daily telephone activity of millions of innocent Americans is a major intrusion to our privacy rights that does little if anything to further the fight against terrorism," Heinrich said. "As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I am more familiar than most with this program, and know what is and isn't true about this program. To the extent I can do so without violating my national security obligations, I will do what I can to keep the government honest about what it tells others, including our courts, about this program."

The senators filed their amicus brief with the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of Northern California. The case involves a suit filed on behalf of 22 organizations that claim that the government's ongoing bulk phone records collection program has violated their constitutional rights to privacy, free speech and free association.

The senators' amicus brief can be read by clicking HERE.

Words in Action has some information on protests for this.
Secret TPP Negotiations Resume in Salt Lake City

The newest round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations begin today [Tuesday] in Salt Lake City, Utah, where trade representatives will work towards finalizing the text of this sprawling secret agreement. Last week's publication of the controversial "Intellectual Property" chapter by Wikileaks confirmed our worst fears: the TPP carries draconian copyright enforcement provisions that threaten users' rights and could stifle innovation well into the 21st Century. Public opposition to the TPP continues to grow as a result of the leaked document; an opaque policymaking process that seems geared towards appeasing Big Content does not provide much in the way of legitimacy.

Fukushima nuclear disaster is warning to the world, says power company boss
Exclusive: UK government must learn from Japan's catastrophe as it plans a new generation of plant, nuclear chief claims

The catastrophic triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March 2011 was "a warning to the world" about the hazards of nuclear power and contained lessons for the British government as it plans a new generation of nuclear power stations, the man with overall responsibility for the operation in Japan has told the Guardian.

Speaking at his Tokyo corporate headquarters , Naomi Hirose, president of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which runs the stricken Fukushima plant, said Britain's nuclear managers "should be prepared for the worst" in order to avoid repeating Japan's traumatic experience. "We tried to persuade people that nuclear power is 100% safe. That was easy for both sides. Our side explains how safe nuclear power is. The other side is the people who listen and for them it is easy to hear OK, it's safe, sure, why not?

"But we have to explain, no matter how small a possibility, what if this [safety] barrier is broken? We have to prepare a plan if something happens … It is easy to say this is almost perfect so we don't have to worry about it. But we have to keep thinking: what if …"



Action



Stop Watching Us.

The revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance apparatus, if true, represent a stunning abuse of our basic rights. We demand the U.S. Congress reveal the full extent of the NSA's spying programs.



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