In the USA...Senate committee votes unanimously to sanction any country that takes Snowden
Thursday, July 25, 2013 15:28 EDT
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Senate panel voted unanimously on Thursday to seek trade or other sanctions against Russia or any other country that offers asylum to former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who has been holed up for weeks at a Moscow airport.
The 30-member Senate Appropriations Committee adopted by consensus an amendment to a spending bill that would direct Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with congressional committees to come up with sanctions against any country that takes Snowden in.
Snowden is wanted by the United States on espionage charges for revealing details of government intelligence programs. He arrived in Moscow on June 23 from Hong Kong, where he had fled to escape capture and trial in the United States.
He has asked for temporary asylum in Russia until he can reach a country that will shelter him, but U.S. authorities have made clear they will be deeply disappointed if Russia lets the fugitive leave the airport.
Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have said they could offer sanctuary to Snowden.
Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said he introduced the amendment to try to get the attention of any country that might take in Snowden, not Russia in particular, although he noted Moscow has lined up against the United States on other issues, including the civil war in Syria.
“When it comes to Russia, it’s just not about Snowden. They are allying with Iran, 100,000 Syrians have been killed, they are providing weapons to Assad that are getting in the hands of Hezbollah. And really enough’s enough,” said Graham, who has suggested the U.S. consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
The amendment would direct Kerry to meet with congressional committees to develop sanctions options “including revocation or suspension of trade privileges and preferences.”
It was not immediately clear how any sanctions program would work, and the spending bill is several steps from becoming law.
But the United States has a number of programs that provide international trade benefits to developing countries, including Bolivia and Venezuela, which could be affected.
The country also has a free trade agreement with Nicaragua that could come under scrutiny.
Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters on Thursday that President Barack Obama’s administration was having “ongoing conversations” with Russia and that authorities there had not made clear Snowden’s status.
(Additional reporting by Doug Palmer and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Vicki Allen)
**************House leaders defend voting against bill to rein in NSA spying
Thursday, July 25, 2013 18:49 EDT
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican and Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives on Thursday defended their support for a spy program that sweeps up vast amounts of electronic communications after it survived a surprisingly close vote a day earlier.
The House voted 217-205 on Wednesday to defeat an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would have limited the National Security Agency’s ability to collect electronic information, including phone call records.
The strong support for the amendment – bolstered by an unlikely alliance of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans – surprised many congressional observers because House leaders and members of the Intelligence Committee had strongly opposed it.
The vote reflected deep concern among members from both parties about the extensive data gathering exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, which worries many Americans and could become an issue as members prepare for next year’s election.
Republican Representative Justin Amash and Democratic Representative John Conyers co-sponsored the measure.
The White House and senior intelligence officials opposed the amendment, which had been prompted by Snowden’s revelations. Snowden, a fugitive from the United States, has been holed up at a Moscow airport for the past month, unable to secure asylum.
Although Speaker John Boehner said he was glad the House had the debate, he was unapologetic about his vote, echoing the contention of the Obama administration and intelligence chiefs that the NSA program was essential for national security.
“I voted last night because these NSA programs have helped keep Americans safe. There are, in my view, ample safeguards to protect the privacy of the American people,” he told a news conference on Thursday.
“I’m proud of my colleagues who stood up for what I think they believe was a program that really is working to help protect the American people,” Boehner said.
More Democrats than Republicans voted for the amendment. The House vote split the parties, with 111 Democrats in favor and 83 opposed, while 94 Republicans were in favor and 134 against.
Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, who voted against the amendment, said Democrats voted on both sides of the resolution, but “stand together” in their concerns about the program.
“I don’t want anybody to misunderstand a vote against the Amash resolution yesterday,” she told her weekly news conference.
On Thursday, Pelosi sought signatures among her colleagues for a letter to President Barack Obama listing “lingering questions and concerns” about the data collection program and seeking more information, including whether the bulk metadata telecommunications collection sufficiently protects Americans’ privacy.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Peter Cooney)
July 25, 2013Roberts’s Picks Reshaping Secret Surveillance Court
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — The recent leaks about government spying programs have focused attention on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and its role in deciding how intrusive the government can be in the name of national security. Less mentioned has been the person who has been quietly reshaping the secret court: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
In making assignments to the court, Chief Justice Roberts, more than his predecessors, has chosen judges with conservative and executive branch backgrounds that critics say make the court more likely to defer to government arguments that domestic spying programs are necessary.
Ten of the court’s 11 judges — all assigned by Chief Justice Roberts — were appointed to the bench by Republican presidents; six once worked for the federal government. Since the chief justice began making assignments in 2005, 86 percent of his choices have been Republican appointees, and 50 percent have been former executive branch officials.
Though the two previous chief justices, Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, were conservatives like Chief Justice Roberts, their assignments to the surveillance court were more ideologically diverse, according to an analysis by The New York Times of a list of every judge who has served on the court since it was established in 1978.
According to the analysis, 66 percent of their selections were Republican appointees, and 39 percent once worked for the executive branch.
“Viewing this data, people with responsibility for national security ought to be very concerned about the impression and appearance, if not the reality, of bias — for favoring the executive branch in its applications for warrants and other action,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and one of several lawmakers who have sought to change the way the court’s judges are selected.
Mr. Blumenthal, for example, has proposed that each of the chief judges of the 12 major appeals courts select a district judge for the surveillance court; the chief justice would still pick the review panel that hears rare appeals of the court’s decisions, but six other Supreme Court justices would have to sign off. Another bill, introduced by Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, would give the president the power to nominate judges for the court, subject to Senate approval.
Chief Justice Roberts, through a Supreme Court spokeswoman, declined to comment.
The court’s complexion has changed at a time when its role has been expanding beyond what Congress envisioned when it established the court as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The idea then was that judges would review applications for wiretaps to make sure there was sufficient evidence that the F.B.I.’s target was a foreign terrorist or a spy.
But, increasingly in recent years, the court has produced lengthy rulings interpreting the meaning of surveillance laws and constitutional rights based on procedures devised not for complex legal analysis but for up-or-down approvals of secret wiretap applications. The rulings are classified and based on theories submitted by the Justice Department without the participation of any lawyers offering contrary arguments or appealing a ruling if the government wins.
The court “is becoming ever more important in American life as more and more surveillance comes under its review in this era of big data,” said Timothy Edgar, a civil liberties adviser for intelligence issues in both the Bush and Obama administrations. “If the court is seen as skewed or biased, politically or ideologically, it will lose credibility.”
At a public meeting this month, Judge James Robertson, an appointee of President Bill Clinton who was assigned to the surveillance court in 2002 by Chief Justice Rehnquist and resigned from it in December 2005, offered an insider’s critique of how rapidly and recently the court’s role has changed. He said, for example, that during his time it was not engaged in developing a body of secret precedents interpreting what the law means.
“In my experience, there weren’t any opinions,” he said. “You approved a warrant application or you didn’t — period.”
The court began expanding its role when George W. Bush was president and its members were still assigned by Chief Justice Rehnquist, who died in 2005. Midway through the Bush administration, the executive branch sought and obtained the court’s legal blessing to continue secret surveillance programs that had originally circumvented the FISA process.
The court’s power has also recently expanded in another way. In 2008, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act to allow the National Security Agency to keep conducting a form of the Bush administration’s program of surveillance without warrants on domestic soil so long as only foreigners abroad were targeted. It gave the court the power to create rules for the program, like how the government may use Americans’ communications after they are picked up.
“That change, in my view, turned the FISA court into something like an administrative agency that makes rules for others to follow,” Judge Robertson said. “That’s not the bailiwick of judges. Judges don’t make policy.”
For the most part, the surveillance court judges — who serve staggered seven-year terms and take turns coming to Washington for a week to handle its business — do not discuss their work, and their rulings are secret. But the documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor, have cast an unusual spotlight on them.
The first of the documents disclosed by Mr. Snowden was a top-secret order to a Verizon subsidiary requiring it to turn over three months of calling records for all its customers. It was signed by Judge Roger Vinson, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan who had previously achieved prominence in 2011 when he tried to strike down the entirety of President Obama’s health care law.
Chief Justice Roberts assigned Judge Vinson to the surveillance court in 2006, one of 12 Republican appointees, compared with 2 Democratic ones.
While the positions taken by individual judges on the court are classified, academic studies have shown that judges appointed by Republicans since Reagan have been more likely than their colleagues to rule in favor of the government in non-FISA cases over people claiming civil liberties violations. Even more important, according to some critics of the court, is the court’s increasing proportion of judges who have a background in the executive branch.
Senator Blumenthal, citing his own experience as a United States attorney and a state prosecutor, said judges who used to be executive branch lawyers were more likely to share a “get the bad guys” mind-set and defer to the Justice Department if executive branch officials told them that new surveillance powers were justified.
Steven G. Bradbury, who led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in the second term of the Bush administration, argued that it made sense to put judges who were executive branch veterans on the court because they were already familiar with the issues. And he challenged the claim that they would be more deferential.
“When it comes to highly technical national security issues, I really think there is value in a judge being a former prosecutor or a former government lawyer who understands how the executive branch works,” he said, adding that such judges “will be familiar with the process and able to ask the tough questions and see where the weak points are.”
Either way, an executive branch background is increasingly common for the court.
When Judge Vinson’s term ended in May, for example, Chief Justice Roberts replaced him with Judge Michael W. Mosman, who was a federal prosecutor before becoming a judge.
Other current judges include Raymond J. Dearie, a United States attorney; Reggie B. Walton, a prosecutor who also worked on drug and crime issues for the White House; and F. Dennis Saylor IV, chief of staff in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. The only Democratic appointee, Judge Mary A. McLaughlin, was also a prosecutor.
Stephen Vladeck, an American University law professor, said having executive branch veterans — including what he called “law-and-order Democrats” — on the court carried advantages because they brought experience with security issues. But the downside, he argued, is that they may also be unduly accommodating to government requests.
“The further the court’s authority has expanded from where it was in 1978, the greater the need has been for independent-minded government skeptics on the court,” he said.
Chief justices have considerable leeway in choosing judges — the only requirement is that they ensure geographic diversity. In practice, according to people familiar with the court, they have been assisted in evaluating whom to select by the director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. The counselor to the chief justice and the surveillance court’s presiding judge also sometimes play a role. Judges sometimes volunteer for consideration, while chief justices and their advisers sometimes come up with their own ideas.
Generally, the people familiar with the court said, evaluations have been based on reputation, workload, willingness to undergo an intrusive background check, and experience in security issues. Judges have served an average of 15 years before being assigned to the surveillance court.
Chief Justice Roberts has dealt with a small circle. His past two choices to direct the judiciary’s administrative office have been Republican-appointed judges, Thomas F. Hogan and John D. Bates, whom he also appointed to the surveillance court.
Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, who has filed a bill that would let Congressional leaders pick eight of the court’s members, said it was time for the court to have a more diverse membership.
“They all seem to have some type of a pretty conservative bent,” he said. “I don’t think that is what the Congress envisioned when giving the chief justice that authority. Maybe they didn’t think about the ramifications of giving that much power to one person.”
July 25, 2013Spy Agencies Under Heaviest Scrutiny Since Abuse Scandal of the ’70s
By SCOTT SHANE
American intelligence agencies, which experienced a boom in financing and public support in the decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, have entered a period of broad public scrutiny and skepticism with few precedents since the exposure of spying secrets and abuses led to the historic investigation by the Senate’s Church Committee nearly four decades ago.
On three fronts — interrogation, drone strikes and now electronic surveillance — critics inside and outside Congress have challenged the intelligence establishment, accusing officials of overreaching, misleading the public and covering up abuse and mistakes. With alarm over the threat of terrorism in slow decline despite the Boston Marathon attack in April, Americans of both parties appear to be no longer willing to give national security automatic priority over privacy and civil liberties.
On Thursday, leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees began talks aimed at reaching a consensus on adding privacy protections to National Security Agency programs after a measure to curtail the agency’s collection of phone call data received strong bipartisan support on Wednesday. The amendment failed, 217 to 205, but the impassioned public debate on a program hidden for years showed the profound impact of the disclosures of Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who is now a fugitive from American criminal charges in Russia.
“We fight on,” Representative Justin Amash, the Michigan Republican who proposed the amendment to end the phone log collection, said on Twitter.
The vote suggested that lawmakers are reading recent polls, which show Americans with deeply mixed feelings about the trade-offs of privacy and counterterrorism but growing less tolerant of what they see as intrusions. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week showed that 39 percent of those questioned say it is more important to protect privacy than to investigate terrorist threats. That was the highest number since the question was first asked in 2002, when it was 18 percent.
Powerful, secret government agencies have long existed in tension with American democracy, tolerated as an unfortunate necessity in a dangerous world and regarded with distrust. When the world looks less dangerous, the skepticism increases, often fueled by revelations of bungling, waste or excesses.
The post-9/11 combination of ballooning budgets, expanding technological abilities and near-total secrecy set up the intelligence agencies for an eventual collision with public opinion, in a repeat of a scandal-reform cycle from almost four decades ago.
Starting in 1975, the Senate committee led by Frank Church of Idaho produced no fewer than 14 volumes on intelligence abuses, detailing the C.I.A.’s assassination schemes, the F.B.I.’s harassment of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the N.S.A.’s watch-listing of some 75,000 Americans. The C.I.A. director, Richard Helms, was convicted of lying to Congress.
The sweeping reforms that resulted included the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires court approval for eavesdropping on American soil; a presidential ban on political assassination; and the creation of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to keep an eye on the agencies. In 1991, in response to the Iran-contra scandal, Congress tightened restrictions on covert action.
Those reforms rankled some advocates of national security, notably Dick Cheney, who as vice president used his powerful position to push the N.S.A. to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and strongly backed C.I.A. leaders when they decided to use methods long considered torture on Qaeda suspects.
Both programs continue to reverberate today. The N.S.A.’s aggressive warrantless surveillance, though reined in by legislation after it was exposed by The New York Times in 2005, included the phone data collection debated by the House on Wednesday. The decision to authorize brutal interrogation techniques is the subject of a 6,000-page report prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democratic staff; the report is likely to be partly declassified and made public in the next few months.
The report accuses the C.I.A. of misleading Congress, the Justice Department and even the administration of President George W. Bush about the interrogation program, which is now defunct. Some agency officials and Senate Republicans consider the report to be ill-informed second-guessing, but it will almost certainly come as another blow to the credibility of the spy agencies.
Until this year, the C.I.A.’s use of drones to kill terrorism suspects in Pakistan and Yemen — stepped up in part because detaining and questioning such suspects had proven so problematic — had generated little public controversy. That changed early this year, as Congress debated the wisdom of targeted killing for the first time, notably in a 13-hour filibuster by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, who challenged the drone killings of Americans overseas.
At a time of partisan gridlock in Congress, the drone debate and now the surveillance debate were remarkable for the bipartisan coalitions that took shape on both sides. Libertarian Republicans, wary of government power and especially of the Obama administration, found common cause with liberal Democrats who have long complained of the intelligence agencies’ secrecy and power. That coalition could be repeated in the Senate, where Mr. Paul has worked with two Democrats, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Arizona.
Clearly the narrow vote would not be the last word. Representative Mike D. Rogers, Republican of Michigan, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, promised lawmakers on Thursday that he would include new privacy safeguards in an intelligence policy bill he hopes to draft in September.
“That’s where the action may well be,” Mr. Udall said.
A subplot to all three of the counterterrorism programs that have come under such scrutiny is the role of leakers, or whistle-blowers as they prefer to be called, and the Obama administration’s aggressive prosecution of them. C.I.A. interrogation methods and N.S.A. surveillance came to public light only because of leaks; the debate over the drone program was spurred in part by the leak of a Justice Department white paper on the killing of Americans.
Perhaps nothing captured the old American ambivalence about the secret corners of government like the scenes playing out on opposite sides of the globe this week. Members of Congress took turns criticizing and defending the N.S.A. programs they could not have mentioned in public at all before the illegal leaks of Mr. Snowden, still hiding out at Moscow’s airport as Russian officials pondered whether to grant him temporary asylum.
Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.
July 25, 2013In Closing Argument, Prosecutor Casts Soldier as ‘Anarchist’ for Leaking Archives
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
FORT MEADE, Md. — A military prosecutor portrayed Pfc. Bradley Manning on Thursday as an “anarchist” who, seeking to “make a splash,” betrayed the United States’ trust when he leaked vast archives of secret documents to WikiLeaks, lifting a veil on American diplomatic and military activities.
As closing arguments began in the high profile court-martial trial, the prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, focused squarely on the most contentious charge that Private Manning is facing: that by giving the information to WikiLeaks for publication on a Web site that the world could see, he is guilty of “aiding the enemy.”
That charge has never been brought in a leak case, and the theory behind it could establish a precedent with implications for investigative journalism in the Internet era. But Major Fein said it was justified in Private Manning’s case. Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence.
“Pfc. Manning was not a humanist; he was a hacker,” Major Fein said, adding: “He was not a whistle-blower. He was a traitor, a traitor who understood the value of compromised information in the hands of the enemy and took deliberate steps to ensure that they, along with the world, received it.”
Private Manning’s defense lawyer, David E. Coombs, has portrayed him as a well-intentioned and principled, if naïve, protester who was motivated by a desire to help society better understand the world, who wanted to prompt a national debate and who was selective about which databases he released to avoid causing harm. Mr. Coombs is set to deliver his closing arguments on Friday.
While Major Fein made his arguments, reporters watched the trial on a closed-circuit feed at the media center. Two military police officers in camouflage fatigues and armed with holstered handguns paced behind each row there, looking over the journalists’ shoulders, which had not happened during the trial. No explanation was given.
Major Fein spoke from late morning until nearly 6 p.m., going over each batch of documents in detail and repeatedly returning to the theme of what he said was Private Manning’s recklessness and betrayal.
He argued that Private Manning’s “wholesale and indiscriminate compromise of hundreds of thousands of classified documents” for release in bulk by the WikiLeaks staff, whom he called “essentially information anarchists,” should not be portrayed as an ordinary journalistic leak but as a bid for “notoriety, although in a clandestine form.”
Leaking to “established journalistic enterprises like The New York Times and The Washington Post would be a crime,” Major Fein said, but “that is not what happened in this case and under these facts.”
He added, “WikiLeaks was merely the platform which Pfc. Manning used to ensure that all of the information was available to the world, including the enemies of the United States.”
Some of the files given to WikiLeaks by Private Manning, he emphasized, were found in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and showed up in a Qaeda propaganda video.
Private Manning has already pleaded guilty to a lesser version of the charges he is facing. He has also confessed to providing WikiLeaks with two videos of airstrikes in which civilians and journalists were killed; files about detainees’ being held without trial at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; hundreds of thousands of incident reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; and about 250,000 diplomatic cables.
Given the volume of the documents Private Manning released, Major Fein said, “there is no way he even knew what he was giving WikiLeaks.”
Major Fein focused on Private Manning’s training, when he was warned to avoid posting secret information on the Internet, and zeroed in on one of the few factual disputes in the case: the date Private Manning downloaded and leaked an encrypted video of a botched airstrike in Afghanistan that killed 100 to 150 civilians, many of them women and children.
Private Manning contends he did so in the spring of 2010. Major Fein argued that a variety of circumstantial evidence indicated that Private Manning instead downloaded it in late November 2009, less than two weeks after he arrived in Iraq.
The timing is important because it speaks to the dueling portrayals of Private Manning. The prosecution wants to show that he immediately seized upon his opportunity to release classified information through WikiLeaks, but the defense has argued that he only gradually decided to do so after seeing things that troubled him.
Similarly, Major Fein pointed to evidence that he said showed that Private Manning was also responsible for leaking a rare file he has denied disclosing, a list of 74,000 names and e-mail addresses of soldiers and civilians deployed in Iraq. That dispute is important because the accusation could undercut Private Manning’s portrayal of himself as selecting only information that could inspire socially valuable debate.
Major Fein also focused on Private Manning’s chats with Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks leader, based on logs recovered from his computer that have not been made public. At one point, he said, Mr. Assange offered to get Private Manning an encrypted cellphone to use in Iraq. At another, Private Manning sought Mr. Assange’s help in cracking an encrypted password for an anonymous account on his classified computer, but the joint effort failed, Major Fein said.
July 25, 2013U.S. Prison Populations Decline, Reflecting New Approach to Crime
By ERICA GOODE
The prison population in the United States dropped in 2012 for the third consecutive year, according to federal statistics released on Thursday, in what criminal justice experts said was the biggest decline in the nation’s recent history, signaling a shift away from an almost four-decade policy of mass imprisonment.
The number of inmates in state and federal prisons decreased by 1.7 percent, to an estimated 1,571,013 in 2012 from 1,598,783 in 2011, according to figures released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an arm of the Justice Department. Although the percentage decline appeared small, the fact that it followed decreases in 2011 and 2010 offers persuasive evidence of what some experts say is a “sea change” in America’s approach to criminal punishment.
“This is the beginning of the end of mass incarceration,” said Natasha Frost, associate dean of Northeastern University’s school of criminology and criminal justice.
About half the 2012 decline — 15,035 prisoners — occurred in California, which has decreased its prison population in response to a Supreme Court order to relieve prison overcrowding. But eight other states, including New York, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, showed substantial decreases, of more than 1,000 inmates, and more than half the states reported some drop in the number of prisoners. (Figures for three states were estimated because they had not submitted data in time for the report.) The population of federal prisons increased slightly, but at a slower rate than in previous years, the report found.
Imprisonment rates in the United States have been on an upward march since the early 1970s. From 1978, when there were 307,276 inmates in state and federal prisons, the population increased annually, reaching a peak of 1,615,487 inmates in 2009.
But in recent years, tightened state budgets, plummeting crime rates, changes in sentencing laws and shifts in public opinion have combined to reverse the trend. Experts on prison policy said that the continuing decline appears to be more than a random fluctuation.
“A year or even two years is a blip and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but three years starts to look like a trend,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit research group based in Washington. But he said that the rate of inmates incarcerated in the United States continued to be “dramatically higher” than in other countries and that the changes so far were “relatively modest compared to the scale of the problem.”
Most observers agree that the recession has played a role in shrinking prison populations. In 2011 and 2012, at least 17 states closed or were considering closing prisons partly for budgetary reasons, representing a reduction of 28,525 beds, according to a report by the Sentencing Project published last year.
But Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project, said that while fiscal concerns might have led to the turnaround in some states, the need to cut budgets had not been the deciding factor.
“They’re not simply pinching pennies,” Mr. Gelb said. “Policy makers are not holding their noses and saying we have to scale back prisons to save money. The states that are showing drops are states that are thinking about how they can apply research-based alternatives that work better and cost less.”
Changes in state and federal sentencing laws for lower-level offenses like those involving drugs have played a central role in the shift, he and others said, with many states setting up diversion programs for offenders as an alternative to prison. And some states have softened their policies on parole, no longer automatically sending people back to prison for parole violations.
But changing public attitudes are also a major driver behind the declining prison numbers. Dropping crime rates over the last 20 years have reduced public fears and diminished the interest of politicians in running tough-on-crime campaigns. And public polls consistently show that Americans are now more interested in spending money on education and health care than on building more prisons.
“People don’t care so much about crime, and it’s less of a political focus,” said Professor Frost, who is a co-author of a forthcoming book, “The Punishment Imperative.”
The result has been an unusual bipartisan effort to reduce the nation’s reliance on prisons, with groups like Right on Crime, devoted to what it calls the “conservative case for reform,” pushing for lower-cost and less punitive solutions than incarceration for nonviolent offenders.
Marc Levin, senior policy adviser for Right on Crime, described the change in conservatives’ position on parole violators: It used to be “Trail ’em, nail ’em and jail ’em,” he said, “but there’s been a move to say, ‘Yes, there’s a surveillance function, but we also want them to succeed.’ ”
Some of the most substantial prison reductions have taken place in conservative states like Texas, which reduced the number of inmates in its prisons by more than 5,000 in 2012. In 2007, when the state faced a lack of 17,000 beds for inmates, the State Legislature decided to change its approach to parole violations and provide drug treatment for nonviolent offenders instead of building more prisons.
In Arkansas, which reduced its prison population by just over 1,400 inmates in 2012, legislators in 2011 also passed a package of laws softening sentencing guidelines for low-level offenders and steering them to diversion programs.
“It’s a great example of a state that made some deliberate policy choices to say we can actually reduce recidivism and cut our prison group at the same time,” Mr. Gelb said.
Joan Petersilia, a law professor at Stanford and a co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, said in an interview last year that she thought Americans had “gotten the message that locking up a lot of people doesn’t necessarily bring public safety.” California’s example, she said, has also spurred other states to consider downsizing for fear of facing similar litigation.
But Professor Petersilia added that though the trend may have begun out of a need for belt-tightening, it had grown into a national effort to rethink who should go to prison and for how long.
“I don’t think in modern history we’ve seen anything like this,” she said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 26, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the decrease in the prison population in Arkansas in 2012. It was just over 1,400, not 14,000.
***********Republicans Launch A Campaign to Convince The Uninsured NOT to Buy Health Insurance
By: Jason Easley
Jul. 25th, 2013
Legislation to repeal healthcare reform continues to go nowhere, so the Republican Party is now trying to defeat Obamacare by convincing the uninsured not to buy health insurance.
Reuters reported that, “With the Obama administration poised for a huge public education campaign on healthcare reform, Republicans and their allies are mobilizing a counter-offensive including town hall meetings, protests and media promotions to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage…President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy is the first major social program to face a highly organized and well-financed opposition years after enactment. The forces arrayed against it could undermine the aim of extending health coverage to millions of uninsured people at affordable rates, if not enough younger adults sign up to make it economically viable.”
This is part of the secret Republican playbook for 2014 that Sarah Jones wrote about recently, “It’s Romneyesque in its blind fail. It’s ORCA on steroids. From giving subject lines for op-eds (because nothing says opinion like a copy and paste!) to giving instructions for how to use townhalls for propaganda so they can stay on the offensive, Republicans are bound and determined to double down on the fail.”
The same right wing corporate billionaires and media chimps who were behind the Astroturf efforts to stop Obamacare from being passed are mobilizing again to try to convince the American people that having health insurance is a bad thing. Republicans don’t want you to be able to see a doctor. If you can see a doctor when you need to, you might like it, and that would be a “win” for President Obama.
Republicans have moved beyond obstructing the legislation. They’ve blown past trying to obstruct the implementation of the law. Republicans are literally trying to convince individual Americans that healthcare is bad them. This is the Republican Party’s last gasp effort to stop Obamacare. The law kicks in on October 1. The only way that they can stop millions of people from getting health insurance is to lie them, and hide how it will benefit them. It might be funny, if their efforts to misinform didn’t have such deadly consequences. People could die if they believe the Republican Party’s misinformation,and refuse to buy health insurance.
Republican candidates around the country will campaign on stopping Obamacare in 2014, but it is unlikely that they will be able to do anything more to repeal the law no matter how the election turns out. Their best chance to get rid healthcare reform will come after the presidential election in 2016. By the time the next president takes office, millions of uninsured Americans will have had health insurance for over two years. Good luck trying to convince millions of people that it is a good idea to take away their healthcare.
Twenty six million Americans are eligible for Obamacare subsidies, but they don’t know it. Families making $47,000-$94,000 a year are also eligible, and one third of those eligible for subsidies are age 18-34. Republicans are trying to make sure that these people stay uninformed, because denying Barack Obama a victory is more important than the health and well being of the constituents that they have taken an oath to represent.
July 25, 2013 05:00 PMOne Chart Reveals Republicans' 'Health Care Emergency'
By Jon Perr
With Congress set to adjourn for the summer, Republican leaders are hoping to reprise the recess of 2009, when furious Tea Partiers armed with incendiary signs, bogus GOP talking points and occasionally guns (though not the truth) ran roughshod over town hall meetings nationwide. But along with their streams of sound bites and planted questions, the centerpiece of the Republican summer strategy to go "on the offense" against Obamacare is what planners are calling "Emergency Health Care Town Hall" meetings designed to showcase "the negative effects of the health care law and the House Republicans' plan to dismantle it.
But as conservative Byron York and liberal Greg Sargent agree, that tactic could very well backfire on the GOP. After all, as the chart above shows, it is only because of Republican Congressmen and Governors that millions of Americans in the reddest of states will remain without health insurance in 2014.
Though they have voted 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Congressional Republicans have yet to offer their own proposal to replace it. But 26 GOP-led states sued to overturn the ACA, the Supreme Court gave them one small victory. States could opt out of the expansion of Medicaid to cover American earning up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Now, 24 states have chosen to turn their backs on billions in federal funding and millions of their own residents.
In June, the authors of "The Uninsured After Implementation of the Affordable Care Act: A Demographic and Geographic Analysis" tallied up the Republican body count. For each of the 50 states, the study how many residents would gain health insurance by of the 50 states opting in or out of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.
The numbers are staggering. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry denounced Obamacare Medicaid expansion as a "fool's errand." But his foolishness in opting out means an extra 1.9 million Texans will needlessly go without health insurance in state where 24 percent of all residents--and 30 percent between the ages of 18 and 64--lack coverage. In Florida, where the GOP legislature is rebuffing Republican Governor Rick Scott's choice to accept the windfall from Washington, another million residents will be left uncovered. (In contrast, over 300,000 more Arizonans will gain insurance, thanks to a rare showing of common sense by Governor Jan Brewer.) Next door neighbors Minnesota and Wisconsin provide another useful case study. While Democrat Mark Dayton will be cutting the ranks of the uninsured by almost half in his state, in Madison Republican Scott Walker is leaving an estimated 182,000 folks out in the cold.
Those numbers aren't lost on Republicans like Governor Brewer and Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany.
Despite overwhelming GOP opposition in her state legislature, Brewer endorsed the Medicaid expansion, explaining "It's pro-life, it's saving lives, it is creating jobs, it is saving hospitals." Two weeks ago, Dr. Boustany lamented that in his state Governor Bobby Jindal had decided to reject the ACA funding and with it, leave 300,000 in Louisiana uninsured. In Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich continues to press his GOP legislative majority to accept the Medicaid expansion that would cover an additional 366,000 Buckeye State residents, declaring "I believe it's a matter of life and death." As Kasich warned his GOP colleagues in June:
"When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he's going to ask you what you did for the poor. You'd better have a good answer."
Their answer--that Republicans must oppose the Affordable Care Act because President Obama supported it--like won't be sufficient to gain entry through the Pearly Gates. Thanks to GOP rejection of Medicaid expansion, roughly 11.5 million of their constituents will needlessly remain without health coverage. (Preliminary data also suggest that the blue states running their own health insurance exchanges will be able to deliver lower than expected premiums.) Making matters worse, John Boehner's efforts to repeal the entirety of the Affordable Care Act--capping profits for private insurers, shrinking the Medicare prescription drug donut hole, enacting prohibitions on using pre-existing conditions to deny or rescind coverage--would mean all Americans continue to be at the mercy of the insurance industry. And as the numbers clearly show, today health care is worst where the GOP polls best.
That is the real Republican health care emergency.
************Mitch McConnell Tells Americans with No Healthcare, ‘You Aren’t an Issue’
By: Jason Easley
Jul. 25th, 2013
Mitch McConnell admitted that Republicans don’t care if Americans don’t have healthcare by stating on Fox News Sunday that uninsured Americans aren’t an issue.
Here is the video:
Transcript via Think Progress:
WALLACE: One of the keys to ObamaCare is that it will extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured. In your replacement, how would you provide universal coverage?
MCCONNELL: Well first let me say the first single thing we can do for the American system is get rid of ObamaCare. … The single biggest direction we can take in terms of improving health care is to get rid of this monstrosity. [...]
WALLACE: But you’re talking about repealing and replace, how would you provide universal coverage?
MCCONNELL: I’ll get to it in a minute. [...]
WALLACE: I just want to ask, what specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30 million people who are uninsured?
MCCONNELL: That is not the issue. The question is, how can you go step by step to improve the American health care system. … We’re not going to turn the American health care system into a Western European system.
McConnell advocated for modest reforms, and claimed that the Republicans want to take a scalpel to the American healthcare system, as he argued on behalf of the same tired ideas that Republicans always try to pass off as healthcare reform. McConnell pushed buying insurance across state lines and tort reform. The one common denominator in all the Republican solutions is that they will do nothing to insure more people.
Sen. McConnell frankly admitted that the Republican Party doesn’t care getting more Americans access to healthcare. The uninsured aren’t an issue. They don’t matter. In order to defend his position that the uninsured don’t really need healthcare, McConnell claimed several things that flat out weren’t true. McConnell claimed Obamacare kills jobs when in reality, it creates them. He stated that America has the best healthcare system in the world, when in reality the U.S. healthcare system is one of the worst in developed world. The U.S. system is 37th in the world. If this is what Republicans consider the best, then we now know what they mean by “American exceptionalism.”
Congressional Republicans are trying to revive their Obamacare lies because they are running out of time. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll found that after the Supreme Court ruling support for the ACA jumped 11 points with Independents and 5 points with Republicans. Overall, support for the law jumped 5 points from 43% to 48%. If the ACA crosses the threshold and is supported by a majority of Americans, Republicans will find themselves on the wrong side on another issue.
The GOP is motivating their base by reading from their book of Obamacare lies, but they are bringing nothing new to the table for everyone else. Voters heard all of this in 2009 and 2010. The GOP problems are being compounded by the fact that Democrats are taking advantage of their new chance to sell the law by explaining the good things in the ACA.
If Republicans want to campaign on healthcare instead of the economy and jobs, more power to them, they are more than welcome to adopt Mitch McConnell’s talking point that the uninsured don’t matter.
McConnell’s comments confirm that the American people come last in the minds of the Republican Party. That’s going to make one heck of a campaign slogan for Democrats in November.
************Alison Grimes Fires a Brilliant Warning Shot at Mitch McConnell
By: Sarah Jones
Jul. 25th, 2013
Wow. If you’ve been waiting for the war on women to backfire against Republicans, allow me to introduce you to Alison Grimes, the Democrat running against Senator Mitch McConnell for a Kentucky Senate seat.
Be prepared to watch one of the best campaign videos ever made, and I’ve worked on a few of them. Granted, this is long format for the web, and that allows more time, but this is still a prize worthy campaign video.
Watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BHcRdMxG6o
Alison Grimes begins speaking in a soft, but authoritative voice, “Hi, I’m Alison Grimes and I’m running to represent Kentucky in the United States Senate. We’re kicking off the campaign next week and I you to be the first to know about it. Now I’m here in this dining room because you could say that it all started right here two years ago, only made this TV ad. ”
“I loved making that ad. I got to introduce Kentucky to two of the strongest women I’ve never known and there was a chance to talk about something I firmly believe in, that the government should either help or get out of the way.”
“That’s a lesson a certain Kentucky Senator has never learned. What many people don’t know as that my grandmother Thelma who was sitting here on my left died just a few months after we made that commercial. She was 92 years old and would have been so proud to see this day.”
“It’s really for her and for people just like her all across Kentucky I’m running for Senate. People who don’t come for much, but who work hard every day making Kentucky a better place for all of us. My grandmother knew that if you wanted to get something done you don’t stand in the way, you stand by your principles, but you also figure out where you can agree and how we can come together.”
“But that’s not happening in Washington today and Senator McConnell is the biggest part of the problem. He’s wasted decades blocking legislation that would have helped Kentucky and our country. And over the last few years he’s done it for the worst possible reason — out of spite.”
Oh. She went there.
“I don’t always agree with the president, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put the good of our people ahead of the bad that comes from acting petty and small.”
Petty and small, indeed. Nicely played, Ms Grimes. “Together we can change that next Tuesday July 30th.”
Here comes the power punch right to the gut, “Now this part’s for you Senator. Your campaign wants to play silly games about where I am and where I stand.”
Wait for it…. Okay, “Well I’m right here in Kentucky, Senator, where I’ll be holding you accountable for voting to double Medicare premiums on Kentucky seniors, including our retired coal miners, for being against requiring the Department of Defense to buy equipment that’s made in America first, for failing to stand up for women when you voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Violence Against Women Act, and for opposing raising the minimum wage over and over again while you became a multimillionaire in public office.”
Game on, McConnell.
And Alison is so charming whilst delivering her death blows. Such a sweet smile. She’s perfect for Kentucky: A southern lady, taking on a corrupt, greedy, mean old man.
Now for the warning shot, “We’ll have this debate Senator, and as you’ve probably already seen I don’t scare easy.”
Then Grandma comes to sit next to Alison, banging her laptop down on the dining room table, and says ,”And neither do I, Senator! What rhymes with Mitch? It’s time to switch. Let’s get started honey. This one’s for Thelma.”
Yup. The ladies are fighting back, and when they invoke their Grandmothers, well, Senator McConnell has no idea what he’s messing with. Alison Grimes is McConnell’s worst nightmare. She’s a Southern lady, invoking the strong Southern matriarch as her guide. She’s soft-voiced but steely-spined. She is referencing character and principle, neither of which McConnell will want to discuss. And she’s not afraid of him. Not one bit.
Also, we all know what rhymes with Mitch and it’s not just switch or ditch, but it does describe him perfectly.
The more McConnell attacks Alison in personal ways, as is his modus operandi (he can’t talk about his record, for heaven’s sake), the uglier he’s going to look to Kentuckians because Alison is such a lady. He can’t fight Alison the way he would have fought Ashley Judd, as Alison is already well known and popular as the current Secretary of State. She’s a beloved local while he’s a DC insider, and she knows how to fight the patriarch like only a Southern woman can.
**********NC Senate Sticks It to Women with Final Approval of Its Attack on Reproductive Rights
By: Adalia Woodbury
Jul. 25th, 2013
On the heels of suppressing voting rights, North Carolina’s Senate was on a roll and gave final approval to their version of state interference in women’s reproductive health.
We’ve seen similar laws in other Republican controlled states – most recently Texas. In short, they introduce a series of regulations on existing reproductive health clinics that are impossible to comply with, cost prohibitive or both.
In North Carolina’s version, the provision that stood out the most for public debate requires reproductive health clinics to meet the same regulatory standards required of ambulatory surgery clinics. This is a trick du jour of Republicans who fantasize about women living to blink and say yes master to their husbands before moving on to the next pregnancy.
Another provision is touted by the corporate media, like CNN and WRAL as requiring the doctor to be present during the entire surgical procedure. But as “Pam Pearson”, who commented on CNN’s report pointed out this is misleading.
The part of the bill that “requires doctors to be present during an abortion” concerns medical, non-surgical abortions, which are performed in some states with the doctor advising via a webcast (sometimes called telemedicine) – it’s a way to provide support for this sort of procedure to remote areas, although it is not currently being done in NC in this fashion. The other part of the bill would require a doctor to stay with a patient throughout the surgical and post-surgical period of an abortion, instead of allowing other health care professionals to address these needs, as they typically do in the context of other procedures. The truth – all these provisions are designed to restrict access to abortion and reproductive healthcare, they have NOTHING to do with safety or concern for women.
Indeed, other provisions bolster Pearson’s assertion that this has nothing to do with safety or concern for women. The fact that Republicans first tried to pass this in a bill on Sharia law in the dead of the night, then in a bill regulating motorcycles is sort of a red flag that this is about fulfiling an ideological agenda. Aside from those provisions the bill contains some other features that do nothing to raise standards or address women’s safety. Such as:
- Any healthcare provider is free to opt out of abortion procedures.
- Prohibts healthcare insurance providers in the ACA exchange from offering coverage for abortion services. (The irony is that many healthcare plans also don’t provide coverage for prenatal care and other pregnancy services.)
- Bans cities and counties from offering their employee’s health care policies that include coverage for abortions.
This is intrusive government on steroids. Aside from intruding on women’s personal decision making, bills like this also intervene on the relationship a woman has with her significant other or spouse and her doctor – not to mention the fact that it intrudes on decisions made by cities and counties.
Combined with the voter suppression bill, Pope’s Republicans are sticking it to every North Carolinian they can in the waning hours before they close session.
It’s possible that Governor McCrory will honor his campaign promise to veto any bill restricting women’s reproductive rights. But then, I don’t believe in multi-colored unicorns either.
************John Boehner Lies And Won’t Tell America About His Personal Investment in Keystone XL
Jul. 25th, 2013
In any nation’s justice system, the theory behind meting out punishment for violating the law is, besides taking a criminal out of circulation, to deter citizens who consider or are inclined to break the law from acting on their impulses. Indeed, the reason people continue violating the law is because they are not held accountable for their actions and regardless it is white collar crime, armed robbery, or assault and battery, criminals who go unpunished have no reason to refrain from being a menace to society. Politicians are shielded from investigation and prosecution because of their positions of power, and there are myriad examples of high-ranking politicians who continually break the law with impunity.
In 2011, Speaker of the House John Boehner stood in front of the American people and castigated President Obama for not approving Canadian oil company TransCanada’s permit to build the KeystoneXL pipeline, and lied profusely to the American people that the project would create hundreds of thousands of American jobs. Despite TransCanada’s admission that the project would create less than 2,000 jobs over a two year period, Boehner had no compunction lying to provide the Koch brothers, ConocoPhillips, and oil exporters with profits as well as enriching a foreign corporation by using American land to send tar to the Gulf Coast for refining and export on the foreign market.
It turned out that in 2010, Boehner invested in 7 Canadian tar sand companies according to his 2010 financial disclosure, and stood to profit from the pipeline’s construction leading to an appeal to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to launch an investigation into share manipulation and personally profiting by using his high-ranking position in the House. At the time, Boehner’s actions inspired a national petition to force his resignation. Boehner already had a history of using his position to influence legislation, and in 1995 he passed out checks on the floor of the House from the tobacco industry to legislators who voted for legislation favorable to the industry. At the time, Boehner feigned ignorance of unethical practices, and promised he would certainly never distribute corporate checks for votes on the House floor. Subsequently, because he was not punished, he blatantly lied to the American people to enrich a foreign oil corporation, American oil industry, and himself in 2011.
If Boehner had been punished in 2011, he may have thought twice about repeating the lie that the Keystone pipeline would create more than TransCanada’s estimate of less than 2,000 jobs, but he was not and he returned this week lying to the people about the number of jobs Keystone’s approval will create. On Tuesday at a press conference, Boehner claimed that “if the president was serious about helping the economy he would reach out and work with us to pass things like the Keystone Pipeline that would put tens of thousands of Americans back to work.”
Republicans are prone to lie, cheat, and steal from the American people to advance the interests of their corporate masters as a matter of course, but they take extraordinary steps to enrich the obscenely profitable oil industry including handing out billions of dollars in subsidies while slashing domestic programs because, as they are wont to say, “America is broke” because the industry pays them handsomely. The affront to the American people is building the Keystone pipeline will not provide one drop of oil to America, and will in fact raise fuel prices by at least 23 cents a gallon according to Keystone’s owners TransCanada. Earlier in the year, a report to the State Department prepared by the oil industry claimed construction of the pipeline and development of Canada’s tar sands was environmentally safe, and it was another conflict of interest to allow a company the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil, and other oil industry groups used to compile favorable studies despite climate scientists warned developing Alberta tar sand was “game over for the environment” according to leading climate scientist James Hansen. However, destroying the climate aside, it is Speaker John Boehner’s continual lying to profit the oil industry, his stock portfolio, and the Koch brothers who refine 25% of tar sands and store the waste along America’s rivers, in America that requires an immediate investigation by the Department of Justice. Boehner has to go, and his options are resigning forthwith to save his family the humiliation of a Congressional Ethics investigation for conflict of interest, and facing a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation for share manipulation to profit himself, Koch Industries, and the oil industry’s foreign export business.
No American is supposed to be above the law, and yet time and time again rich and powerful men, and high-ranking Republican politicians, are given a free pass to violate the trust afforded them by the American people. When Boehner was caught red-handed handing out tobacco industry checks he should have faced an ethics committee and kicked out of Congress, and because he wasn’t, he continues using his position of authority to lie to the American people to profit himself, Koch Industries, and the oil industry that contributes heavily to his campaign and it is long-past time to treat him like any other criminal and hold him accountable if for no other reason than to deter the next Republican from lying to profit the obscenely profitable oil industry.