In the USA...Unites Surveillance America
Darkmail opens: New email encryption standard aims to keep government agencies out
Silent Circle and Lavabit hope to respond to Snowden leaks with service stopping 'state snoopers' accessing email metadata
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 October 2013 20.00 GMT
Two email providers forced to close their services in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations on mass surveillance have proposed a new open standard for secure email that would be harder for security services and others to eavesdrop upon.
The encrypted email service Lavabit, and Silent Circle, a firm also encrypting phone calls and texts, are the founding members of the Darkmail Alliance, a service that aims to prevent government agencies from listening in on the metadata of emails.
The metadata is the information bundled up with the content of an email such as that showing the sender, the recipient and date the message was sent.
Conventional email can never be made fully secure because the standard requires some metadata to be sent unencrypted.
Mike Janke, Silent Circle's chief executive and co-founder, said that this factor meant the medium was "fundamentally broken".
The new service was revealed at the Inbox Love conference in California on Wednesday. The alliance hopes to bring on board potential partners.
"We want to get another dozen to two dozen email providers up and running on Darkmail architecture so that at any one time citizens of the world can choose two dozen email providers to get their email service from," said Janke.
The ultimate aim is to get the big email providers, such as Microsoft, Yahoo! and Gmail, using the new standard too.
The Darkmail Alliance aims to fix many of the problems affecting the old standard. "The existing email architecture is 40 years old, and it's what allows the world's surveillance community, hackers and other data mining companies, to get [users'] data," Janke told the Guardian.
He said that the services Lavabit and Silent Mail kept too much data on the provider's server. "So what happened is you saw nation states can go to an email provider and coerce them into turning over the keys and decrypting.
"Look at Lavabit, they were coerced by law. The same thing happened to Hushmail. And on top of that, you've got big data companies like Microsoft, Yahoo! [Google] and 50 others that offer these free services that are actually mining your email for keywords. And selling it and packaging it up for ads. So it's broke, it's absolutely broke."
Lavabit, which was once used by the US whistleblower Snowden, was forced to shut down in July 2013 when its founder, Ladar Levison, was ordered to hand over the keys to all his users' private data. Facing a fine of $5,000 a day, he complied, then switched off the servers.
Levison said: "I'm worried about how we're just a blink technologically away from becoming a totalitarian state, where our government is watching us all the time.
"You have to remember that the email protocols that we're using today were developed in the 70s when there were only a handful of people on the internet, or back then it was called Darpanet, and everybody trusted everybody else.
"Security was never baked into the protocols, it's really become an afterthought. And as a result, messages [are] passed over the internet in plaintext. It's hard to develop a system which is backwards compatible but is secure by default. In fact it's impossible."
The proposal of the alliance, it says, is as close to being compatible with conventional email as can be; users can send and receive insecure emails with contacts on normal services, and it is only when an email is sent between two accounts within the alliance that the message is encrypted and routed from one peer to the other without going through a central server.
That mechanism would prevent the kind of metadata collection routinely carried out by intelligence agencies, such as that exposed by Snowden, the alliance says.
Janke said: "We always say we will be successful if, in three years, 50% of the world's email are sent through this Darkmail architecture. That's why we teamed up [with Lavabit] … This whole unique engine that we developed, we're putting it out open source. We think it's our responsibility to do that."
The focus is on the mid-to-small providers initially, but Janke said he had one bigger target in mind.
"The interesting part is, at Inbox Love it's going to be all the big [providers], Microsoft, Yahoo!, Gmail – you name it. And we know that eventually, as we start to proliferate what we call the email 3.0 architecture, they're going to have to decide. It's going to be very difficult for them."
The ball was going to be in the court of big email providers. "What are they going to do?" said Janke. "Are they going to actually join in? Or are they going to kick the can down the road?"
October 30, 2013
No U.S. Action, So States Move on Privacy Law
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
State legislatures around the country, facing growing public concern about the collection and trade of personal data, have rushed to propose a series of privacy laws, from limiting how schools can collect student data to deciding whether the police need a warrant to track cellphone locations.
Over two dozen privacy laws have passed this year in more than 10 states, in places as different as Oklahoma and California. Many lawmakers say that news reports of widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency have led to more support for the bills among constituents. And in some cases, the state lawmakers say, they have felt compelled to act because of the stalemate in Washington on legislation to strengthen privacy laws.
“Congress is obviously not interested in updating those things or protecting privacy,” said Jonathan Stickland, a Republican state representative in Texas. “If they’re not going to do it, states have to do it.”
For Internet companies, the patchwork of rules across the country means keeping a close eye on evolving laws to avoid overstepping. Many companies have an internal team to deal with state legislation. And the flurry of legislation has led some companies, particularly technology companies, to exert their lobbying muscles — with some success — when proposed measures stand to harm their bottom lines.
“It can be counterproductive to have multiple states addressing the same issue, especially with online privacy, which can be national or an international issue,” said Michael D. Hintze, chief privacy counsel at Microsoft, who added that at times it can create “burdensome compliance.” For companies, it helps that state measures are limited in their scope by a federal law that prevents states from interfering with interstate commerce.
This year, Texas passed a bill introduced by Mr. Stickland that requires warrants for email searches, while Oklahoma enacted a law meant to protect the privacy of student data. At least three states proposed measures to regulate who inherits digital data, including Facebook passwords, when a user dies.
Some of the bills extend to surveillance beyond the web. Eight states, for example, have passed laws this year limiting the use of drones, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has advocated such privacy laws. In Florida, a lawmaker has drafted a bill that would prohibit schools from collecting biometric data to verify who gets free lunches and who gets off at which bus stop. Vermont has limited the use of data collected by license plate readers, which are used mostly by police to record images of license plates.
California, long a pioneer on digital privacy laws, has passed three online privacy bills this year. One gives children the right to erase social media posts, another makes it a misdemeanor to publish identifiable nude pictures online without the subject’s permission, and a third requires companies to tell consumers whether they abide by “do not track” signals on web browsers.
But stiff lobbying efforts were able to stop a so-called right to know bill proposed in California this year that stood to hurt the online industry. The bill would have required any business that “retains a customer’s personal information” to share a copy of that information at the customer’s request, as well as disclose which third parties have received the information. The practice of sharing customer data is central to digital advertising and to the large Internet companies that rely on advertising revenue.
“ ‘Right to know’ is an example of something that’s not workable,” said Jim Halpert, a lawyer with the national firm DLA Piper, who leads an industry coalition that includes Amazon, Facebook and Verizon. “It covers such a broad range of disclosures. We advocated against it.”
More than a year ago, the White House proposed a consumer privacy bill of rights, but Congress has not yet taken on the legislation. And a proposed update to the 27-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act has stalled. The proposal would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant, based on probable cause, before they could read through emails.
Several legislators said they felt compelled to act because Congress had not. “They don’t act in the best interest unless it’s in their best interest,” said Daniel Zolnikov, a first-time legislator in Montana. Mr. Zolnikov, a Republican, suggested that the lack of action was because of lobbying efforts from “special interests” on Capitol Hill.
So Mr. Zolnikov took up the privacy issue in his state house: Montana became the first state in the nation this year to pass a law that requires police to obtain a search warrant before it can track a suspect’s whereabouts through cellphone records.
According to a survey conducted in July by the Pew Internet Center, most Americans said they believed that existing laws were inadequate to protect their privacy online, and a clear majority reported making great efforts to mask their identities online. Some of those surveyed said they cleared browsing histories, deleted social media posts or used virtual networks to conceal their Internet Protocol addresses — and a few even said they used encryption tools.
Many states have already responded to those opinions. In the last couple of years, about 10 states have passed laws restricting employers from demanding access to their employees’ social media accounts.
California set the stage on digital privacy 10 years ago with a law that required organizations, whether public or private, to inform consumers if their personal data had been breached or stolen. Several states followed, and today, nearly every state has a data breach notification law.
This year, California amended that landmark law, adding an Internet user’s login name and password to the menu of personal information that is covered. The California attorney general’s office also has a full-time unit to enforce digital privacy laws.
But even in California, the steps taken on privacy legislation are not sweeping overhauls like those supported by the White House. And some bills in the state never become law at all. Last year, the Legislature passed a bill compelling police to seek a warrant before searching cellphone records to track a suspect’s location. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it, saying it did not strike “the right balance” between the needs of citizens and the police.
John Pezold, a Republican representative in Georgia, said that issues like creating jobs were more pressing than privacy for many of his constituents. But he said the issue of digital privacy was beginning to bubble up, especially because of the recent reports on eavesdropping by the federal government.
“They’re becoming increasingly wary that their lives are going to be no longer their own,” said Mr. Pezold, who plans to introduce a broad consumer privacy bill in the next legislative session. “We have got to protect that.”
NSA Taking a Lot of Heat, So Deserved, But There’s a Lot More to the Story
By: Dennis S
Wednesday, October, 30th, 2013, 7:20 pm
This topic is going to jar a lot of us out of our comfort zone. In American media, all issues have to be black or white. In fact issues are rarely black or white, a truism the right completely fails to grasp. A conspicuous current example is the question of U.S.National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance of foreign nations and their leaders, especially the “enraged” European countries of France, Germany and Spain. A goodly number of progressives are equally enraged on behalf of these three leadership victims of American officialdom snooping where their snoopers ostensibly don’t belong. Of course the Teapublican press loves the issue. It gets to use a favorite word in right-wing lingo headlines; “ENRAGE.” As in, “U.S. spying ENRAGES allied leaders.”
Let’s examine the three enraged surveillance targets that are the most offended by U.S. intelligence prying into their business. It would be instructive to point out that France features no less that 8 different agencies that could be best described as intelligence or spy agencies domestically and abroad (beyond question, including their own surveillance of the United States). The General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) is, as its name implies, the biggie external intelligence agency. It works under the French ministry of defense with another agency in counterintelligence abroad that addresses threats to French security. You don’t think either agency has ever used the same tracking devices and strategies as the Americans to get some clues about what they’ll run into “abroad.” I would guess that the right-wing defaming Francophobia of “Freedom Fries” brought a lot of French intelligence attention our way.
As a country, France plays host to a myriad of nasty gatherings of nutzoids under assorted banners. U.S. Homeland Security created the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and response to terrorism (START). It lists no fewer than 51 different organizations, all of them having used terror to one degree or another as a political wedge. A few are no longer active. One of the active groups is called; oh, let me see; what was that name? I’ve got it; Al Qaeda!!!
I’m sure another concern of NSA rests with the ongoing activities of Frances’ Algerian population, roughly the same percentage as the U.S. African American total. Algerians emigrated from Northern Africa and are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims. Al Qaeda is also overwhelmingly Sunni. So maybe it’s in our best interest to keep an eye (and ear) on this bunch that have proven repeatedly through word and deed their belief that the only good American is a dead American.
The idea that German Chancellor Angela Merkel would sternly lecture the Obama administration about “shattered trust” doesn’t hold water. Her country gave us Hitler, Nazis, 6 million dead Jews, Neo-Nazis, decades of the lefty terrorist Baader-Meinhof Group and currently hosts its own Al Qaeda citizenry. And Angela might recall the name Mohamed Atta, the terrorist most identified with carrying out an attack that killed over 3,000 people in New York City 22 years ago. Atta met several times a week, pre-9/11, in Hamburg with at least a half-dozen participants in that attack, two of who were pilots of aircraft involved in the terrorism, as was Atta. Shattered trust indeed! Of course being a free market, anti-labor favorite of the G.W. Bush administration makes it easy for Angela to fire off such salvos.
Now we arrive at the latest band-wagon passenger; Spain. This beautiful country has become a favorite roosting spot for increasing numbers of Muslims. Nothing wrong with that considering the historical (way back) Spanish ties with Islam. It would, however, be wrong to totally ignore a relatively new grouping of a million people, the vast majority simply wanting a better life, but bound to include a few terrorist-inclined bad actors. Spain apparently doesn’t ignore everybody either. The Spanish government features 8 intelligence and surveillance agencies.
There’s one small problem with the “enraged responses” directed at NSA by Spanish intelligence authorities. If you believe a revelation in Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, (scroll past the first 5 articles) the locals were all in on the surveillance, cooperating and facilitating the action with NSA. The electronic metadata, computer and phone information was even shared with other countries, including those bitching the loudest about the practice.
As I used to tell my little ones when they were still little ones, “Take a timeout.” Yes, God knows there are abuses of this system of gathering intelligence from an ally or even a bad guy. No question NSA might stumble on to some heated phone sex between Pierre and Brigitte or intercept an email full of deeply personal convictions of love and other sweet nothings. But then again the heavy-breathing verbiage could be fraught with potentially seemingly innocent, but potentially deadly code words for a terrorist attack in the making like gang notes kited out of penitentiaries. A harmless phrase like “tell Leon I said hi” could mean “Shoot Leon in the back of the head and make sure it takes.”
I’m quite conflicted when it comes to protecting American interests. This much we know; terrorists, mostly, but not entirely, of Middle East persuasion, hate us with every fiber of their being. Unlike most U.S. citizens, they’re more than willing to accompany their victims to the hereafter through their own kamikaze version of suicide bombs. We also know they’ll take down huge buildings to make their statement of infinite malevolence.
Privacy can be a nebulous term. Back in Grandpa and grandma’s or great-grandpa or grandma’s day, there were telephone party lines or multi-party lines. At any given time, a neighbor or as many as a couple of dozen neighbors might be listening in on your “private” phone conversation.
There seems to be little or no privacy in today’s society. Participants in social media will give up every ounce of info about themselves, friends and family. Twitter routinely runs one photo after another with every member of the family and Instagram “selfies”, generally goofy pics of the subject of the photo, often in varied states of undress, are all the current rage.
But, yes, we do have a right to privacy if so desired. Our business should stay our business if we choose. But the price we pay for the extraordinary advances in computer and communications technology is that good guys and bad guys can access most of our electronic information with ease. That, of course, includes all Internet entries, email and phone calls.
At the end of the day, I’m left with two questions. Edward Snowden just seems a little too pat to me. Not your typical whistle-blower. He was already paid extremely well in his day job, his timing was exquisite and his fleeing well organized by China and Russia at the very least. I’m also puzzled why foreign leaders who knew of their own role and every other industrialized nation’s role in NSA surveillance pretended to be so shocked and “enraged.”
Some of this needs fixing, including coming up with a better idea, but mostly it’s just another opportunistic shot across the bow at the White House that the right hopes will poison the well of good will that Barack Obama had built up overseas.
President Obama Calls Out The Media For Grossly Misleading Coverage of The ACA
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, October, 30th, 2013, 8:43 pm
President Obama called out the media today for misleading the American people with inaccurate stories about people having their health insurance canceled due to the ACA.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Because of the tax credits that we’re offering and the competition between insurers, most people are going to be able to get better, comprehensive health care plans for the same price or even cheaper than projected. You’re going to get a better deal.
Now, there’s a fraction of Americans with higher incomes who will pay more on the front end for better insurance with better benefits and protections like the patient’s bill of rights, and that will actually save them from financial ruin if they get sick. But nobody is losing their right to health care coverage. And no insurance company will ever be able to deny you coverage or drop you as a customer altogether. Those days are over, and that’s the truth. That is the truth. (Cheers, applause.)
So for people without health insurance, they’re finally going to be able to get it. For the vast majority of people who have health insurance that works, you can keep it. For the fewer than 5 percent of Americans who buy insurance on your own, you will be getting a better deal. So anyone peddling the notion that insurers are canceling peoples’ plan without mentioning that almost all the insurers are encouraging people to join better plans with the same carrier and stronger benefits and stronger protections while others will be able to get better plans with new carriers through the marketplace, and that many will get new help to pay for these better plans and make them actually cheaper — if you leave that stuff out, you’re being grossly misleading, to say the least. (Applause.)
It is one thing for Republicans to be grossly misleading people about the law. They oppose the ACA and have been trying to destroy it for nearly four years, but what the media is guilty of is ignorance and laziness. The mainstream media has decided that they are going to be against the ACA. They think that is where a majority of the American people are, so that is how they are going to cover the story.
The truth is that the media likes things simple and dumb. They can understand website broken. They can understand people losing their coverage, but they never bother to look deeper and ask why some people are seeing their policies get canceled. The answer is that these policies were crap coverage, but the media can’t be bothered to mention that part in their stories.
The big secret about the mainstream media is that many of them have no idea what they are talking about. They haven’t read the ACA. The media doesn’t understand the issues. This is why they are so drawn to whatever the Republican Party puts out there. Republicans have perfected the art of giving the media the ready made easy story, but the most galling thing about the media coverage is that much of it is missing out on the really big story.
While the media focuses on website glitches and Republicans who are complaining because their junk health insurance got canceled, what they aren’t talking about is that the ACA is going to be good for a whole lot of people. There will be no bigger life changer than access to affordable health care for tens of millions of Americans.
It isn’t just the Republican Party who is set to be on the wrong side of the history of the ACA. Because of their indifference to facts, the media’s performance during this time will be poorly remembered too. President Obama and the White House are going to have to keep up the fight, because the misleading media stories are going to keep coming.
Proudly Cheerleading for ObamaCare Because the Media is Supposed to be Serving the People
By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, October, 30th, 2013, 7:31 pm
Perspective is sorely lacking, and this apparent disconnect with regular citizens has never been so glaring as it is right now during the media’s ACA website glitch hysteria.
The gang of beltway intelligentsia came down on Joan Walsh when she pointed out that tech glitches were not the be all end all of ObamaCare, which just goes to show you that you are only allowed to have one thought in the media and it’s the one that the boys agree is “accurate” – the fact that white men are the minority and can’t possibly speak for everyone is totally lost here.
So the reason you see this huge disconnect is we have a government run by mostly privileged white men, being reported on by mostly privileged white men. Their experience frames their views, and they are so privileged that they stamp these views as the “facts” without a moment of doubt that they are correct and right.
A tech glitch will never stop desperate people from signing up for health insurance. It won’t stop the tears of gratitude from the many (not few) who had a health scare without insurance. And by the way, those with insurance were also denied help from insurance companies before ObamaCare.
Not everyone has the kind of privilege that makes messing with them a bad bet.
So we come again to the meaning of “minority”. In social and political terms, “minority” refers to people who hold few positions of power. Groups of minorities are categorized by race, gender, disability, wealth, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and more. Maybe white men from privileged backgrounds (who hold the majority of positions of social power in our society) don’t really know anything about what a majority (together, minorities are a numerical majority) of this country faces when they try to access services. If they did, they wouldn’t dream of being obsessed with tech glitches and hold music fails.
If you disagree with the media narrative, you are called names because apparently that is how the “intelligentsia” fights battles — by avoiding the issues, ideas and other people’s experiences and frames, and just attacking the character of the dissenter as less than. Joan Walsh was called an “Obama cheerleader” and a “c*nt” for pointing out that maybe the tech glitches aren’t something to get hysterical over, which is code for I don’t have a real argument, so I’m going to call this woman a cheerleader and that will shut her up.
Then she was accused of agitprop, which is hysterical coming from people who are using insults to silence dissent from their Anointed Opinion, but whatever– irony died so long ago. Anyone who disagrees with the established narrative will get it in the heart, so beware.
It’s adorable that folks are living in the old days when our government was the problem, and not the corporate theft of our government and rights. Very cute. But when facing reality, you can see actual agitprop is the same old same old — the status quo protecting itself from the people, from liberalism, from social change and social justice. (See the IRS “scandal”.)
Privilege. It’ll make a fool of you if you let it.
And while those people offered average Americans zero respect, I will offer them the courtesy of saying that I am sure they do not mean to be obtuse and ridiculous in their hysteria. But that is the curse of privilege. You make a fool of yourself when you have no intention of doing so, and you don’t even know it because in your frame of reference, it is a super big deal if you can’t get what you want right now and it is not offered perfectly.
For the rest of the country — for the minorities of the country, for the poor, the working class, the underdogs of the country, they never expected perfection because they are not used to getting what they need, let alone what they want how they want it.
They just wanted a lifeline and they will wait on hold for it and suffer through glitches for it. Also, most of the country can’t afford to wallow in theoreticals. They must be practical. A practical person gets a website glitch and tries the phone number because they need insurance. They don’t ponder the impact of glitches on Obama’s legacy.
The under-reported truth is that actual Americans are dying from lack of health insurance and yet our corporate media can’t stop concern trolling over glitches. If you dare question the perspective or priority, you are called an Obama Cheerleader, which is just like calling the ACA “ObamaCare” (meant as an insult but derp, not so insulting upon inspection), and said by someone who does not respect the fact that this President’s policies speak for the underdogs of this country. It’s worth noting that Obama has been the best president for women in terms of policy ever. No one calls defenders of policies that benefit the privileged “cheerleaders” because they are the status quo and thus do not require cheering.
To speak from the perspective of a minority and suggest that access to affordable healthcare is not destroyed if we have to wait a few weeks even is to be an “Obama Cheerleader”. Or maybe it’s just being a cheerleader for justice.
And maybe Obama is on the right side on this issue. Note that there is no difference in these people’s eyes from the policy to the man, or it would be “ObamaCare cheerleader”. That’s important and telling, because what Walsh was actually doing was supporting the policy for good, logical reasons that she laid out but they reduced it to a woman cheering a man instead of being a (implied naturally, innately) superior intellect as the men are.
Cheering ObamaCare is actually cheering for all of the folks who aren’t privileged. Aren’t these the people the fourth estate is supposed to be serving?
No, tech glitches are not the Big Deal, and they are not going to kill liberalism forever!1!1! They will be fixed and all of this will look as silly as it does right now to some of us.
Who’s going to fix the condescension of the social majority, or at least point out that this attitude is indicative of a failure to embrace the tenets of actual liberalism, while pretending that all liberalism depends on this one moment and only White Man can save us all from the inevitable failures of the black president and his cheerleaders.
Truly, the President does not require another Very Important Person to inform him that the website needs to be fixed. So thanks but no thanks to the backseat screeching that is only doing one thing — enabling the rabid right’s destruction of the biggest piece of liberal legislation in decades. And yes, I will proudly go down in history as someone who cheered for ObamaCare.
October 30, 2013
Contrite White House Spurns Health Law’s Critics
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and ROBERT PEAR
BOSTON — The White House on Wednesday blended expressions of contrition for the troubled rollout of its health care law with an aggressive rejection of Republican criticism of it, as the administration sought a political strategy to blunt the fallout from weeks of technical failures and negative coverage.
While Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, apologized profusely during a politically charged hearing on Capitol Hill, President Obama traveled to Massachusetts to argue forcefully that the Affordable Care Act will eventually be just as successful as the similar plan pioneered by Mitt Romney, his onetime rival and a former governor of the state.
Speaking in the historic Faneuil Hall, where Mr. Romney signed the Massachusetts plan into law, the president also took “full responsibility” for the malfunctioning health care website and promised to fix it. But he pledged to “grind it out” over the weeks and months ahead to ensure the law’s success and prove its Republican critics wrong.
“We are going to see this through,” Mr. Obama vowed, pounding his fist on the podium as the audience roared with approval.
The dual messages from Mr. Obama and Ms. Sebelius over the course of the day reflect a recognition by officials inside the White House that while apologies are in order, the administration cannot let Republicans expand concerns about the HealthCare.gov website into a broader indictment of the law.
Senior advisers to the president said they understood that the bungled rollout of the insurance marketplace has given Republicans another opportunity to litigate the political case against the health care law. But they said they viewed the weeks ahead as a period of inevitable improvement that will vindicate their position.
“The weight of that momentum will have a positive impact,” one senior administration official said, requesting anonymity to talk about White House strategy planning. “Really it’s about blocking and tackling and getting that work done.”
With Republicans showing no sign of backing off, the challenge for Mr. Obama and Democrats in the months to come will be to deflect political attacks that unfairly demonize the health care law while acknowledging its shortcomings. Achieving that nuance could prove tricky for an administration whose top health official, Ms. Sebelius, on Wednesday called the rollout of the online insurance marketplace a “debacle.”
Ms. Sebelius told lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that she was as surprised as anyone when the website collapsed on Oct. 1 under pressure from millions of users and was crippled by technical problems in subsequent days. While she was aware of the risks in a big information technology project, she said, “no one indicated that this could possibly go this wrong.”
Ms. Sebelius told the committee: “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.”
The shift in strategy from the White House comes as new challenges emerge for the law. The problem-plagued website crashed again just before Ms. Sebelius began testifying in front of a skeptical congressional panel. And officials acknowledged that the federal insurance marketplace for small businesses, which had already been delayed a month from Oct. 1, would not open until the end of November.
In three and a half grueling hours of testimony, Ms. Sebelius gamely defended the troubled rollout of the law and apologized for what had gone wrong. But nothing she said could overcome the stark message displayed on a large video screen showing a page from HealthCare.gov: “The system is down at the moment. We are experiencing technical difficulties and hope to have them resolved soon. Please try again later.”
Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, said the administration had not properly tested the security of the insurance website, which receives financial information on consumers seeking subsidies to help pay their premiums.
Mr. Rogers read from a government memo that said security controls for the federal exchange had not been fully tested as of Sept. 27. This creates a potentially “high risk” for the exchange, said the memo, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The memo said that security controls would be “completely tested within the next six months.”
Republicans continued to accuse Mr. Obama of lying to the American people when he said repeatedly over the past four years that people who had a health insurance plan they liked could keep it, regardless of the changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers grilled Ms. Sebelius on why insurance companies are canceling policies for thousands of people across the country.
Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the committee, said: “There are millions of Americans coast to coast who no doubt believed the president’s repeated promise that if they liked their plan, they’d be able to keep it. They are now receiving termination notices.”
Ms. Sebelius tried, with little success, to allay concerns about those notices, which have been sent to hundreds of thousands of consumers stating that their individual insurance policies would soon be terminated because they did not comply with new standards under the Affordable Care Act. She said the cancellation of some policies was a justifiable byproduct of the 2010 health law.
But in Massachusetts, Mr. Obama for the first time admitted that some people who have had what he called “substandard” insurance plans may have to choose another one now that the Affordable Care Act has gone into effect. He accused lawmakers in Washington of distorting that fact by failing to mention that the new plans they have will be more comprehensive and often come with cheaper premiums.
“If you leave that stuff out, you are being grossly misleading, to say the least,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama made comparisons between the rollout of the national health care law and the problems experienced in the days after the Medicare prescription drug program went into effect in 2006. In his remarks, the president said that when those problems occurred, “Democrats worked with Republicans to make it work.”
The president also repeatedly invoked Mr. Romney’s name as evidence of the bipartisan spirit that led to the passage and implementation of the health care law in Massachusetts. He said Mr. Romney “did the right thing on health care” in the state.
But Mr. Romney did not return the favor, issuing a statement hours before the president’s speech that repeated his longstanding criticism of the national law.
“Nothing has changed my view that a plan crafted to fit the unique circumstances of a single state should not be grafted onto the entire country,” Mr. Romney said. “Health reform is best crafted by states with bipartisan support and input from its employers, as we did, without raising taxes, and by carefully phasing it in to avoid the type of disruptions we are seeing nationally.”
White House aides said they did not ask Mr. Romney to attend the speech.
Michael D. Shear reported from Boston, and Robert Pear from Washington.
Blackburn and Pallone spar over Obamacare and ‘scam’ insurance policies
By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 23:20 EDT
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) accused congressional colleague Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) on Wednesday of being “insulting” toward Americans in the continuing debate over the effects of the Affordable Care Act on individual health care buyers.
“To be so insulting to people to say, ‘The insurance you’ve had is a scam,’” Blackburn said in a joint interview with CNN host Piers Morgan, arguing that President Barack Obama was wrong to assure individual buyers that their plans would be grandfathered into the law.
Pallone countered that the cuts were being caused by insurance companies cutting their customers, rather than raising their plans to meet the new standards required by the law.
“If insurance companies want to continue to offer lousy plans that don’t have good coverage and cost a lot of money to the taxpayer or to the insured, they can,” Pallone told Blackburn and Morgan.
“What percentage of people who want to keep their plan or their doctor, as per the president’s promise, are actually gonna be able to do that?” Morgan asked.
“About 90 percent,” Pallone replied, before Morgan interjected by citing an NBC News report stating that 40 to 60 percent of insurance buyers would be forced out of their plans. However, Pallone clarified that that issue affects buyers in the individual marketplace.
Reports like NBC’s have been criticized by Moyers & Company and the Los Angeles Times, among others, for ignoring the limitations of many of the original plans and the savings many subjects could get through government subsidies.
“So why didn’t the president just say that?” Morgan demanded. “Why didn’t he just say, instead of making this bold promise to sell his plan, why didn’t he just say that? Why didn’t he just be honest.”
“We have to look at this from a practical point of view,” Pallone said in response. “We want people to be insured, and have a good insurance policy.”
“What about telling the American people the truth?” Morgan repeated.
“We’re offering a good insurance policy at an affordable price,” Pallone continued. “If Marsha says I want to keep some lousy plan that’s a scam, well, the insurance company isn’t gonna sell it anymore, because nobody’s gonna buy it. And that’s the bottom line.”
Republicans Celebrate as 49 Million Americans Will Soon Have Less Food to Eat
Wednesday, October, 30th, 2013, 10:25 am
Most people understand that a happy feeling because something they did provided what they needed to happen, or produced a desired result that dealt with a problem in an acceptable way, is satisfaction or gratification. It is doubtless that this coming Friday Republicans will experience exhilarating satisfaction because millions of low-income seniors, working families, children, veterans, and disabled Americans will have less food to eat and likely Republicans will enjoy a ravishing feast to celebrate their good fortune. Americans have come to expect no less from Republicans who revel in taking food from hungry people; especially if they are senior citizens and children.
After stripping food stamp funding from a still languishing farm bill and lusting to cut $40 billion of food assistance for the poor, Republicans can rejoice this coming Friday 48 million people, including more than 21 million children, will see their SNAP (food stamp) benefits reduced. The cuts are coming because the President’s fiscal stimulus of 2009 is running out and Republicans have no intention to extend the food assistance because besides killing Americans’ jobs, keeping people hungry is their favorite activity.
Although the cuts will be a boost for Republican egos, it is horrid news for the 49 million Americans (14.5% of all American households) who are food insecure. Food insecure means 49 million American citizens, most of whom work, are retired, or children do not have the funds to meet their basic food needs and have no idea where their next meal is coming from. Republican inaction is making sure the “food insecure” will not have to worry about the next meal because there will not be any forthcoming for about a week during each month.
According to Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the Food Bank for New York City, the impending cuts mean about 76-million meals “will no longer be on the plates of the poorest families” in NYC alone. 76 million meals outstrips the total number of meals distributed each year by the largest food bank in the country, and Republicans will rejoice that according to Purvis, “There will be an immediate impact.” Purvis went on to say “they’re going to lose what’s basically an entire week’s worth food” each month, and that their situation is going to be “pretty daunting” because Republicans “are attempting to punish people for being poor.” In conservative circles, Republicans, teabaggers, libertarians, and the uber-wealthy take comfort in knowing in their Christian hearts that a person “had to have done something terribly wrong to be poor” and they are likely reaping god’s wrath at the hands of his Republican representatives.
Purvis said Republicans could not care less that “more and more folks have more than one job and are still needing help,” but that is the punishment for living in a nation run by Republicans constantly plotting to keep poor Americans hungry. She also recalled that “we were told, you know, by the president…these cuts will not happen, we won’t get rid of the program.” It is now crystal clear that President Obama failed to understand the depth of Republican inhumanity, or that they were Hell-bent on taking food away from tens-of-millions of Americans. Maybe now, after three-and-a-half years of ravaging social safety nets to punish the poor for being poor, the President comprehends that Republicans only serve in the U.S. Congress to punish Americans. Two weeks ago a conservative pundit, Bill Kristol, exposed the true nature of Republican barbarism when he contended that a prolonged government shutdown (that failed) would “not be the end of the world, honestly, even if you’re on nutritional assistance from the federal government.” It is likely that for millions of poor Americans losing a week’s worth of food each month, seeing their children go hungry may indeed feel like the end of the world.
Republicans have been on a tear to take nutritional assistance from poor Americans since they took control of the House after the 2010 midterms when Paul Ryan submitted, and submitted again, a Heritage Foundation-approved budget that included SNAP program cuts of $135 billion which would completely end assistance for millions of low-income families. The budget that every Republican voted for twice adversely affects low-income working families with children, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities, because like an efficient animal extermination strategy, Republicans believe it is important to cull the weakest and most vulnerable Americans from the population first to make room for the next group to go; the middle class that is falling into poverty at an alarming rate.
There is a secondary benefit for Republicans cutting food stamp funding that often goes unnoticed but fits neatly in their well-planned assault on the people since they elected an African American President. Republicans love taking food out of the mouths of hungry children and senior citizens, but they get an extra benefit because each dollar of food stamps infuses over $1.70 of spending into the economy that creates jobs. If there is only one thing the GOP loves more than taking food from Americans it is killing jobs. It really is an elegant plan to decimate the population because killing jobs with drastic food stamp cuts will send more Americans into poverty to wonder where their family’s next meal is coming from and if Republicans have their way it will not be coming at all.
America already has the second highest percentage of children living in poverty in the developed world and Republicans are on pace to claim the number one spot by cutting food assistance to families in poverty and near poverty. Creating poverty is one area Republicans have excelled over the past six years, and they are likely dismayed that food stamps lifted a record 4 million people above the poverty line in 2012, but with the looming cuts due to take place on Friday, and House Republicans holding out for greater food stamps cuts, they can easily add 4 million Americans back to the poverty rolls that should give them a great deal of satisfaction.
Of all the things Republicans have taken from the American people, food is the one item that reveals their true inhumanity. Republicans can hardly claim their barbarism is borne of budget concerns or fiscal austerity because they always find funding to give the oil industry, agricultural corporations, religious organizations, corporations, and the defense industry subsidies exceeding the cost of fully funding food stamps. Their sole intent is creating poverty and starving low-income families, children, seniors, and disabled Americans, and on Friday they will have successfully taken a significant amount of food out of the mouths of 48 million Americans including 21 million children that will give them immeasurable satisfaction.
Chris Hayes goes off: ‘American capitalism is not producing’ for 47 million poor Americans
By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 22:12 EDT
MSNBC host Chris Hayes couldn’t contain his exasperation on Wednesday in discussing the implications for poor Americans if $5 billion is cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on Friday.
“Fifteen percent of Americans are poor,” Hayes told Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and his other panelists. “Forty-seven million people. I look at that and I say, this is not working. What we are doing right now — our system, the system we’re running, is failing. Forty seven million people hungry, in poverty, in this country is a failing rate. American capitalism is not producing, at this moment, broad gains for people. It is not.”
McGovern, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, also called for President Barack Obama’s administration to join a broader discussion about not only conserving SNAP benefits, but the overall effects of poverty on the country.
“We need to be talking about increasing the minimum wage,” McGovern proposed. “We need to be talking about how you extend ladders of opportunity to help people get out of poverty. But in the meantime, we need to make sure that we are there with a safety net to make sure that people have at least enough to eat. What a radical idea, that everybody in this country — the richest country in the history of the world — ought to have enough to eat.”
Taking $5 billion out of the SNAP program, New York Coalition Against Hunger executive director Joel Berg told Hayes, would have the same effect as shutting down all of the country’s food charities for a year, a loss that food banks would not be able to cover, a topic that, as Media Matters reported on Tuesday, has gone largely ignored in media circles.
“Until this segment, as far as we know, this is the first network news show to even discuss 48 million people losing food,” Berg said. Technically, however, Hayes’ colleague Al Sharpton, addressed the issue on Tuesday.
But while conservative media outlets are correct in pointing out that the program has expanded to cost $80 billion, Food Bank for New York City president Margarette Purvis told Hayes, they are often content to ignore the broader context behind that phenomenon.
“It’s not growing off on its own — it reflects that there is a huge hunger crisis,” Purvis argued. “The problem is that we’re treating the issue as the people, rather than the issue [being], why is hunger this bad in this country? Everyone should be upset about this, not upset at the people who are suffering through it.”