In the USA...United Surveillance America
October 25, 2013Germany and France Propose Talks With U.S. to Rein In Spying
By JAMES KANTER
BRUSSELS — The leaders of Germany and France offered on Friday to hold talks with the United States in an effort come up with mutually acceptable rules for surveillance operations, easing a trans-Atlantic spying dispute that has plunged relations between America and Europe to a low point.
Fury over reports that American intelligence had monitored the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany spread from there to other European leaders a day earlier and prompted calls to suspend trade talks with the United States.
The concerns could spread with the publication in The Guardian newspaper of a report that as long ago as October 2006, the National Security Agency had been eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of 35 world leaders. The assertion emerged in what the newspaper described as a classified document leaked by the former N.S.A. intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden.
The article did not identify the leaders but said their phone numbers had been provided by other American officials in response to a request from the N.S.A. to share their contacts with intelligence gatherers.
In Brussels, seeking to rebuild trust among the longstanding allies, Ms. Merkel told an early-morning news conference that a pact should be agreed by the end of the year ending the kind of surveillance that was made public as part of the disclosure of documents harvested by Mr. Snowden.
The aim is to “come to a common understanding of the services between the United States and Germany and France so that we put down a framework for cooperation,” Ms. Merkel said after European Union leaders ended a first day of talks.
In a joint statement, the 28 European Union leaders at the two-day summit meeting “took note of the intention of France and Germany to seek bilateral talks” with the United States. The leaders also “noted that other E.U. countries are welcome to join this initiative,” which they said “underlined the close relationship between Europe and the U.S.A. and the value of that partnership.”
The revelations about the eavesdropping on Ms. Merkel follow reports of extensive American electronic surveillance in France and suggestions that American and British intelligence services monitored and are probably still monitoring Italian telecommunications networks.
But in a further sign of a willingness to defuse the dispute, Ms. Merkel said at the news conference that the leaders meeting in Brussels had not talked about interrupting negotiations with the United States to reach a landmark trade deal aimed at reducing tariffs and aligning regulations.
“I always take the view that when you leave the room, you have to always contemplate how to get back in again,” said Ms. Merkel, referring to the importance of keeping the trade talks going. “In such a tense situation, such talks may be even more important than usual.”
Asked whether she wanted an apology from the United States, Ms. Merkel said, “The most important thing at this juncture is to find a basis for the future” so that “trust can be rebuilt.” But she warned the United States that “words will not be sufficient” to make amends, adding, “It’s become clear for the future that things have to change, and they have to change radically.”
She also suggested that the door had been left open to a possible suspension of an agreement with the United States that allows it to track the finances of terrorist groups. Lawmakers at the European Parliament voted earlier this week to suspend the agreement because of suspicions that the United States authorities were tapping European citizens’ personal financial data.
That agreement is important to Washington because it allows the American authorities to continue having access to European banking data from a cooperative responsible for routing trillions of dollars daily among banks, brokerage houses, stock exchanges and other institutions. The cooperative, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, is based near Brussels. It provided the United States with personal data after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I have a certain understanding for the position of the European Parliament,” Ms. Merkel said. Approval by the European Union’s member states is required for the resolution to take effect.
Some European Union officials have seized on the latest revelations about United States snooping as a way to give new momentum to a fiercely contested proposal that could require American companies like Google and Yahoo to seek clearance from European officials before complying with United States warrants seeking private data.
The legislation would also seek to bolster privacy protection in Europe with fines that could run to billions of euros on the biggest technology companies if they fail to adhere to rules like those limiting the sharing of personal data.
The proposal has met with fierce opposition from business groups in the United States and Europe. Countries like Britain have pushed strongly to delay any final decision rather than endorse the deadline of spring 2014 called for by European Union officials and lawmakers to adopt the rules.
The British view appeared to have prevailed by Friday morning. In their statement, the 28 leaders agreed that it was “important to foster the trust of citizens and businesses in the digital economy,” but they said adopting the privacy rules by 2015 would be sufficient.
Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London.
October 24, 2013Allegation of U.S. Spying on Merkel Puts Obama at Crossroads
By DAVID E. SANGER and MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON — The angry allegation by the German government that the National Security Agency monitored the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel may force President Obama into making a choice he has avoided for years: whether to continue the age-old game of spying on America’s friends and risk undercutting cooperation with important partners in tracking terrorists, managing the global economy and slowing Iran’s nuclear program.
The pressure to make such a choice builds each day, as some of the United States’ closest allies have demanded explanations from Washington after similar disclosures about the breadth and sophistication of American electronic spying. Inside the administration it has touched off behind-the-scenes recriminations between the White House and the intelligence agencies over how much detail was given to White House officials about which world leaders are being monitored.
“This was colossally bad judgment — doing something because you can, instead of asking if you should,” said one career American official with long experience in Europe. A senior administration official declined to say what Mr. Obama knew or did not know about monitoring of Ms. Merkel’s phone, but said the president “doesn’t think we are in the right place.”
The tension with Germany built last week after German officials were given evidence of the cellphone monitoring by Der Spiegel, the German weekly newsmagazine. The first protests to Washington came in an angry phone call to Susan E. Rice, the president’s national security adviser, from her German counterpart, Christoph Heusgen.
During the call, according to German officials, Ms. Rice insisted that Mr. Obama did not know about the monitoring of Ms. Merkel’s phone, and said it was not currently happening, and would not in the future. But according to American officials familiar with the call, Ms. Rice would not acknowledge that the monitoring took place, even though she did not dispute the evidence the Germans had provided to her, which stretched back into the administration of President George W. Bush.
If Ms. Rice’s contention that the president was unaware of the monitoring is correct, it raises the question of why he was not alerted — especially after tensions rose earlier this year, following the first revelations by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, about American spying operations in Germany. Mr. Obama addressed those concerns at length during a visit to Germany.
There is little new in spying among allies: the oft-quoted line from Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson that “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail” was barely true when he uttered it in 1929, and Mr. Stimson himself later oversaw the breaking of codes during World War II.
But the sentiment is particularly potent in the case of a country like Germany, which has been critical for a number of American intelligence operations. The BND, Germany’s main intelligence agency, has pursued suspected terrorist cells and was critical to extracting information from an Iranian scientist whose computer hard drive revealed documents strongly suggesting Iran was working on the design of a nuclear warhead. It played a supporting role in trying to cripple Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, through the use of a cyberweapon.
A spokesman for the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., declined to comment about any American discussions with the Germans about the intelligence relationship between the two countries.
In the past, Germany has pushed for an agreement similar to the understanding that the United States has with Britain and three other English-speaking allies that prohibits spying on one another.
Until now the Obama administration has been loath to broker such a deal with the Germans, who have publicly stated their interest in a nonspying pact, partly because other nations would demand a similar arrangement. But the revelations of recent days have so strained relations between Washington and Berlin that that calculus appears to be changing — especially because American officials have difficulty making a credible case for what the United States has to gain from spying on senior German officials.
In the past, there have been questions about what the United States might gain from entering into a no-spying pact with the Germans. Several years ago, Dennis C. Blair, then the director of national intelligence, held discussions with French officials about such an agreement between the United States and France partly because he thought such a pact could yield practical benefits: it would allow the F.B.I. and other counterintelligence organizations to shift the few resources used in trying to hunt down French spies inside the United States to more productive assignments.
Mr. Blair made the proposal despite the fact that the French are believed to have had an active program of industrial espionage inside the United States, working vigorously to steal American technological secrets. And current and former American intelligence officials said that the Germans are far less aggressive inside the United States than the French.
Administration officials say the National Security Agency, in its push to build a global data-gathering network that can reach into any country, has rarely weighed the long-term political costs of some of its operations. Whether to make those kinds of reciprocal agreements with allies is among the questions two different administration reviews of N.S.A. spying practices hope to address.
One is being run inside the National Security Council. Another is under way by five members of an outside review panel created by Mr. Obama after the disclosures by Mr. Snowden.
Among its members are Richard A. Clarke, who served in the Clinton and both Bush administrations and has become an expert on cyberconflict; Michael J. Morell, a former deputy director of the C.I.A.; and Cass Sunstein, who ran the office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama White House before returning to Harvard Law School.
Two leading legal academics are also members: Peter Swire, an expert in privacy law, and Geoffrey R. Stone, a constitutional law expert and former dean of the University of Chicago Law School, where Mr. Obama taught.
The advisers are looking at a range of issues, from the collection of “metadata” about the calls and Web searches conducted by Americans to the surveillance of allies and their leaders.
October 24, 2013, 2:56 pmSenator Intensifies Probe of Data Brokers
By NATASHA SINGER
A Congressional probe into the multibillion-dollar data brokerage industry – companies that collect, analyze, sell or share personal details about consumers for marketing purposes – is intensifying.
On Wednesday afternoon, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat, sent a letter to Donald Robert, the chief executive of Experian, asking for information about a company subsidiary, called Court Ventures, that sold sensitive consumer data, allegedly to an identity theft service in Vietnam.
Senator Rockefeller is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which last year began investigating the practices of nine leading data brokers including Experian, a credit bureau that also offers marketing and fraud prevention services.
“The committee’s investigation has focused to date on how companies including Experian collect and sell consumer information for marketing purposes, while the information Experian reportedly sold to identity thieves – such as Social Security numbers and banking information – appears to be data Experian collects and sells for risk assessment activities,” Mr. Rockefeller wrote in the letter to Mr. Robert. “However, if these recent news accounts are accurate, they raise serious questions about whether Experian as a company has appropriate practices in place for vetting its customers and sharing sensitive consumer data with them, regardless of the particular line of business.”
Mr. Rockefeller’s letter is part of a larger effort by the Commerce Committee to understand how companies collect, share and sell intimate details about the shopping habits, health concerns, family circumstances and financial status of consumers at a time when Americans are increasingly sharing personal information online.
The letter cited an article by KrebsOnSecurity.com, an Internet security news site, which published a report Sunday on the alleged sale of sensitive data by Court Ventures to the Web site Superget.info, whose administrators were based in Vietnam.
The report said that Court Ventures had signed a data-sharing agreement with another information services firm, called U.S. Info Search, and that Court Ventures had resold the other company’s data to Superget.info.
Last week, the Department of Justice announced an indictment against one of the administrators of the Superget.info site, a Vietnamese national named Hieu Minh Ngo. Among other allegations, the indictment charges him with conspiracy to commit identity fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Experian bought Court Ventures, described on Experian.com as an aggregator that repackages and resells electronically available public records data “obtained from more than 1,400 state and county sources,” in 2012.
In a statement, Gerry Tschopp, a spokesman for Experian, said: “After the acquisition, the U.S. Secret Service notified Experian that Court Ventures had been and was reselling data from U.S. Info Search to a third party that the U.S. Secret Service was investigating as possibly engaged in illegal activity. Following the notice by the U.S. Secret Service, Experian discontinued reselling U.S. Info Search data and worked closely and in full cooperation with law enforcement to bring Vietnamese national Hieu Minh Ngo, the alleged perpetrator, to justice.”
He added that “no Experian database was accessed” and that the suspect in the case had obtained access to the data before Experian acquired the company.
Experian, which reported revenue of $4.73 billion in its 2013 fiscal year, had already come under scrutiny by Mr. Rockefeller before the news reports this week.
Last year, the senator asked data brokers including Experian, Equifax, TransUnion and Reed Elsevier, which owns the Lexis-Nexis database, to provide a list of all sources from which the companies obtained information on consumers; a list of the types of details the companies collected about consumers; and a list of the services and data they offer to third parties.
One data broker, for instance, estimated that more than 250,000 Web sites apprise consumers that they share data with third parties.
But, according to Mr. Rockefeller’s letter to Mr. Robert, Experian to date has “refused to fully respond” to the Commerce Committee’s request for the identities of Experian’s sources of consumer data and the purchasers of that data.
Mr. Tschopp, the Experian spokesman, said: “We have responded — and will continue to respond – in a very transparent manner to Senator Rockefeller.”
Last month, Mr. Rockefeller widened his probe, asking a dozen popular Web sites to provide information on their information-sharing practices with data brokers. The sites included About.com, Babycenter.com, Bankrate.com, Health.com, Investopedia.com, Mensfitness.com and Self.com.
“While some consumers may not object to having their information categorized and used for marketing,” Mr. Rockefeller wrote to executives at the sites, “before they share personal information, it is important that they know it may be used for purposes beyond those for which they originally provided it.”
This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 24, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated at one point the name of a data broker. It is Experian, not Expedia.
October 24, 2013North Carolina Prosecutor Takes Shots at the Laws He’s Obliged to Enforce
By JOHN PERAGINE
RALEIGH, N.C. — The criticism could not have been much harsher: North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature had set out to undo 50 years of progress with a Tea Party-inspired “playground of extremist fantasies” that include tax giveaways to its richest residents and election law changes that make it harder for residents to register and vote.
But the author of that scathing assessment in The Huffington Post last week was the North Carolina attorney general, Roy Cooper, a Democrat and the man whose job it is to enforce those laws, including the voting changes that have already become the subject of a federal lawsuit.
His remarks brought a sharp rebuke from Gov. Pat McCrory and accusations from Republicans that Mr. Cooper is letting his ambition — he is widely expected to run against Mr. McCrory, a Republican, in 2016 — get in the way of his duties as attorney general.
And the dispute between the two is a reminder of how deep and bitter the divide remains in a state still making sense of the fiercely conservative, boldly activist legislative session that ended in July. In a state long seen as a relatively moderate outlier in the South, the session was the first with a Republican governor and legislature since Reconstruction.
Mr. Cooper is not backing off his criticism. “The legislature should be spending more of their time on issues that matter in this state, such as jobs, education and Medicaid expansion,” he said in an interview this week. But he said his views do not affect his ability to enforce the law.
Mr. McCrory disagrees. “He can have his personal opinion, but as a lawyer he should not publicize your personal opinion if you’re going to be defending the people who are promoting this common-sense law,” he said Monday during an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. “Good lawyers don’t do that.”
The governor’s communications director, Kim Genardo, accused Mr. Cooper of “using political invectives instead of the facts.”
Mr. McCrory has used executive office funds to hire outside counsel, Butch Bowers, who represented South Carolina last year on voting rights issues. Bob Stephens, the governor’s general counsel, said, “We have serious concerns about statements Attorney General Cooper made which could cause a potential conflict and even be used against the state he represents.”
Mr. Cooper said that he would work with the outside counsel the governor hired, but that the attorney general’s office would defend the state as it has in the past.
Late last month, the Justice Department sued the state, alleging that the law passed by the legislature and signed by Mr. McCrory in August was created with the purpose of suppressing voter turnout among minority and low-income voters in particular. Civil rights groups have also filed suit.
Mr. McCrory argues that requiring voters to provide an ID to vote is in line with the majority of other states.
“While some will try to make this seem to be controversial, the simple reality is that requiring voters to provide a photo ID when they vote is a common-sense idea,” he said. “This new law brings our state in line with a majority of other states throughout the country.”
Mr. McCrory concedes that there have been few reported instances of voter fraud in the state that would be addressed by the law. But, he said after signing it, “Just because you haven’t been robbed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lock your doors at night or when you’re away from home.” He added that the state would provide free IDs to lawful residents and that the law would not go into effect until 2016.
Critics, however, say that North Carolina’s law goes well beyond voter ID and that its provisions are aimed at Democratic voters. Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, who specializes in election law, called it “the most sweeping antivoter law in at least decades.”
The new law would require voters to have a government-issued photo ID, but excludes those from colleges and government employers and those issued by public assistance agencies commonly used by poor or minority voters. It also shortens the time for early voting; eliminates same-day registration; cuts out Sunday voting, often used by black voters; eliminates the option to vote a straight ticket, used more commonly by Democrats; and ends a program that preregistered high school students.
Mr. Cooper’s remarks drew some criticism beyond that of Republican supporters of the law.
Kirk Randleman, a former assistant attorney general who served under Mr. Cooper for nine years, said he was surprised by Mr. Cooper’s outspoken comments on matters that could come before his office.
“Cooper always insulated the staff from politics,” Mr. Randleman said. “I have never known him to be so public about his personal views.” Referring to Mr. Cooper’s predecessor, he said: “When Mike Easley was the attorney general, even before he ran for governor, I never knew him to make such public policy statements as Roy Cooper has.”
Similarly, Ken Spaulding, a Democrat who has already announced a bid for governor, said Mr. Cooper should appoint an independent counsel to defend the state on the election case and on cases involving the state’s law banning same-sex marriage, with which Mr. Cooper has also expressed disagreement.
To many, Mr. Cooper’s comments presage continuing political turmoil in a state where voting is almost equal for the two parties, but where gerrymandering has left Republicans in lopsided control of the legislature and the House of Representatives.
“I believe Cooper is trying to work on the swing voters in the 2016 election for the North Carolina gubernatorial election,” said Donald H. Taylor, a professor of public policy at Duke University. “The House, Senate and governor are all Republican; they are ideologically skewed in one direction, and the Democrats are working early to show that they are opposed to the direction the state seems to be headed.”
*************Texas AG Admits If Minorities Voted For Us, Republicans Wouldn’t Have to Suppress Votes
By: Adalia Woodbury
Thursday, October 24th, 2013, 10:24 pm
Conservatives never did embrace voting rights for women and minorities. Paul Weyrich said it back in the 1980′s. The more people vote, the worse Republicans do in elections.
When the Tea Party’s Judson Phillips said that restricting the vote to property owners is a “wise idea” he was simply restating the general thrust of Paul Weyrich’s sentiments.
First they combined gerrymandering with rigged and faulty voting machines.
Vote suppression reached a level of intensity unseen since Jim Crow after the 2008 presidential election.
As my colleague Dennis S. observed, Conservatives never could lose graciously. The very notion of Americans rejecting Sarah Palin aka God’s gift to Birchers was just too much for them to take. So rather than long for the good old days when voting was a privilege bestowed on propertied white men, state Republicans decided enough is enough. They are going to get your votes my pretties, and your ability to register too.
Of course, they underestimated our intelligence,when they claimed that vote suppression was the solution to the statistically non-existent problem of voter fraud.
Their best efforts backfired big time. In 2012, voters braved all that the Tea Party Republicans dished out and re-elected Barack Obama.
Since then, the Supreme Court of the United States gutted the pre-clearance formula in the Voting Rights Act and the right wing went to town passing laws that courts had previously ruled unconstitutional.
The excuse du jour for vote suppression is it’s just another form of gerrymandering.
Some admit, with pride, that suppressing votes gives Republicans an electoral advantage In the Tea Republlican logic, if it’s about electoral advantage, then it can’t be about racism.
In response to the DOJ’s challenge of Texas’s redistricting plan and voter ID laws, Attorney-General, Gregg Abbott admitted what we already know. Republicans want to suppress votes by racial minorities because that’s the only chance they’ve got at winning elections . Evidently, even that’s not enough suppression because Abbot wants to target women too. But hey, no racism was intended and no sexism intended. This is just good old fashioned gerrymandering.
In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats.6 It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates. …. The redistricting decisions of which DOJ complains were motivated by partisan rather than racial considerations,
Last year, Abbott claimed the purpose of ID laws was to stop voter fraud. But the absence of evidence to support that excuse meant he had to come up with another reason to tell the courts.
This year, it’s just about party politics as usual. The fact that voter ID laws disproportionately affect racial minorities is merely coincidence. It’s about the fact that “those people” keep voting Democrat so that they can get free stuff. If they voted Republican instead of the “food stamp” President, Republicans wouldn’t need to suppress their votes.
In reality, Republicans are trying to hold our votes for ransom just as they tried to hold the government and the economy for ransom because things didn’t go their way.
October 24, 2013Contractors Describe Limited Testing of Insurance Web Site
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — Federal officials did not fully test the online health insurance marketplace until two weeks before it opened to the public on Oct. 1, contractors told Congress on Thursday.
While individual components of the system were tested earlier, they said, the government did not conduct “end-to-end-testing” of the system until late September.
The disclosure came at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating problems plaguing the federal marketplace, or exchange, a central pillar of President Obama’s health care overhaul. The hearing suggested that the team of contractors was more like an orchestra with scores of musicians playing different tunes and no conductor to lead the overall effort, set the tempo or unify the ensemble.
Lawmakers from both parties expressed anger and dismay at the contractors’ performance. The lawmakers said they felt misled because the same contractors testified at a hearing on Sept. 10 that the online marketplace was working properly and was ready to enroll millions of Americans eager to buy insurance, subsidized by the government.
The Obama administration was supposed to coordinate the work of the contractors on the federal insurance exchange. But witnesses had difficulty delineating their roles and responsibilities on the project, and they said the government was responsible for all the major decisions.
“There is a major league blame game going on,” said Representative Pete Olson, Republican of Texas.
Representative David B. McKinley, Republican of West Virginia, told the witnesses: “I haven’t heard one of you apologize to the American public on behalf of your company for the problems. Are apologies not in order? I haven’t heard the words ‘I’m sorry.’ ”
Executives from two contractors — CGI Federal, a unit of the CGI Group, and the UnitedHealth Group — said the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decided to open the exchange on Oct. 1 even though testing had raised concerns.
After the hearing, Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Medicare agency, said, “Due to a compressed time frame, the system was not tested enough.” She did not answer questions about whether the administration had considered delaying the debut of the online marketplace.
Politics pervaded the session. Republicans said that technical problems crippling the federal Web site epitomized fundamental flaws in the 2010 health care law, Mr. Obama’s most significant legislative achievement.
Democrats said that the law was fundamentally sound, and that the Web site needed to be fixed immediately so people could get the insurance they had been promised.
“Fix it, don’t nix it,” Democrats said.
Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, said: “Three weeks after the Web site went live, we are still hearing reports of significant problems. These problems need to be fixed, and they need to be fixed fast.”
Cheryl R. Campbell, a senior vice president of CGI Federal, the main contractor on the federal exchange, said that end-to-end testing of the full integrated system first occurred “in the last two weeks of September.”
Another witness, Andrew M. Slavitt of UnitedHealth, said, “We didn’t see full end-to-end testing until a couple of days leading up to the launch” of the federal marketplace on Oct. 1.
The UnitedHealth Group owns one of the nation’s largest insurance companies and also owns Quality Software Services Inc., which supervised “identity management,” including the use of password-protected accounts, in the federal marketplace.
Ms. Campbell and Mr. Slavitt said they would have preferred months of testing, in keeping with industry standards for a project of such immense complexity. The federal exchange must communicate with other contractors and with databases of numerous federal agencies and more than 170 insurance carriers.
The vision of affordable insurance for all Americans has been tarnished by technical problems that have made it difficult for consumers to shop in the federal marketplace serving 36 states.
Ms. Campbell said that CGI had continually reported to top officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, including Michelle Snyder, the chief operating officer of the agency, and Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer.
In response to questions, Ms. Campbell said, “We were not responsible for end-to-end testing” of the whole system. The Medicare agency, known as C.M.S., was responsible, she said.
Mr. Slavitt said that his company had tested computer code for the federal marketplace and found errors in it. “We informed C.M.S. that more testing was necessary,” he said.
The contractors, like Mr. Obama, said the federal Web site, HealthCare.gov, had been inundated by more consumers than anticipated.
But Representative Anna G. Eshoo, Democrat of California, called this “a lame excuse.”
“I represent Silicon Valley,” Ms. Eshoo said. “This is the 21st century. There are thousands of Web sites that handle concurrent volumes far larger than what HealthCare.gov was faced with. Amazon and eBay don’t crash the week before Christmas, and ProFlowers doesn’t crash on Valentine’s Day.”
The contractors said the Obama administration decided in late September to block a feature of the Web site that allowed consumers to see the full unsubsidized prices of insurance plans without registering or creating personal accounts.
Republicans said the White House did not want consumers to be shocked by the high prices. Most people buying insurance on the exchange will qualify for subsidies that lower the costs.
Ms. Campbell of CGI said “we would be more than happy” to turn on this feature of the Web site if instructed to do so by the government.
Ms. Bataille said the Medicare agency had made “a business decision” to focus on other aspects of the Web site, so that consumers could file applications and enroll online.
Mr. Slavitt said his company was “one of many independent contractors” that tested computer code developed for use in the federal exchange.
Representative Bill Johnson, Republican of Ohio, said this arrangement defied common sense.
“How can you be an independent tester when you are an integral developer of part of the system?” Mr. Johnson asked. “How does that qualify you as independent?”
***************Darrell Issa’s Anti-Obama ACA Website Witch-Hunt Will Be Another Republican Humiliation
By: Dennis S
Thursday, October 24th, 2013, 3:12 pm
I hate to say I told you so, but I did offer the opinion on this hallowed site that the Tea Party wasn’t going to take the recent successful (for Democrats) abandonment of the partial government shutdown and the extension of the raising the debt ceiling issue without the inclusion of decimating the Affordable Care Act, with grace and acceptance. Of course virtually every other breathing progressive predicted the same reaction.
The Teapublican Party (any pretense of the Tea Party and Republican Party being separate entities has long since been proven false) has come storming back with a hateful vengeance. And where better to start the next round of destroying ‘that black president’s’ legacy than the interior of the ever-reliable hearing room of Chairman Darrell Issa’s sit-com House Committee on Oversight and (tee hee) Government reform. Beneath the largely meaningless ‘investigative’ gabble of “Fast and Furious”, Benghazi, the IRS and car thefts, concealed weapons and arson for insurance money; oh, excuse me, those last three are Issa’s own ethical and potentially criminal problems (more on Issa’s alleged avocations here), what has emerged? Well, nothing other than a doofis and laughable Eric Holder Contempt of Congress designation. Whatever minimal corrective measures that needed to be taken were already well underway by the time Issa lowered his partisan gavel.
And what will emerge from this latest encore of the politically illegitimate committee undertaking? Well, again, nothing. Puffery, attacks on administration officials, and a call for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ hide. Maybe Issa attack dog Trey Gowdy can recreate his April, 2012 arrogant and mean spirited attack on Sebelius, an accomplished member of the Obama team. Teapublicans would certainly wallow in it.
As always the Koch brothers, Karl Rove and the usual suspects have handed their Teapublican sycophants the latest template to continue their ACA slash and burn tactics. Here’s a striking example of what is expected of these elected politipuppets. Nation of Change pinpointed a definitive example of how Teapublican “employees” of billionaires are supposed to react when questioned about the roll-out of Healthcare Insurance Marketplaces. In this case it was a CNN interview with North Carolina Teapublican House member, Renee Ellmers. She was reacting to the enthusiastic endorsement of his states experience with the Marketplace by Kentucky Democratic Governor, Steve Beshear.
Here’s where to go for more of the back-story and video reaction. Note especially how she uses the term “monumental failure” in describing the exchange signups. That’s the propaganda phrase that the billionaires are handing out to all Teapublicans and right-wing talking heads. You’ll hear it a million times nationwide with the sole purpose of ingraining it in the noggins of people who can’t separate fact from fiction.
Less concerning to Washington extremists is a red state “monumental failure.” This one tracks back to a 2012 South Carolina Department of Revenue multiple security breach by a foreign hacker who broke into the department’s encrypted website on several occasions beginning in August and managed to purloin 3.6 million Social Security numbers and 387,0000 credit and debit card numbers.
There were innumerable opportunities that presented themselves as simple defenses against this intrusion including a relatively dirt-cheap $25,000 dual password system that would have prevented the whole thing. All of these defense mechanisms were ignored by Governor Nikki Haley (who thinks she can be on a future Teapublican national pres/VP ticket), computer personnel and the right-wing legislature. Any DC TP’ers give the least little damn about pressing the issue and assigning blame? Hell no; that’s a “state” issue. Of course, the right-wing congresspeople will spend hours a day yammering about “state” insurance exchanges. In selective partisanship, that’s not a “state” issue.
Teapublicans are howling for a quick fix to the federal signup system. Let’s let our objective gene control the conversation here. As for the numerous computer problems that marred access to the health exchange marketplace, to quote the president, “there was no excuse.” I don’t need to catalog those problems, every right-wing rag and media outlet in these United States has dedicated multiple hours a day to that partisan task sans answers to the problems or offers of help.
Here’s where I save the sit-com committee lots of time and trouble. What Teapublicans will never admit is that in large measure the signup problems were a consequence of a ‘surge of interest’ on the part of consumers, resulting in the online overload of the system, a very common problem experienced thousands of times per year by the public and private sectors. It wouldn’t do for the right-wing to acknowledge that despite their years of 24/7 verbal, written and electronic thunder ripping the contents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, for the vast majority of citizens, right, left and center their “monumental” efforts drew a blank among reasonable and informed Americans.
It’s also worthy of noting that the administration did commit a major gaffe in underestimating not only the initial reaction. The fact is, however, that according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a great number of states declined to run or administer their own Health Insurance Marketplaces. The breakdown was 27 washed their hands of it altogether, 7 formed partnerships and 17 agreed to take on the task of signing up their citizens. Ironic (as are so many things Teapublican) that the fed-hating states, hated the responsibility of signing up consumers to that very federal government.
Another ironic factor much worthy of note: How many of the major players in setting up the online signup site were government agencies and employees and how many were outside private contractors; adored and encouraged by the right? CGI Federal credited with having great input into the building of the HealthCare.gov site is a contractor with a rather sketchy history dating back to the Clinton (can you say DINO?) administration. The Washington Post’s ‘Wonkblog’ paints a not so flattering picture of this outfit.
So it really boils down to all things Teapublican. To hell with federal workers, let’s go with the high-priced outside contractors. To hell with taking in-state responsibility for signing up new customers for the health insurance exchanges and marketplaces. To hell with the president as the right continues to press the attack on every front. That’s the real story Darrell and Trey; any questions?
This too shall pass!
*************Heroic President Obama Responds to Rep. Pete Sessions’ Ugly Insult with Dignity and Grace
By: Jason Easley
Thursday, October 24th, 2013, 1:05 pm
After Rep. Pete Sessions insulted the president by telling him, ‘I cannot even stand to look at you,’ President Obama responded with heroic dignity and grace.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told his Democratic caucus last week in a private meeting that a top House Republican said to President Barack Obama, “I cannot even stand to look at you,” according to two Democratic senators who were present.
The account was confirmed by two Senate Democratic aides who said they independently learned of the exchange from other senators.
The two senators who spoke to HuffPost did not hear the Republican make the remark, but said a top White House aide who was present later told Senate Democratic leaders that the lawmaker who said he couldn’t stand to look at the president was Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Rules Committee.
Reid then told the caucus about the incident on Tuesday and named Sessions, according to one of the two Democratic senators who spoke to HuffPost. Reid also told the caucus that he was “sorry” to have to tell them about it, per this senator, but gave Obama credit for his “dignified” response to Sessions. Reid reportedly told the caucus that Obama responded to Sessions by saying he understood that they disagreed on many issues and he respected their differences.
Sen. Dick Durbin’s claim about about the insult to the president was flatly denied by the White House, because this administration has a policy of ignoring and downplaying comments and events that could be viewed as racial attacks against this president.
Many people who follow politics, and understand the hatred that many congressional Republicans have for this president, suspected that Sen. Durbin was telling the truth. Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democratic Senators and aides have now confirmed the story.
When confronted with a vicious and ugly face to face insult, the president responded in a dignified and heroic fashion. What President Obama has faced from Republicans is reminiscent of what Jackie Robinson faced when he broke baseball’s color line. The difference is that Robinson was a ballplayer. Barack Obama is the President of the United States.
It is unimaginable that a white president — Democratic or Republican — would ever have to deal with members of Congress insulting them in such a disgraceful face to face way. Rep. Sessions disrespected the President of the United States. He disrespected the presidency, and he disrespected Barack Obama as a human being.
President Obama’s response was admirable. His dignity and restraint in the face of such disrespect is something that America can proud of.
The intentional, systemic Republican disrespect of President Obama will ensure that they will be remembered as villains. Whether you agree or disagree with this president politically, his response to this private insult revealed the character of a decent man who is always mindful that he is carrying the weight of history.
Barack Obama has been a good president, but he is an even better person.
October 24, 2013Group Linked to Kochs Admits to Campaign Finance Violations
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
A secretive nonprofit group with ties to the billionaire conservative businessmen Charles and David Koch admitted to improperly failing to disclose more than $15 million in contributions it funneled into state referendum battles in California, state officials there announced Thursday.
The group, the Arizona-based Center to Protect Patient Rights, is one of the largest political nonprofits in the country, serving as a conduit for tens of millions of dollars in political spending, much of it raised by the Kochs and their political operation and spent by other nonprofits active in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
The settlement, announced by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris of California and the Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforce California’s campaign finance laws, includes one of the largest penalties ever assessed on a political group for failing to disclose donations. The center and another Arizona group involved in the transactions, Americans for Responsible Leadership, will pay a $1 million fine, while two California groups must turn over $15 million in contributions they received.
Together, the groups are part of an intricate, interlocking network of political nonprofits that have taken on a prominent role in state and national politics in recent years, bolstered by legal and regulatory shifts, including the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010.
Records and documents uncovered during the California investigation provide a rare glimpse into how such groups closely coordinate transfers of money that mask the sources of the contributions and skirt state and federal disclosure rules.
“This case highlights the nationwide scourge of dark money nonprofit networks hiding the identities of their contributors,” Ann Ravel, the commission’s chairwoman, said in a statement.
Last year, as California voters faced two major ballot initiatives — one, Proposition 30, which would raise taxes on the wealthy, and another, Proposition 32, which would prohibit unions from using automatic payroll deductions to raise money for political campaigns — a Republican consultant, Anthony Russo, began raising money in connection with the two initiatives.
Some of the money went into political action committees in California, which are required to disclose their contributors. But roughly $29 million came from a group of 150 California donors who wished their contributions to remain secret, among them the billionaire investor Charles R. Schwab and Gene Haas, a prominent businessman and philanthropist. Those contributions were directed to Americans for Job Security, a Virginia-based conservative group that is not required to disclose donors, to spend on issue advertisements.
In September 2012, with the election drawing near, Americans for Job Security concluded that California law might require disclosure of some of those contributions, and began transferring a total of $24.6 million to the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which was founded by Sean Noble, a Republican operative. Mr. Noble has worked closely with Koch-founded political groups and been a featured speaker at the brothers’ biannual donor conferences; he also worked closely with Mr. Russo to help draft the strategy in California.
A donor working with Mr. Russo called and e-mailed Charles Koch several times early that October, according to an e-mail obtained by investigators, seeking a contribution of “several million” for the effort and praising Mr. Noble. “Sean Noble from your group has been immensely helpful in our efforts,” the donor wrote. “I look forward to seeing you on a golf course — probably after the election.”
The center is not formally controlled by the Kochs, and Robert A. Tappan, a Koch spokesman, said neither brother ultimately contributed to the California effort. “We did not support, either directly or indirectly, this ballot initiative, which would have restricted public and private sector employees’ rights to contribute to candidates,” Mr. Tappan said.
California requires that the underlying sources of money behind significant political spending be disclosed. To skirt this regulation, when the Virginia-based group gave $25 million to the Center to Protect Patient Rights, it did not specifically earmark any of those funds for the California referendums. But the group made clear that it hoped the center would financially support the efforts in California to block the income tax increase and blunt unions’ political power.
The center obliged, transferring $25 million during the same period to two other groups: Americans for Responsible Leadership, in Arizona, and the American Future Fund, an Iowa-based conservative group with close ties to the Koch network. Mr. Russo told investigators that the transfer was made with the understanding that some of the money would be used to assist two California organizations active in the referendum battles, the commission said Thursday. Proposition 30 passed, and Proposition 32 was defeated.
Under the terms of the settlement, the Center to Protect Patient Rights acknowledged that it should have disclosed itself as the source of the donations to both of the California groups, the Small Business Action Committee and the California Future Fund for Free Markets.
The investigation into the center has already had repercussions within the Koch political world, which is relying less on the center to transfer money to allied political groups, instead using a group controlled more directly by Koch executives.
Malcolm Segal, a lawyer for the center, said in a statement, “The commission today recognized that C.P.P.R. acted in ‘good faith’ and that there was absolutely no intent to violate campaign reporting rules.”
***************Grayson’s Firestorm – GOP Says the Truth is Unacceptable and Deplorable
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Friday, October 25th, 2013, 7:34 am
During the Bush years it became commonplace for Republicans to act outraged demand apologies from Democrats any time a Democrat spoke the truth about what was taking place.
They haven’t given up on that. They have learned it is an effective way of deflecting attacks and unwanted attention and given control of the media, they have gotten away with it time and again, ensuring that there is no debate on the things they say and do, but rather on the reactions of the liberals and progressives who object.
Alan Grayson (D-FL) has been outspoken in his opposition to the tea party and its politics. When he sent out a fundraising email earlier this week using a burning cross for the “t” in tea party he started, if you’ll pardon the expression, a firestorm. Republicans reacted immediately, saying the truth was “unacceptable and deplorable.”
In other words, in another telling example of tea party logic, speaking the truth about hate is somehow worse than the hate itself.
Fox News, which makes hay with “over-the-top rhetorical bomb at its political foes” somehow managed to claim, without a trace of irony, that Grayson “is known for lobbing over-the-top rhetorical bombs at his political foes.” Fox News went on to say Grayson has “a history of inflammatory comments” but Fox News itself relies on an endless stream of inflammatory comments to inflame the base.
Grayson released a statement Wednesday referencing the tea party’s habit of making racist remarks and concluded, “IF the hood fits, wear it.”
In an interview with Orlando ABC affiliate WFTV, Grayson said,
“I think the Tea Party should expel those members who engage in hate speech…. So many members of the Tea Party have engaged in hate speech against the president, against the first lady, against numerous members of the Congress and against me. And we could give you examples of that.”
Grayson said, “I’m calling them out for their hate. That’s not wrong. That needs to be done. It’s the only way to end it.”
Is Grayson wrong? No, he’s not. The tea party is a völkisch (ethnic nationalist) movement with strong ties to secessionist feeling in the South. Racism abounds in the tea party. They exchange and publish racist images of President Barack Obama and the First Lady, they wave Confederate battle flags – the flag of the Southern slave-owning states. It is a prominent part of their rhetoric. Point to any of this, however, and the tea party reacts like they are reacting now.
The thing is, this KKK comparison has been made by scholars. As Huffington Post observed Tuesday,
Grayson’s comparison is not novel. Professors Matt Barretto and Christopher Parker, in their book “Tea Party, Change They Can’t Believe In,” published by Princeton University Press, make a similar case. “The authors argue that this isn’t the first time a segment of American society has perceived the American way of life as under siege,” the book’s blurb reads. “In fact, movements of this kind often appear when some individuals believe that ‘American’ values are under threat by rapid social changes. Drawing connections between the Tea Party and right-wing reactionary movements of the past, including the Know-Nothing Party, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, and the John Birch Society, Parker and Barreto develop a framework that transcends the Tea Party to shed light on its current and future consequences.
“How dare you tell the truth about us!” This is the same reaction we’ve seen in the recent past from various tea party candidates, including Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and others.
The Religious Right’s racist ex-president of the Family Research Council, Gary Bauer, posted just such a complaint at his Campaign for Working Families on Wednesday:
Here we go again. Liberals and their media allies constantly blame hateful rhetoric on the right for the meltdown of civility in Washington. Yet while Republicans passed bill after bill to avoid the government shutdown, Democrats refused to consider them, all the while comparing Republicans to “hijackers,” “arsonists” and “terrorists.”
With the government shutdown over, have Democrats stopped the name calling? Not a chance! In fact, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) went a step further, sending out a fundraising email equating the Tea Party with the KKK. An image in Grayson’s email spelled out “Tea Party,” but the “T” was a burning cross. (See it here.)
And get this: The context of the email was a recent interview Grayson did with Al Sharpton discussing the government shutdown. Even when discussing fiscal policy differences, liberals like Alan Grayson inevitably resort to demonizing conservatives as racists.
If Barack Obama were serious about bi-partisan cooperation, which he isn’t, he would start by publicly condemning Alan Grayson.
Keep in mind, this self-righteous Gary Bauer is the same Gary Bauer who told the Values Voter Summit in 2012 that Obama’s supporters are mostly welfare recipients, and who, leading up to Obama’s re-election in 2012, said that Obama depended on army of welfare recipients and fraudulent votes for re-election and afterward asserted that “voter fraud is rampant in urban areas.”
In fact, this July, Bauer sent out an offensive email of his own. As Right Wing Watch relates,
In an email to supporters of his Campaign for Working Families today, Gary Bauer wondered why African Americans are still so upset about racism and continue “falling through the cracks” when “every major goal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been reached.”
In the email — “Will Holder Persecute George Zimmerman?” — Bauer laments that discussions on race can’t happen in America because “it inevitably degenerates into another round of bashing non-minorities and an indictment of America’s past sins.” Social services, “‘gangsta’ culture” and a lack of patriotic education, Bauer claims, are the real culprits for problems in the black community.
For people like Bauer, whites are the victims of racism, not its perpetrators. Truth-speakers like Alan Grayson cannot be allowed to re-direct the debate by focusing on the facts of racism, and especially not on the tea party’s hate-filled rhetoric.
Republicans want to hate with impunity and play the victim when called out. As Alan Grayson said, this has to end. We must not let them turn Grayson into the hater. Grayson spoke truth to power and we have few enough today who are brave enough to do so.
Tea Party Galaxy: Voyage to the Center of Delusion
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMn2ZvKNkIE#t=60