In the USA..United Surveillance America
November 14, 2013C.I.A. Collecting Data on International Money Transfers, Officials Say
By CHARLIE SAVAGE and MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency is secretly collecting bulk records of international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union — including transactions into and out of the United States — under the same law that the National Security Agency uses for its huge database of Americans’ phone records, according to current and former government officials.
The C.I.A. financial records program, which the officials said was authorized by provisions in the Patriot Act and overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, offers evidence that the extent of government data collection programs is not fully known and that the national debate over privacy and security may be incomplete.
Some details of the C.I.A. program were not clear. But it was confirmed by several current and former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is classified.
The data does not include purely domestic transfers or bank-to-bank transactions, several officials said. Another, while not acknowledging the program, suggested that the surveillance court had imposed rules withholding the identities of any Americans from the data the C.I.A. sees, requiring a tie to a terrorist organization before a search may be run, and mandating that the data be discarded after a certain number of years. The court has imposed several similar rules on the N.S.A. call logs program.
Several officials also said more than one other bulk collection program has yet to come to light.
“The intelligence community collects bulk data in a number of different ways under multiple authorities,” one intelligence official said.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the C.I.A., declined to confirm whether such a program exists, but said that the agency conducts lawful intelligence collection aimed at foreign — not domestic — activities and that it is subject to extensive oversight.
“The C.I.A. protects the nation and upholds the privacy rights of Americans by ensuring that its intelligence collection activities are focused on acquiring foreign intelligence and counterintelligence in accordance with U.S. laws,” he said.
Juan Zarate, a White House and Treasury official under President George W. Bush, said that unlike telecommunications information, there has generally been less sensitivity about the collection of financial data, in part because the government already collects information on large transactions under the Bank Secrecy Act.
“There is a longstanding legal baseline for the U.S. government to collect financial information,” said Mr. Zarate, who is also the author of “Treasury’s War,” about the crackdown on terrorist financing. He did not acknowledge the C.I.A. program.
Orders for business records from the surveillance court generally prohibit recipients from talking about them. A spokeswoman for one large company that handles money transfers abroad, Western Union, did not directly address a question about whether it had been ordered to turn over records in bulk, but said that the company complies with legal requirements to provide information.
“We collect consumer information to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and other laws,” said the spokeswoman, Luella Chavez D’Angelo. “In doing so, we also protect our consumers’ privacy.”
In recent months, there have been hints in congressional testimony, declassified documents and litigation that the N.S.A. program — which was disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor — is not unique in collecting records involving Americans.
For example, the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for documents related to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the provision that allows the government to compel companies to turn over business records for counterterrorism purposes. After the government declassified the N.S.A. phone records program, it has released many documents about it in response to the suit.
But the government has notified the A.C.L.U. that it is withholding two Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rulings invoking Section 215 — one dated Aug. 20, 2008, and the other Nov. 23, 2010 — because they discuss matters that remain classified, according to Alexander Abdo, an A.C.L.U. lawyer. “It suggests very strongly that there are other programs of surveillance that the public has a right to know about,” Mr. Abdo said.
In addition, a Justice Department “white paper” on the N.S.A.’s call records program, released in August, said that communications logs are “a context” in which the “collection of a large volume of data” is necessary for investigators to be able to analyze links between terrorism suspects and their associates. It did not say that call records are the only context that meets the criteria for bulk gathering.
In hearings on Capitol Hill, government officials have repeatedly avoided saying that phone logs — which include date, duration and numbers of phone calls, but not their content — are the only type of data that would qualify for bulk collection under the Patriot Act provision. In a little-noticed exchange late in an Oct. 3 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the N.S.A. director, appeared to go further.
At the hearing, Senator Mazie K. Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, asked General Alexander and James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, a sweeping question: “So what are all of the programs run by the N.S.A. or other federal agencies” that used either Section 215 of the Patriot Act or another surveillance law that allows warrantless wiretapping of phone and emails?
General Alexander responded by describing, once again, the N.S.A.’s call records program, adding, “None of that is hid from you.” Mr. Clapper said nothing.
Then, moments later, General Alexander interjected that he was talking only about what the N.S.A. is doing under the Patriot Act provision and appearing to let slip that other agencies are operating their own programs.
“You know, that’s of course a global thing that others use as well, but for ours, it’s just that way,” General Alexander said.
In September, the Obama administration declassified and released a lengthy opinion by Judge Claire Eagan of the surveillance court, written a month earlier and explaining why the panel had given legal blessing to the call log program. A largely overlooked passage of her ruling suggested that the court has also issued orders for at least two other types of bulk data collection.
Specifically, Judge Eagan noted that the court had previously examined the issue of what records are relevant to an investigation for the purpose of “bulk collections,” plural. There followed more than six lines that were censored in the publicly released version of her opinion.
Lawmakers on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have been trying to gain more information about other bulk collection programs.
In September, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin and an author of the original Patriot Act, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asking if the administration was collecting bulk records aside from the phone data. An aide said he had yet to get a response. Even lawmakers on the Intelligence Committees have indicated that they are not sure they understand the entire landscape of what the government is doing in terms of bulk collection.
Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently sent a classified letter to Mr. Clapper asking for a full accounting of every other national security program that involves bulk collection of data at home or abroad, according to government officials.
November 14, 2013Obama Moves to Avert Cancellation of Insurance
By ASHLEY PARKER and ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — President Obama, trying to quell a growing furor over the rollout of his health care law, bowed to bipartisan pressure on Thursday and announced a policy reversal that would allow insurance companies to temporarily keep people on health plans that were to be canceled under the new law because they did not meet minimum standards.
The decision to allow the policies to remain in effect for a year without penalties represented the Obama administration’s hurriedly developed effort to address one of the major complaints about the beleaguered health care law. It seemed for the moment to calm rising anger and fear of a political backlash among congressional Democrats who had been threatening to support various legislative solutions opposed by the White House because of their potential to undermine the law.
Senate Democratic leaders said they did not see the need for an immediate legislative fix — a victory for White House officials worried that momentum was building toward consideration of a measure to force the change.
The Republican-controlled House is still set to vote Friday on a bill by Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, that would allow Americans to keep their existing health coverage through 2014 without penalties — as well as allow new people to continue to buy the plans, something the White House said would gut the Affordable Care Act.
The president’s announcement on Thursday seemed to limit Democratic defections, with only two dozen or so House Democrats now expected to support Mr. Upton’s bill. Without the presidential action, officials said, scores of Democrats might have joined Republicans in approving the Upton measure.
It remained unclear, however, just how much impact the fix delivered by an apologetic Mr. Obama would actually have. Though his proposal grants discretion to insurers to allow people to stay on their existing plans, there is no guarantee that insurers will do so, or that the states will allow such renewals.
Also unclear are what prices will be charged by insurers for existing policies that are continued in force through 2014. Insurers generally did not have rates approved for the renewal of such coverage because the policies were supposed to be terminated at the end of this year.
Some state insurance commissioners caught off-guard by the announcement said they did not intend to allow insurers to reinstate the policies. And insurance companies denounced the president’s action.
“Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers,” said Karen M. Ignagni, the president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group.
“Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption about when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace,” she said. “If now fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase, and there will be fewer choices for consumers.”
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, representing state officials, and the American Academy of Actuaries, a nonpartisan professional group, said the move could threaten the viability of insurance markets operating under rules that provide consumers with new protections starting in 2014.
Republicans portrayed the policy switch as an effort to shift blame to insurance companies. Speaker John A. Boehner dismissed the president’s act and said the White House could not be trusted on the issue.
“Promise after promise from this administration has turned out to be not true,” Mr. Boehner said. “So when it comes to this health care law, the White House doesn’t have much credibility. Now, let’s be clear. The only way to fully protect the American people is to scrap this law once and for all. There is no way to fix this.”
Still, the president told reporters that the changes should allow many people to retain their health care plans for a year despite having received letters saying they could no longer keep their insurance.
“This fix won’t solve every problem for every person, but it’s going to help a lot of people,” said Mr. Obama, who repeatedly took personal responsibility for misrepresenting the law and saying Americans who like their coverage would be able to keep it.
“I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked they could keep it,” Mr. Obama said. “And to those Americans, I hear you loud and clear. I said that I would do everything we can to fix this problem. And today I’m offering an idea that will help do it.”
The president’s plan would apply only to people who have policies that are being canceled. Those currently without insurance would not be able to buy the old plans.
Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, one of the first Democrats to break with the White House over allowing people to keep their current plans, said the president’s announcement was a welcome development but stressed that Congress might still need to go further — a sentiment shared by other Senate Democrats facing re-election next year.
“The president’s announcement this morning was a great first step, and we will probably need legislation to make it stick,” Ms. Landrieu said. She has offered her own legislation that would allow people to stay on their current insurance plans indefinitely, but indicated that she was open to letting the president’s fix supersede hers if it went far enough.
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said that while her members were “very pleased” with the president’s plan, some were still clamoring for a fix on top of what he was offering. Many of them, she said, were those who fought hard for the law’s passage and wanted to see it saved.
On Friday, House Democratic leaders are expected to offer a plan that would build on Mr. Obama’s solution and give their members additional political cover, though it is likely to be rejected by their Republican counterparts.
Eager to avoid opening the measure to legislative attack in Congress, the White House used administrative authority to let insurers renew their current policies. Mr. Obama’s action represented a sweeping assertion of presidential authority to delay enforcement of certain provisions of federal law — provisions at the heart of the health law.
The president’s “transition policy” was set forth in a letter to state insurance commissioners from Gary M. Cohen, the director of the federal Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.
Under the policy, Mr. Cohen said, “health insurance issuers may choose to continue coverage that would otherwise be terminated or canceled, and affected individuals and small businesses may choose to re-enroll in such coverage.”
People who keep the policies will be unable to obtain financial assistance available for new coverage purchased through insurance exchanges. If an insurer chooses to reinstate coverage that has been canceled, it must notify policyholders that they have a right to obtain coverage that complies with the law and provides additional benefits.
The administration said it would consider the impact of the transition policy in deciding whether to extend it beyond 2014.
Even those lawmakers who were pleased with Mr. Obama’s change of position expressed frustration with the overall rollout of the law.
“Who could be happy with it?” said Representative Juan C. Vargas, Democrat of California. “The reality is they didn’t do a good job — all these years to prep for it. Someone messed up, and someone’s head ought to roll.”
Jeremy W. Peters, Michael D. Shear and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.
November 14, 2013$122 Million in 2012 Spending by Koch Group
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
A political nonprofit group founded by the billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch spent $122 million during 2012, according to documents filed with the Colorado secretary of state, putting it among the biggest election spenders in the country.
The group, Americans for Prosperity, spent tens of millions of dollars in political advertising in a bid to defeat President Obama and Democrats in Congress, while investing equally large sums to build a national grass-roots organization for conservative activists and voters. Based in Virginia, the group is central to the political organization nurtured by the Koch brothers and their allies in the past decade, and in recent years has played a pivotal role in advancing conservative policies in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina.
But the group and other right-leaning nonprofits and “super PACs” came up short last year, failing to unseat Mr. Obama or swing the Senate to Republican control. In recent months, the Kochs have undertaken a major revamping of their political network, including building a more centralized fund-raising apparatus centered on a trade association called Freedom Partners, also based in Virginia.
Because Americans for Prosperity is not required to disclose its donors, it is unclear how much of the group’s money comes directly from the Kochs or other donors. And some comes from other nonprofits, like Freedom Partners, which provided $32.3 million to Americans for Prosperity in the months leading up to the 2012 elections.
The Center for Public Integrity, a watchdog group, first reported the Colorado documents. Colorado requires nonprofits that raise significant funds there to file annual disclosures.
Despite the setbacks last year, the Kochs and donors close to them have indicated they were likely to increase spending further for the midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race.
Levi Russell, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, said, “Every year we’ve expanded capability and impact, and we expect that to continue.”
******************Ted Cruz Crowns Himself The Stand-In For The American People
By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, November 14, 2013 10:15 EST
Ted Cruz is really testing the limits of the Explosive Douchebaggery Theorem, which holds that every few years, there has to be an ego-driven wingnut whose unearned and delusional sense of self-regard grows exponentially every day until the sheer weight of his ego causes his career to collapse unto itself like a black hole. As with Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, Joe McCarthy, Michele Bachmann and many more before, for months and years, the right wing nut believes that they can keep up with having their egotistical weirdness double daily, but eventually their hubris does catch up with them. Ted Cruz is going down this path, and nothing that I can see will stop it.
The latest example is a doozy. Cruz was interviewed by the Politichicks, a right wing website, and got the “how do you work so hard when everyone is such a meanie?” softball question. His answer is a a jewel of overwhelming self-aggrandizement.
“I’m encouraged,” Cruz insisted. “I’m encouraged because I think all across the country, I think people are getting energized, they’re getting engaged, they’re speaking up. And we shouldn’t be surprised. Changing the country isn’t easy. And the establishment is going to fight back. In both parties, they don’t want to change.”
“And so, the reason — the nastier the attacks get — I mean, they’re directed at all of us, they are directed at the American people,” he continued. “Because a lot of the folks in Washington don’t want to be held accountable.”
In a sense, it’s just another example of the hard right tendency to assume that you’re not a real American if you don’t belong to the 30-ish percent that holds, as Rick Perlstein puts it, the belief that liberalism is “the ideology that steals from hard-working, taxpaying whites and gives the spoils to indolent, grasping blacks” and that they’re here to save America from the supposed dangers of, to be blunt, democracy. But with Ted Cruz, I think he’s reaching a new stage in his exponential ego growth. This is the part where he starts to see himself as a god of sorts, a prophet put on earth to be the body of “America”. It’s really no surprise. Cruz’s father has been running around hinting that he believes his son is some kind of emissary of God’s, here to end the supposed “great transfer of wealth”. See above from Rick Perlstein about what that means.
Not that you need to bother, since Rafael Cruz is pretty blunt about his racism:
Evangelical pastor Rafael Cruz, father of tea party star Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), called black and Hispanic voters “uninformed” and “deceived” during a speech to conservative activists in February.
After attending a panel on minority outreach at the FreedomWorks grassroots summit, Cruz, a Cuban-American, born-again Christian, spoke at the conference. He noted that a previous speaker “mentioned something about Hispanics being uninformed or deceived.”
“Well, the same thing is true of the black population,” Cruz said.
And of course, there’s the “go back to Kenya” crap.
(I don’t even know that I should bother addressing the content of the argument that is being forwarded by implication by the hard right, but it’s worth pointing out both that black people do, in fact, pay taxes, and white people also get government benefits. In fact, wealthy and middle class people, who are disproportionately white, tend to get more government benefits, in the form of tax breaks and government investment in business and education.)
So, Cruz is on a path that’s well-known to all of us. The only question is what form the career flame-out will take. Will he resign in disgrace like Newt Gingrich? Will he be facing indictments or jail time like Tom Delay? Sex scandal? Exposure of campaign “irregularities” like Michele Bachmann? Public humiliation when he runs for President and realizes that the American people he believes he is one with actually see him for the crazed wingnut that he is? I welcome your wild speculation below!
November 14, 2013 02:00 PMWatch: Forum Audience Laughs at Ted Cruz for Claiming He 'Didn't Want a Shutdown'
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) faced howls of laughter from an audience in Washington, D.C. on Thursday when he claimed that he "didn't want a shutdown" over President Barack Obama's health care reform law.
At The Atlantic's Washington Ideas Forum, Fox News host Chris Wallace pointed out to the Texas Republican that many of his colleagues thought he hurt the party by forcing the government shutdown instead of letting Obamacare fail on its own.
"That ignores who I think was responsible for the shutdown," Cruz replied. "I didn't want a shutdown. Throughout the whole thing, I said we shouldn't have a shutdown."
That remark elicited laughter from the forum audience.
"Now, folks here can disagree," Cruz said, turning to the crowd. "But repeatedly, I voted to keep the government open."
"In my view based on where things are right now, I think stopping Obamacare is the essence of pragmatism," he added. "The most pragmatic thing we could do is say, 'Listen, this isn't working. Let's start over.'"
Wallace then turned to the 2016 race, but Cruz insisted that he was focused on the Senate instead of running for president.
"But, sir," Wallace said. "At the risk of being a smart aleck, for somebody who is focused on the Senate, you're spending a lot of time in Iowa."
"Well, I'll tell ya, I went on a lovely pheasant hunt in Iowa," Cruz quipped. "I'm spending a lot of time all over the country and the reason is -- since I've been elected, I think we've done 86 events in Texas, I think we've been to 14 or 15 states all over the country -- and the reason is, one of the things that has confused some observers, I'm not devoting my time and energy to try and make the case in smoke-filled rooms in Washington. I think Washington's broken."
"Can you envision a situation where you would decide, I'm the guy to lead the crusade?" Wallace wondered.
"I intend to support whoever is standing up and leading, whoever is effectively defending conservative principles, defending free market principles, defending the Constitution, bringing us back to defending liberty," Cruz explained. "That's who as a voter I intend to support."
"And it's my hope that we see a thousand flowers bloom, that we see lots of people stepping up providing that leadership because that's what it's going to take to turn the country around," he concluded.
"I never thought I'd hear you espousing the views of Chairman Mao," Wallace chuckled.
Click to watch:
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*****************Rep. Gohmert upset Obama’s Israel policy not based on Biblical prophecies
By Travis Gettys
Thursday, November 14, 2013 12:43 EST
A tea party lawmaker cited the Bible during a speech Wednesday on the House floor criticizing the Obama administration for its treatment of Israel.
“There are many who have been aware of Scripture, and it has often been a guide in our relations with Israel,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). “’Some of us believe that the Bible is accurate. Certainly, so many prophesies have been fulfilled, and if that is true, this administration, unless they can find a verse that accurately says that those who betray Israel will be blessed, then this country is being dug in a deeper hole by this administration and its betrayals of Israel’s trust and Israel’s friendship.”
Gohmert said President Barack Obama had urged Israel to enter into a nuclear nonproliferation treaty with other Middle Eastern nations, which he said would require the nation to disclose and give up its undeclared nuclear weapons.
“This was viewed and discussed as being the first time in people’s memory when the United States, by and through its administration — the Obama administration — had taken action that was very adverse to Israel and the international community, and particularly in the U.N.,” Gohmert told lawmakers. “Normally we did not side with Israel’s enemies.”
He warned that pulling away from Israel had provoked its enemies and left it vulnerable to attack by Iran.
“The reason that it is important to point these things out now is, what is happening between the United States and Iran, as we leave Israel out of the equation — even though it is Israel that is considered to be the little Satan and we are considered the great Satan, and Israel is probably to be the first attacked, if there is an attack — they are certainly the most vulnerable, yet we leave our former friend Israel out of the equation,” Gohmert said.
The lawmaker said Obama administration officials had been telling Israel not to “dare attack Iran” without U.S. permission.
“We won’t let them have nuclear weapons; and yet it is not the United States that is first threatened,” Gohmert said. “The great Satan, the United States, in the eyes of leaders in Iran — not the Iranian people, but Iranian leaders — would get around to attacking us. But first Israel is threatened.”
Gohmert said the president had warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his nation “must defend itself by itself.”
“Our President said that, and yet, if we are not going to help Israel defend itself, which is actually defending us as well, then shouldn’t we avoid jeopardizing Israel’s own self-defense?” Gohmert said.
Actually, Gohmert used a heavily abbreviated formulation of the president’s quote that differed from his intended message.
“We will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” Obama told the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March 2012.
Netanyahu said at the time that he appreciated the president’s willingness to “take no options off the table” for Israel’s ability to defend itself.
Gohmert also said that Obama had thrown his support behind Israel’s enemies, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and engaged in an apology tour of Islamic nations, a debunked but persistent right-wing claim.
“My oath of office is to this country,” Gohmert said. “When I was in the Army for four years, my oath was to this country. My allegiance continues to this country, and I believe that being Israel’s friend is helpful to this country; and that is why I so strongly support being a friend to Israel.”
Even though he devoted much of his speech to establishing biblical justification for American support of Israel, the lawmaker said that’s not the only reason to do so.
“Even if you took the Bible completely out, you took out most anything except just looking at the Middle East and who believes in the value of life like we do here in the United States, who believes more in democratic actions like we do in the United States, then Israel should certainly be our friend,” Gohmert said.
Click to watch this clown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhmytmBtO84