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There should also be audio recordings, and written transcripts of jury deliberations without ever identifying the jurors. Accounting for the actual proceedings behind closed doors is essential for defendants getting a fair trial and a fair verdict. This would eliminate verdicts rendered based on race, vendetta, or inadmissable considerations like, "Well, I just thought the prosecutor was rude." At least the appellate defenders would have more to work with, better grounds for appeals, and the public can be insured guilty verdicts were fair, lawful, and deserved.
It is important to note that this initiative is bi-partisan...and that recent close defeats essentially mean nothing if opponents belived there was something to celebrate. Legalization is the will of the people.
PORTLAND, ME — On Friday, more than 40 state lawmakers in Maine co-signed a memo authored by State Representative Diane Russell that was delivered to the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee.
The memo encouraged the committee to keep all options on the table in their upcoming financial deliberations, including potential tax revenue derived from an adult, non-medical market for marijuana.
“All options should be on the table,” Rep. Russell stated in the memo, “In this spirit, we propose committee members give serious consideration to the revenue options associated with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for responsible adult use.”
The memo was signed by prominent elected officials in the state including Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Allagash), House Majority Leader Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), Minority Whip Alex Willette (R-Mapleton), and House Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland.
In 2013, the Maine House of Representatives fell just four votes short of approving a measure introduced by Rep. Russell which would have placed the issue of marijuana legalization before voters during the fall elections.
Last week, initial tax revenue estimates for the sales tax on recreational marijuana in Colorado were estimated to be just shy of 100 million dollars, far higher than the initial 70 million dollar estimate given to voters in 2012.
Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution/Noncommercial/Share-Alike License for non-profit organizations only.
by Dean Baker
One of the initiatives President Obama announced in his State of the Union Address was the "MyRA," an IRA that workers could sign up for at their workplace. The MyRA would be invested in government bonds and provide a modest guaranteed rate of return.
The MyRA has several useful features. It's simple, it has low administrative costs, workers can have money deducted directly from their paychecks, and it has no risk. It also has the great advantage that President Obama can make MyRAs available to workers without seeking congressional approval.
However there was one very notable downside to the MyRA. Workers could not accumulate more than $15,000 in these accounts, at which point they would be required to fold their MyRA into an IRA run by the financial industry. People who commented on this requirement all assumed that this was a sop to the industry.
When the accounts are small, the industry wouldn't make any money on them anyhow. Once they get to be a decent size the government will require savers to park their money with a bank or brokerage house. This is nothing but good news for the industry.
Everyone understands the power of the financial industry, so perhaps Obama had to include a $15,000 cap in order to avoid its wrath, but that doesn't mean the rest of us shouldn't be asking the obvious question. If the private financial industry is more efficient than the government, then why do we have to force people to use it? What's wrong with giving people the option of keeping their money in a MyRA?
This is not the only context in which this question arises. The Postal Service recently put forward a proposal to start offering basic banking services to take advantage of its retail infrastructure. This should be an obvious win-win.
There are tens of millions of low and moderate income people who are poorly served by the banking system. The Postal Service would be able to offer them checking accounts and other services at a lower cost than private competitors by taking advantage of underutilized facilities. This will extend banking services to the unbanked population and potentially be an important source of revenue to the Postal Service.
This is not a new idea. The Postal Service used to offer banking services and many countries still have postal banks. So there is good reason to believe that this effort could succeed.
The other notable area in which there has been interest in public competition with the private sector is healthcare insurance. During his campaign, President Obama had promised there would be a public Medicare-type option as part of his healthcare plan. There was much support for a public option in Congress and across the nation, but the insurance industry was powerful enough to keep it out of the final bill.
In these and other cases key industries use their political clout to avoid having to compete with the government. This fear of government competition presumably stems from the fact that they would lose business and profits to the government because it could provide the service at a lower cost.
There is a real basis for this concern. In the case of Social Security, administrative costs are less than 0.6 percent of annual benefit payments. Using payout equivalents as the denominator, the cost of administering private funds averages 20-30 times this amount. Someone has to pay for those high Wall Street salaries.
There is a similar story with Medicare and Medicaid where administrative expenses average less than 3% of the healthcare services provided compared with more than 15% with private insurers. This gap is reduced after making adjustments for differences in healthcare costs per patient, but there is no doubt that the administrative costs eat up a much larger share of healthcare spending on the private side than the public.
Given the additional costs associated with excluding public options in healthcare, finance, and possibly other sectors of the economy, we are in effect making the economy less efficient. We are forcing the public to pay more so that private firms can have more profits and their top executives can enjoy bigger paychecks.
This is sometimes characterized as a debate between people who like the government and people who like the market. It isn't. People who like the market to determine outcomes should be happy with the idea of having the government compete on a level playing field with private sector firms.
If private firms offer a lower price or a better product, the government will be driven from the market with little harm done. However if the private firms prevail because the government is not allowed to compete, this is equivalent to taxing the public by making it pay more than necessary for health insurance and other services, and handing the revenue over to the firms in the industry. That's a great deal for these industries, but it has nothing to do with a commitment to a free market or good policy.
Is there any alternative source for metallurgical (non-thermal) grade coking coal? I mean, recycling and mini-mills only take you so far. At some point, and for certain alloys, you need virgin steel. Petro-coke might be an option, but there are impurities.
THIS MESSAGE IS FOR ALL KANKAKEE COUNTY RESIDENTS WHO HAS CHILDREN THAT GOES TO KANKAKEE JR.HIGH SCHOOL:
MY CHILD IS A STRAIGHT A HONOR ROLL,8TH GRADE STUDENT, HE TOO FELL TO THE HANDS OF THE KANKAKEE POLICE DEPARTMENT,AND KANKAKEE SCHOOL DISTRICT111. I AM OUTRAGE!!!! MY CHILDS WAS THROWN AGAINST A WINDOW SO FORCEFUL THAT HE WAS TANGLED INTO THE WINDOW'S BLINDS.MY CHILD HAD TO B CUT OUT THE BLINDS BY THE POLICE OFFICER WHO ARRESTED,HARRASED,INTIMIDATED MY HONOR ROLL STUDENT..MY CHILD RECEIVED MULTIPLE INJURIES TO HIS FACE,EYE,AND BODY!! AND THEN HANDCUFFED,SHACKLED BY THE LEGS...AND THEN AFTER ALL THIS...THE PRINCIPLE HAD THE DAM NERVES TO SAY... HE CAN COME BACK TO SCHOOL IN THE MORNING!!! WHERES THE DAM JUSTICE!!!!
by Marge Baker
In the four years since the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United v. FEC ruling, two things have become abundantly clear.
First, we have a major democracy problem. Citizens United paved the way for unlimited corporate spending to distort our elections. Staggering amounts of money have poured into our political system since the Court handed down that decision.
Second, and just as importantly, it’s become clear that until we fix that democracy problem, it’s hard to fix any problem. In other words, until we fix the funding of our political campaigns, we can’t fix the individual issues that matter most to everyday Americans.
This has proven true across the board. Whether the issue you’re most concerned about is making your community safer, guaranteeing that your family has access to clean water, or ensuring that workers get a fair minimum wage, when wealthy special interests can buy their way into the hearts, minds, and votes of elected officials, progress on these issues will continue to stall.
Clearly, when moneyed interests can spend virtually without limitation to influence our elections, they can set the political agenda.
The Citizens United ruling gutted the ability of Congress and the states to put common-sense limits on this runaway spending, and the effects haven’t been subtle. In the wake of these campaign finance changes, outside political spending by Super PACs and other channels has reached an all-time high of $1 billion, the Associated Press found.
And now, a case currently being considered by the Supreme Court, McCutcheon v. FEC, could could allow even more money to flood our political system.
This isn’t the kind of “democracy” Americans of any political background want. A recent poll shows that more than nine in ten Americans think it’s important for elected officials to reduce the influence of money in our elections.
Though the problem of money in politics can feel overwhelming, there are a number of workable solutions being considered federally and implemented in the states.
Small-donor legislation is one good option. This type of law provides matching funds for small donations at a multiple ratio (such as 5:1 or 10:1). It also amplifies the effect of small donations, providing a way for them to carry real weight in political campaigns. That encourages political participation by people who may have felt before that their contributions didn’t matter.
For candidates, small-donor public financing provides an alternative for those who don’t want to be reliant on, and beholden to, wealthy special interests to fund their campaigns.
Another is the mandatory disclosure of political spending. Although Congress isn’t likely to pass disclosure legislation anytime soon, many states are responding to the post-Citizens United spending bonanza by closing loopholes so that big, special interest donors can’t hide behind “dark money” groups in elections.
Additionally, the year after Citizens United, a group of law professors asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending to their shareholders and the public. Despite the proposal’s immense popularity, the SEC recently took the corporate political disclosure rule (SEC File No 4-637) off its agenda. That agenda, however, isn’t binding, and the SEC could — and should — still adopt the rule right away.
But most importantly, to fix our democracy problem, we have to be able to enact common-sense regulations on political spending. To fix the root problem — in the absence of a change in who’s on the Supreme Court – we must amend the Constitution to undo the damage of Citizens United and other cases that have handed huge power to Wall Street and giant corporations.
City by city and state by state, the people are taking that power back. Sixteen states and more than 500 cities and towns have called on Congress to pass an amendment overturning Citizens United and related cases.
All of these solutions are steps toward a larger goal: putting our democracy back in the hands of “we the people,” and fighting for a more transparent, vibrant democratic system responsive to the needs of everyday Americans.
WASHINGTON, DC — In a profile published online over the weekend in New Yorker magazine, President Barack Obama continued his softening towards marijuana legalization. In the interview, the president alluded to his own youthful marijuana consumption and clarified that, while he doesn’t believe it to be a healthy pastime and has discouraged his daughters from its use, it is a less dangerous substance than alcohol. President Obama also stated that current moves towards legalization are important experiments that can help end discriminatory arrest practices.
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” President Obama stated when asked about the growing public support for ending marijuana prohibition.
When asked to clarify if he thought it was “less dangerous,” Obama replied that he thought it was less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” He continued that “it’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”
“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do and African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” he stated, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
“It’s important for it [marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington] to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”
You can read the full article on the New Yorker’s website here.
Perhaps President Obama will continue to evolve and find himself on the right side of history when it comes to marijuana legalization. It would take just one simple Executive Order to deschedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and help institute some real lasting change in our nation’s failed war on cannabis. At a minimum, these statements show just how far we have come from the “Just Say No” era of American politics.
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by David Sirota
President Obama claims the right to extrajudicially execute American citizens, keeps a so-called “kill list,” and has bragged he’s “really good at killing people.” This isn’t bluster. Obama has backed this up with action, having killed U.S. citizens — including a 16-year-old boy – without charging, much less convicting, any of them with a single crime.
The implications are profound (and profoundly disturbing), and raise questions about Americans’ constitutional right to due process, the most basic constraints on presidential power, and our treatment of whistleblowers. Indeed, how can anyone expect those who witness executive-branch crimes to blow the whistle when the head of the executive branch asserts the right to instantly execute anyone he pleases at any time?
All of this may sound theoretical, academic, or even fantastical, straight out of a dystopian sci-fi flick. But it isn’t. It is very real. After all, only a few months ago, the chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee publicly offered to help extrajudicially assassinate NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. And now, according to a harrowing new report that just hit the Internet, top NSA and Pentagon officials are doing much the same, even after court rulings and disclosures have concluded that Snowden is a whistleblower who exposed serious government crimes.
In an article headlined “America’s Spies Want Edward Snowden Dead,” Buzzfeed’s Benny Johnson reports:
‘In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,’ a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. ‘A lot of people share this sentiment.’
‘I would love to put a bullet in his head,’ one Pentagon official, a former special forces officer, said bluntly…
‘His name is cursed every day over here,’ a defense contractor told BuzzFeed, speaking from an overseas Intelligence collections base. ‘Most everyone I talk to says he needs to be tried and hung, forget the trial and just hang him.’
One Army intelligence officer even offered BuzzFeed a chillingly detailed fantasy.
‘I think if we had the chance, we would end it very quickly,’ he said. ‘Just casually walking on the streets of Moscow, coming back from buying his groceries. Going back to his flat and he is casually poked by a passerby. He thinks nothing of it at the time starts to feel a little woozy and thinks it’s a parasite from the local water. He goes home very innocently and next thing you know he dies in the shower.’
Buzzfeed characterizes this as government officials merely “seeth(ing) in very personal terms.” However, with a top legislative branch leader offering to assist in the very extrajudicial assassination now being promoted by NSA and Pentagon officials, and with the executive branch categorically asserting the right to order such an extrajudicial assassination of a U.S. citizen, this is more than mere “seething.” These are outright threats.
Think about it: As President Obama would no doubt acknowledge, the NSA and Pentagon are not independent agencies. As president he oversees and runs them. That is, they are overseen and run by the same Obama administration that has asserted the right to execute American citizens without indictment, trial or conviction. While these may just be officials speaking off the cuff, their language (“Most everyone I talk to”/”A lot of people share this sentiment”) makes clear that their sentiment represents a pervasive culture throughout the government — again, the same government that not-so-coincidentally asserts the right to kill people in exactly the way they discuss.
It all leads back to that same harrowing question: how can Americans who witness executive-branch crimes feel comfortable or even physically safe blowing the whistle on said crimes?
The answer in the Obama era is: they can’t.
by Dan Gillmor
Tuesday's US appeals court decision on "net neutrality" is a major, and deeply worrisome, step in the wrong direction.
The promise, and for several decades the reality, of the internet was decentralization: a network of networks where innovation would take place largely at the edges, not in the center. It was the antithesis of the centralized systems of the communications and media systems that prevailed in the 20th Century.
We are on the verge of losing the internet that held such promise, at least for the near and medium term. Today's federal appeals court ruling in a suit by Verizon against the Federal Communications Commission's already feeble network neutrality rules is only the latest evidence. The court ruling (pdf) will embolden America's rapacious telecom companies, which assert the right to decide what bits of information get to internet users' computers in what order and at what speed, or even if they get to our computers at all.
This was entirely predictable. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Congress and several presidents have created a policy and regulatory regime almost designed to limit choice in the long run. The FCC's 2010 "Open Internet Order", shot down by the court on Tuesday, was just one more bad move in a series of missteps. It purported to regulate the carriers in a way that the FCC had earlier ensured could not be done legally, because the commission had freed the carriers from any commitment to behave as the utilities they have become.
The FCC could fix that tomorrow, and thereby slow this rush toward a highly controlled internet. Given the clout of the telecom industry and its well-paid allies, not to mention the timidity, if not culpability, of the policy makers, that's a long shot.
The telecoms have repeatedly promised not to do what is in their obvious best interest: turn the internet into an enhanced form of cable television. You are deluded if you think any American corporation, much less these giants that grew up as government-granted monopolies, will operate for the public interest when that conflicts with their bottom lines and political power. I predict that in a few years, Verizon's statement on Tuesday, promising a commitment to customers' internet access "when, where and how they want" will be seen as a classic in corporate BS.
Besides the carriers, who wins if this decision stands, and if Congress and the FCC don't reverse course? Google will complain bitterly, but it will be one of the winners, because it can afford to be – and, besides, Google already sold out its users on net neutrality in the mobile arena via a deal with Verizon in 2010. Look for deals where telecoms "partner" with Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and big media companies of all kinds.
If you are a smaller company in media or digital services, you lose. Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and the other carriers will inevitably give higher priority to traffic from companies that pay – a double-dipping process for the carriers – and lower priority, if any at all, to the ones that can't or won't pay. If you are an innovator, you lose, because you will effectively need permission from the central players. Facebook didn't need permission to become a behemoth, but the next innovator in social networking will.
Really, though, you and I are the chief losers, because we will pay more and get less than we would have in a more competitive world where we, not the central authorities, make the key decisions about the services and media we want. We won't know what innovation doesn't happen, because it won't be around.
The one positive impact of today's ruling, I hope, is that it will reinvigorate a public debate about our online future. And maybe Congress and the FCC will recognize that we need a course correction. It could start by recalling why the internet grew so fast, so amazingly fast, in the 1990s – because when we had to dial up via phones lines, and the phone company couldn't insist on being the only internet service provider, hundreds of ISPs competed for customers. Then Congress and regulators told the cable and phone companies they could squeeze out, or ban entirely, any competition on "their" lines.
To get the US on a better course, the FCC could classify the telecoms as "common carriers" – a designation that would require them to behave neutrally toward the companies that provide information and services, allowing end users to make the decisions. That would be progress, but it's not enough. It could also become onerous regulation that hinders innovation in its own right.
Eventually, if America is to have truly state-of-the-art broadband, as a number of other countries have done, we will have to recognize that there's little genuine competition among ISPs today. We'll have to accept that there's a natural monopoly in the deployment of fiber optic lines to homes and businesses (or at least to the curb outside). If we allow single companies to build those lines, we will have to require that those companies allow others to provide internet access itself on the lines – sharing them, in other words.
Last week my university hosted a group of journalism teachers from other schools. These professors are planning to help their students appreciate what I call the "startup culture", an entrepreneurial environment that rewards ideas and execution in an always-changing technology and media ecosystem. At the end of our five-day workshop, I implored these educators to learn more – and help their students understand – the impact policy has on what they do today, and what they will be able to do tomorrow. In particular, network neutrality is a linchpin to a future in which tomorrow's media ecosystem will emerge.
It's all about control, I said. If control reverts to the center of the networks, tomorrow's innovators will need permission, and tomorrow's media users will have fewer choices. The court's ruling is a big step backward for the future innovation America supposedly wants.
Go Carol Go! You will be the only honest person in Illinois Government! Where do I send donations?
by Laurie Penny
It is difficult to quantify despair. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever filled in one of those strange little forms that require you, with helpful tick-boxes, to rank your mood from sunny to suicidal. Nonetheless, the latest survey from the Prince’s Trust tells the public what youth campaigners, activists and anyone who frequently meets people in their teens and twenties already know: life for young men and women in Britain today is tough unless you’ve got a trust fund. Nine per cent of respondents said that they “have nothing to live for” and a third of young unemployed people had considered suicide.
Across the world, young people are paying for austerity with their health, their hopes and dreams. In the past three years, I’ve travelled to countries and states where the future has snapped shut suddenly like a set of incisors. Homeless kids in New York told me how the American dream had become a nightmare from which they could not wake. Despairing graduates in Greece described how any hope of a secure or fulfilling future had been stolen and sold back for more than they could afford.
Britain is not the only country gleefully gouging the young, desperate for every penny they don’t possess, but there’s a special vindictiveness to the Tory approach. The Chancellor’s first announcement of the new year pledged another round of cuts to the already lacerated and bleeding social security budget, and top of the list was housing benefit for the under-25s. What this will mean is quite simple. For young people who cannot afford their rent – whether or not they are in work – there will no longer be subsidies available to ensure they don’t get evicted. They will be forced to move back in with their parents, which isn’t an option for everyone; to move away from their friends, and their employment if they have any; or to become homeless, sleeping on sofas or in shelters.
The message being sent to the next generation could be summed up with a second-person pronoun and any given expletive. You don’t vote for us; why should we care what happens to you?
Of course, young people are not the only ones struggling to cope. This week, news broke of the death of a 58-year-old grandfather, Shaun Pilkington, who shot himself after finding out that his sickness benefits were to be stopped, telling friends he was “unable to cope”. The Department for Work and Pensions may not be keeping a tally of the number of disabled people and rejected benefit claimants who have committed suicide, but activist groups are and the toll is mounting. If you’re not part of the elite, or its core vote in swing constituencies, you can find cause for consternation by flipping open any paper. So, is there anything special about the way that millions of young people are finding themselves forced to contemplate 50 years of fear, debt and depression?
There is, and here’s why. The British government, like many others, is no longer even pretending to care about how or if the next generation gets to thrive. It is demonstrably content to sacrifice its young. That quality is not just spiteful; it is a recipe for social and cultural self-annihilation.
What are the alternatives? “Finding work” for young people, even the lowest-paid and least secure work, seems to be the only solution on the table, even from well-meaning groups such as the Prince’s Trust. The government’s sole response to the survey was that it was doing “everything possible” to help young people find work – chiefly “incentivising” them with the threat of eviction in a stagnant job market. What it is not doing is helping any young person find work that pays a liveable wage, or a wage at all – and in the meantime it’s getting harder to afford the rent and bills.
The assumption that work is a passport to dignity and security, that work is what makes life worth living, is so deeply embedded in our culture that it is almost heretical to think otherwise. But the problem isn’t just the lack of work. It’s also the lack of hope. Young people leaving school and university can no longer kid themselves that their future is likely to include a stable place to live, love and get on with growing up, even if they do manage to find paid work.
Here’s what is notably not being said to the young and desperate: you are more than your inability to find a job. Your value to a potential employer is not the sole measure of your worth as a person. If you can find only precarious, exhausting, depressing work, or if you can’t find work at all, that doesn’t mean you are useless, lazy, or a “waste of space”.
These things are easy to say and they also have the distinct advantage of being true, which is useful when you’re trying to talk to a young person seized by despair. I’ve found myself in that position at regular intervals over the past few years. When somebody with their whole life ahead of them is hurting, you find yourself wanting to tell them anything at all that will stop them sinking into hopeless self-harm.
The one thing we’re not telling them is the truth: that, however worthless you feel, you deserve to have enough to eat, somewhere to live, clothes on your back and other vital parts, to be loved, to know that you matter. You deserve those things whatever is happening with the economy, because everyone does, because human beings are worth more than their usefulness to capital.
The most important political battles are fought on the territory of the imagination. To save a generation from despair, it won’t be enough to hassle them into low-paying jobs. We must allow young people to imagine lives where they will not be measured purely on the basis of their ability to turn a profit – and be found wanting.
The long, patient, yet joyful lines of ordinary Americans waiting to buy marijuana in Colorado demonstrate that this war is over. All we need to do is fix an ugly set of laws that no longer have a point, if they ever did, and direct public servants to observe our rights and find something more important to do than enforce a failed prohibition on cannabis. That's still a big task, here and elsewhere. But some people just don't get it and have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the harsh daylight of reality. That's our next task as voters.
In a new decision in support of the NSA's phone metadata surveillance program, U.S. district court Judge William Pauley cites an intelligence failure involving the agency in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks. But the judge's cited source, the 9/11 Commission Report, doesn't actually include the account he gives in the ruling. What’s more, experts say the NSA could have avoided the pre-9/11 failure even without the metadata surveillance program.
We previously explored the key incident in question, involving calls made by hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar from California to Yemen, in a story we did over the summer, which you can read below.
In his decision, Pauley writes: "The NSA intercepted those calls using overseas signals intelligence capabilities that could not capture al-Mihdhar's telephone number identifier. Without that identifier, NSA analysts concluded mistakenly that al-Mihdhar was overseas and not in the United States."
As his source, the judge writes in a footnote, "See generally, The 9/11 Commission Report." In fact, the 9/11 Commission report does not detail the NSA's intercepts of calls between al-Mihdhar and Yemen. As the executive director of the commission told us over the summer, "We could not, because the information was so highly classified publicly detail the nature of or limits on NSA monitoring of telephone or email communications.”
To this day, some details related to the incident and the NSA's eavesdropping have never been aired publicly. And some experts told us that even before 9/11 -- and before the creation of the metadata surveillance program -- the NSA did have the ability to track the origins of the phone calls, but simply failed to do so.
* * *
* * *
This story was originally published on June 20, 2013 and updated on June 21, 2013.
In defending the NSA’s sweeping collection of Americans’ phone call records, Obama administration officials have repeatedly pointed out how it could have helped thwart the 9/11 attacks: If only the surveillance program been in place before Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. authorities would have been able to identify one of the future hijackers who was living in San Diego.
Last weekend, former Vice President Dick Cheney invoked the same argument.
It is impossible to know for certain whether screening phone records would have stopped the attacks -- the program didn’t exist at the time. It’s also not clear whether the program would have given the NSA abilities it didn’t already possess with respect to the case. Details of the current program and as well as NSA’s role in intelligence gathering around the 9/11 plots remain secret.
But one thing we do know: Those making the argument have ignored a key aspect of historical record.
U.S. intelligence agencies knew the identity of the hijacker in question, Saudi national Khalid al Mihdhar, long before 9/11 and had the ability find him, but they failed to do so.
“There were plenty of opportunities without having to rely on this metadata system for the FBI and intelligence agencies to have located Mihdhar,” says former Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who extensively investigated 9/11 as chairman of the Senate’s intelligence committee.
Mihdhar is at the center of the well-known story of the failure of information sharing between the CIA and FBI and other agencies.
Indeed, the Obama administration’s invocation of the Mihdhar case echoes a nearly identical argument made by the Bush administration eight years ago when it defended the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program.
Mihdhar and the other hijacker with whom he lived in California, Nawaf al Hazmi, were “experienced mujahideen” who had traveled to fight in Bosnia in the mid-1990s and spent time in Afghanistan.
Mihdhar was on the intelligence community’s radar at least as early as 1999. That’s when the NSA had picked up communications from a “terrorist facility” in the Mideast suggesting that members of an “operational cadre” were planning to travel to Kuala Lumpur in January 2000, according to the commission report. The NSA picked up the first names of the members, including a “Khalid.” The CIA identified him as Khalid al Mihdhar.
The U.S. got photos of those attending the January 2000 meeting in Malaysia, including of Mihdhar, and the CIA also learned that his passport had a visa for travel to the U.S. But that fact was not shared with FBI headquarters until much later, in August 2001, which proved too late.
“Critical parts of the information concerning al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi lay dormant
within the Intelligence Community for as long as eighteen months,” the congressional 9/11 report concludes, “at the very time when plans for the September 11 attacks were proceeding.
The CIA missed repeated opportunities to act based on information in its possession that these two Bin Ladin associated terrorists were traveling to the United States, and to add their names to watchlists.”
The U.S. lost track of Mihdhar's trail in Asia in early 2000, but there were more chances.
“On four occasions in 2001, the CIA, the FBI, or both had apparent opportunities to refocus on the significance of Hazmi and Mihdhar and reinvigorate the search for them,” the 9/11 Commission report says. The report concludes that if more resources had been applied and a different approach taken, Mihdhar could have been found and stopped.
So, apart from all the missed opportunities, would a theoretical metadata program capturing phone records of all Americans made a difference before 9/11?
Key details about Mihdhar’s activities and the NSA before 9/11 remain classified so it’s difficult answer conclusively.
Let’s turn to the comments of FBI Director Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary Committee last week.
Mueller noted that intelligence agencies lost track of Mihdhar following the January 2000 Kuala Lumpur meeting but at the same time had identified an “Al Qaida safe house in Yemen.”
He continued: “They understood that that Al Qaida safe house had a telephone number but they could not know who was calling into that particular safe house. We came to find out afterwards that the person who had called into that safe house was al Mihdhar, who was in the United States in San Diego. If we had had this [metadata] program in place at the time we would have been able to identify that particular telephone number in San Diego.”
In turn, the number would have led to Mihdhar and potentially disrupted the plot, Mueller argued.
(Media accounts indicate that the “safe house” was actually the home of Mihdhar’s father-in-law, himself a longtime al Qaida figure, and that the NSA had been intercepting calls to the home for several years.)
The congressional 9/11 report sheds some further light on this episode, though in highly redacted form.
The NSA had in early 2000 analyzed communications between a person named “Khaled” and “a suspected terrorist facility in the Middle East,” according to this account. But, crucially, the intelligence community “did not determine the location from which they had been made.”
In other words, the report suggests, the NSA actually picked up the content of the communications between Mihdhar and the “Yemen safe house” but was not able to figure out who was calling or even the phone number he was calling from.
“[Y]ou should not assume that the NSA was then able to determine, from the contents of communications, the originating phone number or IP address of an incoming communication to that place in Yemen,” said Philip Zelikow, who was executive director of the 9/11 Commission, in an email to ProPublica. “It would depend on the technical details of how the signals were being monitored.”
It wasn’t until after 9/11 that the FBI figured out that “Khaled” was hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar, calling from San Diego.
The 9/11 Commission report itself does not appear to describe the communication between Mihdhar and Yemen.
When the Commission report was released in 2004, according to Zelikow, “we could not, because the information was so highly classified publicly detail the nature of or limits on NSA monitoring of telephone or email communications.” Information on the topic remains classified, he added.
Zelikow called Mueller’s recent assertion about the metadata program “accurate and fair.”
“It is definitely possible that, with the kind of databases that Mueller is discussing, used properly, the US government would have been alerted during 2000 to the presence in the U.S. -- and possibly the location -- of these individuals -- and possibly others he did not mention who arrived later,” Zelikow said.
Theories about the metadata program aside, it’s not clear why the NSA couldn’t or didn’t track the originating number of calls to Yemen it was already listening to.
Intelligence historian Matthew Aid, who wrote the 2009 NSA history Secret Sentry, says that the agency would have had both the technical ability and legal authority to determine the San Diego number that Mihdhar was calling from.
“Back in 2001 NSA was routinely tracking the identity of both sides of a telephone call,” he told ProPublica.
The NSA did not respond to a request for comment. The FBI stood by Mueller’s argument but declined to further explain how the metadata program would have come into play before 9/11.
There's another wrinkle in the Mihdhar case: In the years after 9/11, media reports also suggested that there were multiple calls that went in the other direction: from the house in Yemen to Mihdhar in San Diego. But the NSA apparently also failed to track where those calls were going.
In 2005, the Los Angeles Times quoted unnamed officials saying the NSA had well-established legal authority before 9/11 to track calls made from the Yemen number to the U.S. In that more targeted scenario, a metadata program vacumming the phone records of all Americans would appear to be unnecessary.
That story followed President Bush’s defense of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, which had just been revealed by the New York Times.
“We didn't know they were here, until it was too late,” Bush said in a December 2005 live radio address from the White House.
It’s not clear how the wiretapping program would have come into play in the Mihdhar case. The program at issue in 2005 involved getting the actual content of communications, which the NSA had already been doing in the Mihdhar case.
Update: Richard Clarke, who was the White House counterterrorism czar beginning in 1998 and through 9/11, told ProPublica that the NSA had both the ability and legal authority to trace calls from Mihdhar to Yemen in 2000.
"Justice could have asked the FISA Court for a warrant to all phone companies to show all calls from the U.S. which went to the Yemen number. As far as I know, they did not do so. They could have," Clarke wrote in an email. "My understanding is that they did not need the current All Calls Data Base FISA warrant to get the information they needed. Since they had one end of the calls (the Yemen number), all they had to do was ask for any call connecting to it."
It just seems like all of them work for the News-Gazette...
With legal sales of marijuana in Colorado just two weeks away, an Associated Press-GfK poll finds public opposition to legalization declining.
Just 29 percent of Americans say they oppose legalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, down from 55 percent in a 2010 AP-CNBC poll. And fewer say legalization would lead to increased use of more serious drugs or harm the economy. The share in favor of legalization was about the same as in 2010, while more reported feeling neutral on the question.
The new survey was conducted online, while the 2010 poll was by phone. Pollsters typically see an increase in “neutral” responses in surveys conducted online compared with those conducted by phone, partly because respondents feel they can be more candid about their opinions – or lack of them – when filling out a questionnaire on their own rather than talking to another person. Respondents in both cases were offered the option of saying they “neither favor nor oppose” legal marijuana.
Public opinion has been gradually softening on legalization since the height of the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign of the 1980s. According to the General Social Survey, a survey of American public opinion conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, opposition to legal marijuana peaked in 1990 at 84 percent, and in 2012, ahead of the referendums that made the sale of the drug legal in both Colorado and Washington state, the nation was closely divided on the question: 47 percent thought it should be legal, 53 percent not. Since the referendums in Colorado and Washington passed, polls by the Pew Research Center and Gallup have found majority support for legal marijuana.
In the new AP-GfK poll, 37 percent said legalizing marijuana for personal use would actually improve the economy, a slight increase from 32 percent who felt that way in 2010. Fewer thought it would cause harm to the economy, 16 percent compared with 21 percent in 2010.
The public is now less apt to feel that legal marijuana would serve as a gateway to stronger drugs. In the new poll, Americans were more likely to see it as a deterrent to stronger drugs than three years ago: 17 percent thought it would disincline people from using more serious drugs, compared with 10 percent in 2010. About a third said it would lead people to try more serious drugs, down from 39 percent in 2010.
Those opposed to legalizing marijuana were more apt to see the gateway effect as an issue than to cite a negative impact on the economy: 71 percent of opponents said it would lead to more people using serious drugs, while just 41 percent thought it would make the economy worse. Those in favor of legalizing the drug see the economic benefits (69 percent say it would improve the economy) outweighing the impact on drug use (only 4 percent believe it would lead people to use more serious drugs).
But legalization may not mean an influx of people heading down to their local dispensary. Just 1 in 5 Americans said they would use marijuana if the sale and possession of small amounts for personal use were legal. Eight in 10 said they wouldn’t. More apt to use it: men, city dwellers, those under age 65, liberals and Democrats.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Dec. 5-9 and involved online interviews with 1,367 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all respondents.
The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, a probability-based Internet panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents to the survey were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press
by David Sirota
Though they are important, let's be honest: Municipal budget figures can be mind-numbingly boring. Even in high-profile, high-stakes dramas like Detroit's bankruptcy, the sheer flood of numbers can encourage people to simply tune it all out for fear of being further confused.
Thus, in the interest of not putting you to sleep or further perplexing you, here are three painfully simple questions about Detroit's bankruptcy. Though these questions have mostly been ignored, continuing to ask them can at least highlight the fact that something nefarious is happening right now in the Motor City.
1. Why are Detroit officials simultaneously moving to cut municipal workers' pensions while spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a new professional hockey stadium?
Gov. Rick Snyder, R-Mich., and his appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr are pleading poverty to justify cuts to the average Detroit municipal worker's $19,000-a-year pension. Yet, they are also saying they have plenty of money available to continue a planned $285 million taxpayer subsidy for the construction of a new hockey stadium for the Red Wings. Economic data over the years suggest that that paying pension benefits is often a far more powerful tool for economic stimulus than financing stadium subsidies. That's because pensions reliably pump resources into a local economy while stadium subsidies often end up a net loss for taxpayers. So why is Detroit prioritizing stadiums over pensions?
2. Why are municipal employees being blamed for Detroit's woes when data prove they had little to do with the city's fiscal problems?
In an extensive report for the think tank Demos, former Goldman Sachs investment banker Wallace Turbeville shows that Detroit officials' current "focus on cutting retiree benefits and reducing the city's long-term liabilities to address the crisis (is) inappropriate and, in important ways, not rooted in fact." That's because, as Turbeville documents, "Detroit's bankruptcy was primarily caused by a severe decline in revenue and exacerbated by complicated Wall Street deals that put its ability to pay its expenses at greater risk." Yet, despite these facts, Detroit's municipal employees are primarily being blamed by politicians and pundits for causing the crisis.
3. If Michigan is so strapped for cash, why is Gov. Snyder almost doubling the salaries of his top officials?
The Detroit Free Press reports that while exploring pension cuts, Snyder's administration "quietly increased the salaries of its top investment officials in the Treasury Department by more than 80 percent." As just two examples, Snyder's move means that a pair of his top aides will now be paid an annual salary of $333,000 and $233,000, respectively. If as Snyder's administration claims, "there's not enough money" for pensioners, how is there enough money to pay Snyder's political appointees those kind of salaries?
The fact that these simple questions have been mostly excluded from the national discussion about Detroit is proof that so much of what passes for "news" these days is ideology and opinion. In this particular case, the pervasive ideology in elite political and media circles is a hatred of the public sector and the widespread opinion in those circles is that municipal employees are lazy leeches who deserve to be punished. And so for the most part, these basic questions still go unasked — and unanswered.
But just because these queries are being ignored, doesn't mean they should be. Michigan taxpayers and retirees have a right to some basic answers. The same goes for taxpayers and retirees in the next city that tries to follow Detroit's current path - and yes, that will almost certainly happen. The class war is clearly going local. The more the questions are raised right now, the better the chance for the middle class to survive.
David Sirota is a best-selling author whose new book "Back to Our Future" is now available. He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and is a contributing writer at Salon.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.
by Dan Beeton
President Obama traveled to Soweto, South Africa this week for the memorial service for former president and anti-apartheid movement leader Nelson Mandela. Over 60 heads of state also attended the services, but only five were invited to speak - among them Cuban president Raúl Castro, with whom Obama shook hands – the first such greeting between the presidents of the United States and Cuba since President Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro on the sidelines of a U.N. summit in 2000. Obama’s handshake with Castro was condemned by a number of Republican members of Congress. Senator John McCain likened it to Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Hitler, while perennial Cuba-hater Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – who in the past has openly called for Fidel Castro’s assassination – called it “a propaganda coup for the tyrant [Castro].” Cruz made headlines for himself by walking out on Castro’s speech at the ceremony, with a spokesperson saying that “Sen. Cruz very much hopes that Castro learns the lessons of Nelson Mandela.”
But while Republicans have received attention for their criticism of the handshake – just as they did when Obama similarly greeted democratically-elected then-president of Venezuela Hugo Chávez in 2009 – Obama’s speech at the event has been described by some as a rebuke of some foreign governments, including Cuba’s. “There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality,” he said without apparent irony, while in Singapore a U.S. delegation was concluding (unsuccessfully) the latest round of efforts to get other countries to agree to a variety of controversial and potentially harmful measures in a proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. As we have described in a research paper, most U.S. workers would lose out from the planned TPP in the form of reduced wages.
As many analysts, historians and observers have pointed out, the condemnation of the Obama-Castro handshake is also ironic considering Mandela’s long appreciation for the Cuban government and its unwavering opposition to apartheid and similar racist regimes in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Mozambique and South Africa. Most notably, Cuba provided 36,000 troops to beat back the efforts of the South African military to crush independence in Angola.
As the Huffington Post’s Roque Planas points out, while Cuba provided Mandela, the African National Congress and South Africa with inspiration, guidance, resources, training and doctors, “The U.S. government, on the other hand, reportedly played a role in Mandela’s 1962 arrest and subsequently branded him a terrorist -- a designation they only rescinded in 2008. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan vetoed the Anti-Apartheid Act.” Then there’s the small matter of U.S. and South African support for the counter-revolutionaries in Angola. As Piero Gleijeses, a professor of U.S. foreign policy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of several books including Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991 said yesterday in an interview with "Democracy Now”: “…the role of the United States as a country, as a government, past governments, in the struggle for liberation of South Africa is a shameful role. In general, we were on the side of the apartheid government. And the role of Cuba is a splendid role in favor of the liberation."
The Republican members of Congress are not alone in attempting to rewrite history and remake Mandela in their image. Notably, various world leaders past and present who supported apartheid and Mandela’s imprisonment have gushed over what a great man he was now that he’s passed on. But Mandela maintained integrity in his outspoken criticism of the U.S., saying that “If there’s a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care.” Such sentiments are reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement that the U.S. is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” and his outspoken condemnation of the war in Vietnam, which earned him the wrath of the foreign policy establishment and the media – when he was still alive.
In contrast, British Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg used the occasion of a Special Session honoring Nelson Mandela to call on the House of Commons to support human rights activists in Afghanistan and Honduras:
Right now, all over the world, there are millions of men, women and children still struggling to overcome poverty, violence and discrimination.
They do not have the fame or the standing of Nelson Mandela, but I’m sure that he would tell us that what they achieve and endure in their pursuit of a more open, equal and just society shapes all our lives.
Campaigners like Mary Akrami, who works to protect and empower the women of Afghanistan; Sima Samar, the Head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission; or organisations like the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras which works in the shadow of threats and intimidation.
They are just 3 examples of the individuals and organisations who deserve our loyalty and support just as much as the British campaigners in the Anti-Apartheid movement in London showed unfailing loyalty and support towards Nelson Mandela in his bleakest days, and here I also want to pay tribute to the Rt. Hon Member for Neath and his fellow campaigners for what they did at the time.
U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske also made remarks on human rights in Honduras, Tuesday, International Human Rights Day. She condemned campesinos and others resisting murder and brutality in the Aguan Valley, and indigenous Lenca communities fighting the imposition of development projects on their land over their objections. In Honduras' context of political repression and rampant impunity for security forces who commit abuses, such comments further imperil some of Honduras' most vulnerable and historically disenfranchised communities.
Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday at age 95, was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary who served as President of South Africa from 1994-1999.
During the 1950's, while working as an anti-apartheid lawyer, Mandela was repeatedly arrested for 'seditious activities' and 'treason.' In 1963 he was convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela served 27 years in prison before an international lobbying campaign finally won his release in 1990.
In 1994, Mandela was elected President and formed a Government of National Unity in an attempt to diffuse ethnic tensions. As President, he established a new constitution and initiated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses and to uncover the truth about crimes of the South African government, using amnesty as a mechanism.
Nelson Mandela was a powerful and inspirational leader who eloquently and forcefully spoke truth to power. As tributes are published over the coming days, the corporate media will paint a sanitized portrait of Mandela that leaves out much of who he was. We expect to see 'safe' Mandela quotes such as "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" or "after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."
We wanted to share some Nelson Mandela quotes which we don't expect to read in the corporate media's obituaries:
# # #
by Richard Eskow
This Thursday, December 5, workers at fast-food restaurants around the country will be striking for higher pay and better working conditions. Their primary demand is an increase in their base hourly wages to $15 an hour.
Here are 12 things you should know about Thursday’s action.
1. If wages had kept pace with productivity gains, the minimum wage would be over $16 an hour.
Corporate profits have soared. Workers are producing more, but they’re not sharing in the rewards.
Productivity and the minimum wage generally increased at the same rate from 1947 to 1969, during this country’s postwar boom years. Using a conservative benchmark, economists Dean Baker and Will Kimball determined that the minimum wage would be $16.54 today if it had continued to keep pace with productivity.
The strikers are asking for $15 an hour.
(Source: Baker and Kimball, Center for Economic and Policy Research)
2. The average fast food worker makes $8.69 an hour.
Many jobs pay at or near the minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour. And an estimated 87 percent of fast food workers receive no health benefits.
(Source: UC Berkeley Labor Center)
3. The CEO of McDonald’s Corporation makes $13.8 million per year.
That’s a 237 percent pay increase over last year, when he was paid a “mere” $4.1 million. Presumably health benefits are also included.
(Source: USA Today)
4. McDonald’s cost the American taxpayer an estimated $1.2 billion in public assistance per year.
In other words, taxpayer money is subsidizing this large corporation’s profits – at the expense of American workers.
(Source: National Employment Law Project)
5. McDonald’s made $1.5 billion in profits last quarter.
That’s up 5 percent from the previous year.
(Source: McDonald’s Corporation)
6. The 10 largest fast food companies cost taxpayers an estimated $3.9 billion in government health assistance and $1.04 billion in food assistance.
Republicans are demanding cuts to government health and food programs. With all the talk of deficit reduction, it’s surprising that no one has pointed out that a great way to lower expenditures would be by ending these backdoor subsidies for highly profitable corporations.
(Source: UC Berkeley Labor Center)
7. These 10 companies earned $7.4 billion in profits last year.
They also paid out $7.7 billion in dividends. Meanwhile …
(Source: National Employment Law Project)
8. Fast food workers are more than twice as likely to be on public assistance.
25 percent of American workers receive some form of public assistance – which is a disturbing figure itself. For fast food workers that figure was 52 percent.
And it’s not just part-time work that’s causing the problem. More than half of full-time fast food workers receive some form of public assistance.
9. Most of the workers who would be affected by this wage change are adults.
We also hear that it’s not necessary to raise the minimum wage, especially for fast food workers, because most of them are “kids” working a few hours each week for pocket money. Think of this as the “malt shoppe” argument.
But it’s not true. Most low-wage workers are adults. Nationally, adults make up 88 percent of the workers who would receive a raise if the minimum wage were increased to $10.10 per hour. In locales as distinct as New York State and Albuquerque, New Mexico, that figure rises to 92 percent.
10. Over 7 million children live in minimum-wage households.
And many of these workers are parents. Seven million children – nearly one American child in ten – feels the effects of low wages.
(Source: data from the National Women’s Law Center)
11. This strike is targeting large employers.
66 percent of low-wage workers are employed by organizations with 100 employees or more. Thursday’s strikers aren’t targeting mom-and-pop operations. They’re striking against some of America’s largest corporations.
How large? McDonald’s employs 707,850 people. Yum! Brands (better known as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC) employs 379,449 people. Altogether these 10 companies employ 2,251,956 people.
The workforce for these ten companies is greater than the populations of Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming, states which hold 28 seats in the United States Senate. Shouldn’t these fast-food workers have a voice of some kind too?
(Sources: National Employment Law Project, US Census Bureau)
12. There’s probably a rally near you.
(Source: Low Pay Is Not OK)