Tuesday, August 27, 2013

It Is Illegal To Feed The Homeless In Cities All Over The United States

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What would you do if a police officer threatened to arrest you for trying to share a sandwich with a desperately hungry homeless woman that really needed it?  Such a notion sounds absolutely bizarre, but this is actually happening in major cities all over the United States.  More than 50 large U.S. cities have adopted "anti-camping" or "anti-food sharing" laws in recent years, and in many of these cities the police are strictly enforcing these laws.  Sometimes the goal appears to be to get the homeless people to go away.  Apparently the heartless politicians that are passing these laws believe that if the homeless can't get any more free food and if they keep getting thrown into prison for "illegal camping" they will eventually decide to go somewhere else where they won't be hassled so much.  This is yet another example of how heartless our society is becoming.  The middle class is being absolutely shredded and poverty is absolutely exploding, but meanwhile the hearts of many Americans are growing very cold.  If this continues, what is the future of America going to look like?
An organization called Love Wins Ministries made national headlines recently when police in Raleigh, North Carolina threatened to arrest them if they distributed sausage biscuits and coffee to homeless people living in the heart of the city.  Love Wins Ministries had been doing this for years, but now it is apparently illegal.  The following is from someone who was actually there...
On the morning of Saturday, August, 24, Love Wins showed up at Moore Square at 9:00 a.m., just like we have done virtually every Saturday and Sunday for the last six years. We provide, without cost or obligation, hot coffee and a breakfast sandwich to anyone who wants one. We keep this promise to our community in cooperation with five different, large suburban churches that help us with manpower and funding.
On that morning three officers from Raleigh Police Department prevented us from doing our work, for the first time ever. An officer said, quite bluntly, that if we attempted to distribute food, we would be arrested.
Our partnering church brought 100 sausage biscuits and large amounts of coffee. We asked the officers for permission to disperse the biscuits to the over 70 people who had lined up, waiting to eat. They said no. I had to face those who were waiting and tell them that I could not feed them, or I would be arrested.
Does reading that upset you?
It should.
And this is not just happening in Raleigh - this is literally happening all over the country.
In Orlando, Florida laws against feeding the homeless were actually upheld in court...
Since when is it illegal to give somebody food? In Orlando FL, it has been since April 2011, when a group of activists lost a court battle against the city to overturn its 2006 laws that restrict sharing food with groups of more than 25 people. The ordinance requires those who do these “large” charitable food sharings in parks within two miles of City Hall to obtain a permit and limits each group to two permits per park for a year.
That is yet another example of how corrupt and unjust our court system has become.
The funny thing is that some of these control freak politicians actually believe that they are "helping" the homeless by passing such laws.  In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has banned citizens from donating food directly to homeless shelters and he is actually convinced that it was the right thing to do for the homeless...
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s food police have struck again!
Outlawed are food donations to homeless shelters because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content, reports CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.
Glenn Richter arrived at a West Side synagogue on Monday to collect surplus bagels — fresh nutritious bagels — to donate to the poor. However, under a new edict from Bloomberg’s food police he can no longer donate the food to city homeless shelters.
Do you really think that the homeless care about the "salt, fat and fiber content" of their food?
Of course not.
They just want to eat.
It would be one thing if there were just a few isolated cities around the nation that were passing these kinds of laws.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  In fact, according to USA Today, more than 50 large cities have passed such laws...
Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City and more than 50 other cities have previously adopted some kind of anti-camping or anti-food-sharing laws, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
You can find many more examples of this phenomenon in one of my previous articles.
What in the world is happening to America?
The way that we treat the most vulnerable members of our society says a lot about who we are as a nation.

The Leveraged Buyout of America

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Giant bank holding companies now own airports, toll roads, and ports; control power plants; and store and hoard vast quantities of commodities of all sorts. They are systematically buying up or gaining control of the essential lifelines of the economy. How have they pulled this off, and where have they gotten the money?
In a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dated June 27, 2013, US Representative Alan Grayson and three co-signers expressed concern about the expansion of large banks into what have traditionally been non-financial commercial spheres. Specifically:
[W]e are concerned about how large banks have recently expanded their businesses into such fields as electric power production, oil refining and distribution, owning and operating of public assets such as ports and airports, and even uranium mining.
After listing some disturbing examples, they observed:
According to legal scholar Saule Omarova, over the past five years, there has been a “quiet transformation of U.S. financial holding companies.” These financial services companies have become global merchants that seek to extract rent from any commercial or financial business activity within their reach.  They have used legal authority in Graham-Leach-Bliley to subvert the “foundational principle of separation of banking from commerce. . . .
It seems like there is a significant macro-economic risk in having a massive entity like, say JP Morgan, both issuing credit cards and mortgages, managing municipal bond offerings, selling gasoline and electric power, running large oil tankers, trading derivatives, and owning and operating airports, in multiple countries.
A “macro” risk indeed – not just to our economy but to our democracy and our individual and national sovereignty. Giant banks are buying up our country’s infrastructure – the power and supply chains that are vital to the economy. Aren’t there rules against that? And where are the banks getting the money?
How Banks Launder Money Through the Repo Market
In an illuminating series of articles on Seeking Alpha titled “Repoed!”, Colin Lokey argues that  the investment arms of large Wall Street banks are using their “excess” deposits – the excess of deposits over loans – as collateral for borrowing in the repo market. Repos, or “repurchase agreements,” are used to raise short-term capital. Securities are sold to investors overnight and repurchased the next day, usually day after day.
The deposit-to-loan gap for all US banks is now about $2 trillion, and nearly half of this gap is in Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo alone. It seems that the largest banks are using the majority of their deposits (along with the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing dollars) not to back loans to individuals and businesses but to borrow for their own trading. Buying assets with borrowed money is called a “leveraged buyout.” The banks are leveraging our money to buy up ports, airports, toll roads, power, and massive stores of commodities.
Using these excess deposits directly for their own speculative trading would be blatantly illegal, but the banks have been able to avoid the appearance of impropriety by borrowing from the repo market. (See my earlier article here.) The banks’ excess deposits are first used to purchase Treasury bonds, agency securities, and other highly liquid, “safe” securities. These liquid assets are then pledged as collateral in repo transactions, allowing the banks to get “clean” cash to invest as they please. They can channel this laundered money into risky assets such as derivatives, corporate bonds, and equities (stock).
That means they can buy up companies. Lokey writes, “It is common knowledge that prop [proprietary] trading desks at banks can and do invest in a variety of assets, including stocks.” Prop trading desks invest for the banks’ own accounts. This was something that depository banks were forbidden to do by the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act but that was allowed in 1999 by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed those portions of Glass-Steagall.
The result has been a massively risky $700-plus trillion speculative derivatives bubble. Lokey quotes from an article by Bill Frezza in the January 2013 Huffington Post titled “Too-Big-To-Fail Banks Gamble With Bernanke Bucks“:
If you think [the cash cushion from excess deposits] makes the banks less vulnerable to shock, think again. Much of this balance sheet cash has been hypothecated in the repo market, laundered through the off-the-books shadow banking system. This allows the proprietary trading desks at these “banks” to use that cash as collateral to take out loans to gamble with. In a process called hyper-hypothecation this pledged collateral gets pyramided, creating a ticking time bomb ready to go kablooey when the next panic comes around.
That Explains the Mountain of Excess Reserves
Historically, banks have attempted to maintain a loan-to-deposit ratio of close to 100%, meaning they were “fully loaned up” and making money on their deposits. Today, however, that ratio is only 72% on average; and for the big derivative banks, it is much lower. For JPMorgan, it is only 31%. The unlent portion represents the “excess deposits” available to be tapped as collateral for the repo market.
The Fed’s quantitative easing contributes to this collateral pool by converting less-liquid mortgage-backed securities into cash in the banks’ reserve accounts. This cash is not something the banks can spend for their own proprietary trading, but they can invest it in “safe” securities – Treasuries and similar securities that are also the sort of collateral acceptable in the repo market. Using this repo collateral, the banks can then acquire the laundered cash with which they can invest or speculate for their own accounts.
Lokey notes that US Treasuries are now being bought by banks in record quantities. These bonds stay on the banks’ books for Fed supervision purposes, even as they are being pledged to other parties to get cash via repo. The fact that such pledging is going on can be determined from the banks’ balance sheets, but it takes some detective work. Explaining the intricacies of this process, the evidence that it is being done, and how it is hidden in plain sight takes Lokey three articles, to which the reader is referred. Suffice it to say here that he makes a compelling case.
Can They Do That?
Countering the argument that “banks can’t really do anything with their excess reserves” and that “there is no evidence that they are being rehypothecated,” Lokey points to data coming to light in conjunction with JPMorgan’s $6 billion “London Whale” fiasco. He calls it “clear-cut proof that banks trade stocks (and virtually everything else) with excess deposits.” JPM’s London-based Chief Investment Office [CIO] reported:
JPMorgan’s businesses take in more in deposits that they make in loans and, as a result, the Firm has excess cash that must be invested to meet future liquidity needs and provide a reasonable return. The primary reponsibility of CIO, working with JPMorgan’s Treasury, is to manage this excess cash. CIO invests the bulk of JPMorgan’s excess cash in high credit quality, fixed income securities, such as municipal bonds, whole loans, and asset-backed securities, mortgage backed securities, corporate securities, sovereign securities, and collateralized loan obligations.
Lokey comments:
That passage is unequivocal — it is as unambiguous as it could possibly be. JPMorgan invests excess deposits in a variety of assets for its own account and as the above clearly indicates, there isn’t much they won’t invest those deposits in. Sure, the first things mentioned are “high quality fixed income securities,” but by the end of the list, deposits are being invested in corporate securities [stock] and CLOs [collateralized loan obligations]. . . . [T]he idea that deposits are invested only in Treasury bonds, agencies, or derivatives related to such “risk free” securities is patently false.
He adds:
[I]t is no coincidence that stocks have rallied as the Fed has pumped money into the coffers of the primary dealers while ICI data shows retail investors have pulled nearly a half trillion from U.S. equity funds over the same period. It is the banks that are propping stocks.
Another Argument for Public Banking
All this helps explain why the largest Wall Street banks have radically scaled back their lending to the local economy. It appears that JPMorgan’s loan-to-deposit ratio is only 31% not because the bank could find no creditworthy borrowers for the other 69% but because it can profit more from buying airports and commodities through its prop trading desk than from making loans to small local businesses.
Small and medium-sized businesses are responsible for creating most of the jobs in the economy, and they are struggling today to get the credit they need to operate. That is one of many reasons that banking needs to be a public utility. Publicly-owned banks can direct credit where it is needed in the local economy; can protect public funds from confiscation through “bail-ins” resulting from bad gambling in by big derivative banks; and can augment public coffers with banking revenues, allowing local governments to cut taxes, add services, and salvage public assets from fire-sale privatization. Publicly-owned banks have a long and successful history, and recent studies have found them to be the safest in the world.
As Representative Grayson and co-signers observed in their letter to Chairman Bernanke, the banking system is now dominated by “global merchants that seek to extract rent from any commercial or financial business activity within their reach.” They represent a return to a feudal landlord economy of unearned profits from rent-seeking. We need a banking system that focuses not on casino profiteering or feudal rent-seeking but on promoting economic and social well-being; and that is the mandate of the public banking sector globally.

Plutocrats' New Pitch: Let Us Rob You Now So You Can Plan Ahead for Poverty

Pete Peterson & Co. kindly want to take your Social Security away to prevent you from imagining a dignified future.
 
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Somehow, I’ve wound up on the mailing list for a group of oligarchs campaigning to swindle Americans out of their hard-earned retirement insurance. Hedge fund billionaire Pete Peterson, the budget buffoons Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, and the rest of their merry band of hustlers over at the hilariously named Committee for a Responsible Budget have asked me to consider their latest proposal.
So I thought I’d oblige them, what the heck.
Judging from the shrill headline in their mailing [full text here], these men (and a token woman or two) wish to sell me on the idea of “Social Security Reform and the Cost of Delay.”
The cost of delay? Boys, I hear you on that. Any delay in ripping me off must be very costly — for you.
Social Security, the most prudently managed and economically sound retirement program the country has ever seen, and with the very lowest costs, is preventing you from piling up even more money in your bank accounts. Trust me, I really do understand how you feel:  Financiers desperately wish to get their mitts on American retirements so they can charge all sorts of outrageous fees. And you hate the prospect of having to pay higher taxes in the future if you don’t “fix” Social Security.
I know how diligently you've tried to privatize America's best-loved program in order to get this show going. You must be bone tired! And I also fully get that as rich people interested far more in the size of your bank accounts than anything so trifling as, say, the strength and health of your country, you hate paying taxes of any kind. You deeply resent such citizen responsibilities, and so you want to cut Social Security as quickly as possible (calling your cutting “reform,” you clever marketing devils!) because doing so will lessen your already minuscule tax burden. Your aim is to hurt America’s retirement program to the point where you can bring up your privatization hustle again. Does that about sum it up?
The thing is, though, cutting Social Security does not make any economic sense for the other 99 percent of the country. The program is in very good shape, hard-working Americans have paid into it, and if (and that’s a big if) any adjustments need to be made a decade or two down the road, we can talk about it then. For now, the only real justification for cutting seems to be the prospect of fattening your bank accounts. Sorry, not sold. I know that's one less yacht for you but I think you can live with it.
Your fear-mongering pitch to me is filled with all sorts of extraordinary economic predictions, which are all the more amazing as none of you had so much as the ghost of an idea that the financial crisis was coming. But never mind, you in your infinite wisdom know that based on your calculations, if you don’t rob me by cutting Social Security now, I will lose benefits in the future. You may not realize I actually read economic projections written by legitimate economists, who inform me that your predictions are worth about as much as those of a carnival fortune-teller. Probably less.
In their paper, “Deficit Fantasies in the Great Recession,” Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson, both of the Institute of New Economic Thinking, write:
“Current discussions of Social Security [fall] into two groups: One rails on about how ‘runaway entitlements’ are leading to a deficit explosion; while the other advises patronizingly that Social Security can be saved in the long run by timely changes, typically involving a mix of taxes and benefit cuts, including, notably, yet another rise in the age of eligibility for the program. Neither point of view is persuasive.”
The authors explain how the “deficit explosion” story can be immediately dismissed, but you’re probably aware that that particular line isn’t really working anymore, since more Americans have figured out that 1) Social Security has nearly nothing to do with the deficit; and 2) the deficit is rapidly shrinking. Bummer for you!
So you’ve turned to the old lie about Social Security solvency. Unfortunately for you, economists who have looked closely at the issue do not buy it. Ferguson and Johnson write:
"It is true that Social Security tax receipts declined during the Great Recession, so that for the first time since 1983, the program’s outlays exceeded revenues by a small amount. But this in no way threatens the program’s basic solvency. In 1983, Congress enacted into law recommendations of the Greenspan Commission to raise Social Security taxes to cover the retirement bulge coming from baby boomers. Since then, the program has piled up enormous surpluses. These have been invested in government bonds, thus helping to finance the rest of the government.
As the baby boomers mature, the surplus funds will be drawn down. The 2010 Report of the Trustees of the Social Security Trust Fund projects that the Trust Fund and interest earnings from it will suffice to cover all benefit payments until 2037. Even then, the Fund will not be empty – the Trustees Report projects that the Trust Fund would still cover 75% of all benefits due.” [The latest report from 2012 says more or less the same thing].
So listen up, fellas, if we do need to make a little tweak down the road, let’s make a deal. Since taxpayers like me funded the bank bailouts, how about raising the cap on earnings subject to the Social Security tax, which is currently just a little over $100,000? Wait, what’s that you say? You don’t like that because it means that you would pay your share and I would not get screwed. Well, that's not very sporting of you, is it? Seems like the 1 percent has done pretty well over the last few decades.
Overall, though, I must say I am impressed by the consistency of your crystal-ball reading, because your predictions always point miraculously to the same conclusion: “We’ve got to take your money now, because the future is going to be very bad!”
I appreciate your concern. Mugging me now allows me to better plan ahead for a bleak and ill-funded future. Thanks to your consideration, I could go ahead and start purchasing cat food now and perhaps develop a taste for it. But I think I’d rather just hold on to my Social Security if it’s all the same to you. I kind of think that robbing me of a dignified retirement (which, frankly, looks pretty paltry compared to the rest of the civilized world) is not going to do much for the health of the economy or the cohesion of society.
I have this funny feeling that young people forced to take time away from their jobs to care for poverty-stricken parents and more strain on disability rosters (which you are always complaining about, remember?!?) and less money in the pockets of elderly consumers to pay for healthcare and food doesn’t really sound like a good idea. 
Let’s be real, boys. You already got away with murder with your swindles leading up to the Great Recession, and you’ve sucked a lot more money out of the pockets of regular folks in the years since then, spreading your embarrassingly discredited austerity messages (how funny was that Stephen Colbert bit on your favorite debunked economists, Reinhart and Rogoff!). You've triumphed in getting teachers laid off and pensions stripped and whatnot. You have been very successful, and you can raise a glass of bubbly to the financial coup you’ve pulled off. There’s not really much more left to rob, in case you haven’t noticed.
But there are limits. A look at history might suggest to you that pillaging too many people of too much for too long may actually result in said people deciding they have had enough of you. Occupy was a hint.
Yet despite the fact that survey after survey reveals Americans do not want to see cuts to Social Security, and in the face of studies by political scientists who prove that such policy views as yours only reflect the designs of the wealthy, you are undeterred. Time, you warn me, is running out if I don’t start playing your tune and ask policy makers to enact these “changes” you insist upon to make you richer.
Here’s a warning from me: With profits for the wealthy at Gilded Age levels, the population looks to be waking up. Time may be running out for you.

Fukushima leak is 'much worse than we were led to believe'

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A nuclear expert has told the BBC that he believes the current water leaks at Fukushima are much worse than the authorities have stated.
Mycle Schneider is an independent consultant who has previously advised the French and German governments.
He says water is leaking out all over the site and there are no accurate figures for radiation levels.
Meanwhile the chairman of Japan's nuclear authority said that he feared there would be further leaks.
The ongoing problems at the Fukushima plant increased in recent days when the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) admitted that around 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank on the site.
Moment of crisis
The Japanese nuclear energy watchdog raised the incident level from one to three on the international scale that measures the severity of atomic accidents.

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It is leaking out from the basements, it is leaking out from the cracks all over the place”
Mycle SchneiderNuclear consultant
This was an acknowledgement that the power station was in its greatest crisis since the reactors melted down after the tsunami in 2011.
But some nuclear experts are concerned that the problem is a good deal worse than either Tepco or the Japanese government are willing to admit.
They are worried about the enormous quantities of water, used to cool the reactor cores, which are now being stored on site.
Some 1,000 tanks have been built to hold the water. But these are believed to be at around 85% of their capacity and every day an extra 400 tonnes of water are being added.
"The quantities of water they are dealing with are absolutely gigantic," said Mycle Schneider, who has consulted widely for a variety of organisations and countries on nuclear issues.
"What is the worse is the water leakage everywhere else - not just from the tanks. It is leaking out from the basements, it is leaking out from the cracks all over the place. Nobody can measure that.
The increase in storage of radioactive water at the Fukushima nuclear plantSatellite images show how the number of water storage tanks has increased in the past two years. The tanks store contaminated water that has been used to cool the reactors.
"It is much worse than we have been led to believe, much worse," said Mr Schneider, who is lead author for the World Nuclear Industry status reports.
At news conference, the head of Japan's nuclear regulation authority Shunichi Tanaka appeared to give credence to Mr Schneider's concerns, saying that he feared there would be further leaks.
``We should assume that what has happened once could happen again, and prepare for more. We are in a situation where there is no time to waste," he told reporters.
The lack of clarity about the water situation and the continued attempts by Tepco to deny that water was leaking into the sea has irritated many researchers.
Dr Ken Buesseler is a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has examined the waters around Fukushima.
"It is not over yet by a long shot, Chernobyl was in many ways a one week fire-explosive event, nothing with the potential of this right on the ocean."
"We've been saying since 2011 that the reactor site is still leaking whether that's the buildings and the ground water or these new tank releases. There's no way to really contain all of this radioactive water on site."
"Once it gets into the ground water, like a river flowing to the sea, you can't really stop a ground water flow. You can pump out water, but how many tanks can you keep putting on site?"
Several scientists also raised concerns about the vulnerability of the huge amount of stored water on site to another earthquake.
Graphic of water tank contamination at FukushimaWater from the storage tanks has seeped into the groundwater and then into the sea. Efforts to use a chemical barrier to prevent sea contamination have not worked.
New health concerns
The storage problems are compounded by the ingress of ground water, running down from the surrounding hills. It mixes with radioactive water leaking out of the basements of the reactors and then some of it leaches into the sea, despite the best efforts of Tepco to stem the flow.
Some of the radioactive elements like caesium that are contained in the water can be filtered by the earth. Others are managing to get through and this worries watching experts.
"Our biggest concern right now is if some of the other isotopes such as strontium 90 which tend to be more mobile, get through these sediments in the ground water," said Dr Buesseler.
"They are entering the oceans at levels that then will accumulate in seafood and will cause new health concerns."
There are also worries about the spent nuclear fuel rods that are being cooled and stored in water pools on site. Mycle Schneider says these contain far more radioactive caesium than was emitted during the explosion at Chernobyl.
"There is absolutely no guarantee that there isn't a crack in the walls of the spent fuel pools. If salt water gets in, the steel bars would be corroded. It would basically explode the walls, and you cannot see that; you can't get close enough to the pools," he said.
The "worsening situation" at Fukushima has prompted a former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland to call for the withdrawal of Tokyo's Olympic bid.
In a letter to the UN secretary general, Mitsuhei Murata says the official radiation figures published by Tepco cannot be trusted. He says he is extremely worried about the lack of a sense of crisis in Japan and abroad.
This view is shared by Mycle Schneider, who is calling for an international taskforce for Fukushima.
"The Japanese have a problem asking for help. It is a big mistake; they badly need it."

US income has declined by 7.2% since 2000: Report

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US median income has declined by 7.2 percent since 2000 presenting fresh evidence of the deep economic stagnation the nation has suffered for more than a decade, according to a new report.

US median household income, adjusted for inflation, has also fallen 4.4 percent to $52,098 since the recession officially ended in 2009, according to the report released Wednesday from Sentier Research. 

Current US median household income is 6.1 percent below the $55,480 that the median household took in when the recession began in December 2007. 

The report, underscoring the lasting damage wrought by the economic downturn, is based on an analysis of Census Bureau data. 

Economists view median income as a key marker for the well-being of the nation’s middle class. 

Analysts said the report reflects the shrinking middle class and the increasing economic gap between the rich and poor, indicated in previous studies as well. 

“Median income is affected by trends in inequality, and you are seeing that to the extent there has been income growth in the past decade, it has disproportionately gone to those at the top and very top,” said Gregory Acs, director of the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute, a research organization. 

Income is down even though the number of people who report having a college degree is up sharply since the end of the recession, the report said. 

Part of the decline in Americans’ income is because of the surge in part-time hiring by US businesses. 

Three out of four of the nearly 1 million people hired by US businesses this year are working part-time or receive low wages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Thousands of frustrated fast-food and retail workers in the US are planning another job strike across the country on Aug, 29 to protest low wages and part-time work.

Thirteen Things the Government Is Trying to Keep Secret from You

“We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted…the Patriot Act.  As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.  This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.”  - US Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udal

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The President, the Head of the National Security Agency (NSA), the Department of Justice, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and the Judiciary, are intentionally keeping massive amounts of information about surveillance of US and other people secret from voters.  

Additionally, some are, to say it politely, not being factually accurate in what they are telling the public.  These inaccurate statements are either intentional lies meant to mislead the public or they are evidence that the people who are supposed to be in charge of oversight do not know what they are supposed to be overseeing.  The most recent revelations from the Washington Post, by way of Edward Snowden, indicate the NSA breaks privacy rules or overstep its legal authority thousands of times each year.   Whether people are lying or do not know what they are doing, either way, this is a significant crisis.  Here are thirteen examples.

1. The Government seizes and searches all internet and text communications which enter or leave the US.

On August 8, 2013, the New York Times reported that the NSA secretly collects virtually all international email and text communications which cross the US borders in or out.   As the ACLU says, “the NSA thinks it’s okay to intercept and then read Americans’ emails, so long as it does so really quickly.  But that is not how the Fourth Amendment works…the invasion of Americans’ privacy is real and immediate.”

2. The Government created and maintains secret backdoor access into all databases in order to search for information on US citizens.

On August 9, 2013, The Guardian revealed yet another Edward Snowden leaked document which points out “the National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases under a legal authority enabling it to search for US citizens’ email and phone calls without a warrant.”  This is a new set of secrets about surveillance of people in the US.  This new policy of 2011 allows searching by US person names and identifiers when the NSA is collecting data.  The document declares that analysts should not implement these queries until an oversight process has been developed.   No word on whether such a process was developed or not.

3. The Government operates a vast database which allows it to sift through millions of records on the internet to show nearly everything a person does.

Recent disclosures by Snowden and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian demonstrate the NSA operates a massive surveillance program called XKeyscore.   The surveillance program has since been confirmed by other CIA officials.   It allows the government to enter a person’s name or other question into the program and sift through oceans of data to produce everything there is on the internet by or about that person or other search term.

4.  The Government has a special court which meets in secret to authorize access for the FBI and other investigators to millions and millions of US phone, text, email and business records.

There is a special court of federal judges which meets in secret to authorize the government to gather and review millions and millions of phone and internet records.  This court, called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court), allows government lawyers to come before them in secret, with no representatives of the public or press or defense counsel allowed, to argue unopposed for more and more surveillance.   This is the court which, in just one of its thousands of rulings, authorized the handing over of all call data created by Verizon within the US and between the US and abroad to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.    The public would never have known about the massive surveillance without the leaked documents from Snowden.  

5. The Government keeps Top Secret nearly all the decisions of the FISA court.

Nearly all of the thousands of decisions of the FISA court are themselves classified as top secret.   Though the public is not allowed to know what the decisions are, public records do show how many times the government asked for surveillance authorization and how many times they were denied.   These show that in the last three years, the government asked for authorization nearly 5000 times and they were never denied.   In its entire history, the FISA court has denied just 11 of 34,000 requests for surveillance.

As noted above, two US Senators warned the Attorney General ‘We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act.  As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.  This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should stay when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.” 

6. The Government is fighting to keep Top Secret a key 2011 decision of the FISA court even after the court itself said it can be made public.

There is an 86 page 2011 top secret opinion of the FISA court which declared some of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs unconstitutional.  The Administration, through the Department of Justice, refused to hand this over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation which filed a public records request and a lawsuit to make this public.  First the government said it would hurt the FISA court to allow this to be made public.  Then the FISA court itself said it can be made public.  Despite this, the government is still fighting to keep it secret. 

7. The Government uses secret National Security Letters (NSL) issued by the FBI to seize tens of thousands of records.

With a NSL letter the FBI can demand financial records from any institution from banks to casinos, all telephone records, subscriber information, credit reports, employment information, and all email records of the target as well as the email addresses and screen names for anyone who has contacted that account.  Those who received the NSLs from the FBI are supposed to keep them secret.  The reason is supposed to be for foreign counterintelligence.  There is no requirement for court approval at all.  So no requests have been denied.  The Patriot Act has made this much easier for the FBI. 

According to Congressional records, there have been over 50,000 of these FBI NSL requests in the last three years.   This does not count the numerous times where the FBI persuades the disclosure of information without getting a NSL.  Nor does it count FBI requests made just to find out who an email account belongs to.  These reported NSL numbers also do not include the very high numbers of administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI which only require approval of a member of the local US Attorney’s office.

8. The National Security Head was caught not telling the truth to Congress about the surveillance of millions of US citizens.

The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told US Senate on March 12 2013 that the NSA did not wittingly collect information on millions of Americans.  After the Snowden Guardian disclosures, Clapper admitted to NBC that what he said to Congress was the “least untruthful” reply he could think of.    The agency no longer denies that it collects the emails of American citizens.   In a recent white paper, the NSA now admits they do “collect telephony metadata in bulk,” but they do not unconstitutionally “target” American citizens. 

9. The Government falsely assured the US public in writing that privacy protections are significantly stronger than they actually are and Senators who knew better were not allowed to disclose the truth.

Two US Senators wrote the NSA a letter objecting to one “inaccurate statement” and another “somewhat misleading statement” made by the NSA in their June 2013 public fact sheet about surveillance.  What are the inaccurate or misleading statements?  The public is not allowed to know because the Senators had to point out the details in a secret classified section of their letter. 

In the public part of their letter they did say “In our judgment this inaccuracy is significant, as it portrays protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they actually are…”  The Senators point out that the NSA public statement assures people that communications of US citizens which are accidently acquired are promptly destroyed unless it is evidence of a crime.  However, the Senators wrote that the NSA does in fact deliberately search the records of American citizens and that the NSA has said repeatedly that it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the US whose communications have been reviewed under the authority of the FISA laws.  The NSA responded to these claims in an odd way.  They did not say publicly what the misleading or inaccurate statements were nor did they correct the record, instead they just deleted the fact sheet from the NSA website. 

10. The chief defender of spying in the House of Representatives, the Chair of the oversight intelligence subcommittee, did not tell the truth or maybe worse did not know the truth about surveillance.

Mike Rogers, Chair of the House Permanent Intelligence Subcommittee, repeatedly told Congress and the public on TV talk shows in July that there was no government surveillance of phone calls or emails. “They do not record your e-mails…None of that was happening, none of it – I mean, zero.”   Later, Snowden and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian disclosed the NSA program called X-keyscore, which intercepts 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications each day.   Now the questions swirl about Rogers, whether he lied, or was lied to by those who engaged in surveillance, or did not understand the programs he was supposed to be providing oversight to.   

11. The House intelligence oversight committee repeatedly refused to provide basic surveillance information to elected members of the House of Representatives, Republican and Democrat.

The House intelligence oversight committee refused to allow any members of Congress outside the committee to see a 2011 document that described the NSA mass phone record surveillance.  This has infuriated Republicans and Democrats who have tried to get basic information to carry out their mandated oversight obligations.  

Republican Representative Morgan Griffith of Virginia wrote the House Committee on Intelligence on June 25, 2013, July 12, 2013, July 22, 2013, and July 23 2013 asking for basic information on the authorization “allowing the NSA to continue collecting data about Americans’ telephone calls.”     He received no response to those requests.  

After asking for basic information from the House Committee about the surveillance programs, Democrat Congressman Alan Grayson was told the committee voted to deny his request on a voice vote.  When he followed up and asked for a copy of the recorded vote he was told he could not get the information because the transcript of the committee hearing was classified.  

12. The paranoia about secrecy of surveillance is so bad in the House of Representatives that an elected member of Congress was threatened for passing around copies of the Snowden disclosures which had been already printed in newspapers worldwide.

Representative Alan Grayson was threatened with sanctions for passing around copies of the Snowden information on the House floor, the same information published by The Guardian and many other newspapers around the world. 

13. The Senate oversight committee refused to allow a dissenting Senator to publicly discuss his objections to surveillance.

When Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) tried to amend the surveillance laws to require court orders before the government could gather communications of American citizens and to disclose how many Americans have had their communications gathered, he lost in a secret 2012 hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  He was then also prohibited from publicly registering or explaining his opposition for weeks.  

These attempts to keep massive surveillance secrets from the public are aggravated by the constant efforts to minimize the secrets and maximize untruths.

Most notably, despite all this documented surveillance, on August 6, 2013, the President said on the Jay Leno show “We don’t have a domestic spying program.”   This is, to say it most politely, not accurate.  Some commentators think the government is perversely tying itself in knots and twisting the real meaning of words with flimsy legal arguments and irrational word games.   Others say the President is engaged in “Orwellian newspeak.”  Finally, more than a few say the President was not telling the truth. 

Others who are defending the surveillance may not actually know what is going on but think they do because the government, like the President, is telling them there is nothing to worry about. For example, Senator Diane Feinstein, Chair of Senate Intelligence Committee, the congressional oversight committee which is to protect people from unlawful spying, and another chief defender of surveillance, publicly responded to Edward Snowden’s claims to have the ability to wiretap anyone if he had their personal email by saying, “I am not a high-tech techie, but I have been told that is not possible.”   How that squares with revelations about the Xkeyscore program is not known.  She also stated her committee’s position about protecting the privacy of people against government surveillance, “We’re always open to change, but that does not mean there will be any.”  

Conclusion 

Thomas Paine said eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. 

President Obama just promised the nation that he would set up an independent group of outside experts to “step back and review our capabilities – particularly our surveillance technologies.”

Days later Obama appointed the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the same person who has admitted he did not tell Congress the truth about the program, to establish a review group to assess whether surveillance is being done in a manner that maintains the public trust.   After an uproar about the fox guarding the henhouse, the White House reversed itself and said Clapper will not choose the members of the group after all. 

Who these members will be has not been made public as of the time this is written.  Another secret?  Stay vigilant!