Category Archives: Government

NSA: House bill would lower standards for collecting individuals’ data

Draft bill would allow collection of electronic communications records based only on ‘reasonable articulable suspicion’

US phone data NSA: House bill would lower standards for collecting individuals data
The House intelligence committee is circulating a draft bill that would permit the government to acquire the phone or email records of an “individual or facility” inside the US for up to a year.
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The move by the House intelligence committee’s leadership – the Republican chairman Michael Rogers of Michigan and Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland – would significantly prohibit mass surveillance of all Americans’ phone data, a shift in position by two of the most stalwart congressional defenders of the practice. It comes as the New York Times reports that Barack Obama will propose ending bulk collection.

Obama’s self-imposed deadline on revamping the National Security Agency’s collection of bulk domestic phone data is set to expire on Friday.

The bill, titled the End Bulk Collection Act of 2014 and currently circulating on Capitol Hill, would prevent the government from acquiring “records of any electronic communication without the use of specific identifiers or selection terms,” some 10 months after the Guardian first exposed the bulk collection based on leaks by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

But the bill would allow the government to collect electronic communications records based on “reasonable articulable suspicion”, rather than probable cause or relevance to a terrorism investigation, from someone deemed to be an agent of a foreign power, associated with an agent of a foreign power, or “in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power.”

A draft of the bill acquired by the Guardian proposes the acquisition of such phone or email data for up to a year and would not necessarily require prior approval by a judge. Authorisation of the collection would come jointly from the US attorney general and director of national intelligence.

The NSA or the FBI would not be able to collect the content of those communications without probable cause.

Nor does the House intelligence committee’s draft bill require phone companies or any other private entity to store bulk phone records on behalf of the NSA – a proposal that has met with stiff opposition from the telecom companies. In essence, the draft bill gets rid of bulk collection, but makes it easier for government authorities to collect metadata on individuals inside the US suspected of involvement with a foreign power.

The House intelligence committee proposal represents competition to a different bill introduced last fall by privacy advocates in the Senate and House judiciary committees known as the USA Freedom Act.

That bill, which has 163 co-sponsors in both chambers, does not lower the legal standard for data collection on US persons, and would prohibit the NSA from searching for Americans’ identifying information in its foreign-oriented communications content databases, something the House intelligence bill would not.

A spokesperson for the House intelligence committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Rogers and Ruppersberger have scheduled a press conference on Tuesday morning to discuss what they described in a release as “Fisaimprovement legislation” – a reference to the seminal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which their bill would amend.

While a judge would not necessarily review the collection of a US individual’s phone or email records ahead of time, the House intelligence committee bill would require judicial review of the collection procedures and associated privacy protections to “reasonably limit the receipt, retention, use and disclosure of communications records associated with a specific person when such records are not necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or assess the importance of such information”.

A telecom or internet service provider could challenge the collection order before the secret Fisa court under the House intelligence committee proposal. The court would also have latitude to reject challenges “that are not warranted by existing law or consists of a frivolous argument for extending, modifying or reversing existing law or for establishing a new law”, and to impose contempt of court penalties for noncompliant companies.

The attorney general and the director of national intelligence would have to “assess compliance with the selection and the civil liberties and privacy protection procedures” associated with the collection every six months, and submit those assessments to the Fisa court and the intelligence and judiciary committees of the House and Senate.

Additionally, and in keeping with an October proposal from Senate intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California, the House intelligence committee proposal would permit the NSA to continue surveillance for 72 hours on a suspected foreigner’s communications content if that person enters the US.

The House intelligence committee proposal contains provisions embraced by critics of widespread NSA surveillance. It would create a privacy advocate before the Fisa çourt; mandate additional declassification of Fisa court rulings; require the Senate to confirm the NSA director and inspector general.

It also requires annual disclosure of the number of times “in which the contents of a communication of a United States person was acquired under this Act when the acquisition authorized by this Act that resulted in the collection of such contents could not reasonably have been anticipated to capture such contents.”

But in a sign of the continuing contentiousness on Capitol Hill over changes to NSA surveillance, James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and co-author of the USA Freedom Act, preemptively rejected the House intelligence committee proposal, calling it “a convoluted bill that accepts the administration’s deliberate misinterpretations of the law.

“It limits, but does not end, bulk collection. Provisions included in the draft fall well short of the safeguards in the USA Freedom Act and do not strike the proper balance between privacy and security,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement late on Monday.

On Friday, the Obama administration and the intelligence agencies will face the expiration of a Fisa court order for bulk domestic phone records collection. That expiration represents a deadline imposed by Obama in January for his administration to come to reach consensus on the specific contours of post-NSA phone metadata collection.

According to a New York Times report late on Monday, Obama will propose ending bulk phone data collection and replacing it with individualised orders for telecom firms to provide phone records up to two “hops” – or degrees of separation – from a phone number suspected of wrongdoing. The effort goes further towards the position favoured by privacy advocates than Obama proposed in January. Obama will request the Fisa court bless the current bulk collection program for a final 90-day renewal as he attempts to implement the new plan, the Times reported.

The White House declined to comment on Monday about either the End Bulk Collection Act or the USA Freedom Act.

Source: TheGuardian

Rand Paul wants to run for US president and senator at the same time

Rand Paul wants to run for US president and senator at the same time Rand Paul wants to run for US president and senator at the same time

Hoping to fall back on Plan B should his presidential aspirations fizzle, US Senator Rand Paul is seeking legislation that would allow him to run for reelection and for president simultaneously.
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According to the Washington Times, Paul (R-Ky.) has asked Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer to look into proposals that would ensure he can run for both offices at the same time.

“Yes, I am working on clarifying an ambiguous state law that Rand Paul believes is unconstitutional if it is interpreted to bar running for re-election to the Senate and for president at the same time,” Thayer said to the Times on Monday. “The purpose of the bill will be to make clear that Rand Paul or anyone in a similar situation in Kentucky can run for both offices in the same year.”

Paul has been floated as a possible Republican presidential candidate since the end of the 2012 election, and this news suggests the senator continues to explore the possibility of running. He has yet to commit himself to the idea, though just a few months ago he acknowledged he was “seriously thinking about it.”

“The thought has crossed my mind,” Paul said on “Fox News Sunday” in December. “I am seriously thinking about it, but I’m also very serious about family considerations … I’ll just keep doing the things I want to do and, I think, what the people of Kentucky elected me to do. I just am not ready to make a decision yet.”

A law permitting Paul to run for two seats at the same time wouldn’t be completely out of the ordinary. As noted by the Times, politicians in multiple states have done so before, including current Vice President Joe Biden, who was a Democratic senator from Delaware before being elected alongside President Barack Obama.

Still, there’s no guarantee such a proposal would actually pass with support from Democrats, who control the state House of Representatives. State House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D) has reportedly said he would not allow such a measure to pass.

As for Paul, the first-term senator has made a name for himself since he first arrived on Capitol Hill as a Tea Party and libertarian favorite. A social and economic conservative, Paul as diverted from traditional Republican positions on defense and civil liberties, where he has criticized the use of drones overseas and the National Security Agency’s bulk surveillance program.

Source: RT

7 OBAMACARE NUMBERS THAT HAVE DEMOCRATS PANICKING

7 OBAMACARE NUMBERS THAT HAVE DEMOCRATS PANICKING 7 OBAMACARE NUMBERS THAT HAVE DEMOCRATS PANICKINGAs the seemingly endless deluge of negative Obamacare developments continue to mount up, the National Journal’s “Hotline” reported on Thursday that “disapproval of the health care law” has “put Democrats on the defensive” heading into the November midterm elections.

Continue reading «7 OBAMACARE NUMBERS THAT HAVE DEMOCRATS PANICKING»

Here are seven Obamacare figures that have Democratic insiders sweating.

1.  56% of uninsured Americans do not like Obamacare.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s recent polling data reveal that 56% of uninsured Americans–the very people whom Obamacare purports to help–do not like Obamacare.

 

2.  According to the Obama administration’s own figures, Obamacare will spike premiums on 11 million small business employees.

A new report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services concluded that two-thirds of small businesses that offer health insurance will pay higher premiums due to Obamacare. That, reports the Washington Post, means 11 million workers can expect their premiums to jump because of Obamacare. Worse for Democrats, because many employers renewed their pre-Obamacare health plans before the end of 2013, many of these rate spikes will be timed to hit beginning in the second part of 2014 right before the November 4 midterm elections.

 

3.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says Obamacare will kill 2.5 million jobs over the next 10 years.

By creating disincentives to work, the CBO says Obamacare will result in a “decline in the number of full-time equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.”

 

4.  Obamacare will cost taxpayers between $1.8 and $2.6 trillion over the next decade. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has reported that Obamacare will cost American taxpayers $1.798 trillion. The Senate GOP Budget Committee says those figures are based on overly optimistic economic assumptions and scores the real cost at $2.6 trillion.

 

5.  According to the New York Times, 800,000 Obamacare enrollees failed to pay their first premium.

Even as the Obama administration attempts to put a happy face on its low four million enrollees—a figure far removed from its seven million goal–the New York Times says at least 20% of all the people who applied for Obamacare never paid their first month’s premium, thereby rendering them still uninsured.

 

6.  Just 11% of Obamacare customers were previously uninsured.

The purported purpose of Obamacare was to increase health care coverage of uninsured Americans. However, as the Wall Street Journal reported, a McKinsey & Co. study last month found that “only 11% of consumers who bought new coverage under the law were previously uninsured.”

 

7.  Obama reassured Americans at least 36 times that if they liked their health care plan, they could keep their health care plan.

President Barack Obama’s now-infamous promise, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” was named Politifact’s “Lie of the Year.” Obama stated the claim at least 36 times, and several Democrats running in tight races parroted the president’s comments before millions of Americans saw their health insurance plans canceled due to Obamacare. Political ads have already begun hitting voters showcasing Democratic candidates repeating Obama’s ill-fated promise.

Source: Breitbart.com

Limit surveillance to ‘terrorist communication,’ says outgoing NSA boss

Limit surveillance to ‘terrorist communication’ says outgoing NSA boss Limit surveillance to ‘terrorist communication,’ says outgoing NSA boss

General Keith Alexander, the soon-to-be departed chief of the NSA, admitted Thursday in front of a congressional committee that the massive intelligence agency may be open to extracting less, or more targeted metadata from communication companies.
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Classified documents leaked last summer by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the intelligence agency currently compels at least three major telephone providers – Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T – to turn over call information on millions of Americans. Among that information, known as metadata, is the duration of the call, the time the call was made, who the phone call was to, and where it originated.

Snowden disclosed a trove of secret information about US intelligence activity to the press, but the collection of phone metadata has been perhaps the most controversial, in part because of its sheer breadth.

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) was among those hoping to find more when, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, he asked Alexander how the metadata is collected and stored.

Chairman, I think there are three options that you put on the table,” Alexander replied. “You mentioned the government holding it, the ISPs holding it. I think there is yet another option where we look at what data you actually need and only get that data.

Can we come up with a capability that just gets those that are predicated on a terrorist communication? I think you have those three options that I’ve put on the table,” he continued. “Those are three of the ones that I think need to be clearly discussed and the merits from both sides, they have pros and cons on the agility that you would have with the program.”

Alexander was referring to possible reforms to the NSA set forth by US intelligence and law enforcement leaders earlier this week. US President Obama, who has said he is open to reforming the surveillance programs after public scrutiny, tasked the attorney general and other administration officials to propose theories on how the phone metadata collection program could remain in use.

The most radical proposal, according to anonymous sources who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, would be to entirely abandon the collection of telephony metadata. Officials are also considering turning that vast datalog over to a government agency other than the NSA – either the FBI or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, perhaps.

Alexander’s testimony seemed to indicate that the scenario the administration is taking most seriously is leaving the trove metadata with the phone company, with the NSA only forcing the company to handover information about numbers thought to be involved in a web of terrorism.

It’s impossible to guess exactly what Alexander’s intentions are, though, because of the general’s reputation as a surveillance hawk. One unnamed intelligence source told the Washington Post in 2013 that Alexander organized the mass collection of Iraqi telecommunication information as a measure against terror attacks on US troops there. That official implied that Alexander had brought the same approach stateside.

Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, [Alexander’s] approach was, ‘Let’s collect the whole haystack,’” he said. “Collect it all, tag it, store it…And whatever it is you want, you go searching for it.”

Alexander, the public face of the NSA, has kept that stance even in the face of public pressure and questions from lawmakers. He said in October that the NSA could scale back the eavesdropping on foreign leaders, but that the indiscriminate interception should continue, even if the data is turned over to a third party.

I would love to give this hornet’s nest to someone else, to say: ‘You get stung by this.’ But don’t drop it, because that’s our country, and if you drop it, the chance of that a terrorist attack gets through increases,” he said.

Previous reports indicated that the outgoing Alexander would relinquish his position as director by March or April 2014. Administration sources insisted that plans for his departure had been in the works before the Snowden leak, but the agency has been dogged by question and criticism for more than six months.

The true tragedy in all this is the way the press has articulated [the NSA] as the villains when what they are doing is protecting the country and [doing] what we have asked them to do,” Alexander said.

Source: RT

EXPOSED: America’s Highest Paid Government Workers

Report Cover Exposed Americas Highest Paid Goverment Workers EXPOSED: America’s Highest Paid Government Workers

(Madison, WI) – The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released a new report today, “EXPOSED: America’s Highest Paid Government Workers.”

The report shows that, contrary to misinformation spread by some politicians and pundits, America’s highest paid “government” workers are not your local teachers, nurses, or sanitation workers. Rather, they are corporate executives who sign lucrative contracts to take over public services and then pay themselves and other executives eye-popping salaries.
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This report by CMD highlights just six of these “government” workers who, between them, raked in more than $100 million from taxpayers in personal compensation during the past few years alone.

“Given these astronomical salaries, and evidence of higher prices, poor service, and at times outright malfeasance, taxpayers have every right to be concerned about how their outsourced dollars are spent,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of CMD.

These top executives include:

  • George Zoley, America’s highest paid “corrections officer” and CEO of private prison giant GEO Group. Zoley made $22 million in compensation between 2008 and 2012. CMD estimates that GEO Group makes 86 percent of its revenue from the taxpayers. GEO Group writes language into private prison contracts that forces taxpayers to keep prisons full or else pay for empty beds. GEO Group has faced hundreds of lawsuits over prisoner deaths, assaults, excessive force, and more, which have led to secret court settlements.
  • David Steiner, president and CEO of Waste Management, is America’s highest paid “sanitation worker.” Steiner made a whopping $45 million in compensation from 2006 to 2012. Waste Management’s makes about 50 percent of its revenue from U.S. taxpayers, says Goldman Sachs.
  • Ron Packard of K12 Inc. is America’s highest paid “teacher.” Packard made more than $19 million in compensation between 2009 and 2013, despite the alarming fact that only 28 percent of K12 Inc. cyber schools met state standards in 2010-2011, compared to 52 percent of public schools. CMD estimates that K12 Inc. makes 86 percent of its revenue from the taxpayers.
  • Jeffry Sterba, president and CEO of American Water Works Company, is America’s highest paid “water worker.” Sterba has made $8.3 million in the three years he has been top executive. American Water is the largest for-profit provider of water and wastewater services in the United States. CMD estimates that American Water makes approximately 89 percent of its revenue from taxpayers.
  • Richard Montoni, CEO of Maximus, is America’s highest paid “caseworker.” Maximus is a for-profit firm that handles government services for poor and vulnerable residents. Montoni made more than $16 million between 2008 and 2012. In 2013, Maximus landed in hot water for improper billing in Wisconsin. In 2007, Maximus paid $30 million to settle a U.S. Department of Justice criminal investigation into fraudulent billing.
  • Nicholas Moore is America’s highest paid “road worker.” As managing director and CEO of the Australian infrastructure firm Macquarie, Moore made $8.8 million in compensation in fiscal year 2013. As a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Macquarie has pushed for privatization of public services across the board. It has long-term contracts to run Chicago’s Skyway, Indiana’s Toll Road, and the Dulles Greenway in Virginia.

These and other “government workers” who head big firms that take over public assets or contract for services make billions off of taxpayers, but are not accountable to taxpayers for their enormous salaries being subsidized at public expense. The report also contains information on shareholder lawsuits, criminal investigations, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sanctions, court settlements, and more.

Find out more at OutsourcingAmericaExposed.org, and follow the conversation on Twitter at#OutsourcingAmerica.

Freedom to discriminate? Controversial Arizona bill takes step toward becoming law

Freedom to discriminate Freedom to discriminate? Controversial Arizona bill takes step toward becoming law

The Arizona state Senate approved legislation Wednesday permitting businesses in the state to refuse service to potential customers based on an owner’s religious beliefs, infuriating equal rights advocates who claim the bill legalizes LGBT discrimination.
Continue reading «Freedom to discriminate? Controversial Arizona bill takes step toward becoming law»

The bill, known officially as Senate Bill 1062, was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, which voted along strict party lines. State Democrats proposed eight amendments to the bill in an attempt to stop what they decried as discrimination against the gay and lesbian community, but each of those efforts failed.

The most polarizing part of the bill reads, in part:

“’Exercise of religion’ means the practice or observance of religion, including the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”

State Senator Steve Yarbrough, the bill’s sponsor, said he has been pressing for the bill because of a New Mexico state Supreme Court ruling that allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer for refusing to take pictures at their wedding.

The bill’s opponents say that Yarbrough and other social conservatives are trying to portray themselves as martyrs as they aim to pass a vague law that would leave widespread discrimination unchecked.

The Arizona Republic reported that the bill, which has a counterpart in the state House of Representatives known as HB 2153, was written by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy and Alliance Defending Freedom – a non-profit Christian lobby group that dedicates funding to the pro-life movement and has long opposed marriage equality.

The bill now heads to the desk of Republican Governor Jan Brewer. She has five days to sign or veto the bill. If she chooses to ignore it, it will automatically become law. While the governor has given little indication about which way she is leaning, Brewer has forged her reputation as a conservative on similar hot button social issues like immigration and abortion.

EJ Montini, a columnist with the Arizona Republic, said that SB 1062 sets a dangerous precedent for people of various backgrounds.

Essentially what it would do is allow people to refuse service to people who may be gay, who may be of certain religious affiliations – we don’t know, there could be a lot of exposure in this particular bill- only because they have a particular religious belief,” he said. “We really have no issue like this in Arizona and this is extremists in the legislature essentially appeasing zealots out in the community…It is the most ungodly way to view religious freedom.”

While Arizona would be the first state in the US to approve such a bill, other right-leaning states including Idaho, South Dakota, and Kansas have considered similar legislation. A number of the bills have come in response to the federal government’s recent announcement that same-sex couples will be given the same treatment as heterosexual couples under current tax law.

Source: RT

‘Ambassadors for Dummies’: Obama’s payback diplomatic posts make mockery of foreign service

obama diplomatic posts appointees ‘Ambassadors for Dummies’: Obama’s payback diplomatic posts make mockery of foreign service

The Obama administration is under fire for doling out an unprecedented number of plum diplomatic postings to political appointees, many of which go to top dollar campaign contributors, sidelining career diplomats.
Continue reading «‘Ambassadors for Dummies’: Obama’s payback diplomatic posts make mockery of foreign service»

One former ambassador called it the selling of public offices. Another State Department vet blasted it as a patronage practice reflective “of banana republics, dictatorships and two-bit monarchies.”

But the institution of thanking big presidential campaign donors with top posts in diplomatic missions is very American and very real.

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), which boasts 16,400 current and retired diplomats among its ranks, says the number of political appointees serving ambassadorships hit a staggering 37 percent, AFP reports.

US state department 1 ‘Ambassadors for Dummies’: Obama’s payback diplomatic posts make mockery of foreign service

While Obama entered office promising to limit the practice, the State Department’s professional association says the rate of political appointees reached an unprecedented level of 53 percent, once Obama began serving his second term in January 2013.

Under previous administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, that rate fluctuated between 27 and 38 percent.

“It is a real concern for career diplomats,” AFSA president Robert Silverman told AFP.

“We want a debate about qualifications, and not about political influence or donations.”

The organization opted not to discuss specific cases but lists all the White House’s “political” appointees to head foreign missions, including Britain, Canada, China, the European Union, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United Nations.

According to a July report in the Guardian, for 10 out of 12 sought-after postings in Europe, the Caribbean or Asia, the average amount raised by each donor is $1.79 million.

cynthia stroum 2 202x300 ‘Ambassadors for Dummies’: Obama’s payback diplomatic posts make mockery of foreign service“All these people want to go to places where the lifestyle issues [are pleasant], and to some extent that produces this notion that life in these western European embassies is like Perle Mesta,” Thomas Pickering, who recently led the investigation into lethal attacks on the US embassy in Libya and represented the US at the United Nations, told The Guardian at the time. Mesta, the US Ambassador to Luxembourg from 1949–53, picked up the sobriquet “hostess with the mostest” for the lavish parties she threw.

But if Mesta made her name on her soirees, a recent Obama former ambassador to Luxemburg, Cynthia Stroum, left the diplomatic mission in disarray. Stroum, a Seattle venture capitalist who ingratiated herself with the Obama administration as a campaign “bundler” – a wealthy fund-raiser who bundle contributions from multiple donors – was not nearly as generous with her diplomatic staff.

In February 2011, she was forced to step down from the post after a scathing State Department report said she brought “major elements of Embassy Luxembourg to a state of dysfunction.”

After Stroum created an atmosphere which was viewed as “aggressive, bullying, hostile and intimidating,” staffers asked for transfers to war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq rather than stay on at the cushy European embassy.

Following Stroum’s dismissal, the State Department decided to stop issuing such de facto reports on ambassadors.

During Obama’s first term, other political appointees in Malta, Luxembourg, Kenya and the Bahamas were also forced to step down over management issues, the UK’s Independent newspaper reports.

Innocents abroad

Max Baucus, the long serving US senator from Montana, is slated to replace Gary Locke as US ambassador to China. During his confirmation hearing, Baucus admitted to lawmakers: “I am no real expert on China.”

max baucus 3 ‘Ambassadors for Dummies’: Obama’s payback diplomatic posts make mockery of foreign service

 

Baucus, the former head of the Senate Finance Committee with decades of legislative experience in matters of trade, will at least be aware of US economic and political interests regarding China and the strategically vital region.

Other Obama appointees have inspired far less confidence among congress and talking heads alike.

George Tsunis, CEO of Chartwell Hotels, who raised about $1.3 million for Obama and the Democratic Party, raised more than a few eyebrows at his hearing to be confirmed as ambassador to Norway.

Having admitted he’d never actually visited the country, he then went on to refer to Prime Minister Erna Solberg as president of the country and suggested that the conservative Progress Party, which is part of the ruling coalition, was a “fringe element” that “spewed hatred.”
colleen bell 4 235x300 ‘Ambassadors for Dummies’: Obama’s payback diplomatic posts make mockery of foreign serviceObama’s pick for US envoy to Hungary, Colleen Bell, fared no better. Having served as a producer for the TV soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, Bell was unable to answer fundamental questions regarding US strategic interests in Hungary.

When the painfully awkward confirmation session concluded, US Senator John McCain said with a sarcastic grin: “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees.”

Writing for Politico, James Bruno, a retired Foreign Service officer, noted the clear bilateral experience gap.

“For the purposes of comparison, Norway’s ambassador to the Washington is a 31-year Foreign Ministry veteran. Hungary’s ambassador is an economist who worked at the International Monetary Fund for 27 years,” he said.

Bruno said you can chalk up the resume imbalance to one simple fact: “The United States is the only industrialized country to award diplomatic posts as political spoils, often to wealthy campaign contributors in an outmoded system that rivals the patronage practices of banana republics, dictatorships and two-bit monarchies.”

If that were not enough, Noah Bryson Mamet, who was picked to be US ambassador to Argentina, shocked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month by admitting he had never actually been to the country and could not speak Spanish.

Liberal satirist from the Daily Show Jon Stewart was quick to mock Obama’s less-than-qualified appointees.

“Is there a rule that ambassadors can’t have set foot in the country they’re going to ambassador? Would it ruin the surprise?” he said, noting that all three had raised large sums for Obama’s campaign.

The Republican National Committee heaped more scorn on the picks by releasing the “Ambassadors for Dummies” guide.

The guide says step one requires you to “bundle hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Obama campaign.” The envoy-to-be is then asked to “find the country of your appointment on a map “and“visit the country. For at least one day.”
Tom Korologos, who served as US Ambassador to Belgium under George W. Bush, told the Independent he was “amazed” the State Department was letting these people go so unprepared.

“When I went up for confirmation as ambassador to Belgium, I knew more about Belgium than the Belgians did,” he said.

But despite the disdain McCain and other Republicans have shown, Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy who once served as envoy to Afghanistan, told NPR both sides are responsible for the mess.

“There is a law, which both parties ignore, about ambassadors needing to be qualified: the Foreign Service Act of 1980,” Neumann points out. “People still get through even if they are manifestly not qualified.”

Source: RT

US eases rules for banks to do business with licensed pot shops

US eases rules for banks todo business with licensed pot shops US eases rules for banks to do business with licensed pot shops

The Obama administration released on Friday new rules that aim to ease relationships between banks and legal marijuana shops. Banks have been reluctant to allow pot businesses to open accounts given the contradictions between federal and state laws.
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The new guidelines created by the US Department of Justice and the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) signal to banks they can evade the federal government’s wrath as long as the marijuana businesses they are transacting with are following state law and have filed the proper paperwork.

“The Department shares the concerns of public officials and law enforcement about the public safety risks associated with businesses that handle significant amounts of cash,” Justice Dept. spokeswoman Allison Price said in a statement. “These guidelines, together with the Treasury Department’s guidance to financial institutions, are intended to increase the availability of financial services for marijuana businesses — that are licensed and regulated — while at the same time preserving and enhancing important law enforcement tools.”

Though several states have legalized medical marijuana, it wasn’t until Colorado and Washington state passed laws in the last year allowing broader sales of pot that pushed the need for new banking rules. High-profile burglaries of shops in Colorado – the first and only state that has permitted retail outlets to legally sell marijuana to adults for recreational purpose – have occurred in the last month. The shops are targeted based on their necessity to carry cash on hand, given the lack of assurance on the part of banks and credit unions that doing business with marijuana outlets wouldn’t conjure the ire of federal law enforcement.

“There’s a public safety component to this. Huge amounts of cash, substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited, is something that would worry me just from a law enforcement perspective,” US Attorney General Eric Holder said on Jan. 23 during a speech at the University of Virginia.

Friday’s announcement is intended to open up banking services – accepting deposits, offering payroll checks, easing the acceptance of credit cards – for pot shops licensed with a state to sell either medicinal or recreational marijuana.

“Now that some states have elected to legalize and regulate the marijuana trade, FinCEN seeks to move from the shadows the historically covert financial operations of marijuana businesses,” FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery said in a statement. FinCen’s mission is mostly concerned with anti-money laundering laws and keeping banks from serving as fronts for criminal groups.

Yet, according to Politico, the memos issued Friday are sparse in solid details, likely because the Obama administration, in working with states that have legalized pot, has been accused of ignoring the illegality of marijuana use on the federal level.

Nevertheless, the directive tells prosecutors in states where marijuana is legal that they should focus on eight areas of law enforcement pertaining to pot businesses, including drug sales to minors, using a business as a front to sell other illegal drugs or working with drug gangs or cartels.

Banks must verify with their state whether a marijuana business is licensed. Banks also must follow the businesses closely and report suspicious activity to federal authorities in order to stay clear of violating anti-money laundering laws, FinCen said. The federal agency said banks must be aware of whether the stores are making more money than expected from selling marijuana.

The Justice Dept. and FinCen said the new rules do not grant any activity immunity from prosecution, again highlighting the delicate nature of marijuana legalization for federal agencies.

The guidelines are mostly aimed at smaller banks rather than large national banks, which are unlikely to associate with pot outlets anytime soon.

“Through our outreach we were led to believe that there would be perhaps some banks that would be willing to offer these services and probably some of the smaller, medium banks rather than some of the largest ones in this country,” a senior FinCEN official said.

Despite the new directive, banks and their lobbying groups are working on a bill in Congress that would ensure further protection from running afoul of anti-money laundering laws.

Source: RT

White House unveils cybersecurity standards for private businesses

us introduces cybersecurity standards for private companies White House unveils cybersecurity standards for private businesses
The White House on Wednesday released the final version of the voluntary cybersecurity standards that President Barack Obama called for the creation of exactly one year ago in an effort to reduce risks to the United States’ critical infrastructure.
Continue reading «White House unveils cybersecurity standards for private businesses»

But after 12 whole months of development, tech experts aren’t sure if the latest effort to strengthen cybersecurity among the players involved in the nation’s power sector, telecommunications sphere and other at-risk realms meets what they think is warranted.

During his 2013 State of the Union address, Pres. Obama acknowledged that earlier that day he signed an executive order intended to strengthen the country’s cyber defenses “by increasing information sharing and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs and our privacy.” That executive order compelled the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, to develop a framework intended to help entities reduce cyber risks faced by the nation’s most crucial assets. Government officials announced one year to the day that they were ready to begin rolling-out those standards to interested industry partners during a White House press conference on Wednesday.

“Threats are becoming more sophisticated,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said during the event that afternoon, and “…the only way to address these threats effectively is through a true partnership between the government and the private sector.” Soon, however, participation in the program is expected to be mandated among government contractors.

When the president signed the order last February, he warned that the threat from cyberattacks has worsened in recent years and cited money-hungry hackers and malicious foreign nation-states as being among the biggest culprits behind attacks on America’s computer systems. One year later that threat has arguably only intensified — especially in light of the recent security breaches suffered at the hands of Target, Neiman Marcus and others — and the Obama administration hopes that companies that consider adopting the new framework will find themselves less likely to be brought down by highly-skilled hackers.

The framework, its authors write, “uses a common language to address and manage cybersecurity risk in a cost-effective way based on business needs without placing additional regulatory requirements on businesses.” According to its executive summary it “enables organizations – regardless of size, degree of cybersecurity risk or cybersecurity sophistication – to apply the principles and best practices of risk management to improving the security and resilience of critical infrastructure” by providing “organization and structure to today’s multiple approaches to cybersecurity by assembling standards, guidelines and practices that are working effectively in industry today.”

Over the course of 47 pages, the document outlines a framework composed of five core functions — identify, protect, deter, respond and recover — intended to provide participating entities with a strategic view of how they match up against varying levels of attack. Elsewhere it shows participants how to align with best practices crucial to protecting the systems of critical infrastructure components, and how those groups can manage themselves to assess all sorts of potential risks.

Critical infrastructure, as defined in that report, is composed of “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety or any combination of those matters,” and includes private sector businesses ranging from telecommunication providers to utility companies.

Cybersecurity Framework 021214 Final

The framework announced this week doesn’t require any companies or corporations to sign on, however, and absent monetary incentives it could make little difference in coercing cooperation from the private sector.

Originally, the US government considered actions that would have awarded companies that follow the framework by providing assistance in acquiring the upgrades required to wrestle against cyberattacks. That offer has been erased from the finalized framework, however, much to the chagrin of some who saw those measures as a way to attract otherwise unwilling participants that aren’t interested in adopting purely voluntary standards.

“Six months ago the message we were hearing is that incentives were coming,” Robert Dix, vice president of government affairs for California’s Juniper Networks told Bloomberg BusinessWeek in a recent telephone interview“Virtually nothing has been done to move the needle on any incentives that are going to be economic motivators for investments.”

“If the framework isn’t cost effective and isn’t supported by incentives, it’s hard to see how it can work on a sustainable basis,” added Larry Clinton, the president of the Internet Security Alliance, which represents General Electric, among others.

Indeed, Dix and Clinton’s trade group are not alone. On Tuesday this week, the Information Technology Industry Council — which includes Apple, Google, IBM, Intel and Symantec — released a statement which in part objected to the lack of incentives being offered a year after they were all but assured.

“Given limited fiscal resources and the complexity of incentives, including the necessary involvement of multiple stakeholders including Congress, it is highly unlikely any will be available at, or immediately following, the February 2014 launch” of the framework, that group said.

Others have applauded the framework, albeit while still expressing some reservations about the final report.

“The voluntary cybersecurity framework provides a number of useful guideposts for companies who want to better secure their data,” Greg Nojeim of the DC-based Center for Democracy and Technology wrotein a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “The framework will be useful to companies and their privacy officers, because it will remind them that processes should be put in place to deal with the privacy issues that arise in the cybersecurity context.”

“However, we are concerned that the privacy provisions in the framework were watered down from the original draft,” added Nojeim. “We would have preferred a framework that requires more measurable privacy protections as opposed to the privacy processes that were recommended. As the framework is implemented, we are hopeful that such privacy protections are further developed and become standardized.”

Even Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, told POLITICO last week that he thinks the framework lacks the necessary support from other aspects of the US government. Without that, he said, it might not be enough to protect critical infrastructure components.

“Either Congress will have to really put some muscle behind it, or the regulators … will have to pick up the baton,” said Chertoff. “I wouldn’t say we’re at the end of the journey.”

Even those unwilling to adopt the voluntary standards will have other options to protect their computers, though. Current DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced during Wednesday’s conference that his office has established the Critical Infrastructure Cyber Community Voluntary Program, or C-Cubed, to give companies that provide critical services like cell phone, email, banking and energy free and direct access to cyber security experts within the DHS who have knowledge about specific threats facing the country, as well as ways to counter those threats and recover.

“The C-Cubed Voluntary Program will serve as a point of contact and customer relationship manager to assist organizations with framework use, and guide interested organizations and sectors to DHS and other public and private sector resources to support use of the Cybersecurity Framework,” Johnson’s department said in a statement published on Wednesday.

Source: RT

Sen Rand Paul sues President Obama over NSA call surveillance

rand paul suit nsa Sen Rand Paul sues President Obama over NSA call surveillance

US Senator Rand Paul has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Obama administration and the National Security Agency seeking to halt the NSA’s vast data-surveillance program.
Continue reading «Sen Rand Paul sues President Obama over NSA call surveillance»

Paul, a Kentucky Republican and toast of the tea party movement, promised a “historic” fight against the NSA when he announced the suit had been filed Wednesday at a press conference. He was joined by Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s former attorney general, and Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of the tea party-affiliated FreedomWorks. Bruce Fein, a Reagan administration attorney, is one of the lawyers on the case.

The suit challenges the constitutionality of the NSA program that collects metadata on US citizens’ phone calls.

There’s a huge and growing swell of protest in this country of people who are outraged that their records are being taken without suspicion, without a judge’s warrant, and without individualization,” Paul said.

I’m not against the NSA, I’m not against spying, I’m not against looking at phone records,” he went on. “I just want you to go to a judge, have an individual’s name and [get] a warrant. That’s what the Fourth Amendment says.”

Paul began telling the press about the lawsuit weeks ago. This, along with a 13-hour filibuster on drone activity inside the US delivered in March 2013, has fueled expectations that Paul will be among the Republican presidential candidates in 2016.

Today we ask the question for every phone user in America: can a single warrant allow the government to collect all your records, all the time?” Paul said in a statement Wednesday. “I don’t think so.”

The Obama administration has consistently maintained the data collection program, first unveiled last year by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, is legal. The 15 judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have reauthorized the data collection program every 90 days since 2006. In 1979 the US Supreme Court ruled that metadata – including the time of a call, its duration, and numbers dialed – is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

We remain confident that the program is legal, as at least 15 judges have previously found,” Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said Wednesday in response to Senator Paul’s announcement.

In December federal Judge Richard Leon ruled that the surveillance program is likely unconstitutional, deeming the technology “almost Orwellian.”

I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Leon wrote. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

 

Source: RT