Obama Administration Secretly Got NSA Restrictions Lifted in 2011

This is one of those stories that would have been sensational, had it come immediately on the heels of Edwards Snowden’s bombshell revelation about the extent of the National Security Agency’s reach into the digital lives of ordinary Americans. Instead, it’s likely to get lost in the white noise of President Barack Obama’s many second-term, Constitution-shredding scandals.

Over the weekend, The Washington Post revealed that, in 2011, the Obama Administration secretly won permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to overturn restrictions on the NSA’s power to search and store the digital communications of all Americans without first obtaining a warrant. FISC is the secret court whose sole purpose is to vet extraordinary surveillance requests from Federal law enforcement agencies.

Neither the 2011 reversal nor the original ban intended to limit the scope of NSA phone searches was publicized. The Post reported:

What had not been previously acknowledged is that the court in 2008 imposed an explicit ban — at the government’s request — on those kinds of searches, that officials in 2011 got the court to lift the bar and that the search authority has been used.

Together the permission to search and to keep data longer [six years instead of five] expanded the NSA’s authority in significant ways without public debate or any specific authority from Congress. The administration’s assurances rely on legalistic definitions of the term “target” that can be at odds with ordinary English usage. The enlarged authority is part of a fundamental shift in the government’s approach to surveillance: collecting first, and protecting Americans’ privacy later.

Those same powers had been explicitly blocked, at the government’s request, during the Administration of George W. Bush.

But the Obama Adminstration sought — and received — a reversal from the court. National Intelligence General Counsel Robert S. Litt told The Post the government explicitly requested the ban be dropped so that the government, which has all but forsaken spying on obvious targets (like Islamist jihadi extremists in the United States), could move quickly to intercept a domestic terror threat.

Denied Sept. 11 Event Permit, ‘2 Million Biker Ride In DC’ Defiantly Gathers Steam

Organizers of Wednesday’s “2 Million Biker Ride In DC” took to the Internet over the weekend to report they’d been denied an event permit to ride on Washington, D.C. – even as a planned “Million Muslim March” was given the green light for a symbolic Sept. 11 demonstration.

Then they took to the Internet to report they’d only been galvanized by that denial.

By Monday afternoon, bikers from across the country were posting photos of motorcycle caravans already en route to the Capital.

maine bikers

 

The Washington, D.C. rally was conceived as a retort to what many patriotic bikers viewed as an overt insult by the American Muslim Political Action Committee, which targeted the 12th anniversary of the World Trade Center attack for its “Million Muslim” event. The march is intended to urge President Barack Obama to make good on his early campaign promises of a more “transparent” government – particularly where Islamists’ roles in the attacks are concerned.

bikers file

Tomorrow’s Recall Vote For Gun Control-Supporting Colorado Senators Draws Strong Early Turnout

Tomorrow’s the day when two Colorado State Senators will find out whether their support of new, controversial gun laws adopted earlier this year will put a major damper on their own political careers. Early voting patterns suggest Tuesday’s turnout for a recall vote of Senator Angela Giron and Senate President John Morse will likely rival that of a Presidential election.

Morse and Giron, both Democrats, are facing voter-initiated recall elections aiming to remove them from office following their support of a trio of reactionary gun control laws that went into effect in July. Those laws, passed rapidly in the aftermath of last December’s sensationally violent school shooting in Connecticut, restrict the size of ammo magazines, strengthen a ban on so-called “assault” weapons and put the cost of mandatory background checks on would-be gun buyers.

Massive voter backlash, outrage from in-State gun manufacturers and organized opposition from county sheriffs culminated in the recall effort, which emanates from a broad cross section of residents who feel the State’s policies have begun to feel too great an influence from liberal sensibilities in and around Denver, its urban hub.

Early voting began late last week and will end tomorrow. The Denver Post published an article Saturday headlined “Sen. John Morse recall: Republicans dominate,” signaling a possible indication of the outcome.

Morse’s district, which lies entirely within El Paso County and centers on the City of Colorado Springs, is home to a mere 26 percent of Republican registered voters. But, of the 9,485 people who’d voted last week, 41.36 percent were registered Republicans.

“Democrats have a lot of votes to make up if they want to keep Morse in office,” observed the newspaper.

Rand Paul Explains Why Senate Should Vote ‘No’ On War With Syria

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) authored a guest column in Wednesday’s “Ideas” blog on the Time magazine website, forcefully arguing against President Barack Obama’s newfound love of interventionist Mideast policy and drawing sharp distinctions between the proposed Syria strikes and the post-9/11 Afghan war.

Expanding on former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s assertion that, for the U.S., “war should be the politics of last resort,” Paul offered an  unequivocal corollary: “America should only go to war to win.”

As The Washington Post observed Tuesday, Paul has garnered the necessary clout, both in the public eye and within the Senate, to push a discussion of the GOP’s longstanding hawkish stance on military intervention toward a new, far more limited paradigm; one a close Paul ally described as “a resurgent realist foreign policy.”

Syria fails to pass any of the tests Paul ascribes as necessary requisites for Washington to even consider a military strike: threatened American interests, threats against the interests of American allies, a clear path to victory, an exhaustion of nonmilitary, political options, and a clear understanding of our enmities and alliances on the ground.

War should occur only when America is attacked, when it is threatened or when American interests are attacked or threatened. I don’t think the situation in Syria passes that test. Even the State Department argues that “there’s no military solution here that’s good for the Syrian people, and that the best path forward is a political solution.”

The U.S. should not fight a war to save face. I will not vote to send young men and women to sacrifice life and limb for stalemate. I will not vote to send our nation’s best and brightest to fight for anything less than victory. If American interests are at stake, then our goal should not be stalemate.

If American interests are at stake, then it is incumbent upon those advocating for military action to convince Congress and the American people of that threat. Too often, the debate begins and ends with an assertion that our national interest is at stake without any evidence of that assertion. The burden of proof lies with those who wish to engage in war.

Of course, Paul goes on to raise far more questions than the Obama Administration has even publicly countenanced: are we on the same side as Islamic rebels? What will our involvement do to Syrian-Israeli tensions? Are we fighting for the spread of democracy or Islamic theocracy? What happens to the Christian minority – nowadays one of the first casualties of any destabilized Middle Eastern state?

“The President and his Administration have not provided good answers to any of these questions,” he writes. “Those who seek military action have an obligation to publicly address these concerns before dragging our soldiers into another Middle Eastern war. Shooting first and aiming later has not worked for us in the past, and it should not be our game plan now.”

Paul said late Wednesday he would not filibuster a Senate vote on whether to authorize war against Syria, evidently to avoid taking a stance that could be viewed as an obstruction of Congress’ Constitutional power to deliberate and vote on a declaration of war. But he’s made it clear that any such vote should happen quickly – and that he plans to lead the “no” movement from the front.

Court Rules White House Visitor Log Exempt From Freedom Of Information Requests

A three-judge panel for the Washington, D.C. Judicial Circuit has issued a summary judgment that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not apply to requests for Secret Service logs that track recent visitors to the White House.

Ruling Friday on a motion filed by nonprofit advocacy group Judicial Watch, Judge Merrick Garland opined that Congress had never intended FOIA to the movements of the President, because it “could substantially affect the President’s ability to meet confidentially with foreign leaders, agency officials, or members of the public,” and “could render FOIA a potentially serious congressional intrusion into the conduct of the president’s daily operations.”

The White House voluntarily disclosed the scheduled comings and goings of former IRS Commissioner Douglas Schulman after the IRS-Tea Party targeting scandal broke earlier this year, but more recently has refused to confirm whether IRS chief counsel (and political appointee) William Wilkins had visited the White House in April of 2012, only days before helping shape the discriminatory guidelines that have since come to define the scandal. Visitor logs from 2012 indicate that he did.

The Washington, D.C. Circuit ruled that records of White House visits fall not under FOIA, but the more-secretive Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978. The ruling came after the Secret Service denied a  Judicial Watch request for “all official visitors logs and/or other records concerning visits made to the White House” over the course of seven months, according to a Courthouse News report.

The Secret Service maintained that the White House’s voluntary disclosure policy would eventually kick in, making visitor records available 90 to 120 days after the visits had taken place. But Judicial Watch motioned for a court to force the Secret Service to comply under FOIA, which the D.C. Court denied.

Homeownership Among American Blacks Lowest In 18 Years

Homeownership among American black families has contracted to its lowest point in 18 years, according to a Tuesday report by Bloomberg. The new information comes at a time when the decline in homeownership for the general population has stabilized and, in some demographics, is on a slight rebound.

According to the report, “18 years of economic progress” for blacks in the U.S. “has vanished, with a rebound in housing slipping further out of reach and the unemployment rate almost twice that of whites.”

Bloomberg doesn’t blame the Obama Administration for that recent reversal, but Breitbart’s John Nolte does.

“Had Obama enacted proven economic policies after becoming president, the economy and housing market would have already rebounded and beyond. But Obama chose big government policies, and now we find ourselves in the middle of a so-called recovery that only our pathetic and subservient media could spin as ‘good enough,’” writes Nolte.

“[A]fter a half-century of a War on Poverty and five years of a black man as president, the gap between white and black in every important economic area is still just as wide as it was trillions and trillions of taxpayer dollars ago.”

From the Bloomberg report:

The homeownership rate for blacks fell from 50 percent during the housing bubble to 43 percent in the second quarter, the lowest since 1995. The rate for whites stopped falling two years ago, settling at about 73 percent, only 3 percentage points below the 2004 peak, according to the Census Bureau.

In late August, the Pew Research Center released a report that showed poverty among black Americans, which had fallen steadily since the Civil Rights era, had begun inching higher again over the past decade.

The poverty rate among black Americans now stands at 28 percent, compared with 10 percent among whites, while black unemployment rate stands at 12.6% — nearly double the 6.6 percent unemployment rate among whites.

 

The Islamist Extremists Kerry Calls ‘Moderates’; Obama’s House Problem On Syria; The EPA’s Clean-Water Cops; Unemployment Up; Viking Bicyclists From Hell – Thursday Morning News Roundup 9-5-2013

Here is a collection of some of the stories making the Internet rounds this morning. Click the links for the full stories.

 

  • Secretary of State John Kerry’s public assertions that moderate Syrian opposition groups are growing in influence appear to be at odds with estimates by U.S. and European intelligence sources and nongovernmental experts, who say Islamic extremists remain by far the fiercest and best-organized rebel elements. Source: Reuters… 

 

  • As members of Congress consider President Obama’s request to authorize military force in Syria, following evidence that President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons killed over 1,400 people, a ThinkProgress analysis of the public statements of 400 Representatives found that 200 lawmakers have either decisively ruled out supporting the measure or say they are unlikely to back it. Just 49 of the 400 members of the House of Representatives said they will definitely or likely vote in favor or the resolution. Source: ThinkProgress…

 

  • When agents with the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force surged out of the wilderness around the remote community of Chicken wearing body armor and jackets emblazoned with POLICE in big, bold letters, local placer miners didn’t quite know what to think. Did it really take eight armed men and a squad-size display of paramilitary force to check for dirty water? The EPA has refused to publicly explain why it used armed officers as part of what it called a “multi-jurisdictional” investigation of possible Clean Water Act violations in the area. Source: Alaska Dispatch… 

 

  • A Gallup measurement of the unadjusted unemployment rate for the U.S. workforce was 8.7% in August, up from 7.8% in July and from 8.1% in August 2012. The U.S. workforce participation rate in August was 66.4%, a decline from 67.7% in July, and down from 68.1% in August 2012. The seasonally adjusted U.S. unemployment rate for August was 8.6%, up from 7.4% in July. Source: Gallup… 

 

  • The NYPD says thugs are beating and mugging bike riders on a popular Manhattan bike path, stringing up ropes to clothesline the unsuspecting bikers, beating them with brass knuckles and then making off with their pricey rides. Investigators said they think the attackers could be targeting people with high-end bikes. Source: CBS New York… 

 

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Newspaper: Voter ID Laws Have Positive Effect, If Any, On Minority Turnout

On Tuesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the results of its investigation into how mandatory voter identification has affected the frequency with which different demographic groups go to the polls in Georgia since the voter ID law went into effect there five years ago.

The results don’t offer much statistical comfort for Attorney General Eric Holder and others who’ve made a Federal case — literally — over the Supreme Court’s historic ruling this summer to strike down part of the civil rights-era Voting Rights Act, an outdated law that unfairly leashed several States’ powers to draw their own voting districts.

While requiring voters to present a valid form of State-issued photo identification failed to catch a single documented case of voter fraud in five years, it also didn’t stymie the will of non-white voters in Georgia to play an active part in the process of self-government.

The AJC found that, in the State’s new era of voter ID, minorities are actually turning out to vote at a faster rate than the population of their demographic is growing.

“Turnout among black and Hispanic voters increased from 2006 to 2010, dramatically outpacing population growth for those groups over the same period,” writes reporter Shannon McCaffrey:

Elections data reviewed by the AJC show that participation among black voters rose by 44 percent from 2006 — before the law was implemented — to 2010. For Hispanics, the increase for the same period was 67 percent. Turnout among whites rose 12 percent.

It was expected that African American turnout would spike in 2008, when Barack Obama became the first person of color to win the presidency. And it did rise to historic highs in Georgia.

Black participation fell in 2010, as it did for all demographic groups. Still, a far greater share of black voters turned out in 2010 than in 2006, showing that Obama was not the only factor driving turnout.

Critics of laws in Georgia, Pennsylvania and other States requiring voters to demonstrate proof of identity at the polling place have argued that minorities and poor people will be excluded from de facto voter eligibility because many don’t currently possess any of the forms of ID required under the law.

“Over thirty states considered laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote,” complains the well-intentioned American Civil Liberties Union. “Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely.”

It doesn’t take a study to “suggest,” however, that everyone who legally operates a motor vehicle in the United States has some form of valid driver’s license, and that –rich or poor, citizen or expat — each of them was, at least once, “required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it.” Requiring voter ID is no more restrictive than that; in fact, it’s far more permissive.

In Georgia, any eligible voter who doesn’t have one of the several passable forms of qualifying identification (a passport, a military or government employee ID, a State college or university student ID, a driver’s license — even an expired one) can apply for a free — yes, free — Georgia Voter Identification Card at their local registrar or department of motor vehicles. Applicants have to show proof they’re registered voters, and the list of documents that identifies them and verifies them as citizens and residents is intentionally broad.

“If you look at the numbers, they clearly show that critics of this law were wrong,” Hans von Spakovsky, a former legal counsel to the Justice Department’s civil rights division who now works for the conservative Heritage Foundation, told the AJC. “Their argument has always been it would depress turnout, but it didn’t happen — quite the opposite.”

Northern California County Votes To Secede From State; Nothing Happens

The Republican-leaning rural county of Siskiyou, California has taken the first step toward seceding from the State.

County supervisors in Siskiyou, which lies in extreme Northern California along the Oregon border, voted 4-1Tuesday to secede, citing a strong dissatisfaction with the near absence of home rule. Ed Valenzuela, Chairman of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, cast the lone vote not to secede, saying the people had elected him to operate within the existing political structure.

The vote comes in response to pressure from residents who have complained that their interests are not represented in Sacramento, and that the legislature will continue to neglect their concerns over local resources – chiefly water – that are exploited to benefit the more populous areas of the State.

While the vote has no legal teeth, it does reflect a strong secessionist spirit that, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, predates World War II. Residents and some county leaders are encouraging neighboring Oregon and California counties to join the secession movement in the hope of realizing a decades-old dream of establishing a new U.S. State – the “State of Jefferson,” named in honor of the Nation’s third President.

“I haven’t had one contact in regard to this issue that’s in opposition,” county supervisor Michael Kobseff told the Chronicle.

The road to secession is likely to remain untraveled, however, since both the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress would have to recognize secession and the creation of a new State.

Texas Cops Subject Of Federal Police Brutality Suit

A Houston-area family has filed a Federal lawsuit against three Harris County, Texas, officers after a subpoena of video footage from a 2011 ordeal revealed the cops used excessive force against the family following a routine traffic stop.

The September 2011 incident involved plaintiff David Scherz and four other family members, including his mother. Police pulled over Scherz for allegedly running a stop sign in front of his own home. The subpoenaed video begins with a compliant Scherz already in handcuffs and being placed on the ground. There’s no public evidence of how a routine stop so quickly escalated to such a degree that the suspect needed to be restrained.

But the actions of the police at the scene offer a self-explanatory narrative of everything that follows, once Scherz’s mother comes outside to find out what’s going on. One of the officers placed her in custody for “interference with public duties,” as backup began to arrive to help make sure everyone stayed on the ground.

In all, five family members were arrested and charged with something. And the charges against all five, including Scherz, were later dropped by the Harris County District Attorney’s office, which later confirmed that none of the charges — including the original traffic stop — was warranted.

At the 2:02 video mark, any doubt is erased that this incident offers some gray area for interpretation. Deputy Constable Jimmie Drummond, who now serves as a police captain in another county, is seen running up to Scherz, who had been handcuffed and lying prone on the ground for several minutes, and repeatedly kicking him in the ribs. Drummond, who is 6 feet 5 inches tall and not thin, later told a reporter he remembered only “kicking a dog, but not a person.”

Randall Kallinen, the attorney who filed the Federal suit, told The Houston Chronicle there’s no question the police acted far outside the scope of their training and turned a benign situation into an explosive one.

“He [Drummond] kicked him [Scherz] five times, broke his ribs, that’s definitely excessive force,” said Kallinen. “All of the experts I’ve talked to said there is no professional police maneuver to kick someone who is being held down, that’s not an acceptable tactic by any police department. And as cover-up charges, everyone was arrested at the scene and charged with a crime as a means to try to cover up this excess force case.”

In all, five people were arrested and jailed: Scherz, his father, his mother, his aunt and his sister, Elizabeth Scherz. One officer can be heard in subpoenaed audio from the incident targeting Elizabeth Scherz, saying “get her — she has a camera.” She was charged with felony assault of a police officer.