Yesterday the House narrowly defeated (217-205) an amendment to the defense spending bill (proposed by Michigan Republican Justin Amash) that would have prohibited NSA from collecting metadata on phone calls unless there is evidence that a specific person involved in the call is involved in criminal activity. From Bloomberg:
Implementation of the amendment could have created a new burden on telephone and Internet companies to retain bulk data, in addition to ending the NSA’s blanket collection of phone records. Those possibilities led the White House, Republicans leaders and many congressional Democrats to oppose the proposals, pitting them against lawmakers from both parties who champion civil liberties and privacy….
The provision would have had the potential to cause headaches for information technology companies.
“It could be a significant burden depending on how the government wants us to keep this data and store it,” Trey Hodgkins, a senior vice president for TechAmerica, a Washington-based trade group that represents Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), AT&T Inc. (T) andCenturyLink Inc. (CTL), said in a phone interview. “You’re talking about potentially extremely huge data sets.”
It’s important to note that the bill as passed also includes a provision that prevents the closing of Guantanamo and prohibits the President from transferring any of the detainees who are being held there. So a vote for the Amash amendment would also mean voting to keep Gitmo open indefinitely.
Another amendment to limit NSA data collection did pass:
The House also adopted an amendment written by Republican Richard Nugent of Florida that sought to prohibit the NSA from using funds in the almost $600 billion Pentagon spending measure to “acquire, monitor or store the content” of electronic communications by “a United States person.”
The Nugent amendment was viewed by some lawmakers as providing political cover for those who didn’t want to vote for Amash’s amendment. While lawmakers voting for the Nugent amendment might appear to be curbing the NSA’s powers, in actuality the amendment wouldn’t change anything, simply restates current law and is “a fig leaf”, said Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat.
The bill now goes to the Senate; who knows what will happen next. I hope there will be an open debate on regulating possible abuses that could arise from NSA data collection. If a serious debate takes place, perhaps something positive will eventually come from the Snowden debacle. I’m skeptical, but still hopeful.
USA Today presents arguments from Keith Alexander against completely “blowing up” the NSA’s data collection program.
Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, has said the collection of data has helped disrupt dozens of terrorist plots. Investigators are not allowed to comb through the data, but can use it when they have identified a foreign suspect through other intelligence collection.
The data allows investigators to then detect networks the suspect may have been tied into, which could lead to other suspects and the uncovering of secret cells.
“The court restricts what we can do with that data,” Alexander said in a recent speech. “We have to show some reasonable, articulable suspicion that the phone number that we’re going to look at is associated with al-Qaeda or another terrorist group.”
Personally, I’d rather see more carefully defined limits on when and how NSA can use the metadata to target specific American citizens and regulations to prevent lower level employees like Edward Snowden from getting access to personal information rather than an overall prohibition on having the data available when needed for an investigation. Whenever there is a “terrorist” event–as in the Boston Marathon bombings, people demand to know why the government didn’t prevent it. The fact is there are already regulations in place that limit NSA from targeting Americans. IMHO, we should improve those rules if necessary, based on a serious and thorough debate.
Here are Glenn Greenwald’s reactions to the vote in case you want to read another of his inaccurate, rabid screeds. Basically, Greenwald says it’s all the Democrats’ fault–especially that horrible, dreadful war criminal Barack Obama, who is roughly equivalent to Peter King and Michele Bachmann.
Further down in the article, poor Glenn has to admit that a majority of House Democrats supported the Amash amendment in the face of nasty mean old Obama saying he would like to have a nuanced discussion of the issues rather than simply shutting down the counterterrorism program entirely. Greenwald also continues to claim, falsely, that NSA collects and analyzes the phone calls of every American, in the face of calmer, more knowledgeable people who have tried to explain to him that the data isn’t examined without a warrant and clear suspicion of criminal activity (famous example of how these allowed a criminal to slip through the cracks: Tamerlan Tsarnaev). But we’re not Russia, so we do have some limits on surveillance of American citizens and legal residents like Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
You know what I’d like to see targeted for more regulation? The FBI’s use of informants and FBI agents’ apparent ability to get away with murder. From Adrian Walker at The Boston Globe: Ibragim Todashev’s shooting needs explanation.
Ibragim Todashev was mysterious in life, but he has fallen into a void in death.
Todashev was fatally shot during an interrogation by Boston-based FBI agents in Orlando on May 22. The Russia native was being asked about his friendship with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the presumed mastermind of the Boston Marathon bombing. Unusual as it is for someone to be shot to death during questioning, silence has reigned in its aftermath. The FBI’s few statements have been more confusing than illuminating.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts made an attempt Tuesday to spur somebody, anybody, into providing clarity. It called on state authorities in Florida and Massachusetts to conduct their own investigations. The questioning was being done by the FBI and Massachusetts State Police, though some reports have indicated a lone FBI officer was in the room when Todashev was shot.
In response, Attorney General Martha Coakley made it clear her office has no intention of getting involved, pleading lack of jurisdiction. Florida officials have maintained all along that they have no standing to investigate. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think they are about to change their minds.
Walker notes that we have a stunning example of the FBI’s misbehavior with informants in the James “Whitey” Bulger trial, which is going on in Boston right now.
…we should know better than to rush to absolve the FBI, no questions asked. After all, another of Boston’s great villains, James “Whitey” Bulger, is being tried for decades of terrorizing the city while an FBI informant.
And while the verdict on Whitey is still weeks away, the evidence is clear that the FBI aided and abetted his activities for ages. Not just a rogue agent or two, either; much of the agency’s Boston office was involved.
It’s not comforting, either, to examine the FBI’s record on examining its own shootings. According to a New York Times investigation, the FBI has cleared itself in nearly every agency-involved shooting of the past 20 years.
There was a terrible train crash in Spain yesterday, with at least 78 killed and 130-140 injured. A Spanish official described the scene as “Dante-esque.”
Bodies covered in blankets lay next to the overturned carriages as smoke billowed from the wreckage. Firefighters clambered over the twisted metal trying to get survivors out of the windows, while ambulances and fire engines surrounded the scene.
The government said it was working on the hypothesis the derailment was an accident – although the scene will stir memories of 2004’s Madrid train bombing, carried out by Islamist extremists, that killed 191 people. Sabotage or attack was unlikely to be involved, an official source said….
“It was going so quickly. … It seems that on a curve the train started to twist, and the wagons piled up one on top of the other,” passenger Ricardo Montesco told Cadena Ser radio station.
“A lot of people were squashed on the bottom. We tried to squeeze out of the bottom of the wagons to get out and we realised the train was burning. … I was in the second wagon and there was fire,” he added.
This brief video shows the moment the train derailed and crashed.
According to Railway Gazette, the accident may have been caused by excessive speed.
SPAIN: At 20.41 on July 24 a Madrid – Ferrol Alvia service derailed on a curve on the approach to Santiago de Compostela. Formed of a Class 730 gauge-convertible electro-diesel Talgo trainset, the 15.00 from Madrid was carrying 218 passengers, according to a joint statement from Spanish train operator RENFE and infrastructure manager ADIF.
The train had 12 vehicles, with an electric and a diesel power car at the ends. The rear power cars appear to have caught fire after the impact, and one of the intermediate coaches was thrown up on to an adjacent road; other cars rolled over or struck a retaining wall. Reports on July 25 indicated that 79 people had died in the accident with many more injured.
The train had left the high speed alignment and should have been slowing in preparation for the stop at Santiago station, about 3 to 4 km from the site of the accident. The speed limit on the curve is understood to be 80 km/h, but Spanish media reported that the train driver had said over the train radio that the train had been travelling at 190 km/h. A video taken from a lineside security camera appeared to show coaches behind the front power cars derailing first, pulling the heavier leading vehicles over as the train rounded the curve.
Here’s the crazy Republican story of the day–so far. I suppose the crazy could still get worse as the day goes on. As you know I was born in Fargo, ND, and I still have a soft spot for my home state; but I’m horrified by what’s happening there right now. Check this out: Pro-life group promotes cannibalism, hands out ‘fleshy’ fetus toys in candy bags to kids at State Fair, according to Freak-Out Nation. Yes, you read that right. They put “realistic” fetus dolls into candy bags for children!
Want a squishy toy fetus with your corn dog? If you’re visiting the North Dakota State Fair, you’re in luck! Last weekend, local anti-choice advocates slipped soft fetal models into kids’ candy bags without parental permission during the fair’s gigantic parade. “I don’t know exactly where I stand on abortion,” one mother told Jezebel, “but I believe in my rights as a parent.”
The North Dakota State Fair boasts a bevy of attractions, including performances by Tim McGraw and Creedence Clearwater Revisited. But Minot Right to Life spent the weekend giving away creepy little fetuses to kids without asking parents’ permission first. “It was really disturbing watching children run around with them,” one recalled. A federal judge recently blocked enforcement of the state’s highly unconstitutional six-week abortion ban; perhaps appealing to elementary schoolers’ interests is the group’s Plan B?
“The Precious One” fetal models are manufactured by Heritage House, a “pro-life supply store,” for $1.50 a pop — cheaper if you buy in bulk. “Its beautiful detail, softness and weight can really move hearts and change minds!” the website promises. A customer service representative told Jezebel that the models are most often given to pregnant women at “pregnancy centers” and kids at school presentations. The customer reviews on the site (it’s like Yelp for fetus-lovers instead of foodies) further imply that the doll-like figures are great for kids. “Children especially like to hold them,” one satisfied customer wrote. “No other item that we hand out has the amazing effect that these fetal models have — instant attachment to the unborn!” said another. “So many times, we hear, ‘Awwwww! That’s adorable!’ Or we just see a girl’s tears begin to form and fall.”
Something is very very wrong with these people.
Here’s one for Dakinikat: Paul Krugman explains (following Obama’s speech on the economy yesterday) why there are no “new ideas” about how to fix the financial crisis–because we knew how to do it from day one: Gimme That Old-Time Macroeconomics.
It was clear early on that this was a crisis very much in the mold of previous financial crises. Once you realized that financial instruments issued by shadow banks — especially repo, overnight loans secured by other assets — were playing essentially the same role as deposits in previous banking crises, it was clear that we already had all the tools we needed to make sense of what was going on. And we also had all the tools we needed to formulate an intelligent policy response — all the tools we needed, that is, except a helpful economics profession and policymakers with a good sense of whose advice to take.
As Mark Thoma memorably remarked, new economic thinking appeared to consist largely of rereading old books. Brad DeLong says that it was all in Walter Bagehot; I think that this is true of the financial crisis of 2008, but that to understand the persistence of the slump we need Irving Fisher from 1933 and John Maynard Keynes from 1936. But anyway, this is not new terrain.
The trouble is Republicans keep right on insisting we should do what Herbert Hoover did in response to The Great Depression. Because that worked so well…