30,000 Secret Warrant Per Year To Spy On People In The United States

June 5, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Federal judges approve about 30,000 secret warrants to spy on people in the USA every year, and the innocent probably will never know they were watched, says a U.S. jurist involved in issuing the orders.

Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith writes in a new paper, highlighted by Ars Technica, that the 2006 total outstripped the entire output of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court since it was created in 1979, and the number is probably growing.

The secret orders are authorized by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, known as ECPA. Smith writes that the volume of such cases “is greater than the combined yearly total of all antitrust, employment discrimination, environmental, copyright, patent, trademark and securities cases filed in federal court.”

The warrants and the court’s proceedings are not open to public scrutiny. A three-judge panel reviews denials of applications for the warrants, but the court is not adversarial or open, and many orders are never unsealed.

Here are some of Smith’s findings, which will be published in the Harvard Law & Policy Review:

These electronic surveillance orders … grant law enforcement access to the electronic lives of our citizens — who we call, where we go, when we text, what websites we visit, what emails we send. Unlike most court orders, electronic surveillance orders are permanently hidden from public view by various ECPA provisions, including sealed court files, gag orders, and delayed-notice. It’s as though these orders were written in invisible ink — legible to the phone companies and electronic service providers who execute them, yet imperceptible to targeted individuals, the general public, and even other arms of government, including Congress and appellate courts.

This regime of secrecy has many unhealthy consequences: Congress lacks accurate empirical data to monitor the effectiveness of the existing statutory scheme and adapt it to new technologies; appellate courts are unable to give effective guidance to magistrate judges on how to interpret ECPA’s complex provisions in light of changing technology; and citizens are not informed about the extent of government intrusion into their electronic lives. With Congress on the sidelines, appellate courts not engaged, and the public in the dark, the balance between surveillance and privacy has shifted dramatically towards law enforcement, almost by default.

To get to his 30,000 estimate, Smith combined an earlier government survey with data from his own court’s docket, Ars Technica notes.

Smith calls for “structural changes” in the law to “eliminate unnecessary secrecy,” including an end to “automatic gagging” and sealing orders. He suggests a publicly available “warrant cover sheet” that features basic information about every electronic surveillance order.

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More Federal Government Debt Racked Up In Last 15 MONTHS Under Obama Than In Previous 195 YEARS Under 43 Presidents

June 3, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which took office in January 2011, has enacted federal spending bills under which the national debt has increased more in less than one term of Congress than in the first 97 Congresses combined.

In the fifteen months that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives–led by Speaker John Boehner–has effectively enjoyed a constitutional veto over federal spending, the federal government’s debt has increased by about $1.59 trillion.

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution says: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” A law appropriating money cannot be enacted unless it is approved by the House.

The approximately $1.59 trillion in new debt accumulated since the Republican-controlled House gained a veto over federal spending legislation is more than the total increase in the federal debt between 1789, when the first Congress convened, and October 1984, when the 98th Congress was nearing the end of its second session.

Rep. Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania served as speaker in the first Congress. Rep. Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts served his third term as speaker in the 98th Congress.

When Boehner became speaker on Jan. 5, 2011, the federal government was operating under a continuing resolution that had been passed on Dec. 21, 2010 by a lame-duck Congress. That CR expired on March 4, 2011.

On March 1, 2011, Boehner agreed to a new short-term spending deal with President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders to keep the government running past the March 4, 2011 expiration of the old CR. Since March 4, 2011, federal expenditures have been carried out under a series of CRs approved by both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate and signed into law by President Obama.

At the close of business on March 4, 2011, the total federal debt was $14,182,627,184,881.03, according to the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Public Debt. At the close of business on May 31, 2012, it was 15,770,685,085,364.14. That is an increase of $1,588,057,900,483.11—in just 15 months.

All of the debt accumulated by the federal government throughout the history of the country did not exceed $1.588 trillion until October 1984.

Under the Republican-controlled House, the federal debt has been increasing at an average pace of about $105.9 billion per month.

Frederick Muhlenberg served two non-consecutive terms as speaker–in the first and third Congresses. At the end of the first Congress, in 1791, the total debt of the federal government was about $75.5 million, according to the U.S. Treasury.

Tip O’Neill served as speaker in the 95th through 99th Congresses, from 1977 through 1986.

At the end of September 1984, during the 98th Congress, the total national debt was approximately $1,572,266,000,000.00, according to the Treasury Department’s Monthly Statement of the Public Debt for that month. At the end of October 1984, it was $1,611,537,000,000.00, according to the Monthly Statement of the Public Debt.

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Traffic Congestion Eases Under Obama Economy As High Gas Prices, Inflation, And Lack Of Jobs Effects Drivers

May 22, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Traffic congestion dropped 30% last year from 2010 in the USA’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, driven largely by higher gas prices and a spotty economic recovery, according to a new study by a Washington-state firm that tracks traffic flows.

That was the largest drop since the nation plunged into recession in December 2007.

Of the 100 most populous metro areas, 70 saw declines in traffic congestion while just 30 had increases, says Jim Bak, co-author of the 2011 U.S. Traffic Scorecard for Kirkland, Wash.-based INRIX.

That was a reversal of what happened in 2010, when 70 had increases in congestion and 30 had declines. Tampa had the biggest increase in congestion, and Minneapolis the biggest drop.

“We’re experiencing a stop-and-go economy right now,” Bak says. “The data indicate the country may be experiencing the jobless recovery economists warned of during the recession.”

Bak says the data show that the reduction in gridlock on the nation’s roads stems from rising fuel prices; lackluster gains in employment and modest increases in highway capacity because of construction projects completed under the federal stimulus program.

In some cases, the connection between job growth and increased congestion was clear. Cities that outpaced the national average of 1.5% growth in employment experienced some of the biggest increases in traffic congestion: Miami, 2.3% employment growth; Tampa, up 3%, and Houston, up 3.2%.

Cities that had big drops in congestion often were those that saw road construction slow considerably from 2010 to 2011 and those where gasoline prices were well above the national average at the peak in April 2011.

The decrease in congestion in Minneapolis came as the number of road projects dropped from 283 in 2010 to 258 in 2011, Bak says. “So much of the roadwork and construction that was a result of the stimulus is now completed. Construction work in general is down, as governments are reining in spending.”

Prices at the pump affected how long motorists sat in traffic. “Cities that consistently had gas prices equal to or lower than the national average, and that experienced modest job growth, were the cities that tended to have increases in congestion,” Bak says. Atlanta, which had a 2011 average gas price 20 cents less than the national average and a 1.2% growth in employment, saw the fourth-biggest jump in congestion.

The busiest morning and afternoon commute times were 8 a.m. Tuesday and 5:30 p.m. Friday, INRIX found.

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White Births No Longer A Majority In US – Less Than 1/2 Newborns Are White

May 17, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC — After years of speculation, estimates and projections, the Census Bureau has made it official: White births are no longer a majority in the United States.

Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births in the 12-month period that ended last July, according to Census Bureau data made public on Thursday, while minorities — including Hispanics, blacks, Asians and those of mixed race — reached 50.4 percent, representing a majority for the first time in the country’s history.

Such a turn has been long expected, but no one was certain when the moment would arrive — signaling a milestone for a nation whose government was founded by white Europeans and has wrestled mightily with issues of race, from the days of slavery, through a civil war, bitter civil rights battles and, most recently, highly charged debates over efforts to restrict immigration.

While over all, whites will remain a majority for some time, the fact that a younger generation is being born in which minorities are the majority has broad implications for the country’s economy, its political life and its identity. “This is an important tipping point,” said William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, describing the shift as a “transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multiethnic country that we are becoming.”

Signs that the country is evolving this way start with the Oval Office, and have swept hundreds of counties in recent years, with 348 in which whites are no longer in the majority. That number doubles when it comes to the toddler population, Mr. Frey said. Whites are no longer the majority in four states and the District of Columbia, and have slipped below half in many major metro areas, including New York, Las Vegas and Memphis.

A more diverse young population forms the basis of a generational divide with the country’s elderly, a group that is largely white and grew up in a world that was too.

The contrast raises important policy questions. The United States has a spotty record educating minority youth; will older Americans balk at paying to educate a younger generation that looks less like themselves? And while the increasingly diverse young population is a potential engine of growth, will it become a burden if it is not properly educated?

“The question is, how do we reimagine the social contract when the generations don’t look like one another?” said Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, co-director of Immigration studies at New York University.

The trend toward greater minority births has been building for years, the result of the large wave of immigration here over the past three decades. Hispanics make up the majority of immigrants, and they tend to be younger — and to have more children — than non-Hispanic whites. (Of the total births in the year that ended last July, about 26 percent were Hispanic, about 15 percent black, and about 4 percent Asian.)

Whites still represent the single largest share of all births, at 49.6 percent, and are an overwhelming majority in the population as a whole, at 63.4 percent. But they are aging, causing a tectonic shift in American demographics. The median age for non-Hispanic whites is 42 — meaning the bulk of women are moving out of their prime childbearing years.

Latinos, on the other hand, are squarely within their peak fertility, with a median age of 27, said Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center. Between 2000 and 2010, there were more Hispanic births in the United States than there were arriving Hispanic immigrants, he said.

The result is striking: Minorities accounted for 92 percent of the nation’s population growth in the decade that ended in 2010, Mr. Frey calculated, a surge that has created a very different looking America from the one of the 1950s, when the TV characters Ozzie and Harriet were a national archetype.

The change is playing out across states with large differences in ethnic and racial makeup between the elderly and the young. Some of the largest gaps are in Arizona, Nevada, Texas and California, states that have had flare-ups over immigration, school textbooks and priorities in spending. The nonrural county with the largest gap is Yuma County, Ariz., where just 18 percent of people under 20 are white, compared with 73 percent of people over 65, Mr. Frey said.


More Foreign Spies Active On US Soil Than At Peak Of Cold War

May 10, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – A former top CIA covert officer who ran one of the spy agency’s secret domestic networks says there are now more foreign spies on U.S. soil than at the peak of the Cold War. The former officer, Hank Crumpton, who also served as deputy director of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center and led the U.S. response to 9/11, speaks candidly to Lara Logan about his life as a spy on 60Minutes, Sunday, May 13at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

As the chief of the CIA’s National Resources Division, the highly-sensitive, secret domestic operation, he conducted counter-intelligence within the U.S. “If you look at the threat that is imposed upon our nation every day, some of the major nation states — China in particular — [have] very sophisticated intelligence operations, very aggressive operations against the U.S.,” says Crumpton. “I would hazard to guess there are more foreign intelligence officers inside the U.S. working against U.S. interests now than even at the height of the Cold War,” he tells Logan. “It’s a critical issue.”

Also critical in Crumpton’s mind is the danger posed by al Qaeda, especially factions operating in North Africa. “I’m particularly concerned about al Qaeda in Yemen, which is fractured as a nation state,” he says. “The Sahel, if you look at al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, they pose a threat, and in Somalia. Those are the places I’d be concerned,” says Crumpton.

Crumpton says al Qaeda could make a comeback in Afghanistan if the U.S. withdraws too quickly. The current situation there reminds him of a “Greek tragedy,” he tells Logan. “You’ve got so many mistakes on the U.S. side, and you’ve got a feckless, corrupt government on the Afghan side. I am really more pessimistic now than I’ve been in a long time,” says Crumpton.

The retired spy also tells Logan about the early months in Afghanistan after 9/11, when the U.S. effort to topple the Taliban was led by the CIA and about how two administrations’ failure to let CIA assets kill Osama bin Laden led to the development of predator drones.

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New York Governor: US Turning Into Nation Of People Sitting On Couch Waiting For Next Government Check

April 10, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Gov. Chris Christie said the country is becoming a “paternalistic entitlement society” this morning in a speech at a conservative conference headed by former President George W. Bush.

Addressing Bush and other national Republicans, Christie said he hasn’t seen a less optimistic period in the country in his lifetime.

“Government’s telling them stop dreaming, stop striving, we’ll take care of you,” he said at a theater at the New York Historical Society. “We’re turning into a paternalistic entitlement society. That will not just bankrupt us financially, it will bankrupt us morally.”

“We’ll have a bunch of people sitting on a couch waiting for their next government check,” Christie said.

Christie and Bush kicked off a day-long conference on pro-growth tax policy run by the President George W. Bush Institute, a group that Bush said allows him to engage in public policy issues behind the scenes.

Speakers throughout the day include Steve Forbes, Congressman Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and several governors. In addition to Bush, Henry Kissinger was in the audience for Christie’s 30-minute speech.

Bush said the topic of the conference is how to grow the private sector. He introduced Christie by complimenting his “enormous personality” and “belief in the individual,” saying even Texans had taken note of the governor.

“We admire the courageous stance you take,” said Bush, who nominated Christie to be U.S. Attorney.

“I was a proud member of the Bush administration for seven years,” Christie said, later adding that Bush “inspired a whole new generation of conservative Republican leaders.”

Christie spent much of his speech recapping his first two budgets, pension and health benefit overhaul for public workers, and the 2 percent cap on property taxes, stressing bipartisanship but also touting his ability to stick to his principles.

“We developed relationships with the other side of the aisle that allowed them to trust us. And that doesn’t happen overnight,” Christie said. “Day after day after day you have to sit with our colleagues and convince them of the goodness of your spirit and of the understanding that compromise is not a dirty word.”

He used his veto of the millionaire’s tax and his current pursuit of a 10 percent income tax cut as examples of the type of pro-growth tax policy that Bush referenced. He said the public sector in New Jersey is smaller, while he has created jobs in the private sector.

“If you can do this in New Jersey, you can do it anywhere,” Christie said. “Most importantly you can do it in Washington D.C. What we need again is some leadership that is not going to take no for an answer.”

Though Christie alluded to national politics, he spent most of the speech on New Jersey issues. Neither he nor Bush mentioned President Barack Obama, or the likely Republican presidential nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Christie has endorsed and campaigned for Romney, while Bush has not publicly endorsed any of the GOP candidates.

“I have decided to stay out of the limelight,” Bush said. “I don’t think it’s good, frankly, for our country to undermine the president and I don’t intend to do so. But I do intend to remain involved in areas that I’m interested in.”

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Cops Keep Getting Killed – Highest Rate Since 2008

April 10, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC — As violent crime has decreased across the country, a disturbing trend has emerged: rising numbers of police officers are being killed.

According to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 72 officers were killed by perpetrators in 2011, a 25 percent increase from the previous year and a 75 percent increase from 2008.

The 2011 deaths were the first time that more officers were killed by suspects than car accidents, according to data compiled by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The number was the highest in nearly two decades, excluding those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

While a majority of officers were killed in smaller cities, 13 were killed in cities of 250,000 or more. New York City lost two officers last year. On Sunday, four were wounded by a gunman in Brooklyn, bringing to eight the number of officers shot in the city since December.

“We haven’t seen a period of this type of violence in a long time,” said Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly of the New York Police Department.

While the F.B.I. and other law enforcement officials cannot fully explain the reasons for the rise in officer homicides, they are clear about the devastating consequences.

“In this law enforcement job, when you pin this badge on and go out on calls, when you leave home, you ain’t got a promise that you will come back,” said Sheriff Ray Foster of Buchanan County, Va. Two of his deputies were killed in March 2011 and two wounded — one of them paralyzed — by a man with a high-powered rifle.

“That was 80 percent of my day shift,” he said.

After a spate of killings in early 2011, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asked federal authorities to work with local police departments to try to come up with solutions to the problem.

The F.B.I., which has tracked officer deaths since 1937, paid for a study conducted by John Jay College that found that in many cases the officers were trying to arrest or stop a suspect who had previously been arrested for a violent crime.

That prompted the F.B.I. to change what information it will provide to local police departments, the officials said. Starting this year, when police officers stop a car and call its license plate into the F.B.I.’s database, they will be told whether the owner of the vehicle has a violent history. Through the first three months of this year, the number of police fatalities has dropped, though it is unclear why.

Some law enforcement officials believe that techniques pioneered by the New York Police Department over the past two decades and adopted by other departments may have put officers at greater risk by encouraging them to conduct more street stops and to seek out and confront suspects who seem likely to be armed. In New York and elsewhere, police officials moved more officers into crime-ridden areas.

“This technique has become more popular across the country as smaller departments have followed the larger cities and tried to prevent crime,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. “Unlike several decades ago, there is this expectation that police matter and that police can make a difference.”

Commissioner Kelly said, “We try to put those officers where there is the most potential for violence.” However, he pointed out that most of the officers who have been shot in New York since December were not part of a proactive police deployment but were responding to emergencies.

Some argue that the rise in violence is linked to the tough economy. With less money, some states are releasing prisoners earlier; police departments, after years of staffing increases, have been forced to make cutbacks.

“A lot of these killings aren’t happening in major urban areas,” said James W. McMahon, chief of staff for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “One of the concerns we are looking at is that a number of officers are being laid off or furloughed or not replaced.”

The police chief in Camden, N.J., J. Scott Thomson, whose force of 400 was cut by nearly half last year because of financing issues, said that having fewer officers on the street “makes it that much more difficult to create an environment in which criminals do not feel as emboldened to assault another person, let alone a law enforcement officer.”

The murder of a veteran officer last April in Chattanooga, Tenn., was typical of many of the 2011 episodes.

Sgt. Tim Chapin, a veteran nearing retirement, rushed to provide backup to officers who had responded to reports of a robbery outside a pawnshop and were under fire. Sergeant Chapin got out of his car and chased the fleeing suspect, who had been convicted of armed robbery. During the pursuit, the sergeant was fatally shot in the head.

As part of the F.B.I.’s efforts to prevent officer deaths, the bureau trains thousands of officers each year, highlighting shootings like the one in Chattanooga to teach officers about situations in which they are most vulnerable. Those situations are typically pursuits, traffic stops and arrests, said Michelle S. Klimt, a top F.B.I. official at its Criminal Justice Information Services Center in Clarksburg, W.Va., who oversees officer training.

“Every stop can be potentially fatal, so we are trying to make sure the officers are ready and prepared every single day they go out,” Ms. Klimt said. “We try and teach that every day you go out, you are going to be encountered with deadly force by someone trying to kill you.”

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