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The Point of No Return

libertyshame4

President Obama is about to play defense, for three years.

Nov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08
BY FRED BARNES

President Obama is facing the abyss. It’s that moment when a president’s plans are overwhelmed by his problems, and he’s relegated to playing defense for the rest of his White House term. Obama’s agenda already lingers near death. His poll numbers have slipped to new lows. His speeches are full of alibis and accusations.

Obama hasn’t reached the point of no return, but he’s close. His biggest problem is the collapse of Obamacare on its launching pad as the entire country watched. And there’s worse trouble ahead. More likely than not, Obamacare will be the dominant issue in the final three-plus years of his presidency. From that, there’s no recovery.

Years on defense—impotent years—have beset even the strongest of presidents. After the Iran-contra scandal broke in November 1986, the Reagan presidency was essentially over. He served two more years and made a triumphant trip to the Soviet Union, but his power was gone. The low point was the overturning of his veto of a highway bill.

Jimmy Carter’s presidency was hardly a powerhouse. Still, it had one shining moment, when the Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt was signed in September 1978. What clout Carter had vanished after the “malaise” speech in July 1979. It made him a target of ridicule.

Impeachment in 1998 forced President Clinton into retreat. His popularity remained high, but he abandoned an agenda that included entitlement reform. Even an unexpected Democratic victory in the midterm elections in his second term couldn’t revive his presidency.

In George W. Bush’s case, problems in his second term quickly engulfed his administration. The Iraq war became a bloodbath, his plan for overhauling Social Security had few takers, and he was blamed, unfairly, for the incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina. A troop buildup and adoption of a counterinsurgency strategy saved Iraq from disaster, but otherwise Bush’s second term was marked by futility.

Now, with his presidency in peril, Obama seems unprepared to avert paralysis. The failed startup of Obamacare, its website a “joke” in the view of 60 percent of America in a Fox News poll, caught the president by surprise. He refused to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem, conceding only that healthcare.gov wasn’t working as “smoothly as it was supposed to.” Neither is his presidency.

From all appearances, Obama sees the Obamacare mess as partly a political headache. A headline in Politico last week captured this: “White House works to flip Obamacare narrative.” It’s as if Obama and his advisers think they’re dealing with a faux pas to be smoothed over with political spin. Commentary’s Peter Wehner calls this attitude “detachment from reality.”

True, Obamacare will be a campaign issue in the 2014 midterm elections and no doubt a significant factor in the presidential election two years later. But that’s not because Obamacare is merely a matter of politics. It’s because Obamacare is now the official health care system for 310 million people and represents one-sixth of the American economy.

And it’s a national embarrassment whose troubles are only beginning. Unpleasant shocks loom for a majority of Americans who tap into Obamacare exchanges. Those 40 years of age and younger will discover next year their insurance premiums are “a lot higher than they would pay in today’s market,” says health care expert James Capretta. That will create a furor.

So, too, some lower-middle-income and middle-class Americans will find their access to doctors is limited. Why? Because many of the country’s biggest and best hospitals and some doctors have not agreed to take on this category of patients. Also, patients will be forced to endure longer waits as a result of a doctor shortage. In 2015 and 2016, the popular Medicare Advantage program will shrink.

Low-income folks and those with preexisting conditions will prosper under Obamacare. But how will middle-income Americans feel when they learn they’re paying considerably more for the same insurance? Not happy, I suspect. Or those under 30 who chose a “catastrophic-only” policy with high deductibles? They won’t be thrilled when told they are ineligible for a subsidy, whatever their income.

The point is that as Obamacare is rolled out over the final years of this presidency, there will be numerous occasions when Obama’s promises about the new health insurance scheme are exposed as untrue. If these incidents don’t provoke a crisis, they’ll at least keep Obamacare from fading as a prominent and fiercely debated issue.

And the president will pay a price. He’ll be stuck on defense, unable to change the subject. His agenda won’t help. A $9 minimum wage, universal preschool, immigration reform, global warming legislation, more infrastructure spending, higher taxes—there’s nothing close to a national consensus in support of these liberal leftovers.

Despite all this, Obama could escape a lost presidency. He has a loyal base that’s kept his approval rating in the low 40s. (Carter and Bush dipped into the 20s.) Democrats may be dreaming when they envision a 2014 election in which Republicans suffer badly from the shutdown. But it’s not inconceivable Republicans could lose the House, and their prospects of capturing the Senate are no better than 50-50. Then and only then, Obama’s presidency could be spared an early death and the nation’s attention shifted from a dreadful health plan named after him. That’s a nice scenario, but I’m not buying it. The humiliation of presiding over Obamacare’s debut won’t be soon forgotten.

But ponder this: Had Obamacare been created as a private enterprise with Obama as CEO, it wouldn’t have lasted a week. Not only would the stumbling company have been put out of business, so would its incompetent CEO. And we’d all—well, most of us—be better off.

Fred Barnes is an executive editor at The Weekly Standard.

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Obama’s trouble: 12 U.S. Intelligence Officials Tell him It Wasn’t Assad

by TheGreekZen on September 8, 2013.

From Consortium News: Despite the Obama administration’s supposedly “high confidence” regarding Syrian government guilt over the Aug. 21 chemical attack near Damascus, a dozen former U.S. military and intelligence officials are telling President Obama that they are picking up information that undercuts the Official Story.

By Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran, who chaired National Intelligence Estimates and personally delivered intelligence briefings to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, their Vice Presidents, Secretaries of State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many other senior government officials

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Is Syria a Trap?

Precedence: IMMEDIATE

We regret to inform you that some of our former co-workers are telling us, categorically, that contrary to the claims of your administration, the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21, and that British intelligence officials also know this. In writing this brief report, we choose to assume that you have not been fully informed because your advisers decided to afford you the opportunity for what is commonly known as “plausible denial.”

We have been down this road before – with President George W. Bush, to whom we addressed our first VIPS memorandumimmediately after Colin Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003 U.N. speech, in which he peddled fraudulent “intelligence” to support attacking Iraq. Then, also, we chose to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt, thinking he was being misled – or, at the least, very poorly advised.

Secretary of State John Kerry departs for a Sept. 6 trip to Europe where he plans to meet with officials to discuss the Syrian crisis and other issues. (State Department photo)

The fraudulent nature of Powell’s speech was a no-brainer. And so, that very afternoon we strongly urged your predecessor to “widen the discussion beyond …  the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.” We offer you the same advice today.

Our sources confirm that a chemical incident of some sort did cause fatalities and injuries on August 21 in a suburb of Damascus. They insist, however, that the incident was not the result of an attack by the Syrian Army using military-grade chemical weapons from its arsenal. That is the most salient fact, according to CIA officers working on the Syria issue. They tell us that CIA Director John Brennan is perpetrating a pre-Iraq-War-type fraud on members of Congress, the media, the public – and perhaps even you.

We have observed John Brennan closely over recent years and, sadly, we find what our former colleagues are now telling us easy to believe. Sadder still, this goes in spades for those of us who have worked with him personally; we give him zero credence. And that goes, as well, for his titular boss, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has admitted he gave “clearly erroneous” sworn testimony to Congress denying NSA eavesdropping on Americans.

Intelligence Summary or Political Ploy?

That Secretary of State John Kerry would invoke Clapper’s name this week in Congressional testimony, in an apparent attempt to enhance the credibility of the four-page “Government Assessment” strikes us as odd. The more so, since it was, for some unexplained reason, not Clapper but the White House that released the “assessment.”

This is not a fine point. We know how these things are done. Although the “Government Assessment” is being sold to the media as an “intelligence summary,” it is a political, not an intelligence document. The drafters, massagers, and fixers avoided presenting essential detail. Moreover, they conceded upfront that, though they pinned “high confidence” on the assessment, it still fell “short of confirmation.”

Déjà Fraud: This brings a flashback to the famous Downing Street Minutes of July 23, 2002, on Iraq, The minutes record the Richard Dearlove, then head of British intelligence, reporting to Prime Minister Tony Blair and other senior officials that President Bush had decided to remove Saddam Hussein through military action that would be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” Dearlove had gotten the word from then-CIA Director George Tenet whom he visited at CIA headquarters on July 20.

The discussion that followed centered on the ephemeral nature of the evidence, prompting Dearlove to explain: “But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” We are concerned that this is precisely what has happened with the “intelligence” on Syria.

The Intelligence

There is a growing body of evidence from numerous sources in the Middle East — mostly affiliated with the Syrian opposition and its supporters — providing a strong circumstantial case that the August 21 chemical incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters. The aim is reported to have been to create the kind of incident that would bring the United States into the war.

According to some reports, canisters containing chemical agent were brought into a suburb of Damascus, where they were then opened. Some people in the immediate vicinity died; others were injured.

We are unaware of any reliable evidence that a Syrian military rocket capable of carrying a chemical agent was fired into the area. In fact, we are aware of no reliable physical evidence to support the claim that this was a result of a strike by a Syrian military unit with expertise in chemical weapons.

In addition, we have learned that on August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.

Senior opposition commanders who came from Istanbul pre-briefed the regional commanders on an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development,” which, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria.

At operations coordinating meetings at Antakya, attended by senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials as well as senior commanders of the Syrian opposition, the Syrians were told that the bombing would start in a few days. Opposition leaders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the U.S. bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Bashar al-Assad government

The Qatari and Turkish intelligence officials assured the Syrian regional commanders that they would be provided with plenty of weapons for the coming offensive. And they were. A weapons distribution operation unprecedented in scope began in all opposition camps on August 21-23. The weapons were distributed from storehouses controlled by Qatari and Turkish intelligence under the tight supervision of U.S. intelligence officers.

Cui bono?

That the various groups trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have ample incentive to get the U.S. more deeply involved in support of that effort is clear. Until now, it has not been quite as clear that the Netanyahu government in Israel has equally powerful incentive to get Washington more deeply engaged in yet another war in the area. But with outspoken urging coming from Israel and those Americans who lobby for Israeli interests, this priority Israeli objective is becoming crystal clear.

Reporter Judi Rudoren, writing from Jerusalem in an important article in Friday’s New York Times addresses Israeli motivation in an uncommonly candid way. Her article, titled “Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria,” notes that the Israelis have argued, quietly, that the best outcome for Syria’s two-and-a-half-year-old civil war, at least for the moment, is no outcome. Rudoren continues:

“For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.

“‘This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,’ said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. ‘Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.’”

We think this is the way Israel’s current leaders look at the situation in Syria, and that deeper U.S. involvement – albeit, initially, by “limited” military strikes – is likely to ensure that there is no early resolution of the conflict in Syria. The longer Sunni and Shia are at each other’s throats in Syria and in the wider region, the safer Israel calculates that it is.

That Syria’s main ally is Iran, with whom it has a mutual defense treaty, also plays a role in Israeli calculations. Iran’s leaders are not likely to be able to have much military impact in Syria, and Israel can highlight that as an embarrassment for Tehran.

Iran’s Role

Iran can readily be blamed by association and charged with all manner of provocation, real and imagined. Some have seen Israel’s hand in the provenance of the most damaging charges against Assad regarding chemical weapons and our experience suggests to us that such is supremely possible.

Possible also is a false-flag attack by an interested party resulting in the sinking or damaging, say, of one of the five U.S. destroyers now on patrol just west of Syria. Our mainstream media could be counted on to milk that for all it’s worth, and you would find yourself under still more pressure to widen U.S. military involvement in Syria – and perhaps beyond, against Iran.

Iran has joined those who blame the Syrian rebels for the August 21 chemical incident, and has been quick to warn the U.S. not to get more deeply involved. According to the Iranian English-channel Press TV, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif has claimed: “The Syria crisis is a trap set by Zionist pressure groups for [the United States].”

Actually, he may be not far off the mark. But we think your advisers may be chary of entertaining this notion. Thus, we see as our continuing responsibility to try to get word to you so as to ensure that you and other decision makers are given the full picture.

Inevitable Retaliation

We hope your advisers have warned you that retaliation for attacks on Syrian are not a matter of IF, but rather WHERE and WHEN. Retaliation is inevitable. For example, terrorist strikes on U.S. embassies and other installations are likely to make what happened to the U.S. “Mission” in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, look like a minor dust-up by comparison. One of us addressed this key consideration directly a week ago in an article titled “Possible Consequences of a U.S. Military Attack on Syria – Remembering the U.S. Marine Barracks Destruction in Beirut, 1983.”

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Thomas Drake, Senior Executive, NSA (former)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan

Larry Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

W. Patrick Lang, Senior Executive and Defense Intelligence Officer, DIA (ret.)

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East (ret.)

Todd Pierce, US Army Judge Advocate General (ret.)

Sam Provance, former Sgt., US Army, Iraq

Coleen Rowley, Division Council & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)source

Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret); Foreign Service Officer (ret.)

Source

Spying Blind

The National Security Agency has an intelligence problem: It won’t admit how dumb it is.

AUGUST 16, 2013
BY SHANE HARRIS

The Obama administration’s claim that the NSA is not spying on Americans rests on a fundamental assertion: That the intelligence agency is so good at distinguishing between innocent people and evildoers, and is so tightly overseen by Congress and the courts, that it doesn’t routinely collect the communications of Americans en masse.

We now know that’s not true. And we shouldn’t be surprised. The question is, why won’t the NSA admit it?

On Thursday night, the Washington Post released a classified audit of NSA’s intelligence-gathering systems, showing they are beset by human error, fooled by moving targets, and rely on so many different servers and databases that NSA employees can’t keep tabs on all of them.

It had been previously reported that the NSA had unintentionally collected the communications of Americans, in violation of court orders, as it swept up electronic signals in foreign countries. But officials had sought to portray those mistakes as limited, swiftly corrected, and not affecting that many people.

Wrong again.

One of the reasons that the NSA has been able to gather so much power is that the agency has built a reputation over the years for super-smarts and hyper-competence. The NSA’s analysts weren’t just the brainiest guys in the room, the myth went; they were the brightest bulbs in the building. The NSA’s hackers could penetrate any network. Their mathematicians could unravel any equation. Their cryptologists could crack any cipher. That reputation has survived blown assignments and billion-dollar boondoggles. Whether it can outlast these latest revelations is an open question.

The Post found that the NSA “has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authorities thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008…” That’s the year when NSA’s global surveillance system went into hyperdrive. The agency was granted unprecedented authority to monitor communications without individual warrants and to surveil whole categories of people and communications.

Most of the violations affecting Americans’ information were the result what the agency calls “incidental collection.” So how many Americans were caught up in the NSA’s surveillance nets as they were dragged across supposedly foreign targets? The exact number is unclear. But the short answer is: lots and lots of them.

In one instance, a programming glitch collected a “large number” of calls from Washington, D.C, instead of the intended targets in Egypt, according to the audit. Somehow, the area code 202 (for Washington) was keyed instead of 20 (the country code for Egypt.) The NSA’s supposedly discriminating surveillance architecture was undone by a typo.

The audit reveals a recurring problem with human error in the day-to-day operations of global surveillance and shows what a messy and imprecise business it can be. In the first quarter of 2012, 123 incidents of non-compliance with the rules, or 63 percent of those examined, were attributed to human or operator error. These included typographical errors, inaccurate or overbroad search queries, and what the report calls “inaccurate or insufficient research information and/or workload issues.”

Analysts needed more “complete and consistent” information about their targets to avoid errors, the audit found. This suggests that while the NSA’s collection systems are dipping into data streams, the analysts aren’t always equipped to determine who is and isn’t a legitimate target.

The NSA’s systems also have problems knowing when a target is on the move, and possibly has entered the United States. (When he does, different regulations come into play about how the surveillance is authorized and what can be monitored without approval from the court.)

As recently as 2012, NSA was not always able to know when targets using a mobile phone had crossed a U.S. border. These so-called “roamers” accounted for the largest number of technological errors in the violations that were examined.

A problem discovered last year, which appears in the report under the heading “Significant Incidents of Non-Compliance,” helps illustrate how NSA is collecting so much information that it can actually lose track of it and store it in places where it shouldn’t be.

In February 2012, the NSA found 3,032 “files containing call detail records” on a server. A call detail record, or CDR, is analogous to a phone bill. It shows whom was called, when, and for how long. This is metadata, like what’s collected today on all phone calls in the United States.

It’s not clear how many CDRs (each representing an individual) were in each of those files. But they were stored on the server for more than five years, past the cut off point at which the information is supposed to be destroyed, pursuant to NSA rules that are meant to protect the privacy of Americans.

How the records got there is a mystery. The report says they were “potentially collected” under business records orders, which are authorized by the Patriot Act. But that’s not certain.

What is known, however, is that the records were stored with information that shouldn’t have been anywhere near them. It came from the agency’s highly classified Stellar Wind program, which covered the warrantless interception of phone calls and emails (not just their metadata) that was secretly authorized by President George W. Bush in 2001. Joining the CDRs and the Stellar Wind records was data from yet another program that was unrelated to the two.

Mixing or “co-mingling” information obtained from different programs, and under different laws or authorizations, is a dangerous practice in the intelligence profession. Information is segregated to restrict and monitor the number of people who have access to it. An analyst cleared to look at CDRs might not be authorized to listen to phone calls intercepted under Stellar Wind. But if it’s all on the same server, he might be able to do just that.

That may have happened in 2011, according to the audit. Some personnel may have been granted access to a cache of information that was recently modified so that they were no longer allowed to look at it. But not all the employees were informed about the change.

Storing different intelligence streams in one place also increases the risk of revealing valuable sources and methods for how it was obtained–a basic violation of intelligence tradecraft. It also it makes it easier to steal. (Just ask Edward Snowden.)

And segregation creates a bulwark against privacy violations. Information about Americans is generally kept clear of foreign intelligence because the rules on how the former can be used and disseminated are stricter.

But infractions and mistakes weren’t always reported to the NSA’s overseers, either in Congress or at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Partly that’s because the NSA doesn’t view unintentional or “incidental” collection of Americans’ communications as a violation of the rules. It was an accident, the result of what the agency called in a previously declassified document “problems [that] generally involved the implementation of highly sophisticated technology in a complex and ever-changing communications environment…” Translation: Surveillance is hard. Our computers aren’t perfect. We acted in good faith.

Not that the court can verify if that’s true. In a candid admission to the Post, the chief judge, Reggie Walton, said he and his colleagues must “rely upon the accuracy of the information” the government provides, and that the court “does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance…”

In one case where the court did curtail a new kind of surveillance, it was only months after learning that it was put in place. The court deemed the still-undisclosed activities unconstitutional, and the NSA had to make changes before it could restart them.

The NSA is also instructing its employees not to provide full information about infractions to Congress, which is supposed to oversee intelligence collection efforts and ensure they comply with the law.

The newly released documents affirm something we’ve long known: the NSA gathers up large amounts of information on foreigners and U.S. citizens and then tries to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff, with imperfect results. That’s alarming, but from a technological standpoint, understandable.

What members of Congress and the public may find more troubling is that the NSA wasn’t honest about these shortcomings. Officials hid them from the same judges and lawmakers that President Obama recently said were engaged in a rigorous process of checks and balances that keeps electronic spying within the bounds of the law.

Perhaps that system, like the NSA’s data vacuums, could use a tune up.

Source

More on NSA

Indefinite Surveillance: Say Hello to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014

 

June 18, 2013
by Stephen Benavides

Passed in 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) set the groundwork for surveillance, collection, and analysis of intelligence gathered from foreign powers and agents of foreign powers, up to and including any individual residing within the U.S., who were suspected of involvement in potential terrorist activity.  On October 26, 2001, a little over a month after 9/11, President George W. Bush signed the USA Patriot Act into law. Two provisions, Sec. 206, permitting government to obtain secret court orders allowing roving wiretaps without requiring identification of the person, organization, or facility to be surveyed, and Sec. 215 authorizing government to access and obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorist investigation, transformed foreign intelligence into domestic intelligence.

NDAA 2014 builds on the powers granted by both the Patriot Act and FISA by allowing unrestricted analysis and research of captured records pertaining to any organization or individual “now or once hostile to the United States”.  Under the Patriot Act, the ability to obtain “any tangible thing” eliminated any expectation of privacy.  Under NDAA 2014 Sec. 1061(g)(1), an overly vague definition of captured records enhances government power and guarantees indefinite surveillance. 

On May 22, 2013 the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities, one of several Armed Services Committees, met to discuss the National Defense Authorization Act(NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014.  The main subject of the hearing was Sec. 1061, otherwise known as Enhancement of Capacity of the United States Government to Analyze Captured Records. This enhancement provision of   NDAA 2014 would effectively create a new intelligence agency, one with the authority to analyze information gained under the Patriot Act, FISA, and known spying programs such as PRISM.

Sec. 1061(a) authorizes the Secretary of Defense to “establish a center to be known as the ‘Conflict Records Research Center’” (Center). The main purpose of the center, according to the bill text, is to create a “digital research database,” one with the capability to “translate” and facilitate research on “records captured from countries, organizations and individuals, now or once hostile to the United States.” The authorization also says the Center will conduct research and analysis to “increase the understanding of factors related to international relations, counterterrorism and conventional and unconventional warfare, and ultimately, enhance national security.”

In order to make the Center run, and to accomplish such an incredibly broad scope of “research and analysis,” the Secretary of Defense needs the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to cooperate in coordinating “information exchanges important to the leadership of the United States Government”.   That coordination would require participation of all 16 member agencies and departments of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  This would leave James Clapper, the man accused of lying to Congress about the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program known as PRISM, in de facto direction of another federal surveillance and data analysis agency.  And while the Center would be officially directed and overseen by the Secretary of Defense, without unfettered access to secret and top secret information, the Center would be completely ineffective.  These information exchanges would most likely include data and records generated by the mass surveillance of everyday people under PRISM, as well as surveillance of those identified as “potential terrorists” or “high value targets” by any one of those 16 intelligence agencies now in operation.

The proposed Center’s information exchanges rely on captured government records.  Under the NDAA 2014, Sec. 1061(g)(1), a captured record is defined as “a document, audio file, video file, or other material captured during combat operations from countries, organizations, or individuals, now or once hostile to the United States.”  But considering that the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) allows the “War on Terror” to exist in a perpetual and permanent state of combat operations, and that the American public is already existing under an expansive surveillance state, any record may qualify as a “captured record.” Thus, any captured document, audio file, video file, or other material could potentially be submitted to this new intelligence agency for research and analysis, all in the name of national security and counterterrorism, as deemed appropriate by a swelling government surveillance class.

The NDAA 2014 enhancement provision extends and consolidates the government’s authority to further gather and analyze records and data captured during any national security or terrorist related investigation, not just combat operations. But it does so without creating any explicit restriction from violating an individual’s right to privacy, from being subjected to unwarranted searches and seizures, or due process of individuals guaranteed by the Constitution. That’s eerily similar to the NDAA 2013 Sec. 1021 that codified the indefinite military detention of American citizens without requiring they be charged with a specific crime, or given a trial.

Under NDAA 2013, Sec. 1021 allowed the military detention of civilians without a writ of habeas corpus, when a person “was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” Under NDAA 2014, anyone is now subject to surveillance, not based on support of al-Qaeda or its associated forces, but based merely upon whether or not an individual is, or once was hostile to the U.S.  The question of what constitutes “hostility”, is left completely unanswered.

The new enhancement provision, as well as the previous NDAA’s indefinite detention mandate, goes to show how far the legislation has strayed from its stated purpose. According to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), the NDAA “authorizes funding for military activities of the Department of Defense, for military construction, for defense activities of the Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel strengths, and for other purposes.”

Instead, the NDAA has become the vehicle for the Executive Branch and Department of Defense to bypass Congress, and legislate away any perceived right, liberty, or privilege that conflicts with our current state of permanent war and indefinite surveillance.

In 2012, in an attempt to stop that “indefinite detention” provision, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced an amendment that would have prohibited the government from detaining citizens indefinitely using military force.  That proposed law, otherwise known as the “Feinstein Amendment” easily passed the Senate floor, but was later removed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI).  After removal of the only specific language that would guarantee the US Government would be prohibited from interpreting the act illegally; President Obama, also a Democrat, signed NDAA 2013 into law.

If passed in its current state, NDAA 2014 would authorize approximately $552 billion in total defense spending, with $86 billion going directly to war spending.  This amount exceeds what is allowed under the automatic austerity measures that went into effect as of March 1, 2013.  According to a report released in April 2013 by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, “[i]f personnel, operation and maintenance costs keep rising, they may consume the “entire defense budget” by 2024, leaving no funding for weapons procurement, military construction or family housing.”  Any program created by the Enhancement Provision of NDAA 2014 would necessarily burden an already overwhelmed working class, who are most affected by austerity.

While the National Security Agency swears that no citizen was spied on under PRISM, the very fact that cell phone metadata and online activity was gathered from millions of individuals guarantees that information was taken illegally from innocent people .  We’re told that the government is attempting to minimize the amount of information captured from Americans, and that all of that information is being kept in specialized and restricted servers in order to protect our constitutional rights.  But that’s difficult to believe when the Department of Justice is currently fighting the release of a secret FISA Court opinion that details unconstitutional government surveillance.

If indefinite detention became the primary reason for opposing NDAA 2013, then the enhance provision authorizing unlimited indefinite surveillance, may become the same issue for NDAA 2014.  If passed in its current state, NDAA 2014 will further guarantee that people exist not only under indefinite detention and permanent war, but also under indefinite surveillance by its government.

Source

Obama’s real legacy – $10 trillion in new federal debt over just four years

Tuesday, August 28, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) As Election Day nears, Americans certainly have some sobering choices to make. Whoever wins the White House has a monumental fiscal crisis to deal with – one that makes losses incurred during the Great Recession of 2008 look like pocket change.

Either way you cut it, the country has been, and will remain, on a path of unsustainable debt. Federal spending under George W. Bush added some $4 trillion dollars to the country’s already burgeoning national debt, but under President Obama that debt has skyrocketed to a staggering $16-plus trillion, and, if the current administration’s budget projections remain unchanged, Obama will have added an unprecedented, mind-numbing, calculator-busting $10 trillion in federal government debt that your children – and their children and their children – will likely have to pay off.

It’s stunning, really, to sit back and watch the country being spent into oblivion, but that’s what’s happening.

Modest growth + increased debt = insolvency; the question is when

“By the end of this year, the federal debt is expected to be $16.2 trillion, which is $6.2 trillion more than when President Obama first came into office four years ago,” says The Weekly Standard, a conservative publication, in a recent blog which included a graphic projecting record budget growth between now and Fiscal Year 2017, the end of a second Obama term if reelected.

Starting at an estimated $15.2 trillion of debt currently (which is about $5 trillion more than when Bush left office), federal debt is expected to rise to $17.5 trillion by next year, then rise by roughly a trillion dollars a year until 2016, when the federal debt is expected to exceed $20.3 trillion.

This isn’t hyperbole; under the current regime, the country has suffered through four straight years of trillion-dollar deficits, and there is no reason to expect, given its history, that the current administration would change much.

“The Congressional Budget Office also says it expects the economy to continue recovering at only a modest rate the rest of this year, growing at a modest annual rate of 2.25 percent. The slow-moving economy and massive federal deficits are top-flight issues in this year’s presidential and congressional campaigns,” The Associated Press said in parsing a CBO estimate on current budget projections.

“Federal debt will increase to $25.4 trillion by the end of 2022, an increase of $10.6 trillion (72 percent) under the president’s budget policies,” adds the Senate Budget Committee.

Budget? What budget?

Part of the problem is unrestrained spending. As in, Congress has not voted on, and Obama has not signed, an actual budget in more than three years. According to the Standard, it’s been more than 1,212 days since Senate Democrats allowed a budget vote on the floor of their chamber.

Article I of the U.S. Constitution requires Congress to pass a federal budget. Despite the clear priority the Constitution gives to maintaining discipline in federal spending, the last time Congress enacted a budget was April 29, 2009,” more than three years ago, noted Mathew Staver, chairman of the Liberty Council.

Here are some more staggering numbers:

  • — Under current figures, the U.S. debt-per-person exceeds $50,900; U.S. debt per taxpayer; however, climbs to a staggering $140,000 each
  • — The current national debt is slated to surpass $16 trillion before Election Day
  • — The country’s Social Security liability is in excess of $15 trillion; the prescription drug liability is more than $20 trillion, and Medicare’s unfunded liability is $83 trillion, for a total unfunded liability of a massive, country-shattering $120.4 trillion – or every dollar in gross domestic product the U.S. will generate for the next eight years. And in case you’re interested, that’s a total debt of more than $1 million per taxpayer.

As Americans, we have some very important fiscal decisions to make when we go to the polls in November.
Sources:

http://www.weeklystandard.com
http://content.usatoday.com
http://www.usdebtclock.org/

Desperately avoiding Obamanomics and Obamacare

Mitt Romney can’t let Barack Obama get away with it

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By Dr. Milton R. Wolf
The Washington Times
Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The intertwined strands of evil DNA – Obamanomics and Obamacare – will determine the outcome of the 2012 election, and Barack Obama knows it. That’s why he desperately wants to talk about something else. Anything else. A failed stimulus. Shovel-ready jobs that even President Obama later admitted don’t exist. Auto takeovers. Bank bailouts. Mythical green jobs. And a historic American credit downgrade. Obamanomics has become the science of downward-sloping graphs.

Officially, America is in the third year of recovery from the Great Recession, but try convincing voters of that. The average unemployment rate in Mr. Obama’s first three years was 9.3 percent. Surely, somehow that must be the fault of President George W. Bush, whom Democrats mocked in 2004 as delivering a “jobless recovery” even though the average unemployment rate in his eight years was 5.3 percent.

The real unemployment rate, when you include the underemployed and those who’ve simply given up looking for jobs that just aren’t there, is almost 15 percent. Since Obamanomics was unleashed – increased taxes, increased regulations, wildly increased spending and weak-dollar monetary policy – a million fewer jobs exist in America, median household income has dropped nearly 10 percent, housing prices have hit an almost 10-year low, gas prices have doubled, a record number of Americans are on food stamps, and the federal debt races toward $16 trillion (around $140,000 per taxpayer).

The only way out of this abyss is, of course, private-sector economic growth. In the aftermath of the recession of the early 1980s, for example, President Reagan’s economic strategy was exactly the opposite of Mr. Obama‘s: lower taxes, lower spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), reduced regulations and strong-dollar monetary policy. That produced an average GDP growth rate of 7.1 percent. Now, three years into Obamanomics, America’s GDP growth rate has slowed to a crawl: 2.2 percent.

The administration would like you to think we’ve turned the corner, but calling our current economic status a recovery is like calling the product of a Kim Kardashian wedding a marriage. Technically, it meets the definition, but, come on, nobody’s buying it.

As if the quagmire that is Obamanomics weren’t enough, the president dropped an anchor that not only sabotages his own recovery but threatens our nation’s long-term economic survival: Obamacare.

So thoroughly disastrous is Mr. Obama’s signature accomplishment that many Democrats are openly hopeful that the Supreme Court will rule Obamacare unconstitutional so it becomes less of an issue in the presidential election. Imagine that. Mr. Obama and the Democrats fiddled with Obamacare as America’s economy burned, and now they hope we will forget. We won’t.

The Obamacare house of cards is collapsing. Its price tag has doubled. Americans remain adamantly opposed to it. And the unkeepable promises have vanished like vapor on the wind: It would allow you to keep your current insurance and doctor and lower your monthly health insurance premiums. It would reduce the deficit and create millions of jobs. Lies all.

So what’s a president to do when his stimulus has failed and his health care takeover is even worse? Avoid them at all costs. Talk about anything else. Student loans. Birth control. Hooded sweatshirts. Heck, even talk about eating dogs.Anything besides the two issues that define his presidency and threaten our republic.

It’s Obamanomics and Obamacare, the intertwined strands of evil DNA, stupid.

Mitt Romney should avoid the temptation of chasing Mr. Obama down every side-issue rabbit hole. At every opportunity, he should drag him back to the main path. Whenever Mr. Romney is asked a question, whether in debates or by reporters or even at town-hall meetings, his answer should always include at least one of those two words: Obamanomics and Obamacare.

Question: Mr. Governor, should a woman’s access to birth control be a right?

Answer: The most effective way to assure access to products or services is to make them affordable through free-market competition. That’s how stores like Wal-Mart and Target provide birth control for just $9 a month. And the most moral approach is for people to freely choose to participate or not. Unfortunately, Obamanomics adds crushing burdens on American companies that drive up prices and therefore limit access. And Obamacare unbelievably forces women in churches to choose between their government and their God. American women are victimized by both Obamacare and Obamanomics.

That’s easy enough.

The 2012 election will be the most consequential of our lifetimes, probably of our children’s and our children’s children’s lifetimes. We will choose between Mitt Romney’s opportunity society and Barack Obama’s government-centered society. Voters deserve an election that addresses rather than avoids the important issues that will determine the difference.

Source

2013 Cliff Dive?

The election will determine whether a nasty dose of austerity can be avoided

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May 5th 2012
WASHINGTON, DC

AMERICANS have watched austerity sweep Europe with a certain Schadenfreude. But eight months from now they may get a dose of the same medicine. The political compromises that have produced much of America’s deficit of 8% of GDP are programmed to go into reverse at the end of the year, two months after the election. A stimulus package consisting of a payroll-tax cut, investment tax credit and enhanced unemployment insurance expires then, as do George W. Bush’s tax cuts (which have already been extended by two years from their original end-date of 2010). At the same time an automatic, across-the-board cut in domestic and defense spending, called a “sequester”, takes effect, cutting about $100 billion from government spending next year.

The economic impact of this fiscal cliff is a matter of some debate. The Congressional Budget Office reckons that the combined effects of the sequester and the expiring tax cuts would add up to 3.6% of GDP in fiscal 2013. But David Greenlaw of Morgan Stanley, which puts the total effect at almost $700 billion at an annual rate, argues that the calendar-year impact is much larger, at around 5%. Others think the effect would be smaller, noting that some people will not experience the full tax hit until they file their returns in 2014.Even the lower estimates could easily be enough to tip the economy back into recession. Mr Greenlaw says the closest precedent was in 1968, when individual, corporate, excise and payroll taxes collectively rose by the equivalent of 3.1% of GDP, mostly to pay for the Vietnam war and to damp down inflation. The next year, the economy fell into recession.

In America in 1968, as in Europe today, austerity was an explicit goal. It is not so in America now. Although both parties seem prepared to let the stimulus measures expire, neither party wants all the Bush tax cuts to end, or the sequester to take effect. But since they have radically different ideas of what should take their place, the question cannot be settled until after the election.

If Barack Obama is re-elected, he will presumably be more willing to let the Bush cuts expire than he was during his first term. He may well not have to worry about the Treasury hitting its debt ceiling until next February. Republicans, who will probably still control the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate, may realize this. They may thus be more ready to strike a grand bargain—a deficit plan that both raises some new tax revenue and reduces the growth of entitlements, such as government-funded pensions.

But it would be hard to pass such complex changes by December 31st. At best, the two sides may agree on a framework for a bargain. They would then probably extend some or all of the Bush tax cuts and delay the sequester for a year. Yet there is no guarantee they would use that time wisely and reach a deal. Credit-rating agencies may well lose patience.

If Mitt Romney wins, Republicans, who would probably in that case control the Senate as well as the House, would have no incentive to negotiate with a lame-duck president. They would wait until Mr Romney is sworn in, then (retroactively) make the Bush tax cuts permanent, insulate defense spending from the sequester, and repeal Mr Obama’s health-care reform using a parliamentary process that cannot be filibustered. All that would take months. In the interim Mr Obama would presumably not, as his last act as president, extend the tax cuts he loathes so much or spare Republicans the pain of the sequester. The full force of unintended austerity would bite—for at least a few months.

Source

Graphic of the Day: Drilling Permits Down 36% Under Obama Administration

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When the president says he is opening up millions of acres for drilling exploration in the United States, Cavuto says you might want to thank the previous presidents instead, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. According to the Bureau of Land Management, the current administration has actually decreased approval of drilling permits by 36 percent. Even under Bill Clinton, his administration increased the approval of drilling permits by 58 percent, and George W. Bush increased approval by 116 percent.

But what about more drilling? Will an increase in domestic production make a dent on oil prices? Some analysts say “yes”. Cavuto showed a graphic of current drilling sites in the United States vs. the amount of land that we ‘could’ drill on. You can decide for yourself:

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So how much potential oil-energy does the U.S. really have domestically? Jim Angle reports that some energy analysts say the U.S. could have up to 1.4 trillion barrels of ‘recoverable’ or potential barrels of oil yet to be drilled. This means the U.S. has the potential to have more drill-able oil than Saudi Arabia.

However, these analysts results are at odds with the president’s estimates. The Obama administration says the U.S. only has 21 billion barrels of proven reserves, and drilling more will not lower gas prices.

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What do you think? Will more domestic drilling decrease your pay at the pump?

Source

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