NSA Surveillance Data To Become Available To More Agencies

While civil liberties advocates worry about the incoming Trump administration, with some urging the Obama administration to curtail surveillance prior to Trump’s inauguration, The New York Times report that instead the NSA is being given increased latitude to share intercepted communications:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

The American Civil Liberties Union did not accept the Obama administration’s justification for this change:

…Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the move an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the N.S.A.’s powerful global collection methods. He noted that domestic internet data was often routed or stored abroad, where it may get vacuumed up without court oversight.

“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” Mr. Toomey said. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”

Techdirt comments that “All of this means the NSA is now officially a domestic surveillance agency, even if a majority of its exploration of Americans’ data/communications is being done by proxy.”

The Verge adds:

The change also raises unavoidable privacy concerns. While the relevant data is collected overseas, it inevitably includes phone calls, emails, and other messages between US citizens. Without any form of filtering, the raw data includes everything that passed through a given network switch, without any form of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

The new rule bears on all data collected under Executive Order 12333, which many believe to be responsible for the bulk of the NSA’s collection efforts. Issued by President Reagan, the order did not require a congressional vote, and has been subject to only minimal oversight by the legislature. Collection efforts under the order are not subject to court approval, as long as they occur outside the United States.

Presumably this is one executive order from Obama which Donald Trump will not reverse.

While I doubt he will take me up on this suggestion, as Obama is a centrist who often tries to please both sides, he should at least balance this by doing the right thing before leaving office and pardon Edward Snowden, who we have to thank for letting the American people know about the existence of this surveillance, and how the NSA had been breaking the law.

AMA Warns Of Risks Of Gutting Health Care Reform

With Republicans appearing to make abolishing Obamacare a top priority (following their failure to gut ethics oversight of Congress), the American Medical Association has weighed in with this letter (emphasis mine) stressing the importance of making coverage more affordable, providing greater choice, and increasing the number insured:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

On behalf of the physician and medical student members of the American Medical Association (AMA), I am writing regarding our ongoing commitment to reform of the health care system and potential legislative actions during the first months of the 115th Congress.

The AMA has long advocated for health insurance coverage for all Americans, as well as pluralism, freedom of choice, freedom of practice, and universal access for patients. These policy positions are guided by the actions of the AMA House of Delegates, composed of representatives of more than 190 state and national specialty medical associations, and they form the basis for AMA consideration of reforms to our health care system.

Health system reform is an ongoing quest for improvement. The AMA supported passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it was a significant improvement on the status quo at that time. We continue to embrace the primary goal of that law—to make high quality, affordable health care coverage accessible to all Americans. We also recognize that the ACA is imperfect and there a number of issues that need to be addressed. As such, we welcome proposals, consistent with the policies of our House of Delegates, to make coverage more affordable, provide greater choice, and increase the number of those insured.

In considering opportunities to make coverage more affordable and accessible to all Americans, it is essential that gains in the number of Americans with health insurance coverage be maintained.

Consistent with this core principle, we believe that before any action is taken through reconciliation or other means that would potentially alter coverage, policymakers should lay out for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies. Patients and other stakeholders should be able to clearly compare current policy to new proposals so they can make informed decisions about whether it represents a step forward in the ongoing process of health reform.

We stand ready to work with you to continue the process of improving our health care system and ensuring that all Americans have access to high quality, affordable health care coverage.

Sincerely,
James L. Madara, MD

Medical groups and physicians have been conflicted regarding expected health care policy under Donald Trump. There was some early support for Tom Price to head Health and Human Services in the hope that he will work to reduce the regulatory burden, but many doctors have come out in opposition to him out of concern for reductions in coverage for many Americans.

While health care policy could likely a major impact of the all-Republican government, it received very little attention during the presidential campaign. This is partially due to the media’s preference to cover the horse race and scandal, Donald Trump making more noise on matters such as the Wall, and an extraordinarily poor campaign by Hillary Clinton which concentrated on stressing Trump’s negatives and avoiding issues. Democrats are now starting to speak out on health care. Chuck Schumer is trying to turn Trump’s slogan against him, warning that Republicans will “Make America Sick Again.” Hopefully they can provide a resistance beyond coming up with a slogan.

Democrats were successful in blocking George Bush when he attempted to partially privatize Social Security in his second term, and similarly have a chance of receiving public support in opposing Republican attempts to reduce health care coverage, including cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans are also getting jittery about health care legislation. They could safely please their constituents by voting to abolish Obamacare when Barack Obama was in office and they knew he would veto their efforts if it made it past a filibuster. Many now realize they will be held accountable for what happens, including if people lose coverage, and insurance costs continue to rise rapidly. The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget, typically conservative on government  spending,  has outline the costs of repealing Obamacare, giving further reasons for Republicans to be cautious.

Donald Trump remains a huge wild care, having both promised to abolish Obamacare and to provide a plan to cover all Americans. So far he has given no meaningful specifics, talking primarily about health savings accounts and allowing insurance companies to sell insurance over state lines. Neither is a real plan. One point to Trump’s credit is that, while his major appointees have been from a very narrow group (primarily wealthy conservatives), he has spoken to a wider range of people. Zeke Emanuel, the architect of the Affordable Care Act, came out of a meeting with Trump expressing optimism, as reported by NPR. He believes Trump might seek to have a bipartisan bill after Republicans have complained about how Obamacare was passed by only Democrats. He also pointed out that some conservatives are pushing for “repeal and replace” as opposed to the currently discussed tactic of “repeal and delay” and discussed how legislation might be handled after an initial resolution (even if along party lines) to abolish the ACA utilizing budget reconciliation:

And so that you really do need to repeal and replace, and you need to do it in one bill. Otherwise, you’re really going to disrupt the individual insurance market in a very bad way, and you’ll be responsible for millions of people losing their coverage but also health insurance premiums going up. And I think that is not a scenario that a lot of Republicans really want…

So one possibility is that they pass a resolution saying that they will then come back and pass a bill that will repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act and at the same time have a replacement for those parts of the Affordable Care Act…

The resolution can be party lines, but the bill would then have to construct both the repeal part but simultaneously the replacement part. And I think if you do it that way, you could begin to negotiate with Democrats. If you just have a repeal and we’ll be back in three years and tell you how we’re going to fix it, then the Democrats are simply going to walk away. Chuck Schumer has made that clear.

And they should walk away because then it’s all – it’s the old pottery barn principle that Colin Powell made famous, which is, you break it; you have to fix it, and you take responsibility. And the Democrats will not want their fingerprints anywhere near the breaking of Obamacare and the disruption of the insurance industry in the United States…

The question is, what is the shape of that bill? Is it just a repeal bill, or is it a repeal with replacement? And that negotiation about that bill could take several months. My own estimate is if both sides come with good faith, they could probably hammer this out in about six months. It’s not a small item. I mean health care reform is big.

The question is, what are the gives and takes? I do think – again, one of the reasons I’m optimistic is that when you look at conservative and liberal health policy experts, there’s about 70 or 80 percent overlap between the two groups about the shape of the future and what you would need. And I think that’s, again, why I’m optimistic – because there aren’t that many ways of doing health care reform. They’re really limited.

Of course counting on the sanity of Republicans is a very risky bet.

Donald Trump Again Acts Like Hillary Clinton In New Year’s Message

While there is no question there are also major differences between the two, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton also have far more similarities than supporters of either are likely to admit. They both have problems with financial ties including a Foundation and involving family. Trump has acted like Clinton in avoiding press conferences. Policy wise, both will continue the warfare/surveillance state, both have a similar disdain for freedom of speech, and both were seen as a threat to freedom of the press.

Trump also reminded me of Clinton when he released this Tweet: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

I have often noted similarities between Hillary Clinton and Richard Nixon. There is something rather Nixonian to this Tweet (along with Trump’s earlier talk of being the law-and-order candidate, a phrase also used by Bill Clinton). Trump referring to his “enemies” reminded me of Clinton dismissing half of Trump voters as “irredeemable” and fitting into a “basket of deplorables.” Clinton’s statement was foolish for alienating a large segment of the country when trying to attract voters, just as Trump’s tweet is foolish for alienating those who voted against him at a time when he should be seeking to unite the country around him as he prepares to take office.

It is debatable as to how accurate Clinton’s statement was about Trump supporters, while Trump’s statement is clearly wrong on the facts. He did win, but it was a narrow win. Perhaps trying to distract from his loss in the  popular vote, Trump has been falsely attributing it to illegal voters, and exaggerating the degree of his victory in the electoral college. Fact checkers including Factcheck.org and PolitiFact have debunked him on these claims.

He is also wrong in saying that those who fought him “just don’t know what to do.” There has been a tremendous increase in donations to progressive organizations, and organization to prepare to oppose Trump’s agenda. The good that could come from a Trump presidency as it stimulates progressive action:

Trump’s ascendancy is already calling forth social and political initiatives aimed at defending the achievements of the Obama years (particularly Obamacare), protecting the environment, standing up for immigrants and minorities, preserving civil liberties, civil rights and voting rights, and highlighting how Trump’s policies contradict his promises to working-class voters. Here is a bet that the mobilization against Trump will rival in size and influence the tea party uprising against Obama.

Another positive for the future: Trump’s campaign forced elites and the media to pay attention to the parts of the country that have been falling behind economically and to the despair that afflicts so many, particularly in rural and small-town America.

It should not have taken Trump (or Bernie Sanders) to bring their problems to the fore. If the powers that be had been paying more attention, the resentments and dissatisfactions that Trump exploited might not have been there for him to stoke.

Of course we would be in a completely different situation if the Democrats had listened to their base and nominated Sanders instead of Clinton.

While Dionne probably would not agree, I would extend his argument to pointing out that, rather than leading to such mobilization of progressives, a Clinton victory would have its dark consequences. Democrats would be split in pushing more liberal goals versus rationalizing and justifying Clinton’s conservative positions, as many did during the campaign, and as they ignore the negative aspects of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Obama Announces Response To Russia, Avoids Doing “Stupid Stuff”

While I don’t always agree with Barack Obama, compared to the two candidates to replace him in 2017, he will be missed for his policy not doing “stupid stuff.” Hillary Clinton, who supported “stupid stuff” including in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, attacked Obama over the principle of “don’t do stupid stuff” sometime between leaving as Secretary of State and stupidly thinking it was a good idea to run for president by claiming to be running for a third Obama term. Donald Trump has been an endless source of stupid stuff since he decided to run for president. I was glad to see that Obama continued this principle in limiting his response to the alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Obama has announced his response to Russia, described by The New York Times as “ejecting 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services.” The full statement is here. It was a response proportional to the alleged acts which avoids permanent harm to any attempts to repair relationships between the United States and Russia.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was involved in hacking email from top Democratic leaders. Others have questioned the evidence. Skeptics have compared this to how US intelligence agencies also concluded, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that Saddam threatened our security with weapons of mass destruction. It is certainly believable that Russia was spying on American political leaders. After all, the United States routinely does this in foreign countries, and has a long history of meddling in foreign elections.

Unfortunately this also reinforces the false narratives that Russia hacked our election to elect Donald Trump. Even if it is accepted as fact that Russia was involved in hacking the email of an American political party,  US intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been far from unanimous in taking this further to conclude that the Russians were doing so with the purpose of helping Donald Trump win. There is certainly no evidence of any coordination between Trump and Russia as Democrats such as Harry Reid have claimed. Julian Assange has denied that the information he released even came from Russia. Clinton supporters have used claims about Russia to deny responsibility for Clinton’s highly flawed campaign. Fivethirtyeight has shown how any argument that the Wilkleaks releases cost Clinton the election is “circumstantial.” To the degree that the leaked information hurt Clinton, it was because of confirming what her critics on the left already were well aware of, and providing factual information for the voters to consider. Russia did not hack voting machines or even harm Clinton with false information to alter the results of the election.

It appears that the Democratic National Committee fell for a rather simple phishing scheme, and compounded the error with miscommunication and possibly a typo. The best response to espionage which depends upon gaps in cyber-security is to improve cyber-security. Foreign governments, among others, are going to continue to spy on Americans, just as the United States is going to continue to spy on both allies and foes. If he feels like he must, Obama can expel some diplomats, but there is no point in risking more serious conflict over this. Similarly, there is no point for Democrats to continue to blame Russia for their loss after running such a poor campaign with a terrible candidate.

Why Obama, Or Sanders, Could Have Beaten Donald Trump

There has been a lot of playing “what if” after Donald Trump unexpectedly beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Now Barack Obama has joined in, saying he could have beaten Donald Trump if he was able to run again:

“I am confident in this vision because I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it,” Obama told his former senior adviser, David Axelrod, on the “Axe Files” podcast published Monday. “I know that in conversations that I’ve had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards is the right one.”

Full transcript of the interview is here.

I agree Obama would have probably won, but to say he would have won because of his vision alone is an over-simplification. There are many more specific reasons why I think Obama could have beaten Trump, even if Clinton could not.

While Clinton tried to run by winning the Obama coalition and running for Obama’s third term, she failed to understand that part of the Obama coalition came together in 2008 due to seeing Obama as the best shot at beating Hillary Clinton and keeping her out of the White House. We continued to oppose Clinton in 2016 for the same reasons we opposed Clinton in 2008, and opposed George W. Bush prior to that.

Clinton was about the worst possible candidate to put up against Donald Trump, and some of this could be seen in the differences between Clinton and Obama. While disappointed that we remain at war in Iraq and the region, at least Obama opposed the war from the start. He recognized that regime change in Libya, which Clinton was the primary proponent of, was the biggest mistake of his administration, while Clinton continued to defend her failed policy. Obama opposed escalating intervention in Syria which Clinton backed, often for rather absurd reasons.

Not only was listening to Clinton on  Libya the biggest foreign policy mistake of his administration, the domestic policy mistake which hurt Obama the most also involved accepting a Clinton policy position–accepting the individual mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, after he had campaigned against Clinton on this point. While it would be necessary to make health care reform more complicated to avoid the free-rider problem, making the program mandatory in this manner was guaranteed to create considerable public opposition to the program.

Obama managed to keep his administration free of scandal–except for the actions by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. This made her a much weaker candidate than Obama, and eliminated what would have been an advantage for Democrats on the conflicts of interest Trump faced. Clinton’s dishonesty, emphasized by both her dishonest campaign against Sanders and her frequent lies in response to the email scandal, also negated Trump’s negatives for his dishonesty.

Obama would have also done a far better job of campaigning. He had an approval rating far stronger than either Clinton or Trump. He wouldn’t have hidden from the press as Clinton often did. People would have turned out to see him, as they did with Trump but not with Clinton. Clinton was weak in the traditional battle ground states, among independents, and among young voters. Obama could have kept most of these voters. He might have lost an occasional state such as possibly Ohio, but not multiple states as Clinton did.

Of course similar arguments would have applied to other potential candidates. While Obama could not legally run again, the Democrats did have a strong alternative in Bernie Sanders. He did much better than Clinton in head to head polls against Trump and other Republicans during the nomination battle.  Sanders also could have turned out the voters which Clinton could not. He could have won in the rust belt states which Trump picked up. There would have been no FBI investigations, and no revelations of a crooked process for Wiikleaks to release if Sanders was the nominee.

Donald Trump Calls For Expanding Nuclear Weapons

Maybe Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin aren’t such great buddies after all. After Putin said his country’s nuclear potential needs fortifying, Donald Trump tweeted: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

This is counter to the trend since the late 1980’s of reduction in nuclear weapons. Recent presidents from Reagan to Obama have supported reductions in nuclear weapons. with Ronald Reagan having spoken out in favor of eventual elimination. At his second inauguration in 1985 Reagan said, “We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.” Barack Obama called for “a world without nuclear weapons” while in Hiroshima last May.

As on many other issues, Trump has made many contradictory statement statements regarding nuclear weapons and it is difficult to predict what he will do based upon a single tweet. Among his controversial statements on nuclear weapons was his refusal to rule out the possibility of using nuclear weapons against ISIS. Although the Clinton camp was highly critical of him regarding this, his position was essentially the same as Hillary Clinton’s position in 2008 when she criticized Barack Obama for saying he would not use nuclear weapons against terrorist groups.

Bernie Sanders and Spike Lee Discussed The Election

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The Guardian features a conversation between Bernie Sanders and Spike Lee about the election. Spike Lee started out by describing what Sanders was up against in running for the Democratic nomination:

SL I want to thank you, though. Because what you did is great. And reading this stuff that’s coming out – the revelations about Wasserman [Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, who during the campaign leaked emails shown to be biased against Sanders in favour of Clinton] and Donna Brazile [interim DNC chair, who gave Clinton a heads-up on questions in advance of a CNN debate], whom I know. Cheating goes both ways, huh? [Laughs.]

BS Well, you know. We took on the entire establishment and that’s what happens. But we have some enormously difficult times now. We gotta go forward, and I look forward to working with you to make that happen.

They discussed how some people voted for Obama and then voted for Trump this year:

BS Well, I think a number of people who voted for Obama once, or twice, voted for Trump. And I think the issue is that there are millions of people in this country who voted for Trump but do not accept… I’m not going to deny for a second that there’s a lot of racism and xenophobia and sexism out there; there certainly is. But there are a whole lot of other people who are just really, really hurting. They’re working two or three jobs, they’re worried about their kids, they can’t afford to send them to childcare or to college. And Trump comes along and says, “I’m a champion of the working class.” And he’s a good showman and a good entertainer, and people believed him.

But our job now, it seems to me, is in three areas. Number one: to fight him tooth and nail in any movement toward racism, xenophobia, sexism, trying to divide our country up. And number two: if he is at all sincere – and we will see if he is – in developing programmes to create jobs and raise wages, I think we should work with him. But I’ll tell you what also concerns me, not just for this country but the planet, is this guy thinks that climate change is a hoax. Well, let me tell you, it ain’t a hoax. Climate change is real, and if we don’t transform our energy system, the planet we leave for our kids and grandchildren may not be a pretty place.

This led into how Clinton managed to lose the election. It came down to Clinton’s attitude of entitlement, and a failure to present a case as to why she should be president–or as Mark McKinnon put it at The Daily Beast, she failed to tell a story. She thought the election was hers, and tried to run out the clock:

SL Excuse me, if I may, sir; you know I love sports. I’ve seen it too many times, when a team thinks they’ve got it all won, just wrapped up, and you see players go down the sideline and start celebrating, and then they reach the goal line and fumble. The Clintons – and I’m not asking you for a comment; this is my opinion – thought they had it won. And what do the great coaches always say? Keep playing until there is no time on the clock! And it seems to me the Clintons were celebrating before the day was up.

BS [Mirthlessly.] Ha.

SL It was not Hillary Clinton’s birthright to be president of the United States of America! And Trump, he played it like he was going to keep going at this until the whistle blows, until time has run out.

BS Right. You’re right. Now, no one can deny that Trump was holding three or four rallies a day, he was running all over this country, working 20 hours a day. And that’s the truth. But I think that speaks to, Spike, something that goes beyond Hillary Clinton. It really goes to the very nature of the Democratic party.

SL The DNC!

BS That’s right. And it calls for the transformation of the Democratic party, and making it clear it’s going to be a party that brings together blacks and whites and Latinos and women and gays, and everyone else. But it’s also going to be a party…

SL Would you say that it’s a shambles, now, Senator – the DNC?

BS Yes. Yes. And I am supporting…

BS Yes. I think we need a house-cleaning. I think the DNC needs an entirely new direction. I think it needs leadership, and I think it needs to be very clear about the fact that it stands with working families and is prepared to take on the billionaire class and Wall Street, and corporate America, and the drug companies and the insurance companies. People are hurting. And we need a programme that stands with working families and brings people together.

SL Were you ever offered the VP position, sir?

BS No. Absolutely not.

SL Would you have taken it?

BS Er. Probably, yes. But that’s again looking through the rear-view mirror.

If Clinton had chosen Sanders to be her running mate she probably would have won as many of those who voted for Obama in the past but had stayed home, voted for Trump, or voted third party would have voted for a Clinton/Sanders ticket in the midwest states which Clinton narrowly lost. Instead, many saw the choice of Tim Kaine as further evidence that Clinton was sticking with the centrist/conservative DLC philosophy and was ignoring the left. Now that we do have Trump coming into the White House, the next question was about where we go next:

SL [Long silence.] Hmmm. This is a rhetorical question, but I just want readers to understand this, very clearly. Where do we go? Where is the hope?

BS OK, here is where the hope is. The hope is to understand that the Democratic party has stumbled very significantly in the last number of decades. It’s not just this election, Spike, as disastrous as it has been. It is the fact that the Republican party controls the Senate, controls the US House, controls something like two-thirds of the governor seats in this country, and that the Democrats have lost over 900 state legislature seats in the last eight years. What that tells me is that the Democratic party has got to very fundamentally rethink who it is and where it goes. It has to shed the current situation where it’s a party of the liberal elite, a party of wealthy people who give substantial sums – we can use that money, that’s fine, but it must reidentify itself as a party of working people. Whether you’re black, white, Latino, there are millions of people today who are working longer hours for lower wages, and they’re seeing almost all new income and wealth going to the top 1%. The Democratic party has got to say we are on the side of the 99%. Our party is not about having fancy fundraisers, it’s about going into union halls, veterans’ halls, farm communities, the inner cities. It has to bring people together around the progressive agenda and make government work for all of us and not the 1%. That’s why I’m supporting Keith Ellison [as prospective chair of the DNC].

SL Who?

BSKeith Ellison. Of Minnesota.

SL Oh, yes. He’s the Muslim brother, right?

BS Yes. He’s a very good guy, and he’s the co-chair of the house progressive caucus. Very progressive guy. And I think Keith understands that the future of the Democratic party is a grassroots party. So I’m going to be supporting him and shaking up the Democratic party.

SL Let me ask you another question. The coalition that Obama got, that put him in office – did the Clinton campaign think it would automatically win [those people] without having to work? I don’t understand it. Because I did not feel the energy there was for Obama – even for you – for Hillary Clinton. I respect the woman, but the enthusiasm wasn’t there.

BS I think nobody would argue with you on that. What we have seen is that in 2008 Obama ran a historical campaign where the turnout was extraordinarily high: enthusiasm in the minority community, strong support in the white working class, and that carried over in 2012. But in 2016, what we saw – I think your point is quite right – it would be hard to suggest that the people of this country were enthusiastic about the Clinton campaign. There was not the energy we have seen in the Obama campaign, and what ended up happening was voter turnout was low. She won the black community overwhelmingly, but turnout was low. She lost a lot of white, working-class people. That’s just the fact.

The Democrats have lost badly in 2010, 2014, and now in 2016 when they ran as Republican-lite. They will need to rebuild at the grassroots, and they will need to stand for something.

Civil Liberties Groups Urge Obama To Curtail Government Surveillance Following Trump Victory

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After the revelations of NSA surveillance my concern, along with others such as Daniel Ellsberg, was not that we were already in an Orwellian totalitarian state, but that the infrastructure for a police state was being developed. In 2013 Ellsberg warned:

Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.

Civil libertarians now fear another development which risks the progression to a police state–the election of Donald Trump. Even those who trusted Obama with these powers recognize the dangers of abuse under Trump. Politico reports:

Tech and civil liberties advocates are imploring the Obama administration to rein in the government’s massive surveillance apparatus before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, fearful he will carry out his campaign promises to register Muslims, spy on mosques and punish companies that offer Americans unbreakable encryption.

But many national security experts and former administration officials say the effort is almost certainly doomed to fail. “I don’t know how you tie the king’s hands in just the weeks going out,” said Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama.

And some civil libertarians blame Democrats for being too content to allow President Barack Obama to wield the sweeping, post-Sept. 11 surveillance powers he inherited from George W. Bush, rather than rolling them back so that no future president could use them.

“We shouldn’t be relying on the benevolence of the leaders put in power after an election to ensure that people’s privacy and civil liberties are protected,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“You have a situation where the executive branch has control of a surveillance apparatus that is unparalleled in history,” said Trevor Timm, a surveillance critic and head of the activist group Freedom of the Press Foundation. “And because the Obama administration either retained the right to use a lot of these unprecedented powers, or expanded them, they are now in the hands of somebody who many people consider to be a madman.”

…Hoping to head Trump off, civil liberties, digital rights and watchdog groups are pleading with Obama to take a series of actions to weaken the surveillance state. Those include releasing classified inspector general reports and the secret legal rationales behind the government’s spying efforts, which could help advocates challenge Trump in court. Some also urged Obama’s team to purge the NSA’s databases of some of the information they hoover up, wiping out reams of data that are focused on foreigners but incidentally drag in details on an unknown number of Americans.

Thirty advocacy groups banded together this week in a letter telling Obama to take action, writing: “No less than our shared legacy of a vibrant democratic government is at stake.”

…Obama came into office vowing to “revisit” many of these powers, but privacy advocates believe he has largely failed to do so. While the president has regularly spoken about the need for greater checks and public oversight of the system, he has defended the powers themselves.

“This may go down in history as President Obama’s most consequential mistake,” Timm said.

Civil libertarians have been concerned about the danger of abuses under Donald Trump, but the degree of government surveillance placed civil liberties at risk regardless of whether Trump was elected. Other than for Trump’s xenophobia, Hillary Clinton’s views on civil liberties and the surveillance state are not all that different from those of Donald Trump.

There is one benefit to Trump as opposed to Clinton winning–Democrats will be far more likely to protest abuses under Trump than they would protest abuses from Clinton. Many partisan Democrats have been whitewashing her record and excusing her extremely conservative views on First Amendment rights. Those of us who protested the growth of the surveillance state under both Bush and Obama were often ignored by Democrats when Obama was president and they thought he would be succeeded by Clinton. The election of Donald Trump is opening more eyes to the danger of such powers in the hands of the president.

Turkey of the Day: Trump Ignoring Intelligence Briefings Since Election

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The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump has been “turning away intelligence briefers since election win.”

President-elect Donald Trump has received two classified intelligence briefings since his surprise election victory earlier this month, a frequency that is notably lower — at least so far — than that of his predecessors, current and former U.S. officials said.

A team of intelligence analysts has been prepared to deliver daily briefings on global developments and security threats to Trump in the two weeks since he won. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, by contrast, has set aside time for intelligence briefings almost every day since the election, officials said.

Officials involved in the Trump transition team cautioned against assigning any significance to the briefing schedule that the president-elect has set so far, noting that he has been immersed in the work of forming his administration, and has made filling key national security posts his top priority.

But others have interpreted Trump’s limited engagement with his briefing team as an additional sign of indifference from a president-elect who has no meaningful experience on national security issues and was dismissive of U.S. intelligence agencies’ capabilities and findings during the campaign.

A senior U.S. official who receives the same briefing delivered to President Obama each day said that devoting time to such sessions would help Trump get up to speed on world events.

“Trump has a lot of catching up to do,” the official said.

In contrast, George Bush received daily briefings, although they were delayed until December 5 due to the recount. Bill Clinton first started receiving intelligence briefings ten days after being elected, and then received them most working days. Obama also received regular intelligence briefings:

After his election in 2008, President Obama took part not only in regular intelligence briefings but also scheduled “deep dives” on key subjects including Iran’s nuclear program and covert CIA operations, including the accelerating campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan.

“During the transition, President Obama was an avid consumer of intelligence,” said retired Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was CIA director when Obama was elected.

I guess Trump thinks he is so smart that he doesn’t need those briefings–or he plans to have Pence handle all this stuff.

How About A More Meaningful Pardon–Ed Snowden

obama-pardon-turkey

Barack Obama has fulfilled the tradition of pardoning a turkey for Thanksgiving. Before he leaves office he should make a more meaningful pardon and honor the American tradition of individual liberty and privacy. Pardon Edward Snowden.