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A Federal Judge Ruled NSA Surveillance Legal, Will the Supreme Court Follow Suit? | Motherboard

A Federal Judge Ruled NSA Surveillance Legal, Will the Supreme Court Follow Suit? | Motherboard.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

This morning, US District Judge Willaum Pauley ruled that the National Security Agency’s dragnet phone surveillance is legal—just weeks after US District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled the NSA program was unconstitutional.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Pauley determined the September 11 terrorist attacks might have been prevented if bulk telephone data mining had been in place. In ruling that mass surveillance is legal, Pauley dismissed an ACLU lawsuit that argued the government’s interpretation of the Patriot Act’s powers was far too broad to justify the mass data mining of Americans’ electronic communications.

“The government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world,” wrote Pauley. “It launched a number of counter-measures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program—a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data.”

Could this be a preview of how the Supreme Court might rule on the surveillance question? Judge Leon’s decision, while encouraging to many observers, feels like a judicial anomaly. More often than not, courts favor the US intelligence complex. There is little reason to believe the Supreme Court’s ideologically conservative majority would suddenly reverse course on surveillance.

In February of this year—months before Edward Snowden’s stunning NSA leaks—the Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit brought by Amnesty International and other groups. The defendants argued that journalists, human rights advocates, and lawyers would be harmed by the NSA’s surveillance of their foreign communications. Judge Samuel Alito, delivering the Supreme Court’s opinion, concluded that the defendants did not have standing. “They cannot demonstrate that the future injury they purportedly fear is certainly impending and because they cannot manufacture standing by incurring costs in anticipation of non-imminent harm,” wrote Alito.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg dissented, questioning the majority’s decision. In their opinion, the defendants might well have standing for “future injury.” The minority also suggested that the defendants could have incurred costs in countering NSA surveillance. The ideological split in the nation’s highest court probably doesn’t bode well for any future Supreme Court case on surveillance.

Add to this the Supreme Court’s November dismissal of an Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) lawsuit claiming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) exceeded its legal authority in ordering Verizon to hand over telephone metadata. EPIC, as a Verizon customer, argued that it had legal standing, and was harmed by Verizon’s data handover, an argument that did not sway the court. This was the Supreme Court’s first opportunity to address NSA surveillance in the wake of Snowden’s leaks, and they brushed it aside.

While multiple surveillance reform bills are in committee on Capitol Hill, this could be exactly what some government officials want. A pro-surveillance Supreme Court ruling would effectively take the power out of the hands of legislative reformers. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who crafted her own bill to preserve and enhance the NSA’s powers, suggested as much in her response to Leon’s ruling.

“Only the Supreme Court can resolve the question on the constitutionality of the NSA’s program,” Feinstein wrote in a statement. “I welcome a Supreme Court review since it has been more than 30 years since the court’s original decision of constitutionality, and I believe it is crucial to settling the issue once and for all. In the meantime, the call records program remains in effect.”

When a pro-surveillance legislator like Feinstein calls for a Supreme Court case on the issue, it suggests confidence that the court will tow the government line. So, if the Supreme Court takes up surveillance in 2014, we could see the court’s recent surveillance rulings and Judge Pauley’s decision dictate their decision. And if the high court does rule surveillance constitutional, we’ll all suffer the consequences.


Rahm Emanuel’s Handpicked Comptroller Guilty in Bribery Scheme | Judicial Watch

Rahm Emanuel’s Handpicked Comptroller Guilty in Bribery Scheme | Judicial Watch.

A public official chosen by President Obama’s former chief of staff to oversee the finances of a major U.S. city faces more than a decade in jail for operating a huge kickback and money-laundering scheme as Ohio’s deputy state treasurer.

Nevertheless Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s good pal and one-time White House chief of staff, hired the corrupt official, Amer Ahmad, to be Chicago Comptroller. If you recall, Emanuel left his presidential job to become mayor of the Windy City in 2011. Before joining the Obama administration Emanuel served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and as a senior advisor in the Bill Clinton White House.

Yet, Emanuel claims through aides that he had no idea he was hiring a crook to supervise the city’s finances, though the mayor refuses to comment on his friend’s bribery scandal. A Chicago newspaper reports that City Hall hired a law firm to vet Ahmad and it confirmed no criminal wrongdoing by the former Ohio deputy state treasurer. Ahmad, who resigned abruptly as Chicago Comptroller in July, joined the Emanuel administration in 2011.

This week in a Cincinnati federal court Ahmad pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery, money laundering and wire fraud. The feds say he used his Ohio government job to secure “lucrative state business” for his high school buddy in exchange for more than half a million dollars in kickbacks. Besides facing up to 15 years in prison, Ahmad agreed to pay more than $3.2 million in restitution and $500,000 in fines, according to his plea agreement.

Attached to the plea document is the federal complaint outlining Ahmad’s illicit kickback scheme. Even though he was Ohio’s Chief Financial Officer and Deputy Treasurer, Ahmad was the president of one company and partial owner of another, the complaint says. Those are the businesses that were used to funnel the state money. The purpose of the conspiracy was clear, the complaint says; for the defendants to enrich themselves, their friends and associates.

This is hardly the first scandal to rock the Emanuel administration in its short tenure at the helm of Chicago City Hall. Emanuel got in trouble for unlawfully accessing the private information of Chicago public employees in an effort to get their support for his mayoral candidacy. Union leaders were up in arms and city employees accused him of invading their privacy. Then, the co-chair of Emanuel’s mayoral campaign, a high-level state employee, quit abruptly for illegally using public resources to conduct political business.

For his many transgressions, Emanuel has also appeared on Judicial Watch’s annual most corrupt politicians list. In 2010 Emanuel teamed up with his then Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina to interfere with Senate elections in two states by offering federal appointments to persuade candidates not favored by Obama to abandon their campaigns. Emanuel was also Obama’s chief negotiator with convicted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich as he tried to illegally sell Obama’s former Senate seat to the highest bidder, according to sworn testimony during Blagojevich’s federal trial. Judicial Watch covered both of Blagojevich’s trials in Chicago federal court. The jury deadlocked in the first trial and convicted him of 17 corruption charges in the second. The disgraced politician is serving a 14-year sentence in a Colorado federal prison.


Further Proof the Justice Department is Protecting JP Morgan from Criminal Prosecution | A Lightning War for Liberty

Further Proof the Justice Department is Protecting JP Morgan from Criminal Prosecution | A Lightning War for Liberty.

In what may be the least surprising article of 2013, we find out from Newsweek that the Department of Justice is going out of its way to protect the poor little babies at JP Morgan from criminal prosecution in the Bernie Madoff case. While we know all too well about the institutionalized practice of “Too Big to Jail” that dominates the current fraud system of so called “justice” in America, it is still of the utmost importance that we spread these stories far and wide. Amazingly, in this instance the DOJ is actively blocking the Treasury Inspector General from doing his job in order to protect the mega-bank.

From Newsweek:

Bernard Madoff’s principal bank, JPMorgan Chase, has for years obstructed federal bank examiners trying to ascertain what it knew about his gigantic Ponzi scheme, an official document obtained by Newsweek shows.

The Justice Department refused in September to back up Treasury inspector general staff who wanted a  court order to enforce a subpoena, in effect shielding JPMorgan from law enforcement, the October 8 document shows.

The Justice Department told the Treasury Inspector General “that they were denying the request for enforcement of the subpoena,” which means officials “could not undertake further actions regarding this matter,” wrote Jason J. Metrick, the inspector general special-agent-in-charge.

The memo revealing that Justice protected JPMorgan from an obstruction complaint raises anew questions about how much the Obama administration has done to protect the big banks, whose lies about mortgage securities and other investments they sold sank the economy in 2008.

Only minor players have been prosecuted, in contrast with the more than 3,000 felony convictions the FBI says it obtained in the much smaller savings and loan scandals two decades ago.

The JPMorgan memos Justice declined to pursue are almost certain to show that years earlier the bank had grounds to suspect Madoff was running a fraud. A separate inquiry by the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan is looking into JPMorgan, which may  include what the 90 bank employees knew and when they knew it. 

Banana Republic Justice.

Full article here.

In Liberty,

Brazil floods, mudslides kill 41 – World – CBC News

Brazil floods, mudslides kill 41 – World – CBC News.

People collect discarded food drenched in mud and rain, outside a supermarket in the municipality of Itaguacu, Espirito Santo state, Brazil, on Dec. 25, 2013. People collect discarded food drenched in mud and rain, outside a supermarket in the municipality of Itaguacu, Espirito Santo state, Brazil, on Dec. 25, 2013. (Vitor Jubino, A Gazeta/Associated Press)
Brazilian officials say floods and mudslides have killed 41 people and driven close to 70,000 from their homes in two southeastern states.

The civil defence department in the state of Minas Gerais says the floods and mudslides caused by more than 10 days of heavy downpours left 18 people dead and forced 9,420 to flee their homes.

In Espirito Santo state, officials place the death toll at 23 and say that more than 60,000 were forced to seek shelter in public buildings or the homes of friends and relatives.

Troops are helping distribute food, water and medicine in Espirito Santo and Army engineers have been called in to help repair highways, roads and bridges damaged by the floods.


Erdogan Says Graft Probe Aims to Derail His Government – Bloomberg

Erdogan Says Graft Probe Aims to Derail His Government – Bloomberg.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out four times yesterday at a graft probe that’s ensnared his government as anger over the scandal sparked protests and clashes.

Protests erupted in at least five cities overnight, including Istanbul and Ankara, before being broken up by police with tear gas and water cannons, reminiscent of anti-government demonstrations that roiled the country in June. Police detained 70 people in Istanbul, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.

The country’s stock, currency and bond markets fell this week on concerns the scandal is widening. Erdogan said the investigation, which has split the judiciary and pitted bureaucrats against one another, is an attempt to derail the government and will only benefit financial speculators.

“The operations that started under the guise of corruption are an obstacle to building a new Turkey,” Erdogan said yesterday from Sakarya, a city east of Istanbul.

Turkey’s economy, the largest in the Middle East, has more than tripled in size in nominal terms over Erdogan’s 10-year leadership. The majority Muslim country, the region’s only member in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, shares borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Erdogan is slated to address his supporters in the western city of Manisa later today.

Last night, on his return to Istanbul, Erdogan was greeted by supporters at the airport. They chanted “traitor Bayraktar,” in reference to former Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar, who this week urged Erdogan to step down. One woman, her head covered with a scarf, kissed Erdogan’s hand after he addressed flag-waving supporters from on top of a bus.

Coverup Alleged

“There is an effort to cover up corruption allegations and the public is aware of this,” Haluk Ozdalga, a lawmaker who quit the ruling party yesterday, said in a press conference in Ankara. “Turkey must immediately turn away from this wrong path.”

Erdogan spoke after a top judicial body blocked his order requiring the government to be notified of probes, deepening a standoff that has sent markets tumbling. That ruling was unconstitutional, Erdogan said.

The currency weakened as much as 2.3 percent to 2.1764 against the dollar on Dec. 27, before trading at 2.1549 in Istanbul. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index (XU100) fell 1 percent at the close to 63,885.22, the lowest level since August 2012. Two-year bond yields climbed above 10 percent for the first time since August.

U.S.-Based Imam

The corruption investigation has become the battleground in a struggle between the government and followers of a U.S.-based imam, Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed by Erdogan’s supporters for instigating the crackdown. The cleric broke with Erdogan recently, ending a partnership that has helped sustain the single-party government since 2002.

“They brought the issue this far,” Erdogan said. “These incidents are a continuation of the prep school process,” he said in a reference to tensions with the movement over a government decision to shut down prep schools, a major source of influence and income for Gulen’s followers.

Erdogan said no one had the right to put innocent people, including himself, under a cloud of suspicion and vowed to hold accountable anyone found guilty of stealing from the state.

As police moved in on demonstrations overnight, onlookers in Istanbul chanted “government resign.” Police also clashed with hundreds of anti-government demonstrators in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

“They are attacking for the last time,” Erdogan said of those pushing for the investigations. “God willing, and with the support of our nation, we will destroy this resistance and repel these attacks.”

Spreading Fallout

The fallout spread, with former Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay and Ozdalga quitting Erdogan’s ruling party yesterday, a day after the resignation of lawmaker Erdal Kalkan. All three faced expulsion for their criticism of the party’s response to graft allegations.

“Security forces can’t collaborate with the government,” Gunay told reporters in Ankara. “I’m warning civil servants who are following unlawful orders not to carry them out — you will be held accountable tomorrow, for today’s violation of the rule of law.”

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said he was concerned by “the removal of a large number of police officers from their duties” and urged Turkey to “take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination.”

Police Dismissals

Turkish police have been caught in the power struggle between Erdogan and Gulen. About 500 police chiefs were dismissed after the sons of three cabinet ministers were among dozens detained. Sons of former interior and economy ministers were charged and jailed so far, while the son of Bayraktar was released pending trial. All three ministers were replaced by Erdogan this week.

“The government seized the judiciary in a government coup,” Faik Oztrak, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said in a statement. “The prime minister must resign to be held accountable as soon as possible.”

Turkey’s military, which as recently as 1997 pressured the country’s first Islamist prime minister to step down, has stayed clear of the fray.

“The Turkish Armed Forces in no way wants to be involved in political debates,” the military said in a statement.

Selling Bonds

Foreign investors have dumped Turkish bonds at the fastest pace in two years amid the growing scandal. Investors pared their holdings by $532 million to a three-month low of $53.8 billion in the week through Dec. 20, after selling a net $1.38 billion the week before, the central bank said this week. They’ve cut their holdings from a record $72 billion in May.

“The government’s response to corruption allegations grew into the question of the rule of law,” Mahmut Akpinar, a professor of political science at Ankara’s Turgut Ozal University, said by phone. “This may have consequences in the ballot box, especially if people begin to feel the worsening in economy in their pocketbooks.”

The outflows are a reversal of the investment that helped finance Turkey’s growth during Erdogan’s more than 10-year stint, a period in which nominal gross domestic product more than tripled and the country’s dollar bonds posted an average 9.7 percent annual gain.


In Trusting Politics and Politicians, It Is the Pope Who is Naïve – Gary Galles – Mises Daily

In Trusting Politics and Politicians, It Is the Pope Who is Naïve – Gary Galles – Mises Daily.

One part of Pope Francis’s first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, condemned “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world … which has never been confirmed by the facts, [and] expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” Those on the political left immediately celebrated this as an endorsement of “progressive” government, and every story I saw about the Pope’s selection as Time’s man of the year mentioned it.

Unfortunately, Pope Francis’s evident compassion for the poor is overwhelmed by his confusion about freedom expressed in markets. Economic liberty has done more to elevate the living standards of the general population than any other form of social organization in history. At the same time, it improves justice and expands inclusiveness. In addition, it is the only system which does not trust in the goodness of those with power. Conclusions drawn from such mistaken premises demonstrate why good intentions are not enough, if we are to judge from results.

The fact that the Pope picked “trickle-down” economic theories to attack was revealing, because no economist ever promoted such a thing. It was a term, like “tax cuts for the rich,” invented by big government opponents of market freedom to deliberately misrepresent it.

Trickle-down is a defamatory characterization of “supply side” economics which misdirects attention away from the primary means by which all gain from market freedom. Its core confusion is in assuming that reducing the disincentives faced by heavily-taxed high earners, leaving them more take-home pay, only benefits them, except for what trickles down to others when they spend it.

The reality is that when people, however rich or poor, advance their interests through voluntary arrangements, they benefit those they deal with. This is done by providing opportunities others find better than their alternatives, and those improved opportunities increase others’ real wealth. As George Reisman succinctly put it:

Under capitalism, not only is one man’s gain not another man’s loss, insofar as it comes out of an increase in overall, total production … one man’s gain is positively other men’s gain … Indeed, under capitalism, competition proceeds to raise the standard of living of the average wage earner above that of even the very wealthiest people in the world a few generations earlier.

Or, as Arthur Seldon put it, “capitalism is the instrument which people in all societies … use to escape from want and enrich one another by exchange.”

As a consequence, worsening the incentives of producers induces them to do less for others. And while it hurts such producers, it provides benefits only to the envious or covetous. It hurts those they deal with, by wiping out arrangements that would have been mutually beneficial. In other words, increased tax rates (and regulatory burdens, which act like taxes) destroy wealth that would have been created for the non-rich.

When the rich get richer by rigging the political process, that is objectionable, but it is not amarket failure. It is a government failure, imposed by undermining the benefits competitive markets provide for all participants. And the solution is to get the government out of the theft business (as capitalism would require), not to first enable favorites to garner ill-gotten gains from restricting competition, then use government’s abuses as an excuse to more heavily tax (and thus discourage) those who actually benefit others.

It is true that the crony capitalism we see all around us, which is far closer to fascism than capitalism, is unjust. Pope Francis is right to criticize such injustice. But private property, the basis of capitalism, prevents rather than enables the “dog eat dog” “survival of the fittest” competition that capitalism’s attackers accuse it of.

In contrast, private property prevents the physical invasion of a person’s life, their liberty, or their property without their consent. By preventing such invasions, private property is an irreplaceable defense against aggression by the strong against the weak. No one is allowed to be a predator by violating others’ rights. Property rights negate the rule of “might makes right,” which prevails in the absence of such rights. In Herbert Spencer’s words, “far from being, as some have alleged, an advocacy of the claims of the strong against the weak, [it] is much more an insistence that the weak shall be guarded against the strong.”

Pope Francis’s implication that freer markets need not expand inclusiveness also reflects confusion about crony capitalism versus capitalism. Capitalism is a system which places no legal barriers in the way of participants offering products and terms that others may deem better. All are free to discover and offer ways to benefit others. And no current market share (sometimes misleadingly called a firm’s “market power”) can persist in the face of superior options. However, the essence of crony capitalism is the use of laws, regulations, mandates, taxes, price controls, tariff and trade barriers, and administrative discretion to stymie such offers, extracting some of the gains from the “friends” created with such favoritism to maintain their stranglehold on political power.

That is also why the Pope’s assertion that capitalism puts “naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power” is misguided. Voluntary arrangements based on private property protect everyone from abuses of economic power. As Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations demonstrated: as long as all relationships are voluntary, even people who do not care at all about those they deal with seek for ways to benefit them as the indirect way to advancing their own self- interest (and hisTheory of Moral Sentiments discussed how people go beyond just narrow self-interest in their relationships).

There is nothing naïve about trusting people to advance their own self-interest. On the other hand, it is faith in political “solutions,” where government’s coercive power violates individual rights and their power to choose for themselves, that is naïve.

Pope Francis is clearly compassionate, illustrated by his pastoral attempts to lead the Catholic Church to be holier. As a Catholic, I sincerely applaud his efforts. He is right to object to much that he sees in the world around him. But what he objects to is not, in fact, caused by capitalism. It is caused by its crony capitalist caricature, which is a form of government control, not the individual self-determination enabled by capitalism. The confusion in Evangelii Gaudium is highly problematic. Spurred by this document, politicians may, in trying to “fix” capitalism, which is a massive economic blessing rather than the problem, turn to the transfer of even more individual choice to government diktat, resulting in even more crony capitalism. It would eviscerate the widespread benefits of capitalism, and in turn, harm the very people Francis wishes to protect.


Egyptian students clash with security forces – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Egyptian students clash with security forces – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Egyptian students opposed to the July 3 coup have clashed with police at a university campus in Cairo and set two buildings on fire, state television reported.

A student activist was killed after being hit in the face with a birdshot, and four others were injured, during the violence on Saturday at the Al-Azhar University campus, according to the Ministry of Health.

The Ministry of Interior said that at least 60 students have been arrested.

State-run newspaper Al-Ahram said the clashes began when security forces fired tear gas to disperse pro-Brotherhood students who were preventing their colleagues from entering university buildings to take exams. Protesters threw rocks at the police and set tyres on fire to counter tear gas attacks.

State TV broadcast footage of black smoke billowing from the faculty of commerce building, and reported that protesters also set the agriculture faculty building on fire.

Al-Azhar, a centre of Sunni Islamic learning, has for months been the scene of protests against what the Brotherhood calls a “military coup” that deposed former President Mohamed Morsi after a year in office.

Youssof Salheen, a spokesman of the pro-Brotherhood “Students Against the Coup” movement, told Al Jazeera that Khaled El-Haddad, a student at Al-Azhar’s School of Commerce died at campus, but did not clarify the cause of death.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the student’s account, and a security source denied there had been any deaths.

The violence followed a day of clashes across the country that left five people dead.

Supporters of the Brotherhood took to the streets on Friday after the government designated the group a terrorist organisation – a move that increases the penalties for dissent against the military-led government installed after Morsi was overthrown.

Morsi was the country’s first elected president who took the power after the toppling of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011


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