The Open Dimension

Commentary on social issues; politics; religion and spirituality

My Photo
Location: Laguna Hills, California, United States

I am a semi-retired psychotherapist/psychiatric social worker and certified hypnotherapist. Originally a practicing attorney, I changed careers during the 1980's. My interests include history, constitutional law, Hindustani classical music, yoga, meditation and spirituality.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

 OpEdNews, 9/27/2013

People Want Full Medicare for All
By Ralph Nader

You'd think Ted Cruz would have used his time to talk specifically about the suffering that uninsured people and their children are going through, especially in the Lone Star State. Or about what could replace Obamacare other than his repeated "free market" solution, which is to say the "pay or die" profiteering, tax-subsidized corporate system.
Source: Common Dreams

Photo: Public Citizen/cc/flickr

Freshman Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who somehow got through Princeton and Harvard Law School, is the best news the defaulting Democratic Party has had in years. As the Texas bull in the Senate china shop, he has been making a majority of his Republican colleagues cringe with his bare-knuckle antics and language. His 21-hour talkathon on the Senate floor demanding the defunding of Obamacare made his Republican colleagues cringe. His Nazi appeasement analogies and threats to shut down were especially embarrassing.

After listening to his lengthy rant on the Senate Floor on Tuesday and Wednesday, one comes away with two distinct impressions. Ted Cruz cannot resist inserting himself here, there and everywhere. And nothing is too trivial for Senator Talkathon. He likes White Castle hamburgers, he loves pancakes; he talked about what he liked to read as a little boy, where he's traveled, what clothes he wears and other trivia.

You'd think he would have used his time to talk specifically about the suffering that uninsured people and their children are going through, especially in the Lone Star State. Or about what could replace Obamacare other than his repeated "free market" solution, which is to say the "pay or die" profiteering, tax-subsidized corporate system.

It was puzzling why he never mentioned that during his two days of talking, over 200 Americans died, on average, because they couldn't afford health insurance to get diagnoses and timely treatment. (A peer reviewed study by Harvard Medical School researchers estimated about 45,000 die annually for lack of affordable health insurance every year.)

The other reaction to Senator Cruz was that many of his more specific objections to Obamacare -- its mind-numbing complexity, opposition by formerly supportive labor unions, and employers reacting by reducing worker hours below 30 hours a week to escape some of the law's requirements -- are well-taken and completely correctible by single-payer health insurance, as provided in Canada. Single-payer, or full Medicare for all, with free choice of physician and hospital has been the majority choice of Americans for decades. Even a majority of doctors and nurses favor it.
Single-payer's advantage is that everybody is in, nobody is out. It is far more efficient, allows for better outcomes, saves lives, prevents injuries and illnesses, relieves people of severe anxieties and wasted time spent figuring out often fraud-ridden, inscrutable computerized bills and allows for the collection of pattern-detecting data to spot harmful trends.

For example, in Canada, full Medicare covers everyone at half the per capita cost that Americans pay even though 50 million Americans are still not covered. The U.S. per capita figure is almost $9,000 a year and over 17% of our total GDP. In Canada, administrative costs are much lower.
Symbolically, the single-payer legislation that passed in Canada over four decades ago was 13 pages long, compared to over 2,000 pages for Obamacare.

Critics of Canada's system charge it with delays for patients. For some elective procedures, provinces that were under-investing have experienced some delays until Ottawa raised its contributions. Canada spends just over 10% of its GDP on healthcare, by comparison.
But in the U.S. not being able to pay for treatment is the biggest problem. And in the U.S., who hasn't heard of delays in various areas of the country due to lack of primary care physicians or other specialties? I have many friends and relatives in Canada who have not complained of delays for routine, essential or emergency treatments.

For those who prefer to believe hard-bitten businesspeople, Matt Miller, writing yesterday in The Washington Post, interviewed big business executives -- David Beatty who ran the giant Weston Foods and Roger Martin long-time consultant to large U.S. companies in Canada. They were highly approving of the Canadian system and are baffled at the way the U.S. has twisted itself in such a wasteful, harmful and discriminatory system.

Mr. Beatty wondered why U.S. companies "'want to be in the business of providing health care anyway' ("that's a government function,' he says simply)."

Mr. Martin, an avowed capitalist, who has experienced healthcare in the U.S. and Canada, according to Mr. Miller, called Canadian Medicare "incredibly hassle-free," by comparison. (In Canada, single-payer means government insurance and private delivery of healthcare under cost controls). Now Dean of the business school at the University of Toronto, Mr. Martin told reporter Miller: "I literally have a hard time thinking of what would be better than a single-payer system."

So why the U.S. is the only Western country without some version of a single-payer system?
Most concessionary Democrats, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have said in the past that they prefer single-payer, but that the corporate forces against it cannot be overcome. (They use phrases like "single-payer is not practical.")

But with the Cruz crew in Congress going berserk against Obamacare, now is the time to press again for the far superior single-payer model. Or at least get single-payer into the public discussion. Unfortunately, even some of the major citizen groups organized for single-payer, behind H.R. 676, are keeping quiet, not wanting to undercut Obama and the Congressional Democrats.

Go to Single Payer Action and connect with the movement that does not play debilitating politics and seeks your engagement.

Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the 'pathetic' American media

(, 9/27/2013)
Pulitzer Prize winner explains how to fix journalism, saying press should 'fire 90% of editors and promote ones you can't control
Seymour Hersh
Seymour Hersh exposed the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. Photograph: Wally McNamee/Corbis
Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.

It doesn't take much to fire up Hersh, the investigative journalist who has been the nemesis of US presidents since the 1960s and who was once described by the Republican party as "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist".

He is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth.

Don't even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends "so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would" – or the death of Osama bin Laden. "Nothing's been done about that story, it's one big lie, not one word of it is true," he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.

Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an "independent" Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. "The Pakistanis put out a report, don't get me going on it. Let's put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It's a bullshit report," he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.

The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.

"It's pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama]," he declares in an interview with the Guardian.

"It used to be when you were in a situation when something very dramatic happened, the president and the minions around the president had control of the narrative, you would pretty much know they would do the best they could to tell the story straight. Now that doesn't happen any more. Now they take advantage of something like that and they work out how to re-elect the president.

He isn't even sure if the recent revelations about the depth and breadth of surveillance by the National Security Agency will have a lasting effect.

Snowden changed the debate on surveillance

He is certain that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden "changed the whole nature of the debate" about surveillance. Hersh says he and other journalists had written about surveillance, but Snowden was significant because he provided documentary evidence – although he is sceptical about whether the revelations will change the US government's policy.

"Duncan Campbell [the British investigative journalist who broke the Zircon cover-up story], James Bamford [US journalist] and Julian Assange and me and the New Yorker, we've all written the notion there's constant surveillance, but he [Snowden] produced a document and that changed the whole nature of the debate, it's real now," Hersh says.

"Editors love documents. Chicken-shit editors who wouldn't touch stories like that, they love documents, so he changed the whole ball game," he adds, before qualifying his remarks.

"But I don't know if it's going to mean anything in the long [run] because the polls I see in America – the president can still say to voters 'al-Qaida, al-Qaida' and the public will vote two to one for this kind of surveillance, which is so idiotic," he says.

Holding court to a packed audience at City University in London's summer school on investigative journalism, 76-year-old Hersh is on full throttle, a whirlwind of amazing stories of how journalism used to be; how he exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, how he got the Abu Ghraib pictures of American soldiers brutalising Iraqi prisoners, and what he thinks of Edward Snowden.

Hope of redemption

Despite his concern about the timidity of journalism he believes the trade still offers hope of redemption.

"I have this sort of heuristic view that journalism, we possibly offer hope because the world is clearly run by total nincompoops more than ever … Not that journalism is always wonderful, it's not, but at least we offer some way out, some integrity."

His story of how he uncovered the My Lai atrocity is one of old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism and doggedness. Back in 1969, he got a tip about a 26-year-old platoon leader, William Calley, who had been charged by the army with alleged mass murder.

Instead of picking up the phone to a press officer, he got into his car and started looking for him in the army camp of Fort Benning in Georgia, where he heard he had been detained. From door to door he searched the vast compound, sometimes blagging his way, marching up to the reception, slamming his fist on the table and shouting: "Sergeant, I want Calley out now."

Eventually his efforts paid off with his first story appearing in the St Louis Post-Despatch, which was then syndicated across America and eventually earned him the Pulitzer Prize. "I did five stories. I charged $100 for the first, by the end the [New York] Times were paying $5,000."

He was hired by the New York Times to follow up the Watergate scandal and ended up hounding Nixon over Cambodia. Almost 30 years later, Hersh made global headlines all over again with his exposure of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Put in the hours

For students of journalism his message is put the miles and the hours in. He knew about Abu Ghraib five months before he could write about it, having been tipped off by a senior Iraqi army officer who risked his own life by coming out of Baghdad to Damascus to tell him how prisoners had been writing to their families asking them to come and kill them because they had been "despoiled".

"I went five months looking for a document, because without a document, there's nothing there, it doesn't go anywhere."

Hersh returns to US president Barack Obama. He has said before that the confidence of the US press to challenge the US government collapsed post 9/11, but he is adamant that Obama is worse than Bush.

"Do you think Obama's been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for. What's going on [with journalists]?" he asks.

He says investigative journalism in the US is being killed by the crisis of confidence, lack of resources and a misguided notion of what the job entails.

"Too much of it seems to me is looking for prizes. It's journalism looking for the Pulitzer Prize," he adds. "It's a packaged journalism, so you pick a target like – I don't mean to diminish because anyone who does it works hard – but are railway crossings safe and stuff like that, that's a serious issue but there are other issues too.

"Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone programme, why aren't we doing more? How does he justify it? What's the intelligence? Why don't we find out how good or bad this policy is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that monitor drone killings. Why don't we do our own work?

"Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here's a debate' our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who's right and who's wrong about issues. That doesn't happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There are some people – the New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would … it's like you don't dare be an outsider any more."

He says in some ways President George Bush's administration was easier to write about. "The Bush era, I felt it was much easier to be critical than it is [of] Obama. Much more difficult in the Obama era," he said.

Asked what the solution is Hersh warms to his theme that most editors are pusillanimous and should be fired.

"I'll tell you the solution, get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist and start promoting editors that you can't control," he says. I saw it in the New York Times, I see people who get promoted are the ones on the desk who are more amenable to the publisher and what the senior editors want and the trouble makers don't get promoted. Start promoting better people who look you in the eye and say 'I don't care what you say'.

Nor does he understand why the Washington Post held back on the Snowden files until it learned the Guardian was about to publish.

If Hersh was in charge of US Media Inc, his scorched earth policy wouldn't stop with newspapers.

"I would close down the news bureaus of the networks and let's start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won't like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you, that's what we're supposed to be doing," he says.

Hersh is currently on a break from reporting, working on a book which undoubtedly will make for uncomfortable reading for both Bush and Obama.

"The republic's in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple." And he implores journalists to do something about it.

Fukushima Crisis Demands Global Take-Over

"We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis." —Harvey Wasserman, author and activist

Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), does not have the resources to handle 1,300 spent fuel rods now sitting in a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air, with the potential to spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.

Harvey Wasserman:

Crisis at Fukushima 4 Demands a Global Take-Over
Fukushima Dumps 1,000 Tons of Polluted Water into Sea

This crisis comes just as the Obama Administration is trying to provide a $8.3 billion loan to build the first new nuclear plants in the U.S. in almost 30 years. Tell President Obama to loan that $8.3 billion to a Fukushima emergency clean-up instead. Tell the United Nations to lead that effort immediately.

Click to Email President Obama and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon:

GOAL: 20,000
CURRENT: 10,052

By taking action you will be automatically signed up for action alerts from Roots Action. We consider your contact information to be private and confidential. We will NOT disclose it to any other entity unless you specifically authorize us to do so. You can unsubscribe at the bottom of any email you receive from us.

Friday, September 27, 2013

September 26, 2013, OpEdNews

Obama's Justice Department: Trumpeting a New Victory in War on Freedom of the Press
By Norman Solomon

The Obama administration's pernicious goal is to normalize circumstances where journalists can't credibly promise confidentiality, and potential leakers don't believe they can have it. The broader purpose is to destroy independent journalism -- which is to say, actual journalism -- which is to say, freedom of the press. 
Source: Norman Solomon Blog

There's something profoundly despicable about a Justice Department that would brazenly violate the First and Fourth Amendments while spying on journalists, then claim to be reassessing such policies after an avalanche of criticism -- and then proceed, as it did this week, to gloat that those policies made possible a long prison sentence for a journalistic source.

Welcome to the Obama Justice Department.

While mouthing platitudes about respecting press freedom, the president has overseen methodical actions to undermine it. We should retire understated phrases like "chilling effect." With the announcement from Obama's Justice Department on Monday, the thermometer has dropped below freezing.

You could almost hear the slushy flow of public information turning to ice in the triumphant words of the U.S. attorney who led the investigation after being handpicked by Attorney General Eric Holder: "This prosecution demonstrates our deep resolve to hold accountable anyone who would violate their solemn duty to protect our nation's secrets and to prevent future, potentially devastating leaks by those who would wantonly ignore their obligations to safeguard classified information."
Translation: This prosecution shows the depth of our contempt for civil liberties. Let this be a lesson to journalists and would-be leakers alike.

Audibly on the chopping block are provisions in the Bill of Rights such as "freedom ... of the press" and "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The Obama administration's pernicious goal is to normalize circumstances where journalists can't credibly promise confidentiality, and potential leakers don't believe they can have it. The broader purpose is to destroy independent journalism -- which is to say, actual journalism -- which is to say, freedom of the press.

Impacts are crystal clear to just about any journalist who has done reporting that's much more than stenographic services for official government and corporate sources. When unofficial sources are choked off, not much is left other than the Official Story.

The Official Story is routinely somewhere between very selective and mendacious. A case in point, ironically enough, is the Justice Department's righteous announcement that the prison term for the leaker of information to The Associated Press reflected the Department's "deep resolve to hold accountable anyone who would violate their solemn duty to protect our nation's secrets."
"Hold accountable anyone"? (Laugh, scream or cry; take your pick.)
Like others before it, the Obama administration has made a frequent practice of leaking classified "secrets" to media outlets -- when its calculus is that revealing those secrets will make the administration look good. Of course in those cases the Justice Department doesn't bother to track down the leakers.

Such extreme hypocrisy in high places has become so normalized that major media outlets often seem completely inured to it.

Hours after the Justice Department's announcement on Monday that its surveillance of AP phone records had resulted in a lengthy prison sentence, the PBS "NewsHour" did not devote a word to it. Perhaps the program could not find a few seconds to shave off the lengthy beach-ball interview that Judy Woodruff conducted with former President Clinton.

To the top echelons of quasi-journalistic enterprises that are bankrolled by corporate advertisers and underwriters, the disappearance of confidentiality -- along with routine violations of the First and Fourth Amendments -- might hardly matter. Official sources flood the media zone.

But the New York Times coverage should have given attentive readers indigestion over breakfast Tuesday: "A former F.B.I. agent has agreed to plead guilty to leaking classified information to The Associated Press about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen last year ... Federal investigators said they were able to identify the man, Donald Sachtleben, a former bomb technician, as a suspect in the leak case only after secretly obtaining AP reporters' phone logs, a move that set off an uproar among journalists and members of Congress of both parties when it was disclosed in May."

The Times added: "Sachtleben ... has agreed to serve 43 months in prison for the leak, the Justice Department said. His case is the eighth leak-related prosecution under the Obama administration.
Only three such cases were prosecuted under all previous presidents."

How did the Justice Department catch Sachtleben in the first place? By seizing records of calls on more than 20 phone lines used by Associated Press reporters over a two-month period.
This is more than a chilling effect on the First Amendment; it's an icy wind, threatening to put real freedom of the press into a deep freeze. Journalists -- and the rest of us -- should respond with outraged opposition.

Submitters Bio:

Norman Solomon is the author of many books, including "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death," which has been adapted into a documentary film. For more information, go to:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Help To Stop Internet Censorship


GRAPHIC: Roots Action logo header
Reason #87 to stop the TPP: It would censor the internet.

GRAPHIC: Sign here button
For the first time, actual presidents and prime ministers of 12 powerful countries are meeting behind closed doors to seal an extreme internet censorship plan called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

We know from leaked drafts that the TPP will make the internet more expensive, less accessible, and subject to censorship. Experts say, "kids could be sent to jail for downloading" and whole families could be kicked off the internet.

Will political leaders feel more pressure from industry lobbyists or from us? Join with RootsAction and OpenMedia in sending decision-makers a powerful message now before it's too late.

Here are our reasonable requests of elected officials:
  • Please say no to internet censorship.
  • Protect the right of everyone to access the internet in their daily lives.
  • Do not force internet service providers (ISPs) to act as "internet police," monitoring our use, censoring content, and removing whole websites.
  • Preserve the democratic rights of sovereign countries to draft their own internet laws.
Will you join with us now in sending this crucial message?

Thus far, our movement has stopped TPP negotiators from finalizing the agreement but now powerful interests are pressuring politicians to ram through their internet censorship plan.

Thousands of people and over 30 major organizations from across the Trans-Pacific region, including RootsAction and OpenMedia, are working together to keep the internet open. High ranking politicians from several countries are beginning to ask questions.

We know that when citizens speak out, decision makers take notice. Click here now to send a powerful message to the 12 political leaders who are about to make a decision that will affect generations.

Together, we won’t let them take away our digital rights.

Please forward this email widely to like-minded friends.

-- The team

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

September 24, 2013, OpEdNews

Washington's Tyranny
By Paul Craig Roberts

The Washington regime has declared that it is above both law and Constitution and possesses the power to detain citizens indefinitely and to murder them without due process of law. These powers comprise the necessary and sufficient conditions for dictatorship.
Source: Paul Craig Roberts

The war criminal barack obama has declared his "outrage" over the 62 deaths associated with the takeover of a Nairobi, Kenya, shopping mall by al-Shabaab fighters. But the attack on the shopping mall was obama's fault. Al Shabaab spokesmen said that the attack on the Nairobi mall was a retaliatory response to the Kenyan troops sent to fight against them in Somalia. The Kenyan troops, of course, were sent to Somalia as a result of pressure from Washington.
Just as the outbreak of violence in Mali resulted from the fighters that obama used against Gaddafi moving into Mali, Washington's violence against Somalia has resulted in the terrorist attack on the Nairobi mall.

This fact again raises the never-asked question: What is the real agenda of Washington's "war on terror"? The western presstitutes never ask this question, nor do western legislative bodies.
Washington has offered a variety of justifications for its 12 years of wars. One is that Washington is rooting out terrorism in order to protect Americans from 9/11 type events. Another is that "dictators" must be overthrown and replaced with "freedom and democracy." Still another is false claims of the possession of "weapons of mass destruction" (Iraq) and the use of "weapons of mass destruction" (Syria).

None of Washington's claims can withstand the barest scrutiny. None of the governments that Washington has overthrown and seeks to overthrow are terrorist states. Indeed, some are not even Islamist governments. Saddam Hussein's Iraq had a secular government, as does Assad's Syria.
Washington's explanations for murdering Pakistanis and Yemenis with drones are even more nebulous. Moreover, using military means to kill citizens of countries with which the US is not at war lacks all legality.

When obama gets on the moral high horse about deaths in Syria or Nairobi, his hypocrisy is astounding. A person would think obama would be ashamed. The Egyptian military, which is financed with $2 billion annually from Washington, has just overthrown the first elected president in Egypt's history, banned the political party that Egyptians elected to power, and confiscated the political party's assets, money, and buildings.

The Washington-sponsored Egyptian military shot down in the streets many more Egyptians protesting the overthrow of their government by a military coup than died in the Nairobi mall. But we hear nothing from Washington or obama about the need to support democracy in Egypt.
When the British Parliament voted down providing cover for obama's criminal attack on Syria, Parliament created space for Russia's President Putin to resolve the Syrian situation by obtaining Syrian President Assad's agreement to join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and to turn over all Syrian chemical weapons to an international body.

The warmonger obama regime was outraged that Washington's military attack on Syria had been blocked. Washington and the Israel Lobby went into full scale demonization of President Putin for orchestrating peace instead of war. The obama regime is trying to block the agreement by insisting on incorporating into the UN resolution an opportunity for attacking Syria if Washington is not convinced that all chemical weapons are turned over.

The entire world knows that Washington will again lie through its teeth, assert that all the weapons were not turned over and use the wedge that Washington is attempting to force into the UN resolution to start another war. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has publicly stated that Washington is trying to blackmail Russia into accepting the potential for military intervention in Syria as part of the agreement.

Until the 21st century, Washington carried out its relentless nefarious activities against other peoples and countries under cover and out of sight. In the 21st century the criminal bush and obama regimes have brazenly demonstrated their disregard for US law, international law, and human rights.
Hubris and arrogance have run away with the "superpower." The US stands reviled by the world. At the UN summit on September 23, the president of Brazil denounced the obama regime for its "breach of international law" revealed by the spy scandal. Bolivian President Evo Morales is filing a lawsuit against the obama regime for "crimes against humanity."

When the world looks at Washington, it cannot differentiate Washington from the dictatorships that Washington attributes to other countries. The Washington regime has declared that it is above both law and Constitution and possesses the power to detain citizens indefinitely and to murder them without due process of law. These powers comprise the necessary and sufficient conditions for dictatorship.

Who will liberate Americans from Washington's tyranny, overthrow the executive branch dictatorship, and bring freedom and democracy to America?


Note: Roberts raises very cogent points in this article. But any implication that Assad did not use WMD (chemical weapons) against his own people is, in my opinion, completely at variance with credible evidence which has been gathered. A.E. McGuire

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

These 12 Bills Are the NSA's Worst Nightmare

Your guide to the pending legislation seeking to curb the government's vast surveillance powers.

| Mon Sep. 23, 2013 3:00 AM PDT,
It seems that not a week goes by without a friendly reminder from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the government has found a new way to spy on us. From allegedly cracking online encryption, to paying US tech companies to build backdoors in their security systems, to spying on international bank transactions—it's tempting to wonder whether there is any such thing as electronic privacy anymore. But in the last few months, Congress has introduced a spate of bills aimed at reining in the NSA's vast surveillance powers.
These pending bills seek to keep the NSA from sweeping up phone records en masse, take the rubber stamp away from the top-secret spy court that approves surveillance requests, and allow tech companies to tell the public more about the government requests they receive for user data, among other things. (At present, no lawmakers are actually trying to defund the NSA, although GOP Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan gave it a good shot.) Here's a guide to 12 pending bills that target US government spying (collected with help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation).
The Surveillance State Repeal Act (H.R. 2818)

Sponsor: Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.)

What it does: Unlike other pending bills that make careful revisions to existing surveillance laws, this one would completely repeal the PATRIOT Act and the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the statutes from which the NSA draws its broad spying powers. The bill also amends FISA—the 1978 law that governs the collection of foreign intelligence information—to clarify that "no information relating to a United States person may be acquired pursuant to this Act without a valid warrant based on probable cause" and it decrees that the government can't require tech companies to build backdoors in their security systems. In other words, this is Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's worst nightmare.

The LIBERT-E Act (H.R. 2399)

Sponsors: Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.),

What it does: This bill takes aim at "Section 215" of the Patriot Act, which expanded the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to justify broad phone surveillance by allowing the government to compel companies to give up "tangible things" that could be relevant to a terrorism investigation. Under this new legislation, the government has to show demonstrable facts that the information they're scooping up is relevant to an investigation. The bill would also insert language into FISA allowing the government to collect information that pertains "only to an individual"—so millions of others couldn't get swept up in the NSA's phone metadata dragnet, which hoovers up information like call times, locations, and phone numbers. What the bill doesn't do is revise the 2008 amendments to FISA, which provide the legal basis for programs like the NSA's PRISM—the main NSA program that vacuums up online communications. Finally, the bill mandates that the inspectors general for the Department of Justice and "each element of the intelligence community" investigate how many Americans have been targeted by requests made under FISA and how their information has been used.

A Bill To Modify the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (S. 1182)

Sponsor(s): Sens. Mark Udall (D-Co.) and Wyden, Ron (D-Ore.)

What it does: Like the LIBERT-E Act, this legislation narrows the amount of information the government can collect when conducting a terrorism investigation under the Patriot Act, and how many people can be targeted. It would require the government to produce a "statement of facts" showing there are "reasonable grounds to believe" that the records being collected are relevant to an investigation and "pertain to an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power." Unlike the LIBERT-E Act, this bill lacks the word "only," which could give the government more wiggle room.

The FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013 (S. 1215)

Sponsor(s): Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

What it does: The bill attempts to shed more light on the NSA's spying program by requiring government watchdogs to audit national security letters and other top-secret orders; the Attorney General to submit reports to major congressional committees every six months detailing the number of secret national security requests that have been made relating to US citizens; and the government to release to the public an annual report on how FISA is being used and impacting the privacy of Americans. The legislation also reforms the controversial Section 215 of the Patriot Act with similar language to Udall and Wyden's bill.
The Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013 (S. 1452)

Sponsor: Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)

What it does: One of the biggest complaints by tech giants including Google and Facebook is that they are forbidden from telling their users when they are forced to give up user data. This bill would require the government to provide annual public reports on the total number of orders granted under FISA and the Patriot Act, how many users were targeted, and the number of times the government queried "certain databases under specified orders." The bill would also allow tech companies to disclose information about the number of orders they receive that approve "electronic surveillance, pen register and trap and trace devices, the production of tangible things (commonly referred to as business records, including books, records, papers, documents, and other items), and the targeting of persons outside the United States other than US persons."

Government Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013 (H.R. 2736)

Sponsors: Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.)

What it does: This bill would also give tech companies more leeway in what they can tell their users by allowing them to report aggregate information related to orders they receive under FISA every 3 months.

The FISA Judge Selection Reform Act of 2013 (S. 1460) and the FISA Court Reform Act of 2013 (S. 1467)

Sponsor: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)

What they do: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves surveillance requests has been criticized as a "rubber stamp"; these bills seek to change the way judges are selected and bring more accountability to this secret body. S. 1460 would revamp the nomination process for surveillance court judges, who are currently appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court with no congressional oversight. Under this legislation, each federal circuit would nominate a judge to the court, which the chief justice would then have to pick from; it would also add two new judges to the court. S. 1467 would further reform FISC by establishing an office that has the power to declassify rulings and appeal the court's orders, potentially all the way up to the Supreme Court.

FISA Court Accountability Act (H.R. 2586)

Sponsor: Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.)

What does it does: The bill would take most of the responsibility for appointing surveillance court judges away from the chief justice of the Supreme Court, placing it in the hands of the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate.

Presidential Appointment of FISA Court Judges Act (H.R. 2761)

Sponsor: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)

What it does: This bill also takes the appointment of FISA judges out of the hands of the chief justice. It would give the president the power to nominate judges to this court, who would undergo the typical Senate confirmation process.

The Ending Secret Law Act (H.R. 2475)

Sponsor: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)

What it does: It requires the surveillance court to declassify all of its decisions and orders that include "significant legal interpretation" within 45 days. But there's a big exception—when the Attorney General determines that "disclosure is not in the national security interest of the United States and for other purposes" the court only has to release an unclassified summary of the decision.
House Resolution No. 205

Sponsor: State Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Mich.)

What it does: This resolution has one purpose—ousting NSA Director James Clapper. It reads: "We urge the Congress of the United States and the U.S. Attorney General to prosecute Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for lying to Congress about the National Security Agency's collection of data on U.S. citizens...Effective congressional and public oversight cannot occur if the information presented to Congress cannot be trusted."

Dana Liebelson

Dana Liebelson is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Her work has also appeared in The Week, TIME's Battleland, Truthout, OtherWords and Yahoo! News. RSS |