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TBR News January 12, 2018

Jan 12 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. January 12, 2018:”Given his recent performances, one can only wonder what Trump will do, or say, next.

Call the Pope a faggot and lose the Catholic vote?

It wouldn’t make any difference if Trump used the ‘nigger’ word because he and the Republicans have lost that vote some time ago.

Why not sponsor a bill to kill all the pet dogs in America?

Or perhaps encourage more Americans to drive on the left side of the road if they feel that want to.

Or better, suggest that anyone caught with more that two marijuana seeds be executed in public by being burnt at the stake.

All of these idea have no doubt crossed his mind but now we can see the real reason he cancelled his trip to London; no one wants him there and the Queen has categorically refused to see him.

Their good fortune is our loss.”

 

Table of Contents

  • Secrecy News
  • Donald Trump claims US sold Norway ‘F-52’ aircraft that doesn’t exist
  • U.S. ambassador to Panama resigns, says cannot serve Trump
  • Why federal cannabis crackdown may be a blessing in disguise for legal weed
  • Trump pans immigration proposal as bringing people from ‘shithole countries’
  • Democratic U.S. senator: Trump called African countries ‘shitholes’ in meeting
  • ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ – Norwegians reject Trump’s immigration offer
  • The Same Democrats Who Denounce Donald Trump as a Lawless, Treasonous Authoritarian Just Voted to Give Him Vast Warrantless Spying Powers
  • Political risk looms over Republicans’ welfare tinkering
  • Kentucky becomes first U.S. state to implement Medicaid work requirements
  • SPLC statement on President Trump’s effort to undermine Medicaid
  • Debunked: Trump reasons for cancelling London visit  
  • New security flaw detected in Intel hardware
  • Ski resorts cling on against climate change

 

Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2018, Issue No. 4

January 12, 2018

ARMY SKETCHES FUTURE CYBERSPACE OPERATIONS

The U.S. Army this week published an overview of future military cyberspace operations. See The U.S. Army Concept for Cyberspace and Electronic Warfare Operations 2025-2040, TRADOC Pamphlet 525-8-6, 9 January 2018.

The new Army publication is intended to promote development of cyber capabilities, to foster integration with other military functions, to shape recruitment, and to guide technology development and acquisition. It addresses defense against cyber threats as well as offensive cyber activities.

Proliferation of cyber threats is eroding the benefits of US superiority in conventional military power, the document said.

“The Army faces a complex and challenging environment where the expanding distribution of cyberspace and EMS [electromagnetic spectrum] technologies will continue to narrow the combat power advantage that the Army has had over potential adversaries.”

“Adversaries will conduct complex cyberspace attacks integrated with military operations or independent of traditional military operations.”

“Since every device presents a potential vulnerability, this trend represents an exponential growth of targets through which an adversary could access Army operational networks, systems, and information.”

“Conversely, it presents opportunities for the enhanced synchronization of Army technologies and information to exploit adversary dependencies on cyberspace.”

“If deterrence fails, Army forces isolate, overwhelm, and defeat adversaries in cyberspace and the EMS to meet the commander’s objectives.”

“These [Army] capabilities exploit adversary systems to facilitate intelligence collection, target adversary cyberspace and EMS functions, and create first order effects. Cyberspace and EW [electronic warfare] operations also create cascading effects across multiple domains to affect weapons systems, command and control processes, critical infrastructure, and key resources to outmaneuver adversaries physically and cognitively, applying combined arms in and across all domains.”

Military action in cyberspace is an evolving field that may have overtaken existing law or convention.

“Many effects of cyberspace operations require considerable legal and policy review,” the Army document said.

MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING, AND MORE FROM CRS

Mandatory minimum sentencing in drug-related criminal prosecutions has “contributed to an explosion in the federal prison population and attendant costs,” a new report from the Congressional Research Service on the laws of mandatory sentencing observes.

“Thus, the federal inmate population at the end of 1976 was 23,566, and at the end of 1986 it was 36,042. On January 4, 2018, the federal inmate population was 183,493.” The costs incurred by the federal prison system have increased accordingly. See Mandatory Minimum Sentencing of Federal Drug Offenses by CRS Senior Specialist Charles Doyle, January 11, 2018.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Attorney General’s Memorandum on Federal Marijuana Enforcement: Possible Impacts, CRS Legal Sidebar, January 10, 2018

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR): An Overview, updated January 9, 2018

Facing the FACT Act: Abortion and Free Speech (Part I), CRS Legal Sidebar, January 10, 2018

Update: Who’s the Boss at the CFPB?, CRS Legal Sidebar, updated January 11, 2018

Venezuela’s Economic Crisis: Issues for Congress, January 10, 2018

Transatlantic Relations in 2018, CRS Insight, January 10, 2018

Overview of “Travel Ban” Litigation and Recent Developments, CRS Legal Sidebar, updated January 10, 2018

 

Donald Trump claims US sold Norway ‘F-52’ aircraft that doesn’t exist

January 11, 2018

by Lucy Pasha-Robinson

The Independent

Donald Trump’s joint press conference with the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Wednesday should have been a straightforward affair, announcing new military and trade collaboration between their two nations.

But in the latest gaffe to befall the US President, Mr Trump managed to suggest the US was selling Norway a type of fighter aircraft that does not actually exist.

The President claimed Norway had started receiving the first American-made “F-52s” . ​“In November, we started delivering the first F-52s and F-35 fighter jets,” he said.

The F-52 is a fictional aircraft that features prominently in the successful Call of Duty video game series.

The former real estate mogul was supposed to be speaking at the White House to announce Norway’s purchase of 52 F-35 jets from American aerospace firm Lockheed Martin.

Mr Trump’s blunder prompted a flurry of jokes from his critics on social media.

​“We have a total of 52 and they’ve delivered a number of them already, a little ahead of schedule,” Mr Trump said on Wednesday, adding “it’s a $10 billion order.”

Norway received the first three F-35 fighter jets in November as part of efforts to increase the strength of its air force.

Norway’s is the fourth military after the US itself, Israel and Italy to incorporate the planes.

“These warplanes will improve the entire Norwegian defence,” General Major Tonje Skinnarland, head of the Norwegian air force, told broadcaster TV2 at the time.

 

U.S. ambassador to Panama resigns, says cannot serve Trump

January 12, 2018

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley, a career diplomat and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot, has resigned, telling the State Department he no longer feels able to serve President Donald Trump.

“As a junior foreign service officer, I signed an oath to serve faithfully the president and his administration in an apolitical fashion, even when I might not agree with certain policies. My instructors made clear that if I believed I could not do that, I would be honor bound to resign. That time has come,” Feeley said, according to an excerpt of his resignation letter read to Reuters.

A State Department spokeswoman confirmed Feeley’s departure, saying that he “has informed the White House, the Department of State, and the Government of Panama of his decision to retire for personal reasons, as of March 9 of this year.”

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Tom Brown

 

Why federal cannabis crackdown may be a blessing in disguise for legal weed

Don’t panic, legalization advocates say: Jeff Sessions’ anti-marijuana policy will have little practical impact and may even hasten the formal end of prohibition

January 12, 2018

by Jamiles Lartey

The Guardian

Now that the dust has settled around attorney general Jeff Sessions’ promise of harsher federal marijuana enforcement, advocates of legalization have largely exchanged their initial disappointment over the move for one of long-term optimism.

“I think there was a knee-jerk reaction of something approaching panic, but once everyone calmed down, they’ve come to realize that practically this is going to have little impact,” said Patrick Moen, a former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent who now works as council to an investment firm in the nascent legal marijuana industry.

Some, like Moen, even believe the decision could be the best thing for the growing marijuana movement, hastening the formal end of weed prohibition in the US.

“There will probably a short term chilling effect, but this could ultimately be the best thing that’s ever happened to accelerate the pace of change,” Moen said.

The markets have reflected this somewhat counterintuitive sentiment. The United States Marijuana Index, which tracks 15 leading publicly traded legal marijuana-related companies, initially dropped 21% on the heels of the Department of Justice (DoJ) announcement, but it turned out to be a blip. By early this week the index had rebounded to within a few points of its one-year high.

Sessions’ announcement formally rescinded guidance, known as the Cole Memo, issued by the Obama-era DoJ that essentially told federal prosecutors to respect state laws with regards to marijuana. Importantly, though, Sessions’ decision did not direct or incentivize US attorneys to pursue marijuana cases, it just allowed them to if they so choose.

“The Cole Memo guidance was eminently reasonable and was a common sense good policy,” Moen said. “I think that despite the fact that it’s been formally rescinded, federal prosecutors will effectively continue to abide by it.”

One of the primary reasons concern has been tempered is that Sessions announcement is not actually likely to ensnare individual marijuana users into the criminal justice system.

Federal prosecutors almost never pursue simple possession charges against recreational users, whether in states where it is legal or not.

According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, 99% of those serving federal sentences for marijuana-related crimes were convicted of trafficking offenses, which typically relate to quantities far in excess of what individual recreational users would have.

“It is unlikely that this will affect them in any tangible negative way, other than depriving of the ability to buy marijuana legally,” said Justin Strekal, Political Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml).

The Sessions memo is unlikely to trigger a nationwide dragnet of marijuana users, and is also unlikely to cause wide-scale disruptions to legal cultivators, Moen notes.

“If federal prosecutors decide to ‘go rogue’ and start charging otherwise compliant state businesses, there’s going to be repercussions with regard to their relationships with the local [law enforcement],” Moen said.

Strekal notes, however, that because of civil-forfeiture laws, local law enforcement would have one very good reason to work with federal agents seeking to enforce marijuana laws on legal weed businesses. Although local law enforcement can’t bust those businesses on their own – they aren’t breaking any state or local laws – by joining with feds to enforce federal law, they get to claim a portion of any assets seized in a potential drug raid.

“In an area where you have a prohibitionist minded sheriff or a law enforcement agency, they will look at state-lawful marijuana facilities and see a big pile of money,” Strekal said.

The 4 January move by Sessions was sandwiched by two major wins for legalization advocates. On the first of the month, recreational weed became legal in California, after more than a decade of a quite lax medical marijuana program. Then on 10 January, Vermont became the first US state to legalize the substance with an act of legislation, rather than a popular referendum, as has been the case in states like California, Colorado and Oregon.

The decision may ultimately precipitate another win, as Moen observed. Within hours of Sessions’ announcement, a bipartisan group of legislators had come out against the decision and some, including Hawaii senator Brian Schatz, announced that legislation was already being crafted that could overrule Sessions, by changing the extent to which Marijuana is classified as illegal at the federal level.

“It’s great that we’ve had a number of members of Congress over the course of the last six days last week step up and say what the attorney general did is wrong. Now time for every single one of those members of Congress to put their names on the pending legislation,” Strekal said.

 

Trump pans immigration proposal as bringing people from ‘shithole countries’

  • Trump reportedly disparaged El Salvador and Haiti during pitch to protect immigrants, prompting swift bipartisan rebuke as Democrats called him ‘racist’
  • ‘Unkind, divisive, elitist’: international outcry over Trump’s remark

January 11, 2018

by Lauren Gambino in Washington

The Guardian

Donald Trump described El Salvador, Haiti and certain African nations as “shithole” countries during a meeting with lawmakers on Thursday, according to a report

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, after being presented with a proposal to restore protections for immigrants from those countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal. The Washington Post reported the remarks citing aides briefed on the meeting.

Trump demanded to know why the US would accept immigrants from these countries rather than places like Norway, whose prime minister he had met the day before.

In a statement, the White House did not deny the account, instead highlighting Trump’s hardline immigration stance.

“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” said Raj Shah, a White House spokesman. “Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”

He added: “[Trump will] always reject temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that threaten the lives of hardworking Americans, and undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway.”

The president’s comments drew swift and bipartisan rebuke. A chorus of Democrats condemned Trump as a “racist”.

Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, a Democrat from Illinois, said: “We always knew that President Trump doesn’t like people from certain countries or people of certain colors. We can now we say with 100% confidence that the president is a racist.”

He added: “This is the real Donald Trump and my biggest fear is that his voters will applaud him.”

Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican of Utah who has helped implement the president’s legislative agenda, said: “I look forward to getting a more detailed explanation regarding the president’s comments. Part of what makes America so special is that we welcome the best and brightest in the world, regardless of their country of origin.”

Haiti’s ambassador to the US told MSNBC that their government had “formally summoned” a US official to explain Trump’s comments.

Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico and a sharp-tongued critic of Trump, returned the insult on Twitter. He added: “America’s greatness is built on diversity, or have you forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?”

Congressional lawmakers met at the White House on Thursday to discuss a proposal reached by a bipartisan group of senators. Those in attendance included senators Lindsey Graham, David Perdue and Dick Durbin, the only Democratic lawmaker present, as well as congressman Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, Bob Goodlatte and Mario Diaz-Balart.

Lawmakers were reportedly taken aback by Trump’s comments.

The Oval Office meeting came on a day of frantic negotiations on all the aspects of immigration law now in the balance. The fate of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants remained hanging in the air Thursday after being kicked around Washington amid fierce partisan infighting.

Confusion roiled Capitol Hill as initial optimism that a deal had been struck to avoid the so-called Dreamers becoming vulnerable to deportation was quickly deflated by the White House and conservative lawmakers.

“There has not been a deal reached yet,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. “However, we still think that we can get there. We’re very focused on trying to make sure that that happens. ”

Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a member of a bipartisan working group focused on finding a legislative solution for Dreamers, the young people who came to the country illegally as children, set off a firestorm when he announced that the six negotiators had reached an agreement.

“We’re at a deal. We’ll be talking to the White House about that and I hope we can move forward with it,” Flake said. “It’s the only game in town.”

When Trump ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that has allowed nearly 800,000 immigrants to work and go to school in the US without fear of deportation, he gave lawmakers a six-month deadline to resolve the issue.

Lawmakers are scrambling to find a solution that also accommodates a list of demands laid out by the president: that the bill increase border security and provide funding for a wall; restrict family-based immigration; and end the state department’s diversity visa lottery.

The bipartisan group said their agreement meets those requirements and “we are now working to build support for that deal in Congress”.

Meanwhile, Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, told reporters on Capitol Hill that negotiators still have a “ways to go”.

A federal judge earlier this week issued a nationwide injunction, ordering that the administration reinstate the Daca program while the courts deliberate how to rule on the president’s order.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi insisted lawmakers would reach a deal by next week.

She also mocked a parallel effort to the Senate working group, which consists of the congressional number twos, which includes Durbin, Cornyn, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy and House minority whip Steny Hoyer as well as White House chief of staff John Kelly.

“The Five White Guys, I call them,” Pelosi said. “Are they going to open a hamburger stand next or what?”

 

Democratic U.S. senator: Trump called African countries ‘shitholes’ in meeting

January 12, 2018

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin on Friday condemned Donald Trump’s use of vile language at a White House meeting on immigration, saying the president used “vulgar” language, and repeatedly called African nations “shitholes.”

Durbin, speaking to reporters in video that aired on MSNBC, said he had been explaining a bipartisan group of senators’ immigration plan on Thursday and how it impacted immigrants from various countries, including those in Africa.

“That’s when he used these vile and vulgar comments calling the nations they come from ‘shitholes’ – the exact word used by the president, not just once but repeatedly,” Durbin said at an event in Chicago.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and Blake Brittain

 

Thanks, but no thanks’ – Norwegians reject Trump’s immigration offer

January 12, 2018

by Terje Solsvik and Camilla Knudsen

Reuters

OSLO (Reuters) – Many Norwegians rejected on Friday a suggestion by U.S. President Donald Trump that they would be more welcome to move to the United States than immigrants from “shithole countries” such as Haiti or African nations.

The Nordic country, one of the richest in the world by GDP per capita, was last year named the happiest nation on the planet and is known for a cradle-to-grave welfare state funded in part by large reserves of oil and natural gas.

Trump mentioned Norway in derogatory comments about other countries of migration as U.S. senators briefed him on Thursday on a newly drafted bipartisan immigration bill, according to two sources who asked not to be identified.

One of the sources who was briefed on the conversation quoted him as saying: “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? They’re shithole countries … We should have more people from Norway.”

In one of several Twitter posts on Friday, Trump defended his stance on a bipartisan Senate immigration deal, but denied using the vulgar language ascribed to him.

“The language used by me at the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” he said. He also later denied using derogatory language about Haitians.

“On behalf of Norway: Thanks, but no thanks,” tweeted Torbjoern Saetre, a politician representing Norway’s Conservative Party in a municipality near Oslo.

Others condemned the U.S. president’s comments as inappropriate or racist.

“We are not coming. Cheers from Norway,” one woman wrote.

While hundreds of thousands of Norwegians emigrated to the U.S. in the 19th century, just 502 out of a population of 5.3 million people moved there in 2016, down 59 from the previous year, according to Statistics Norway.

“Will there be more now?” the statistics agency asked in a tweet.

Government officials, seeking to deflect attention, turned down a chance to comment. “We respectfully decline the opportunity,” one government official said when contacted by Reuters.

The reference to Norway may have been prompted by Prime Minister Erna Solberg who visited the White House on Wednesday when the president praised Norway for running a trade deficit with the United States and for buying U.S. military equipment.

Christian Christensen, an American professor of journalism at Stockholm University in neighboring Sweden, tweeted:

“Of course people from #Norway would love to move to a country where people are far more likely to be shot, live in poverty, get no healthcare because they’re poor, get no paid parental leave or subsidized daycare and see fewer women in political power. #Shithole”

Before the “shithole” controversy, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt tweeted that, judging by Solberg’s visit, “keys to success with Trump is personal charm, a solid trade deficit with the U.S. and buying tons of U.S. military hardware.”

Solberg, whose office also declined to comment on Trump’s remarks, is expected to announce soon an expansion of her cabinet to include Norway’s Liberal Party, a centrist group that favors strong environmental policies and more immigration.

“The first point of order in the new government declaration: Norway will still not be a shithole country,” tweeted Kjetil Alstadheim, the political editor of financial daily Dagens Naeringsliv.

Additional reporting by Henrik Stolen and Alister Doyle; Editing by Richard Balmforth

 

 

The Same Democrats Who Denounce Donald Trump as a Lawless, Treasonous Authoritarian Just Voted to Give Him Vast Warrantless Spying Powers

January 12, 2018

by Glenn Greenwald

The Intercept

Leading congressional Democrats have spent the last year relentlessly accusing Donald Trump of being controlled by or treasonously loyal to a hostile foreign power. Over the last several months, they have added to those disloyalty charges a new set of alleged crimes: abusing the powers of the executive branch — including the Justice Department and FBI — to vindictively punish political opponents while corruptly protecting the serious crimes of his allies, including his own family members and possibly himself.

The inescapable conclusion from all of this, they have relentlessly insisted, is that Trump is a lawless authoritarian of the type the U.S. has not seen in the Oval Office for decades, if ever: a leader who has no regard for constitutional values or legal limits and thus, poses a grave, unique, and existential threat to the institutions of American democracy. Reflecting the severity of these fears, the anti-Trump opposition movement that has coalesced within Democratic Party politics has appropriated a slogan — expressed in the hashtag form of contemporary online activism — that was historically used by those who unite, at all costs, to defeat domestic tyranny: #Resistance.

One would hope, and expect, that those who genuinely view Trump as a menace of this magnitude and view themselves as #Resistance fighters would do everything within their ability to impose as many limits and safeguards as possible on the powers he is able to wield. If “resistance” means anything, at a minimum it should entail a refusal to trust a dangerous authoritarian to wield vast power with little checks or oversight.

Yesterday in Washington, congressional Democrats were presented with a critical opportunity to do exactly that. A proposed new amendment was scheduled to be voted on in the House of Representatives that would have imposed meaningful limits and new safeguards on Trump’s ability to exercise one of the most dangerous, invasive, and historically abused presidential powers: spying on the communications of American citizens without warrants. Yesterday’s amendment was designed to limit the powers first enacted during the Bush years to legalize the Bush/Cheney domestic warrantless eavesdropping program. The Intercept’s Alex Emmons on Wednesday detailed the history and substance of the various bills pending in the House.

Although the Trump White House and a majority of House Republicans (including House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes) favored extension (and even an expansion) of the current law’s spying powers and opposed any real reforms, a substantial minority of GOP lawmakers have long opposed warrantless surveillance of Americans and thus, announced their intention to support new safeguards. Indeed, the primary sponsor and advocate of the amendment to provide new domestic spying safeguards was the conservative Republican from Michigan, Justin Amash, who, in the wake of the 2013 Edward Snowden revelations, worked in close partnership with liberal Democratic Rep. John Conyers to try to rein in some of these domestic spying powers.

Despite opposition from GOP House leadership and the Trump White House, Amash was able to secure the commitment of dozens of House Republicans to support his amendments to limit the ability of Trump’s FBI to spy on Americans without warrants. The key provision of his amendment would have required that the FBI first obtain a warrant before being permitted to search and read through the communications of Americans collected by the National Security Agency.

To secure enactment of these safeguards, Amash needed support from a majority of House Democrats. That meant that House Democrats held the power in their hands to decide whether Trump — the president they have been vocally vilifying as a lawless tyrant threatening American democracy — would be subjected to serious limits and safeguards on how his FBI could spy on the conversations of American citizens.

Debate on the bill and the amendments began on the House floor yesterday afternoon, and it became quickly apparent that leading Democrats intended to side with Trump and against those within their own party who favored imposing safeguards on the Trump administration’s ability to engage in domestic surveillance. The most bizarre aspect of this spectacle was that the Democrats who most aggressively defended Trump’s version of the surveillance bill — the Democrats most eager to preserve Trump’s spying powers as virtually limitless — were the very same Democratic House members who have become media stars this year by flamboyantly denouncing Trump as a treasonous, lawless despot in front of every television camera they could find.

Leading the charge against reforms of the FBI’s domestic spying powers was Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee who, in countless TV appearances, has strongly insinuated, if not outright stated, that Trump is controlled by and loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Indeed, just this weekend, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Schiff accused Trump of corruptly abusing the powers of the DOJ and FBI in order to vindictively punish Hilary Clinton and other political enemies. Referring to Trump’s various corrupt acts, Schiff pronounced: “We ought to be thinking in Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, beyond these three years what damage may be done to the institutions of our democracy. ”

Yet just two days later, there was the very same Adam Schiff, on the House floor, dismissing the need for real safeguards on the ability of Trump’s FBI to spy on Americans. In demanding rejection of the warrant requirement safeguard, Schiff channeled Dick Cheney — and the Trump White House — in warning that any warrant requirements would constitute “a crippling requirement in national security and terrorism cases.”

Standing with Schiff in opposing these safeguards was his fellow California Democrat Eric Swalwell, who has devoted his entire congressional term almost exclusively to accusing Trump of being a puppet of the Kremlin, in the process becoming a media darling among the MSNBC set and online #Resistance movement. Yet after spending a full year warning that Trump’s real loyalty was to Moscow rather than America, Swalwell echoed Schiff in demanding that no warrant safeguards were needed on the spying power of Trump’s FBI.

If one were to invoke the standard mentality and tactics of Schiff and Swalwell — namely, impugning the patriotism and loyalty of anyone questioning their Trump/Russia accusations — one could seriously question their own patriotism in handing these vast, virtually unlimited spying powers to a president whom they say they believe is a corrupt agent of a foreign power.

Joining the pro-surveillance coalition led by Trump, Paul Ryan, Devin Nunes, Schiff, and Swalwell was the House’s liberal icon and senior Democrat, Nancy Pelosi. The San Francisco Democrat also stood on the House floor and offered a vigorous defense of the Trump-endorsed bill that would extend to Trump’s FBI the power to spy on Americans without warrants, in the process denouncing the minimal warrant safeguards favored by many in her own party. Pelosi’s speech earned praise from GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan: “I want to thank [Pelosi] for coming up and speaking against the Amash amendment, and in favor of the underlying bipartisan [bill].”

In one sense, Pelosi’s pro-surveillance stance is not surprising. Back in the summer of 2013, as the Snowden revelations of mass domestic surveillance sparked a global debate about privacy and abuse of spying powers, an extraordinary bipartisan alliance formed in Congress to impose serious limits on the NSA’s power to spy on Americans without warrants. Back then, a bill that would have imposed real limits and safeguards on the NSA, one jointly sponsored by Conyers and Amash, unexpectedly picked up large numbers of supporters from both parties — despite opposition from both parties’ congressional leadership — to the point where it looked like it was unstoppably headed for passage.

Official Washington and its national security community began to panic over what looked to be the first rollback of government national security power since the 9/11 attack. Fortunately for the NSA, CIA, and FBI, they found a crucial ally to kill the bill: Nancy Pelosi. Behind the scenes, she had pressured and coerced enough House Democrats to oppose the reform bill, ensuring its narrow defeat. The Conyers/Amash bill — which would have severely limited domestic mass surveillance — was defeated by the razor-thin margin of 217-205. Foreign Policy magazine correctly identified the key author of its defeat, the person who singlehandedly saved NSA mass surveillance in the U.S.:

For anyone who believes in the basic value of individual privacy and the dangers of mass surveillance, Pelosi deserved all the criticism she received back then for singlehandedly saving the NSA’s mass surveillance powers from reform. But at least then, her partisan defenders had a justification they could invoke: At the time, the NSA was under the command of Barack Obama, a president they believed could be trusted to administer these powers responsibly and lawfully.

Now, four years later, Pelosi has reprised her role as key protecter of domestic warrantless eavesdropping — but this time with the benevolent, magnanimous, noble Democratic president long gone, and with those agencies instead under the leadership of a president who Pelosi and her supporters have long been maligning as an enemy of democracy, a criminal, a despot, and a racist cretin. For anyone (including Pelosi, Schiff, and Swalwell) who genuinely believes anything they’ve been saying about Trump over the last year, what conceivable justification can be offered now for Pelosi and her key allies blocking reasonable safeguards and limits on Trump’s warrantless domestic spying powers?

That leading House Democrats (their minority leader and top Intelligence Committee member) united with Trump to support this bill and oppose reform amendments, was sufficient to cause enough Democrats to side with Trump and ensure passage of the bill. The Trump-favored bill ended up passing by a vote of 256-164.

As the American Civil Liberties Union put it bluntly about the bill supported by Pelosi and Schiff: “The House just passed a bill to give the Trump administration greater authority to spy on Americans, immigrants, journalists, dissidents, and everyone else.” The privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation echoed that sentiment: “The House just approved the disastrous NSA surveillance extension bill that will allow for continued, unconstitutional surveillance that hurts the American people and violates our Fourth Amendment rights.”

While Trump, as president, is the head of the executive branch, the official with the greatest control over the FBI they just empowered is his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. In other words, Pelosi, Schiff, and their allies just voted to vest great, unchecked power in an official the Democrats have (with good reason) long denounced as corrupt and deeply racist. As Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (who has vowed with Rand Paul to filibuster the bill when it reaches the Senate) put it yesterday: “This Section 702 bill would give AG Jeff Sessions unchecked power to use this information against Americans. This bill prevents his decisions from EVER being challenged in court.”

But more significantly, the Amash amendment containing the proposed reforms (including a warrant requirement) was defeated by a much smaller margin: 233-183. While 125 Democratic House members were joined by 58 GOP members in voting for these reforms, 55 Democrats — led by Pelosi and Schiff — joined with the GOP majority to reject them, ensuring defeat of Amash’s amendment by a mere 26 votes.

This means that Trump’s bill to ensure his FBI’s ongoing power to spy on the communications of Americans without warrants was saved by Pelosi, Schiff, and Swalwell abandoning the large majority of their own Democratic caucus, and instead joining with Ryan and the GOP majority to ensure defeat of all meaningful reforms. Here are the 55 Democrats who not only voted in favor of the Trump-endorsed spying bill, but who also voted against the reform amendment to require a warrant. Beyond Pelosi, Schiff, and Swalwell, it includes the second most-senior Democrat Steny Hoyer and former Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

One can, of course, reasonably debate the proper balance between privacy, civil liberties, and national security. Questions of how much power to vest law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the name of terrorism are not always simple ones. But if there is any principle that ought to command support across party and ideological lines, it’s the one long embedded in the Constitution: We do not want our government spying on us unless it can first obtain a warrant to do so — the principle that was trampled on yesterday by the unholy alliance of Trump, the GOP congressional leadership, Nancy Pelosi, and Adam Schiff.

Indeed, several of Pelosi’s own caucus members made all of these points with usually explicit rhetoric. Here, for instance, was Rep. Ted Lieu of California who — like Schiff and Swalwell — has become a media and #Resistance star this year for his unflinching denunciations of Trump as a corrupt Kremlin tool but who, unlike his California colleagues, cast the only vote rationally reconcilable with his yearlong crusade to impose limits on Trump’s spying powers.

The increasingly impressive Democratic freshman member of Congress from California, Ro Khanna, was even more scathing about his fellow Democrats who joined with Trump to pass this bill.

But the most important point here is what this says about how Democrats really view Donald Trump. How can anyone rational possibly take seriously all the righteous denunciations from people like Pelosi, Schiff, and Swalwell about how Trump is a lawless, authoritarian tyrant existentially threatening American democracy when those very same people just yesterday voted in favor of vesting him the virtually limitless power to spy on Americans with no warrants or safeguards? If someone really believed those accusations about Trump — as opposed to just pretending to believe them for cynical political manipulation of their followers — how could they possibly have done what they did yesterday?

Cliches are boring to hear, yet often contain truth. That actions speak louder than words is one of those. The next time you see Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, or Eric Swalwell waxing indignantly on cable TV about how Trump is a grave menace to the rule of law and American democracy, focus less on their scripted talking points and more on their actions, beginning with their vote yesterday to vest in him these awesome powers while blocking safeguards and checks. That will tell you all you need to know about who they really are and what they really believe.

 

Political risk looms over Republicans’ welfare tinkering

January 12, 2018

by Susan Cornwell and Yasmeen Abutaleb

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Political danger signs are flashing, but conservatives in Washington are pushing forward with proposals to change America’s social safety net, an agenda even fellow Republican President Donald Trump recently shied away from.

Fresh from a tax overhaul victory and keen to act while they retain control of Congress, Republicans are seeking tougher work and job training requirements for those helped by assistance programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.

Kentucky on Friday became the first U.S. state to get approval from Washington to impose work requirements on recipients of Medicaid, a government program that provides health coverage to millions of Americans, primarily the poor, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and disabled people.

The approval came a day after the Trump administration said states could move toward putting work or job training conditions on Medicaid, which has never had such conditions attached.

Democrats and health advocacy groups said such changes would make healthcare less accessible to vulnerable Americans.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal group, said it plans to file a legal challenge against the administration.

Changes like Kentucky’s appeal to conservative Republican voters, although more broadly, Americans’ strong views and personal stakes in U.S. social programs have long been seen as political dynamite – especially in election years.

“That is fraught with danger, political danger,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist who served as spokesman to former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

After the deep tax cuts for corporations that Republicans pushed through Congress in December, critics will say the party wants to “pay for it by slashing benefits to poor people. They just don’t need that right now,” Feehery said.

In November, Republicans must defend their Senate and House majorities in nationwide midterm congressional elections, which historically produce big gains for the opposition in the first term of a new presidency.

Trump said on Saturday after a meeting with Republican leaders that any welfare legislation should be bipartisan or wait until later in 2018 after other priorities such as infrastructure and immigration are addressed.

Some House Republicans interpreted Trump’s statement as ruling out overhauls of big programs such as Social Security and the Medicare program for the elderly, but leaving room for more modest initiatives such as stricter work requirements.

RYAN‘S AGENDA

House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Republican Party’s policy wonk in chief, has long advocated for some of the welfare changes that party colleagues are trying to decide how to package.

“What we will see is perhaps a more focused approach, to a work requirement, instead of a comprehensive entitlement reform initiative,” North Carolina Republican Representative Mark Meadows said in an interview. He is chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative faction.

In an example of what such proposals invite, Democrats quickly attacked the administration’s decision to let states proceed with Medicaid work requirements.

“It’s really sad. … The elderly, disabled, pregnant women and children will all suffer,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters.

A person familiar with a meeting last weekend at Camp David, the president’s mountain retreat in Maryland, between Trump and congressional leaders said some participants were wary of making “welfare reform” a Republican message.

Still, polling in mid-2017 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 70 percent of respondents favored work requirements for Medicaid for non-disabled adults. At the same time, 74 percent said they had a favorable view of Medicaid as it is now.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican, said the 2018 farm bill will including tighter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. He gave no details.

House tax committee Chairman Kevin Brady, also a Texas Republican, said his panel is exploring ways to get workers who are “trapped in the welfare system … off the sidelines.”

Representative Bradley Byrne, an Alabama Republican, said safety net programs are under review by a bipartisan group he co-chairs called the Opportunity Action Caucus. He said he hoped the group this month would propose ways for “able-bodied people who are presently on one or more of our welfare programs, to go out and get the skills and training they need to get a job.”

Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Jonathan Oatis and Susan Thomas

 

Kentucky becomes first U.S. state to implement Medicaid work requirements

January 12, 2018

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Kentucky on Friday became the first U.S. state to receive approval from the federal government to implement work requirements in Medicaid, a fundamental change to the 50-year-old government health insurance program for the poor.

The approval came one day after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued policy guidance allowing states to design and propose test programs that require work or jobs training as a condition of receiving Medicaid, which has never had such conditions attached.

Kentucky’s waiver, which was submitted for federal approval in 2016, requires able-bodied adult recipients to participate in at least 80 hours per month of “employment activities,” which include jobs training, education and community service.

It also requires most recipients to pay a premium based on income and locks out some people who miss a payment or fail to re-enroll for six months.

Democrats and health advocacy groups blasted the CMS policy on Thursday and said it would make it more difficult for the most vulnerable Americans to have access to healthcare services. The Southern Poverty Law Center liberal advocacy group said it plans to file a legal challenge against the administration.

Kentucky, along with 30 other states, expanded Medicaid to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level under the Affordable Care Act, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement commonly called Obamacare.

More than 400,000 Kentucky residents gained health insurance through the program, the highest growth rate of Medicaid coverage of any state.

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has said the program has become financially unsustainable under Obamacare, although the federal government covers the majority of its cost. The waiver is projected to reduce the number of people on Medicaid by nearly 86,000 within five years, saving more than $330 million in the process.

CMS administrator Seema Verma helped design Kentucky’s waiver. She recused herself from the approval process to avoid a conflict of interest.

Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb,; Editing by G Crosse and Alistair Bell

 

SPLC statement on President Trump’s effort to undermine Medicaid

January 11, 2018

Southern Poverty Law Center

Today’s announcement from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) – that it intends to allow states to impose work requirements on federal Medicaid programs – is really just an effort to curtail access to health insurance coverage for our nation’s most vulnerable people.

It creates one more inappropriate hoop for them to jump through.

The new requirements also feed a false public perception: that poor people who receive Medicaid benefits are unwilling to work. The fact is that the majority of non-disabled adults on Medicaid are already working. But because low-wage jobs are often temporary or seasonal, and the hours are inconsistent, a work requirement will mean that many who need help will no longer qualify.

The new work requirements also have it backwards: People need to be healthy in order to work. Studies consistently show that work requirements have detrimental health effects, undermining the fundamental purpose of the Medicaid program.

If the president seriously wants to improve our health care system, he should work harder to fulfill his campaign promise of health care for everyone, not only those who can afford it.

Debunked: Trump reasons for cancelling London visit

The US president’s claims that he will not visit UK to open new embassy because of ‘bad Obama deal’ fail to add up

January 12, 2018

by Jamie Grierson

The Guardian

Donald Trump’s “reason” for cancelling his trip to London to cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony of the new US embassy has been torn apart.

While few people believe that Trump’s decision to stay away has nothing to do with the prospect of having to face some of the UK’s biggest street protests, many have also debunked other claims in his tweet.

The Obama administration sold the embassy

Not quite. On the embassy’s UK website, a press release dated October 2008 – one month before Barack Obama was elected president and three months before his inauguration – details plans to move the embassy south of the river Thames, from Mayfair to Nine Elms, in Wandsworth. The decision to relocate the building was made by the Bush administration.

However, the final sale – to the Qatari royal family’s property company – was agreed and signed off by the US state department in 2009 when Obama was president.

The embassy was sold for peanuts

The Chancery building’s sale price was never disclosed, although in July 2000 it was estimated at £500m.

The new embassy has been built in an ‘off location’

While the new location may lack the opulence of Mayfair, Trump might find much to his taste in Nine Elms. The 230-hectare district has been transformed from a once bleak landscape of depots and sorting offices to house some of London’s most expensive apartments and developments – about 30 of them.

Among the residential developments is neighbouring Embassy gardens, where a three-bedroom flat will set you back £1.7m ($2.3m). Within the regeneration area, architects including Norman Foster, Frank Gehry and Richard Rogers are chipping in to the aesthetic; and the interiors of one block of flats were designed by Donatella Versace.

Perhaps the greatest symbol of extravagance within the district is the “sky pool”, a glass bottom bathing area suspended between two buildings. Throw in a food market, a new tube stationand an enviable riverside view, and it could be concluded that the location is quite “on”.

The new embassy cost $1.2bn

Not quite. The building was widely reported as costing $1bn, which is £750m.

 

 

New security flaw detected in Intel hardware

Finnish cybersecurity specialist F-Secure has reported another serious flaw in Intel hardware. It has nothing to do with the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities, but has a huge “destructive potential” too.

January 12, 2018

DW

F-Secure said Friday it had found a serious flaw in Intel hardware which could enable hackers to access corporate laptops remotely.

It said it detected an issue within Intel’s Active Management Technology (AMT) “which is commonly found in most corporate laptops and allows attackers to take complete control over a user’s device in a matter of seconds.”

“The issue potentially affects millions of laptops globally,” said F-Secure consultant Harry Sintonen, who discovered the flaw. “It’s of an almost shocking simplicity, but its destructive potential is unbelievable.”

Loss of confidentiality

F-Secure said once an attacker had the chance to reconfigure AMT (for which he would initially need physical access to the device in question), the device could be fully controlled remotely by connecting to the same wireless or wired network as the user.

“No other security measures like full-disk encryption, local firewall, anti-malware software or VPN technology are able to prevent exploitation of this issue,” Sintonen warned.

A successful attack would lead to complete loss of confidentiality, integrity and availability, with the attacker able to read and modify all of the data and applications users have access to on their computers, even at the firmware level.

 

Ski resorts cling on against climate change

Snow comes later, melts earlier, and is not nearly as deep as it was 30 years ago. EU scientists are racing to help winter tourism regions adapt to climate change — but is manmade snow the answer?

January 12, 2018

by Bob Berwyn (Austrian Alps)

DW

In the golden age of skiing during the 1960s and 1970s, snow was dependable at Lackenhof, which sits at 800 meters (2,624 feet) on the eastern edge of the Austrian Alps. But since the 2000s, it’s unpredictable. Winter is retreating up the mountains.

Global warming has already shut down scores of European ski hills outside the high alpine zones. Lackenhof could be next.

“Last year, we had about 20 days, the year before, even fewer,” mechanic Karl Oberreiter says, working on the control panel of a chairlift. “I don’t think we’ve had a full season since the 1980s. There’s a point where you can’t do it anymore. After that, I don’t know.”

Oberreiter’s concerns echo across the across the heart of the Alps in Austria and Switzerland like a mournful yodel.

Winters are 10 to 30 days shorter than during the 1960s. By 2100, there will be almost no snow below 1,200 meters — an average elevation for ski towns. The overall snow cover in the Alps will decline 70 percent, according to recent climate studies.

Preserving winter tourism and sports in the Alps beyond 2100 requires not just keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, but the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious — and many say, extremely unlikely — goal of 1.5 degrees.

Even if that were achieved, alpine winters are expected to grow ever-shorter, before potentially stabilizing toward the end of the century in a warmer and much less snowy state.

With the future of the ski and winter tourism industry at stake, a team of international scientists, partly funded by the European Union, launched the new ProSnow research project in November.

It aims to make resort towns in the Alps more resilient to climate change by accurately forecasting seasonal snowfall and temperatures. Combined with long-term climate projections, this information is hoped to help alpine communities plan for the future — even making up for nature’s shortfall with snowmaking and snow farming.

Manmade powder

The sad truth for many towns and ski areas below 1,000 meters is, in the coming decades most of their white magic will come from the business end of industrial snowmaking machines.

Ski resorts around the world have already installed miles of water pipes and built reservoirs and pumps so they can make their own snow. Water is vaporized by thousands of high-pressure nozzles and freezes into a crystalline form that’s almost like the real thing.

Ski area operators have become snow farmers. Before the season starts, they use the snow guns to make big piles of snow in strategic spots on the mountain. Later, snow grooming machines distribute and smooth it out.

Conservation organizations like the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps (CIPRA), have fiercely criticized snowmaking because of its energy consumption and disruption of ecosystems like tundra and streams.

And some sustainably oriented mountain resort communities have rejected it in favor of a “soft tourism” path that’s supported by both the German and Austrian alpine clubs.

It aims to make resort towns in the Alps more resilient to climate change by accurately forecasting seasonal snowfall and temperatures. Combined with long-term climate projections, this information is hoped to help alpine communities plan for the future — even making up for nature’s shortfall with snowmaking and snow farming.

“Snow reacts immediately to climate change, and since the early 1990s, snow is no longer a certainty,” Morin told DW. “The project was initially triggered by long-term climate concerns. And there is more variability now. The question is, to what extent can snowmaking and other technical measures counteract that?”

New Californian snow drought

It’s a question that’s also pertinent in California.

Close to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, about 300 miles north of Los Angeles, skier Jamie Shectman is waiting for snow after a bone-dry fall. He says you can’t take the ski industry in isolation. A summer of destructive hurricanes and wildfires shows that globally, climate change impacts are intensifying, threatening lives and food production. More snowmaking may not be the most appropriate response.

“There’s a total disconnect between our sport and what’s happening with climate change,” Shectman told DW. “We know it’s a high impact sport. From a karma perspective, the ski industry should be at the fore of the fight against global warming,” he says.

Creative solutions for green winter slopes

Instead of energy-hogging sources of greenhouse gas pollution, ski resorts should become self-sufficient producers of wind, solar, biomass and hydropower, Shectman says, describing his involvement in developing a solar power project at Mt. Abrams Ski Area, in Maine.

Climate change is probably outpacing our technical capabilities to adapt, so slowing and stopping warming should be the priority. In just the past decade — the warmest in Earth’s recorded history — the snow line rose between 1,200 and 1,500 feet in the northern Sierra Nevada.

“The storms are not pushing over the crest like they used to. They don’t have the same intensity any more,” Shectman says.

Regional differences

There are regional nuances to global warming impacts, and for some communities in the Alps, with access to renewable energy and high-elevation ski slopes, snowmaking could be an interim option to keep skiing alive.

That includes the five alpine towns in France, Italy, Switzerland Austria and Germany that are part of the ProSnow pilot project this winter. All are in the mid-elevation mountain belt most susceptible to global warming.

In Mayrhofen, Austria, at just 633 meters in the Tirolean Alps of Austria, winter snow cover has dwindled to nearly nothing over the past 30 years, and that pattern is widespread across Austria, Marc Olefs, a climate researcher with the with the Austrian Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG) tells DW.

Austrian winters have shortened by 10 to 20 days since the 1950s, and maximum snow depth has declined at all elevations and nearly all regions of the mountainous country, with small localized exceptions, Olefs says.

He spreads a series of vivid maps on the table at his ZAMG office that clearly show how the biggest change to snow cover came in a big jump in the 1980s, when regional temperature increases surged to twice the global average.

The maps are from a recent study that analyzed weather data from 1950 to 2016. With 66 years of data, the researchers were able to sort the long-term changes caused by greenhouse gas pollution from natural year-to-year fluctuations in snow.

But their data also showed that, above 1,500 meters, winters may stay cold enough to maintain snow cover for at least a few more decades, especially if the world can start reducing heat-trapping pollution. The wide range of climate outcomes for 2100 and beyond show we need to take decisive action to protect the climate, Olefs says.

The uncertainty, paradoxically, is also what why proponents say energy-intensive snowmaking such an indispensable part of the winter ski and tourism industry — at least for the foreseeable future.

ProSnow team leader Morin says snowmaking is one of the main options for dealing with climate variability. He hopes the research will help optimize production of snow by giving resort managers specific information on when to make snow, and also, when adequate natural snow is forecast, to stop.

 

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