Thursday, April 30, 2015

Rand Paul, DHS chief tangle on encryption

Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul tangled with a top Obama administration official Wednesday on the matter of protecting data privacy through encryption.

The Kentucky senator questioned Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on the bulk collection of phone records, and argued that consumers’ desire for encryption is a response to government surveillance.

“The real culprit is government,” Paul said during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing.

“You’ve been so overzealous vacuuming up our records without a legitimate warrant … [Encryption] is a response to a government that didn’t have a real sense of decency toward privacy.”
Paul also criticized the government for surveillance during the civil rights era, which he described as a cautionary tale.

“Look at the time the government wasn’t so good. The FBI director recently pointed back and talked about the times that Martin Luther King was spied upon. That’s why we want these procedural protections,” he said.

Johnson, who has been making the rounds in tech circles arguing against full encryption, declined to weigh in on bulk data collection but urged Congress to act.

“I’m in favor of a balanced solution to the [encryption] problem,” he said, adding that encrypting records makes it harder to conduct criminal investigations. “I think it’s something we need to address.”

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Sen. Rand Paul Reintroduces Constitutional Amendment Requiring Congress to Live by the Laws it Passes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Rand Paul today reintroduced a Constitutional amendment that would hold Congress to the same standard as the American people by requiring all laws to apply to Congress, just as they do to ordinary Americans. The legislation similarly contains two provisions that would apply this same principle of accountability to the Executive Branch and Judicial Branch of the federal government.

“I oppose allowing Congress to exempt themselves from any legislation. To that end, today, I reintroduced a Constitutional amendment that would prohibit Congress from passing any law that exempts themselves,” Sen. Paul said.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Charity watchdog: Clinton Foundation a ‘slush fund’

The Clinton Foundation’s finances are so messy that the nation’s most influential charity watchdog put it on its “watch list” of problematic nonprofits last month.

The Clinton family’s mega-charity took in more than $140 million in grants and pledges in 2013 but spent just $9 million on direct aid.

The group spent the bulk of its windfall on administration, travel, and salaries and bonuses, with the fattest payouts going to family friends.

On its 2013 tax forms, the most recent available, the foundation claimed it spent $30 million on payroll and employee benefits; $8.7 million in rent and office expenses; $9.2 million on “conferences, conventions and meetings”; $8 million on fundraising; and nearly $8.5 million on travel. None of the Clintons is on the payroll, but they do enjoy first-class flights paid for by the foundation.

In all, the group reported $84.6 million in “functional expenses” on its 2013 tax return and had more than $64 million left over — money the organization has said represents pledges rather than actual cash on hand.

Some of the tens of millions in administrative costs finance more than 2,000 employees, including aid workers and health professionals around the world.

But that’s still far below the 75 percent rate of spending that nonprofit experts say a good charity should spend on its mission.

Charity Navigator, which rates nonprofits, recently refused to rate the Clinton Foundation because its “atypical business model . . . doesn’t meet our criteria.”

Charity Navigator put the foundation on its “watch list,” which warns potential donors about investing in problematic charities. The 23 charities on the list include the Rev. Al Sharpton’s troubled National Action Network, which is cited for failing to pay payroll taxes for several years.

Other nonprofit experts are asking hard questions about the Clinton Foundation’s tax filings in the wake of recent reports that the Clintons traded influence for donations.

“It seems like the Clinton Foundation operates as a slush fund for the Clintons,” said Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group where progressive Democrat and Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout was once an organizing director.

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Declassified Report Shows Doubts About Value of N.S.A.’s Warrantless Spying

The secrecy surrounding the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 warrantless surveillance and bulk data collection program hampered its effectiveness, and many members of the intelligence community later struggled to identify any specific terrorist attacks it thwarted, a newly declassified document shows.

The document is a lengthy report on a once secret N.S.A. program code-named Stellarwind. The report was a joint project in 2009 by inspectors general for five intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and it was withheld from the public at the time, although a short, unclassified version was made public. The government released a redacted version of the full report to The New York Times on Friday evening in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush secretly told the N.S.A. that it could wiretap Americans’ international phone calls and collect bulk data about their phone calls and emails without obeying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Over time, Stellarwind’s legal basis evolved, and pieces of it emerged into public view, starting with an article in The Times about warrantless wiretapping in 2005.

The report amounts to a detailed history of the program. While significant parts remain classified, it includes some new information. For example, it explains how the Bush administration came to tell the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Royce C. Lamberth, about the program’s existence in early 2002.

James A. Baker, then the Justice Department’s top intelligence lawyer, had not been told about the program. But he came across “strange, unattributed” language in an application for an ordinary surveillance warrant and figured it out, then insisted on telling Judge Lamberth. Mr. Baker is now the general counsel to the F.B.I.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

RON PAUL: The Real War on the Middle Class

One of the great ironies of American politics is that most politicians who talk about helping the middle class support policies that, by expanding the welfare-warfare state, are harmful to middle-class Americans. Eliminating the welfare-warfare state would benefit middle class Americans by freeing them from exorbitant federal taxes, including the Federal Reserve’s inflation tax.

Politicians serious about helping middle-class Americans should allow individuals to opt out of Social Security and Medicare by not having to pay payroll taxes if they agree to never accept federal retirement or health care benefits. Individuals are quite capable of meeting their own unique retirement and health care needs if the government stops forcing them into one-size-fits-all plans.

Middle class families with college-age children would benefit if government got out of the student loan business. Government involvement in higher education is the main reason tuition is skyrocketing and so many Americans are graduating with huge student loan debts. College graduates entering the job market would certainly benefit if Congress stopped imposing destructive regulations and taxes on the economy.

Politicians who support an interventionist foreign policy are obviously not concerned with the harm inflicted on the middle class populations of countries targeted for regime change. These politicians also disregard the harm US foreign policy inflicts on Americans. Middle- and working-class Americans, and their families, who join the military certainly suffer when they are maimed or killed fighting in unjust and unconstitutional wars. Our interventionist foreign policy also contributes to the high tax burden imposed on middle class Americans.

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