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Dianne Feinstein Insists NSA’s Massive Snooping Operations Are ‘Not Surveillance’

By Paul Lewis, The Guardian
Monday, October 21, 2013 12:21 EDT

Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the US Senate committee charged with holding the intelligence establishment to account, declared on Monday that the National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone records is “not surveillance” and should be maintained as an essential tool to combat terrorism.

Feinstein made the case for retaining the program, which routinely collects and stores the phone records millions of Americans, in an op-ed for USA Today, in which she wrote that the NSA’s work had been “effective in helping to prevent terrorist plots against the US and our allies”.

Feinstein, a Democrat from California, is introducing legislation that would make superficial alterations to the NSA and the secret courts that are supposed to provide judicial oversight.

But her bill stops short of making any substantial changes to the way the agency conducts its work, despite the string of revelations based on disclosures by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

A host of rival bills being introduced in Washington go much further, including one from Democratic senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate judiciary committee. Leahy is proposing an end to the bulk collection of phone records, which is authorised under an interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act.



Why Exactly Are We So Exceptional?

Hint: It's Not Because We Treat Our Citizens Well

By Leonard Fein
Published October 19, 2013, issue of October 25, 2013.

Several weeks ago, in a New York Times op-ed piece, Vladimir Putin wrote, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” It did not take long for President Obama to assert the contrary, in his address to the UN General Assembly: “Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional,” Obama said. He believes in American exceptionalism “in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest but for the interests of all.”

There’s a vast literature on American exceptionalism. Often, the unstated intent is to call attention to America’s “destiny,” to its status as the land of the free and the home of the brave, the shining city on the hill, the nation that early on broke with European tradition and hinged everything on the consent of the governed. “Exceptionalism” becomes a form of self-congratulation.

Yet the empirical truth seems to be that if you bother to parse our exceptionalism, it’s not all that exceptional, especially these days, when the crown jewel of our exceptionalism, the vastness of our middle class, seems rather badly tarnished, in a state of escalating atrophy. “The consent of the governed” is a seductive phrase, but it presumes a broad consent to the current lunacy in Washington — in the House of Representatives in particular — that the polls decisively belie.

Or take the individual components implicitly referenced when American exceptionalism is invoked: A caring society? We are far behind other nations in the supports we offer the down and out. We’re second in childhood poverty, 49th in life expectancy, 16th in manufacturing compensation, 9th in retirement security, 17th in educational performance. Income equality? Dishonored in the breach. Health care? Higher costs and worse outcomes than elsewhere. Pre-school learning opportunities? In Belgium, 99.6% of three year-olds are in pre-school; in the US, 33.3%. And so on down the line.

Nor, after Vietnam and Iraq, can we plausibly claim the high ground in peace-making.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/185856/why-exactly-are-we-so-exceptional/#ixzz2iNaYwLgU

Sanctions Relief Could Come for Iran Before Nuclear Program Is Suspended

Netanyahu Has Cautioned Against Jack Lew's Proposal

Published October 21, 2013.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew suggested that sanctions relief could come before Iran fully suspends its suspected nuclear weapons program — a tactic rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lew, speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said the United States would not ease sanctions until Iran took tangible steps to suspend its nuclear program, but said sanctions could be “proportionate,” suggesting that interim steps might occasion partial sanctions relief.

“We need to see what they’re going to actually do,” Lew said just days after talks renewed between major powers and Iran over its nuclear program, which Iran insists is peaceful.

“We need to see rolling back their nuclear program,” he said. “And I can tell you that when the time comes, when those movements come, any changes will have to be proportionate.”

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/185939/sanctions-relief-could-come-for-iran-before-nuclea/#ixzz2iNZjTiw3

Demanding Answers in Unsolved Murder of Palestinian-American Activist Alex Odeh

By Josh Nathan-Kazis
Published October 16, 2013.

Civil rights groups are demanding that the FBI solve a 28-year-old California murder long thought to be the work of Jewish extremists.

Alex Odeh, the Palestinian-American regional director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, was killed in October 1985 by a pipe bomb that exploded when he opened his office door. No one has ever been charged in the case.

Now, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee has launched a campaign to draw attention to the unsolved killing, in cooperation with other civil rights groups and members of Congress.

“Twenty-eight years is a long time, and, with all due respect, too long a time,” said Michigan Congressman John Conyers on a conference call announcing the effort.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/185693/demanding-answers-in-unsolved-murder-of-palestinia/?p=all#ixzz2iNYdO8Je

Netanyahu Hopes To Dim World Optimism on Iran

By Reuters
Published October 21, 2013.

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday will seek to dim the optimism after nuclear talks with Iran, cautioning that Tehran is strengthening its strategic regional position by calling the shots in Syria as President Bashar al-Assad’s puppet master.

In talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome on Wednesday, Netanyahu is expected to argue against easing Western sanctions on Iran, which hinted at recent Geneva talks it was willing to scale back its nuclear program.

Netanyahu has long warned the West, in a message it has largely embraced, of the danger Iran would pose to the Jewish state, the Middle East and the West if it obtained nuclear arms through the programme which Iran says aims to generate power.

The right-wing prime minister will gauge just how far the United States is ready to consider any let up on sanctions imposed on Iran at the meeting with Kerry.

Reinforcing his warning of the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, Netanyahu has added another twist to his argument, noting that Iran is behind Assad and supplies Shi’ite Muslim fighters for the civil war against Sunni rebels.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/185935/netanyahu-hopes-to-dim-world-optimism-on-iran/#ixzz2iNX3RtGy

France Summons U.S. Envoy on NSA Spying Report in Le Monde

The French government expressed outrage at a report that the U.S. National Security Agency eavesdropped on millions of phone calls inside France and demanded that the U.S. halt the spying.

The Foreign Ministry in Paris summoned the U.S. ambassador after Le Monde, using documents disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, reported that the U.S. intercepted and recorded 70.3 million bits of “telecommunications data” between Dec. 10, 2012, and Jan. 8, 2013.

“This type of practice between partners that intrudes on the private sphere is totally unacceptable,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Luxembourg today. “We have to see to it very quickly that this practice ceases.”

Allegations based on data provided by Snowden, who was granted asylum by Russia as he faces espionage charges in the U.S., have stirred tensions between the U.S. and countries including Germany and Brazil. Mexico’s government condemned the alleged hacking of the e-mail account of then-President Felipe Calderon in 2010, saying such actions are unacceptable and violate international law.

The U.S. embassy in Paris declined to comment through a spokesman that the ambassador, Charles Rivkin, was called in to the French foreign ministry.



Sales of Existing U.S. Homes Fall as Affordability Drops

Source: Bloomberg

By Lorraine Woellert - Oct 21, 2013

Purchases of previously owned U.S. homes fell in September for the first time in three months, retreating from an almost four-year high as rising prices and mortgage rates discouraged would-be buyers.

Sales dropped 1.9 percent to a 5.29 million annual rate, the National Association of Realtors reported today in Washington. The median forecast of 67 economists in a Bloomberg survey called for the pace to slow to 5.3 million. Prices climbed 11.7 percent, pushing affordability to an almost five-year low, the group said.

Higher borrowing costs will probably hold back demand, slowing the housing rebound that’s been a source of strength for the expansion. At the same time, the damage done to fourth-quarter growth by the partial government shutdown raises the odds that the Federal Reserve will delay cutting back on bond purchases, which means interest rates may stabilize around current levels.

“We see a little bit of a bumpy ride,” said Kevin Cummins, an economist at UBS Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, who correctly projected the drop in sales. “The jury is still out on home sale and how much of a pullback we might see due to higher mortgage rates.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-21/sales-of-existing-u-s-homes-decrease-as-affordability-declines.html

Czech Billionaire Risks Helping Communist Comeback

By Peter Laca - Oct 21, 2013

Andrej Babis, a self-made Czech billionaire, may inadvertently help the Communists grab a share of national power for the first time since the 1989 revolution.

Babis, 59, has propelled his ANO party into the frontline of Czech politics and to second place in opinion polls by slamming his rivals as inept liars out for personal gain. His caustic style has alienated the rest of the country’s political class and risks pushing the poll-leading Social Democrats into an alliance with the Communists after the Oct. 25-26 election.

“This dynamic plays straight into hands of the Communist Party, as they increasingly look like the most reliable partner for the Social Democrats,” Otilia Dhand, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence, a London-based political consultancy, said in a telephone interview.

It was the demise of communism 24 years ago that gave Babis a chance to build an $11 billion agrochemical business on the ruins of the centrally planned economy. As a self-made man, he’s now tapping into the anger of a population following a spying and bribery scandal in June that brought down the government of former Prime Minister Petr Necas.

“We have a pseudo-democracy, in which you can go to elections once in four years, select four names from the list of candidates, and that’s it,” Babis said in an interview as he snapped commands at his campaign staff hustling to respond to a rival’s attack. “After the election, the politicians disappear and all they care about is themselves.”



Tribes Vetting 22,000 Antennae Halt $13 Billion Rail Plan

By Angela Greiling Keane and Todd Shields - Oct 21, 2013

Two years probably wasn’t going to be enough time for railroads to install crash-avoidance technology on 23,000 locomotives and 60,000 miles of tracks, in the biggest rail-safety project in U.S. history.

Then they encountered the Choctaw Nation, Muscogee and Navajo.

In May, the railroads and their regulators learned 565 American Indian tribes had the right to review, one by one, whether 22,000 antennae required for the system to work might be built on sacred ground. That’s as many wireless tower applications as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission approves in two years.

“I’m just speechless,” said Grady Cothen, who retired in 2010 from the Federal Railroad Administration as the deputy associate administrator for safety standards. “I didn’t expect this issue to arise.”

The resulting backup may give railroads including Warren Buffett’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe another reason to miss the December 2015 deadline to finish a $13.2 billion project covering one-third of the U.S. rail network.



Netanyahu: Iran, Not Assad, Is In Power In Syria

Iran – not President Bashar Assad – rules Syria, declared Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as he warned the US against easing economic sanctions on Iran before it completely dismantled its nuclear weapons program.

“I don’t think Assad is in power. I think Iran is in power. Because basically, Syria has become an Iranian protectorate. Iran’s henchmen, Hezbollah, are doing the fighting for Assad, for his army. To the extent he has an army, it’s the Hezbollah Army,” Netanyahu told NBC reporter David Gregory during an interview on Meet the Press that aired Sunday.

He spoke just after US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, on the same show, twice underscored the point that it was premature to talk of financially rewarding Iran.

The US must see that Iran has removed its capacity to develop nuclear weapons before it could consider providing it with economic relief, Lew said.

“We need to see real, tangible evidence of it, and we will not make moves on the sanctions until we see those kinds of moves,” Lew said.


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