The 9/11 terrorist attack has been used by the U.S. government to justify invading Iraq and Afghanistan, torture suspects at CIA black sites and perform invasive searches of American citizens at U.S. airports.
Now, it's been revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) used the 9/11 tragedy as a talking point to justify its mass secret surveillance on Americans' phone calls and web activities.
Al Jazeera America obtained a NSA memo, through a Freedom of Information Act request, that included talking points for NSA officials to use when responding to the initial leaks by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.
One of the talking points of the memo is:
I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.
According to Al Jazeera, NSA head General Keith Alexander used an augmented version of that statement to Congress on June 18.
“It is much more important for this country that we defend this nation and take the beatings than it is to give up a program that would result in this nation being attacked,” stated Gen. Alexander.
NSA officials were also advised to respond to any questions about any potential civil liberties violations by saying there were not any “willful violations” and the NSA is “upholding the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.”
This past summer Gen. Alexander claimed that there had been no "no willful or knowledgeable violations" of privacy and cited a Congressional review, noted The Washington Post.
Of course, this turned out to be a huge lie only weeks later when the NSA confirmed to Bloomberg News in August that some NSA personnel ignored restrictions on their authority to spy on Americans.
After the government shut down on October 1st and temporarily put thousands of people out of work, the Republican Party as a whole began losing popularity. The Tea Party, which is comprised of extreme right-wing conservatives, is even less popular nowadays, even among Republican voters.
Ted Cruz, the outspoken conservative Senator who has been at the forefront of anti-Obama efforts in Washington, is highly unpopular among Americans, with a recent NBC poll showing that only 14% of people overall favor him.
That 14%, however, may be completely comprised of Tea Party members. Cruz won the straw poll at the Value Voters Summit, and his favorable rating among Tea Party members at 74%.
Now, in a poll conducted by Pew Research, numbers show the Tea Party’s low rating overall, but shows an extremely high amount of support for Cruz in the Tea Party. After his infamous 21-hour filibuster last month in which he launched the crusade against Obamacare, Tea Party members seemed to see him as a hero, and it’s clearly paid off for him.
Still, with the Tea Party approval rating at an all time low, it’s hard to see how Cruz could gain any popularity among mainstream Americans.
During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday, members of Congress asked heads from the National Security Agency, Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence to provide more information about the surveillance programs exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden earlier this year.
General Keith Alexander, who is head of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, told Congress that there was no “upper limit” as to how many telephone records the U.S. government wants to collect, reports The Guardian.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) asked Gen. Alexander if the NSA's goal was to collect the phone records of all Americans
Gen. Alexander replied, "I believe it is in the nation's best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox, yes."
Back in May, Gen. Alexander laughed off the suggestion that the NSA was even spying on Americans, reported Reuters:
According to Alexander, the NSA has its hands full keeping tabs on potential terrorists, and does not have the bandwidth to read the 420 billion emails generated by Americans each day - even though some foreign governments were trying to do that. "The great irony is we're the only ones not spying on the American people," he quipped.
During the yesterday's hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Gen. Alexander if the NSA collected information from cell phone towers that could be used to locate customers.
But Gen. Alexander refused to confirm or deny this practice.
“If you're responding to my question by not answering it because you think thats a classified matter, that is certainly your right. We will continue to explore that because I believe that is something the American people deserve to know,” Sen. Wyden shot back.
Only one in five Americans believes smoking should be publicly and privately illegal, according to a new Gallup poll.
While the percentage of supporters is surprisingly small, at only 22 percent, it has risen from 12 percent since 2007. However, the percentage of supporters who wish to see smoking banned entirely has remained in the teens for two decades, and is not expected to fluctuate greatly.
Considering the push for the legalization of privately consumed marijuana, it is even more unlikely that many will insist smoking to made illegal in the home.
A greater percentage of Americans say that smoking should be banned publicly, with 55 percent of polltakers in agreement.
Gallup researchers found that four in five Americans believe smoking is harmful, while only three in five smokers believe the claim to be true. Additionally, only 9% of smokers believe that smoking should be made illegal publically and privately.
The poll also found that nonwhites were more likely to support keeping smoking legal than whites. It also found that people with only a high school degree are almost 20% more likely to smoke than those with a college degree.
The answers were extracted from 2,027 adults who were asked various questions by phone, and only in the U.S.
NSA head General Keith Alexander was booed and heckled at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas this week.
During his speech (video below), Alexander repeated his often used talking points that the NSA had “stopped thirteen terrorist related activities in the United States,” but provided no evidence. He then claimed the NSA had stopped fifty-four worldwide terrorist events, again with no proof.
“Our nation takes stopping terrorism as one of the most important things,” stated Alexander, who was cut off by an audience member who yelled "freedom!"
Alexander seemed to be oblivious that he was being heckled: “Exactly. We stand for freedom.”
According to Forbes, the heckler was security consultant Jon McCoy who yelled “bullsh*t!” to applause from the crowd.
Alexander responded: “Not bad, But I think what you’re saying is that in these cases, what’s the distinction, where’s the discussion and what tools do we have to stop this.”
“No, I’m saying I don’t trust you!” said McCoy.
Another participant yelled: “You lied to Congress. Why would people believe you’re not lying to us right now?”
Alexander responded, “I haven’t lied to Congress.”
Actually, Alexander dodged numerous questions about the NSA when tesifying in front of Congress and claimed, without proof, that the NSA had stopped dozens of terror plots, reported The Guardian.
“I do think it’s important for us to have this discussion.” said Alexander, “Because in my opinion, what you believe is what’s written in the press without looking at the facts. This is the greatest technical center of gravity in the world. I ask that you all look at those facts.”
However, it is Alexander himself who has refused to release the facts, even to Congress.
“We get all these allegations of what [NSA staff] could be doing. But when people check what the NSA is doing, they’ve found zero times that’s happened," claimed Alexander.
“And that’s no bullsh*t. Those are the facts,” added Alexander.
“Read the Constitution” McCoy fired back.
“I have, so should you.” Alexander responded.
However, several legal experts have noted that the NSA spying likely violates the Fourth Amendment.
McCoy told Forbes that Alexander's speech was "anything you can see on Fox News any day. We’re in danger, we have to get rid of your freedom to keep you safe."
“Everyone’s thinking this, but no one’s saying it public, so everyone thinks they’re alone. Ninety-eight percent of society has issues with this… But no one speaks up.”
A shocking statement from the Department of Agriculture reveals that 22% of residents in Mississippi are on food stamps. This compares to a rate of 1 in 6 Americans, rising 2.8% as of April this year. Mississippi, ironically, is also the most obese state, claiming as a high a rate as 32.5% of adults with a BMI over 30% and 7 out 10 adults are overweight.
Public expenditure on food stamps, unlike much of the rest of the post-recession economy, is not healing. In all, 47.5 million Americans, or 15% of the total population, are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or S.N.A.P. Luckily, however, ten states dipped in their enrollment. Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Alaska, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Utah all decreased in number of residents on food stamps. However, the rate was as high as 20% for Oregon, New Mexico, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky.
Recipients receive $150 a week for a family of four. “This program is a supplemental program,” says John Davis, director of the SNAP program in Mississippi. “It was never intended to fully fund the families in need for food."
For lawmakers, this issue strikes close to home. Washington D.C., a district that does not count as a state, had a higher percentage of food stamp enrollment than any other state at a shocking 23%. The high rate of enrollment has led many to criticize eligibility qualifications, illegal trading, and fraud issues associated with the program.
Mayo Clinic researchers have reported that 70 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug, and 35 percent take at least two.
Shockingly, one in five Americans take more than five prescription drugs.
According to researchers, antibiotics, antidepressants and painkiller opioids are the most common prescriptions.
“Often when people talk about health conditions they’re talking about chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes,” said Dr. St. Sauver, a Mayo Clinic researcher. “However, the second most common prescription was for antidepressants — that suggests mental health is a huge issue and is something we should focus on.”
As a whole, women between 50 and 64 are the greatest consumers of prescription drugs with one in four taking antidepressants. The usage is expected to increase when many of the drugs become eligible under Medicare and users age.
Expenditures on prescription drugs reached $250 billion in 2009, 12 percent of which was covered by personal health care.
However, the most surprising and upsetting statistic is that antidepressants were most commonly taken by young and middle-aged adults.
“That’s a general problem in the U.S.,” Rocca said, who believes that over-prescription plays a large role in addictive painkiller dispersal.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the percentage of people using at least one prescription drug in the past month has increased by 50 percent and is still expected to rise.
While appearing on the Concerned Women for America radio broadcast on Monday, former Arkansas governor and current Fox News host, Mike Huckabee, claimed Americans are being forced to read about gay people in textbooks and watch gay people on TV commercials (audio below).
Concerned Women for America (CWA) recently launched a new campaign called “Willing 2 Stand,” which encourages young people to stand up against their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender peers, noted RightWingWatch.org.
"The very thing that many people and I know CWA was a part of this, saying, this is why the legalization of same-sex marriage is going to be a much bigger issue than just saying we let people love whoever they want to love, that’s not the issue," Huckabee said.
He added: "Will it force businesses, of course everyone will say, 'Oh no people still have their rights,' but they don’t. And every fear that people had has in fact come true, that this is being forced in textbooks on how marriage is depicted, we’re now even seeing television commercials portraying same-sex couples, that’s something I guess I didn’t expect to see anytime soon."
Back in 2007, Huckabee supported quarantining people with AIDS and compared homosexuality to "lying" and "stealing," reported NBC News.
In 2010, Huckabee said allowing gays and lesbians to marry is comparable to legalizing incest, polygamy and drug use, noted CBS News.
RNC chairman Reince Priebus told the National Review in March of this year: “I always tell people, listen to Governor Mike Huckabee. I don’t know anyone that talks about [LGBT rights] any better.”
Polls show that most American citizens still think alike most of the time even if the nation’s politicians don't. Many issues that are argued over by politicians from different parties have massive public support across the country. For example: According to national polls, seven out of 10 Americans want the minimum wage raised.
A similar number of Americans want term limits for Congress, support using government money to make preschool available to every child and back building the Keystone XL pipeline.
Certainly there are some issues - immigration, abortion and guns to name a few - that people don’t always agree about. However, pollsters say that people’s views on those subjects are firmly entrenched and that public opinion on most issues hasn’t changed much in a quarter-century, ABC News reported.
No matter their differences, there are still more things that Americans agree about than one might think from watching the way that the media portrays things.
According to a list created by using information drawn from the nation's major pollsters, most Americans:
Believe in God
Are very patriotic
Consider preventing terrorism a very important foreign policy goal
Admire those who get rich by working hard
Think society should ensure everyone has equal opportunity to succeed
Think it's important to get more than a high school education
Favor teaching sex education in public schools
Find birth control morally acceptable
Believe cloning humans would be morally wrong
Believe it's wrong for married people to have affairs
Are interested in keeping up with national affairs
Believe it's their duty to always vote
Commuters on Washington, D.C.’s Metro system may finally have something to look forward to on their commutes other than broken escalators and single-tracking. By 2014, Metro plans on introducing state-of-the-art new rail cars that include LCD screens and ergonomic designs.
While these new features may sound exciting, the cost is not. At over $2 million per car, Metro’s order comes to around $886 million. Why the big bucks? In part it is because of “buy American” clauses that Metro activated when it tapped into a $300 million federal matching grant for mass transit.
Because of these protectionist provisions, Kawasaki (the maker of the new 7000-series cars) is now required to produce 60 percent of the cars in the United States. This means that Kawasaki will ship the components from Japan to a factory in Nebraska for assembly—all at the expense of taxpayers in Virginia, D.C., and Maryland.
These provisions require states or localities that tap into this federal spending to purchase a certain percentage of their equipment from American companies. While they ostensibly help American business, in reality they subsidize specific industries by reducing competitiveness and raising costs. “Buy American” clauses are more effective at pandering to domestic special interests, such as manufacturing and trade unions, than they are at spurring economic growth.
Ultimately, these provisions end up hurting U.S. exporters, because they damage trade relations with our biggest trading partners. Canadian municipalities infamously began passing “do not buy American” legislation to shut out U.S. imports. Europe also threatened to raise tariffs on U.S. imports in response to protectionist clauses in the Obama Administration’s 2009 stimulus package.
Consumers and taxpayers are the ones who lose out the most in all this tit-for-tat. In the end, “Buy American” clauses are an economic train wreck, and policymakers should know that protectionism will not get the economy out of neutral.