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Congress must intensify its scrutiny of National Security Agency (NSA) programs to collect and review Americans' telephone records and Internet traffic, Common Cause said today.
Congress must intensify its scrutiny of National Security Agency (NSA) programs to collect and review Americans' telephone records and Internet traffic, Common Cause said today.
"What checks are in place to prevent abuse, and how can innocent citizens know if their privacy has been wrongly violated?" the non-partisan watchdog group asked in a letter sent to all 535 members of Congress. "Legal and regulatory guidelines must be established and followed to ensure there are sufficient checks on government power."
In addition, Common Cause called on the Senate Intelligence Committee to open a formal inquiry into whether Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied when he testified that the NSA does "not wittingly" collect data about Americans' telephone and Internet usage.
"Congress and President Obama must make it clear that no one, not even the nation's top intelligence official, is permitted to knowingly mislead Congress," said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause's senior vice president for strategy and programs.
Clapper himself has acknowledged that he gave 'the least untruthful answer' he could think of in his March 12 testimony. "That's at best a charitable description. If a proper inquiry establishes that he deliberately lied, the committee and the President should take appropriate action to hold him accountable," Hobert Flynn said.
Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Clapper was asked by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, whether the NSA collects "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans."
"No, sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect - but not wittingly," Clapper replied.
Recent reports, the accuracy of which has been acknowledged by the Obama administration, "make it clear that for years the NSA has collected telephone and Internet usage records on hundreds of millions of Americans, just as Sen. Wyden's inquiry suggested," Hobert Flynn said.
"If the director felt a candid answer in open session would compromise national security, he could have suggested that the committee to go into executive session," Hobert Flynn said. "Indeed, he did just that in response to a number of other inquires.
"Some and perhaps even all of the NSA activities that have recently come to light may be permissible under existing law," she said. "But if so, the law gives the government far more authority than most Americans had understood. That's why it's so important that our elected representatives and the administration closely scrutinize the way the law is being applied and that we get candid, fully truthful answers about the extent of any surveillance."
Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.(202) 833-1200
"When will they raid the lobby structures and seize the government’s fossil fuel money?" the group wrote in response to the raids.
German police on Wednesday raided the climate activist group Letzte Generation, or Last Generation, seized accounts, and shut down its website.
Last Generation is an Extinction Rebellion-style group that uses direct-action tactics such as blocking traffic, shutting off oil pipelines, or dousing a Monet in mashed potatoes to call for more ambitious climate policies. The raids were part of an investigation into seven members of the group for "forming or supporting a criminal organization," the Prosecutor General's Office in Munich said in a statement reported by CNN.
"When will they raid the lobby structures and seize the government's fossil fuel money?" Last Generation responded on Twitter, according to a translation provided by The Guardian. The group added the hashtags "Nationwide raid" and "VölligBekloppt," or "completely idiotic," in reference to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who used similar language to criticize Last Generation Monday.
"People who campaign for more climate protection must not be criminalized while politicians ignore climate targets."
A total of 170 police officers carried out the raids that began at 7 am local time. Police searched 15 properties in seven different states: four in Berlin, three in Bavaria, three in Hesse, and one each in Hamburg, Magdeburg, Dresden, and Schleswig-Holstein, CNN reported.
The Bavarian state criminal police office (LKA) ordered the searches targeting the seven defendants aged 22 to 38, the Munich prosecutor's office said, according to The Guardian.
"Suddenly a police officer in a bulletproof vest stands by your bed and points a gun at you," 26-year-old activist Carla Hinrichs said in an online video of her experience of the raid.
\u201c.@carla_hinrichs_ erz\u00e4hlt von der Hausdurchsuchung bei ihr heute Morgen:\n\n\u201ePl\u00f6tzlich steht ein Polizist mit schusssicherer Weste an deinem Bett und richtet eine Waffe auf dich.\u201c\u201d— Letzte Generation (@Letzte Generation) 1684934242
The investigation was prompted by "numerous criminal complaints from the population" beginning in mid 2022, the Munich prosecutor's office said, as CNN reported.
Authorities accused the activists of "organizing a donations campaign to finance further criminal acts," according to AFP. To date, the group has raised at least 1.4 million euros via its website. LKA said they have shuttered the website because donating to the group is illegal, Reuters reported.
Police also seized two accounts and ordered an asset freeze, according to AFP.
Beyond seeking donations, two members of the group are suspected of trying to sabotage an oil pipeline between Trieste, Italy and Ingolstadt, Germany in April 2022, the LKA said, according to CNN.
Police did not arrest anyone in Wednesday's raids, and Munich prosecutor's office spokesperson Klaus Ruhland said they now would review the evidence they seized, Reuters reported.
"At the current stage of the proceedings, we have affirmed the facts of criminal association," Ruhland said.
Last Generation emerged in the runup to Germany's last federal election in 2021 by conducting a hunger strike outside the Bundestag, according to The Guardian. Since then, they have engaged in protests from blocking traffic and gluing themselves to roads and vehicles to throwing mashed potatoes on Monet's "Grainstacks" at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany, in October 2022, as The New York Times reported at the time.
Last Generation wants the German government to up its climate ambitions by forming a plan in line with limiting global warming to 1.5°C, enacting an autobahn speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour, and giving residents a €9-a-month ticket for public transportation, according to DW and The Guardian.
Authorities have criticized them for their tactics. Just Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was "completely crazy to somehow stick yourself to a painting or on the street," according to DW.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser defended the raids.
"Legitimate protest always ends where crimes are committed and the rights of others are infringed," Faeser said.
Yet Last Generation and other climate advocates point out that the risks posed by higher temperatures and extreme weather events far outscale any disruption caused by a highway or museum protest. In summer of 2021, for example, flooding followed by record rainfall killed at least 120 people in Germany and Belgium and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, surprising climate scientists with the level of devastation triggered.
"Do we have to experience a drought in Germany first, suffer from food shortages…, before we understand that Last Generation is... not criminal?" spokesperson Aimee Van Baalen told reporters Wednesday, according to Reuters.
German climate activist and researcher Tadzio Müller told DW that targeting Last Generation and other activist groups was "a case of shooting the messenger."
"[Society] doesn't want to know about the climate or the climate emergency. And therefore, the Last Generation is choosing tactics that disrupt the kind of normality that people are clinging on to," he said.
In response to the raids, Last Generation has come out swinging, relaunching its website under a new address and calling for nationwide protests.
\u201c\ud83e\udd2b We\u2018re back! \n\nhttps://t.co/tFt7giD4Mq\u201d— Letzte Generation (@Letzte Generation) 1684940853
"The government's approach is intended to intimidate and create fear. But we cannot and will not allow ourselves to remain in this fear," the group said on its new site. "The federal government is leading us into climate hell and is stepping on the accelerator. We are therefore expanding the protest to the whole country and call on everyone to take part in a protest march near them on Wednesday."
The group tweeted that solidarity actions had sprung up across Germany Wednesday in response to the raids, including in Berlin, Dresden, Hannover, and Leipzig.
Other environmental groups offered statements of support. Greenpeace Germany "sharply criticized" the raids in a statement on Twitter.
"Peaceful protest can be uncomfortable. In fact, it often has to in order to be effective," the group said. "People who campaign for more climate protection must not be criminalized while politicians ignore climate targets."
"We keep hearing that our government can't afford nice things—or necessary things—for everyone," said the paper's co-author. "Yet militarized spending in the U.S. has almost doubled over the past two decades."
As the United States barrels headlong toward a possible historic debt default, a report published Wednesday highlights that the majority of this year's federal discretionary funds were used for militarized programs, while urging the U.S. government to re-prioritize spending to serve human needs instead of the mechanisms and machinery of violence.
The report—entitledThe Warfare State: How Funding for Militarism Compromises Our Welfare—was published by the Institute for Policy Studies' National Priorities Project (NPP), which aims to inspire people and movements "to take action so our federal resources prioritize peace, shared prosperity, and economic security for all."
"Our country's economy faces a dire threat from so-called 'fiscal conservatives,' including the present GOP House majority, who have resorted to dangerous brinkmanship to force deep cuts in the federal discretionary budget," the report states, referring to what critics and even one congressional Republican have called "hostage-taking" over the debt ceiling.
"The discretionary budget contains the Pentagon budget as well as a number of other broadly militarized line items, including nuclear weapons, federal immigration enforcement, law enforcement, prisons, and so on," the paper continues. "That same budget also hosts most social programs outside of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and [the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program]. It includes federal jobs programs, education, scientific research, and the like."
\u201cNEW: Of the $1.8 trillion federal discretionary budget in FY2023, 62% was used for militarized programs.\n\nThat leaves less than $2 in $5 to invest in communities.\n\nResearch from our @natpriorities team exposes the full extent of militarized spending today:\nhttps://t.co/tm7wCCADkV\u201d— Institute for Policy Studies (@Institute for Policy Studies) 1684936713
"The militarized portion of this budget is by far its largest single component," the report stresses. "And yet the same legislators demanding billions in discretionary savings have vowed to exempt that militarized spending from any cuts. Instead, they've targeted the much smaller portion that funds human and community needs for even deeper cuts."
For fiscal year 2023, that militarized portion amounts to $1.1 trillion, or 62% of the $1.8 trillion federal discretionary budget. That leaves less than 40% of funds for investments in human needs like housing, education, childcare programs, disaster relief, the environment, and scientific research.
In March, President Joe Biden sent Congress a budget blueprint requesting $886.4 billion for the military for fiscal year 2024, a nearly $30 billion increase from the current Pentagon allotment.
"When we invest so heavily in militarism at home and abroad, we deprive our own communities and people of solutions to problems that pose immediate security threats," NPP program director and report co-author Lindsay Koshgarian said in a statement.
"We underfund programs to end poverty, provide affordable housing, bolster public education, and protect clean air and water at our peril," Koshgarian added. "Spending on militarism takes up the majority of the federal discretionary budget, and it has grown faster than all other spending. If we keep up these patterns, we are hurtling toward a future where we can't afford the basics of a civilized society."
\u201cThe U.S. currently spends more on its military than 144 other countries combined.\n\nIf Republicans were really worried about the #DebtCeiling, they would start by cutting this cartoonishly bloated budget\u2014not underfunded social programs that most American families rely on.\u201d— Institute for Policy Studies (@Institute for Policy Studies) 1684267305
NPP urges the U.S. government to:
"All this serves the profits of a wealthy few war profiteers, at everyone else's expense," Siddique added. "Meanwhile, public goods that benefit all of us are under attack. For a fraction of the cost of U.S. militarism since 2001, we could have instead ended homelessness in this country, or invested in a fully renewable national electric grid to help address the climate crisis. A better world is possible, if we build the power we need to make it happen."
"This hostage crisis has never been about deficits for the GOP," said Rep. Ilhan Omar. "It has always been about wealth transfer—taking away food and healthcare from the poor and middle class to give away $3 trillion more in tax cuts to their rich friends."
With the U.S. careening toward a default crisis that they manufactured, House Republicans are reportedly crafting a major tax cut package that would overwhelmingly benefit the rich and corporations while blowing a multitrillion-dollar hole in the federal deficit.
The fresh push for tax cuts, according to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), further shows that "this hostage crisis has never been about deficits for the GOP."
"It has always been about wealth transfer—taking away food and healthcare from the poor and middle class to give away $3 trillion more in tax cuts to their rich friends," Omar, the deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted Tuesday.
Politicoreported earlier this week that Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee hope to finish work on their emerging tax legislation by June 16, just over two weeks after the so-called "X-date"—the day on which the Treasury Department expects the federal government to run out of money to cover its obligations unless Congress raises the debt limit or President Joe Biden acts unilaterally.
"Key parts of the [tax cut] package... will likely include a full restoration of research and development deductions, full bonus depreciation, removing caps on business interest expensing, and a doubling of the $1.08 million limitation on the section 179 deduction (which, like bonus depreciation, allows a company to deduct an asset's cost up-front)," Politico noted.
The outlet added that Rep. Vern Buchanan's (R-Fla.) legislation aimed at making the 2017 Trump-GOP tax cuts for individuals and some businesses permanent "also has a strong likelihood of getting marked up in a broader package." The bill, known as the TCJA Permanency Act, currently has nearly 100 Republican co-sponsors in the House.
Buchanan, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, personally benefited from the 2017 tax law that he's working to extend.
"Republicans are holding our economy hostage because they want to cut programs for working families," Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said Tuesday. "Their next big move? Massive tax cuts for their rich corporate buddies. They may call it fiscal responsibility—I call it extortion."
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated last week that extending the individual provisions of the 2017 tax cuts—which are currently set to expire in 2025—would add $2.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. The original law made the cut to the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% permanent.
"The hypocrisy of Republicans in Washington is truly breathtaking," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote in a Fox News op-ed on Wednesday. "Over and over again, we hear from the Republican leadership about how deeply concerned they are about the large deficit and national debt that we have. Really?"
"If that's the case," Sanders asked, "why are they pushing for an extension of the Trump tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and large corporations and would increase the federal deficit by $3.5 trillion?"
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) estimated earlier this month that just 1% of the benefits of the TCJA Permanency Act would go to the poorest fifth of Americans.
The richest fifth, by contrast, would receive nearly two-thirds of the tax benefits, ITEP found.
"The average tax cut for the richest 1%," the organization noted, "would be 25 times that of the middle 20% and more than 250 times that of the bottom 20% of Americans."
\u201cNEW: The push by Congressional Republicans to make the tax provisions in TCJA permanent would cost nearly $300 billion in the first year and deliver the bulk of the tax benefits to the wealthiest Americans. https://t.co/6QgZbXjIfH\u201d— ITEP (@ITEP) 1683211388
Republicans are preparing to launch their push for new tax cuts as they continue to hold the U.S. and global economies hostage in pursuit of steep federal spending reductions, all under the guise of lowering the deficit.
"We're not going to raise taxes," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said earlier this week. "It's a spending problem."
But research published in March by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that the GOP austerity crusade "does not address the true cause of rising debt"—tax cuts.
"Tax cuts initially enacted during Republican trifectas in the past 25 years slashed taxes disproportionately for the wealthy and profitable corporations, severely reducing federal revenues," noted Bobby Kogan, CAP's senior director of federal budget policy. "In fact, relative to earlier projections, spending is down, not up. But revenues are down significantly more."
"If not for the Bush tax cuts and their extensions—as well as the Trump tax cuts—revenues would be on track to keep pace with spending indefinitely, and the debt ratio (debt as a percentage of the economy) would be declining," Kogan observed. "Instead, these tax cuts have added $10 trillion to the debt since their enactment and are responsible for 57% of the increase in the debt ratio since 2001."