SNOWDEN TESTIMONY TO EU: Suspicionless Surveillance Actually Makes Us Less Safe

Excerpt from Edward Snowden’s written testimony to the European Union [PDF]

Looking at the US government’s reports here is valuable. The most recent of these investigations, performed by the White House’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, determined that the mass surveillance program investigated was not only ineffective — they found it had never stopped even a single imminent terrorist attack — but that it had no basis in law. In less diplomatic language, they discovered the United States was operating an unlawful mass surveillance program, and the greatest success the program had ever produced was discovering a taxi driver in the United States transferring $ 8,500 dollars to Somalia in 2007.

After noting that even this unimpressive success – uncovering evidence of a single unlawful bank transfer — would have been achieved without bulk collection, the Board recommended that the unlawful mass surveillance program be ended. Unfortunately, we know from press reports that this program is still operating today.

I believe that suspicionless surveillance not only fails to make us safe, but it actually makes us less safe. By squandering precious, limited resources on “collecting it all,” we end up with more analysts trying to make sense of harmless political dissent and fewer investigators running down real leads. I believe investing in mass surveillance at the expense of traditional, proven methods can cost lives, and history has shown my concerns are justified.

Despite the extraordinary intrusions of the NSA and EU national governments into private communications world-wide, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “Underwear Bomber,” was allowed to board an airplane traveling from Europe to the United States in 2009. The 290 persons on board were not saved by mass surveillance, but by his own incompetence, when he failed to detonate the device. While even Mutallab’s own father warned the US government he was dangerous in November 2009, our resources were tied up monitoring online games and tapping German ministers…

Nor did the US government’s comprehensive monitoring of Americans at home stop the Boston Bombers. Despite the Russians specifically warning us about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the FBI couldn’t do more than a cursory investigation — although they did plenty of worthless computer-based searching – and failed to discover the plot. 264 people were injured, and 3 died. The resources that could have paid for a real investigation had been spent on monitoring the call records of everyone in America.

Hat tip: BadBlue News

Doug Ross @ Journal

How Will The Economy Improve In 2014 If Almost Everyone Has Less Money To Spend?

Piggybank-Photo-by-Damian-OSullivan-300x199Is the U.S. consumer tapped out?  If so, how in the world will the U.S. economy possibly improve in 2014?  Most Americans know that the U.S. economy is heavily dependent on consumer spending.  If average Americans are not out there spending money, the economy tends not to do very well.  Unfortunately, retail sales during the holiday season appear to be quite disappointing and the middle class continues to deeply struggle.  And for a whole bunch of reasons things are likely going to be even tougher in 2014.  Families are going to have less money in their pockets to spend thanks to much higher health insurance premiums under Obamacare, a wide variety of tax increases, higher interest rates on debt, and cuts in government welfare programs.  The short-lived bubble of false prosperity that we have been enjoying for the last couple of years is rapidly coming to an end, and 2014 certainly promises to be a very “interesting year”.

Obamacare Rate Shock

Most middle class families are just scraping by from month to month these days.

Unfortunately for them, millions of those families are now being hit with massive health insurance rate increases.

In a previous article, I discussed how one study found that health insurance premiums for men are going to go up by an average of 99 percent under Obamacare and health insurance premiums for women are going to go up by an average of 62 percent under Obamacare.

Most middle class families simply cannot afford that.

Earlier today, I got an email from a reader that was paying $ 478 a month for health insurance for his family but has now received a letter informing him that his rate is going up to $ 1,150 a month.

Millions of families are receiving letters just like that.  And to say that these rate increases are a “surprise” to most people would be a massive understatement.  Even people that work in the financial industry are shocked at how high these premiums are turning out to be…

“The real big surprise was how much out-of-pocket would be required for our family,” said David Winebrenner, 46, a financial adviser in Lebanon, Ky., whose deductible topped $ 12,000 for a family of six for a silver plan he was considering. The monthly premium: $ 1,400.

Since Americans are going to have to pay much more for health insurance, that is going to remove a huge amount of discretionary spending from the economy, and that will not be good news for retailers.

Get Ready For Higher Taxes

When you raise taxes, you reduce the amount of money that people have in their pockets to spend.

Sadly, that is exactly what is happening.

Congress is allowing a whopping 55 tax breaks to expire at the end of this year, and when you add that to the 13 major tax increases that hit American families in 2013, it isn’t a pretty picture.

This tax season, millions of families are going to find out that they have much higher tax bills than they had anticipated.

And all of this comes at a time when incomes in America have beensteadily declining.  In fact, real median household income has declined by a total of 8 percent since 2008.

If you are a worker, you might want to check out the chart that I have posted below to see where you stack up.  In America today, most workers are low income workers.  These numbers come from a recentHuffington Post article

-If you make more than $ 10,000, you earn more than 24.2% of Americans, or 37 million people.

-If you make more than $ 15,000 (roughly the annual salary of a minimum-wage employee working 40 hours per week), you earn more than 32.2% of Americans.

-If you make more than $ 30,000, you earn more than 53.2% of Americans.

-If you make more than $ 50,000, you earn more than 73.4% of Americans.

-If you make more than $ 100,000, you earn more than 92.6% of Americans.

-You are officially in the top 1% of American wage earners if you earn more than $ 250,000.

-The 894 people that earn more than $ 20 millionmake more than 99.99989% of Americans, and are compensated a cumulative $ 37,009,979,568 per year.

It is important to keep in mind that those numbers are for the employment income of individuals not households.  Most households have more than one member working, so overall household incomes are significantly higher than these numbers.

Higher Interest Rates Mean Larger Debt Payments

On Tuesday, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries rose to 3.03 percent.  I warned that this would happen once the taper started, and this is just the beginning.  Interest rates are likely to steadily rise throughout 2014.

The reason why the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is such a critical number is because mortgage rates and thousands of other interest rates throughout our economy are heavily influenced by that number.

So big changes are on the way.  As a recent CNBC article declared, the era of low mortgage rates is officially over…

The days of the 3.5% 30-year fixed are over. Rates are already up well over a full percentage point from a year ago, and as the Federal Reserve begins its much anticipated exit from the bond-buying business, I believe rates will inevitably go higher.

Needless to say, this is going to deeply affect the real estate market.  AsMac Slavo recently noted, numbers are already starting to drop precipitously…

The National Association of Realtors reported that the month of September saw its single largest drop in signed home sales in 40 months. And that wasn’t just a one-off event. This month mortgage applications collapsed a shocking 66%, hitting a13-year low.

And U.S. consumers can expect interest rates on all kinds of loans to start rising.  That is going to mean higher debt payments, and therefore less money for consumers to spend into the economy.

Government Benefit Cuts

Well, if the middle class is going to have less money to spend, perhaps other Americans can pick up the slack.

Or maybe not.

You certainly can’t expect the poor to stimulate the economy.  As I mentioned yesterday, it is being projected that up to 5 million unemployed Americans could lose their unemployment benefits by the end of 2014, and 47 million Americans recently had their food stamp benefits reduced.

So the poor will also have less money to spend in 2014.

The Wealthy Save The Day?

Perhaps the stock market will continue to soar in 2014 and the wealthy will spend so much that it will make up for all the rest of us.

You can believe that if you want, but the truth is that there are a whole host of signs that the days of this irrational stock market bubble are numbered.  The following is an excerpt from one of my recent articles entitled “The Stock Market Has Officially Entered Crazytown Territory“…

The median price-to-earnings ratio on the S&P 500 has reached an all-time record high, and margin debt at the New York Stock Exchange has reached a level that we have never seen before.  In other words, stocks are massively overpriced and people have been borrowing huge amounts of money to buy stocks.  These are behaviors that we also saw just before the last two stock market bubbles burst.

If the stock market bubble does burst, the wealthy will also have less money to spend into the economy in 2014.

For the moment, the stock market has been rallying.  This is typical for the month of December.  You see, the truth is that investors generally don’t want to sell stocks in December because they want to put off paying taxes on the profits.

If stocks are sold before the end of the year, the profits go on the 2013 tax return.

If stocks are sold a few days from now, the profits go on the 2014 tax return.

It is only human nature to want to delay pain for as long as possible.

Expect to see some selling in January.  Many investors are very eager to start taking profits, but they wanted to wait until the holidays were over to do so.

So what do you think is coming up in 2014?  Please feel free to share what you think by posting a comment below…

Michael T. Snyder is a graduate of the University of Florida law school and he worked as an attorney in the heart of Washington D.C. for a number of years. Today, Michael is best known for his work as the publisher of The Economic Collapse Blog and The American Dream. If you want to know what things in America are going to look like in a few years read his new book The Beginning of the End.


SHTF Plan – When It Hits The Fan, Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You

CHARTS: Public Views Obamacare Less Favorably Than Body Lice, Fish-Flavored Gum and Rosie O’Donnell

The public’s view of Obamacare: dark and growing darker (click to explodify).

Hey, could someone drag John Boehner out of whatever bar he’s in and have him organize a real vote to repeal Obamacare?

Oh — and by all means, Debbie Wasserman Schultz — please run on Obamacare.

Hat tip: BadBlue Real-Time News Engine.

Doug Ross @ Journal

THEY LIED TO CONGRESS, AGAIN: After Three Days, HHS Knew Less Than 250 People Nationwide Had Signed Up for Obamacare

Of course the Obama administration lied to Congress. Of course they had the true number of folks who had signed up for Obamacare through the disastrously flawed Healthcare.gov website.

Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, testified Tuesday before the House Ways and Means Committee… raising more questions about the administration’s transparency on the project, she declined to cite enrollment numbers. She did not claim, as Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently did, that officials simply do not have those numbers — rather, she said a “decision” was made to release them in mid-November.

They lied to Congress to hide their catastrophic failures.

One of the few real reporters left in legacy media is Sharyl Attkisson of CBS News. And her report is absolutely devastating, describing an administration whose first, second and third instincts are to lie.

For 31 days now, the Obama administration has been telling us that Americans by the millions are visiting the new health insurance website, despite all its problems… But no one in the administration has been willing to tell us how many policies have been purchased, and this may be the reason…

The website launched on a Tuesday… at a meeting Wednesday morning, the war room notes say “six enrollments have occurred so far.”

By Wednesday afternoon, enrollments were up to “approximately 100.” By the end of Wednesday, the notes reflect “248 enrollments” nationwide.

The lies and cover-ups keep coming.

Where are the Select Investigative Committees, Speaker Boehner?

Where are the Select Investigative Committees, Chairman Issa?

Benghazi, the IRS and Obamacare all deserve their own.

We, the American people, demand them!

Hat tip: BadBlue News and David Freddoso

Doug Ross @ Journal