Saturday, March 18, 2006

US Taking 1 Step Closer to a Totalitarian State?

The following is a copy of a notice that I received this week about the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. What good does it do to write to ones elected representatives when all you get is a "Thanks you for writing" reply and the following is still allowed to happen.

President Signs PATRIOT Act Reauthorization Bill Lacking Civil Liberties Protections

On March 9, 2006, the day before sixteen provisions of the PATRIOT Act were to expire, President Bush signed a PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill and a group of minor amendments, making most of the Act permanent without the modest but meaningful civil liberties protections that had enjoyed bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

Last summer, the House and Senate passed different bills to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act. The Senate version was significantly better for civil liberties than the House version. However, when Congressional negotiators met to iron out their differences, they produced a weak combined bill that failed to contain the reforms in the Senate version.

That House-Senate "conference report" passed in the House but was blocked in the Senate last December when four Republican Senators (John Sununu (NH), Chuck Hagel (NE), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Larry Craig (ID)) joined all but two Democratic Senators in a filibuster.

Last month, under tremendous pressure from the White House, the four Republican Senators agreed to support renewal of the PATRIOT Act with only minor changes to the conference report. Among the provisions in the PATRIOT Act as renewed:

- It still allows the government to obtain business records under Section 215 without showing that the target of the request is connected to terrorism.

- The recipient of a business records order under Section 215 can challenge the order in court and, after a year, can challenge the prohibition (the "gag") against disclosing the order. (Recipients probably already had the right to challenge both without waiting.)

- A judge can overturn the gag order upon finding there is no reason to believe that disclosure of the existence of the underlying records disclosure order may endanger national security or interfere with an investigation or diplomatic relations or endanger the life or physical
safety of any person, but the government's certification that disclosure would endanger national security or interfere with diplomatic relations will be treated as conclusive unless made in bad

- The Attorney General must adopt minimization procedures governing the retention and dissemination of information obtained under Section 215 business records orders, but it does not require minimization procedures for NSLs. It merely requires the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence to submit a report on the feasibility of applying minimization procedures to NSLs after the Inspector General of the Department of Justice conducts a study of how the government uses them.

- It clarifies that libraries are not subject to NSLs except to the extent they provide email access. Libraries are still subject to Section 215 business records orders, but the FBI Director must personally approve applications for disclosure of library records that identify a person.

- The FBI Director's personal approval is also required for disclosure of other records that would identify a person, namely bookstore records, records of firearms sales, and medical, tax and educational records.

- It specifies that notice of "sneak and peek" searches can be delayed for 30 days, a clear expansion of the limits that federal courts had deemed reasonable.

- It eliminates the catch-all provision ("unduly delay a trial") from the list of circumstances under which the government can conduct "sneak and peek" searches, but still allow these searches when notice to the target would "seriously jeopardize" an ongoing investigation.

- Three provisions are subject to a new four-year sunset--Section 215 business records orders, roving wiretaps, and the "lone wolf" provision, which applies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to non-US citizens who are not connected to foreign powers or terrorist groups.

- It allows roving wiretaps without requiring the government to identify the target of surveillance (the government instead can describe the specific target) and without requiring the government to ascertain that the target is using the equipment or facility before it begins monitoring.

- The government is required to provide after-the-fact notice to the court whenever a roving wiretap is directed at a new facility or place.

- It increases the duration of FISA surveillance orders and FISA pen register and trap and trace orders for non-US persons from 90 days to up to one year.

- It requires disclosure to the government of additional information under FISA pen register and trap and trace orders, including information about anyone communicating with the target of the order.

- It requires additional reporting to Congress on the use of certain PATRIOT Act powers.

The reauthorization also contains additional provisions relating to terrorism, such as an expansion of the offenses that constitute terrorist attacks, criminal penalties for those acts and additional predicates for criminal wiretaps.

Unfortunately, the reauthorization did not address major concerns with the PATRIOT Act, which still authorizes the government to obtain orders for the disclosure of records without showing a connection to a suspected terrorist, to issue National Security Letters without prior judicial approval, and to conduct "sneak and peek" searches of citizens' homes and businesses in
ordinary criminal cases.

USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005

USA PATRIOT Act Amendments Package (S. 2271)

More information on the PATRIOT Act:

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Stop the Wal-Mart Health Care Crisis.

Yesterday, we launched an unprecedented national campaign with 17 courageous Wal-Mart employees in 14 states calling on Wal-Mart to "Stop the Wal-Mart Health Care Crisis."

Their stories are powerful reminders why Wal-Mart needs to change. For example, A.G. White, who works at a Wal-Mart store in Pennsylvania, takes home about $500 every two weeks and has no health benefits through Wal-Mart because it would cost him approximately $200 per pay period, or 40% of his paycheck.

Unfortunately, A.G. is not alone. In fact, based on our new report, we estimate Wal-Mart has over 296,000 employees and dependents on public health care at a cost to taxpayers of $1.37 billion in 2005.

We cannot stay silent while Wal-Mart makes obscene profits at the expense of its employees and American taxpayers. And, while we may not be able to change all of corporate America at once, we do have the power to make corporations put people first, and it starts by making the largest employer in America, Wal-Mart, a responsible corporation.

Here's what you can do:

1) Download flyers you can hand-out to Wal-Mart workers
You can help us recruit Wal-Mart workers to speak out publicly about their conditions. We recognize some of these employees may be scared, but the real stories, told by workers, are incredibly powerful in helping the American people understand why Wal-Mart needs to change. Feel free to email or call Wal-Mart workers you may know with the information on this flyer.

Download the flyer by clicking here:

For examples of Wal-Mart worker stories click here:

2) Sign-up supporters to
The only way to stand up to the abuses of billion dollar corporations is by building a movement of Americans. In 10 short months, we have grown to 183,000 supporters, but there are millions of Americans who want to change Wal-Mart. We need to sign them up to our campaign immediately. As we grow larger, we become an even more powerful force for change.

Send an email asking all of your friends to join by clicking here:

3) Co-sponsor grassroots legislation to Stop the Wal-Mart Health Care Crisis
We are actively working to introduce Fair Share for Health Care legislation in all 50 states. Fair Share requires large, profitable companies like Wal-Mart to pay a minimum percentage of health benefits to their workers.

Sign up to be a citizen co-sponsor of Fair Share for Health Care by clicking here:

Please take action today.

What you do matters. You are the only one who has the power to change Wal-Mart, and by joining together we are already forcing a $300 billion dollar corporation to respond. This is only the beginning!

Thank you for all that you do,

Paul Blank

P.S. Click here to see our new television commercial highlighting the
Wal-Mart Health Care Crisis, and please send it to a friend!

Growing opposition to AOL email tax: Keep the momentum up

AOL says it will start charging senders for incoming
mails to AOL users. Read the letter and sign on if you want to save free