Politics

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).

If the Queen does not like the law of the land it’s time for her to go

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 4:18pm in

Tags 

Politics, scotland

I am livid about this:

If the Queen does not like Scottish law it is time for her to go, I suggest.

I develop the theme in my column for The National, already written his morning and, I hope, out later today. I do not mince my words or seek to disguise my anger.

A coalition of the willing is required to save democracy, most especially if Labour will not do so

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 4:11pm in

Tags 

Politics

Katherine Venice had an article in the FT yesterday. She is the founder of The Ethical Capitalism Group. Please do not stop there, despite the paradoxical name: her point was serious. She opened, saying:

Can capitalism be made into a force to serve the greater good and solve society’s most urgent systemic problems? As former institutional investors, we believe it is time for capitalists, especially asset owners such as pension funds, university endowments, foundations and sovereign wealth funds, to stand up for democracy.

For FT copyright reasons I cannot note much else of what she said, but the essence was simple. Her suggestion was that capitalism without democracy is oligarchy, with winners and losers determined by autocrats. In that case, those tasked with institutional saving of pension and other funds have, she argued, a duty to fund those who support democracy in the USA and defund those who oppose it before it is too late to save, as it would be if Trump won in 2024. Her suggestion was that pension funds, university endowments and others have a duty to pass this message to companies: defunding Republicans is in the interests of mainstream America, she says.

I think she is right. I do not have to believe that all that the companies that she might invest in is useful, good or even right to think that they have a critical role in opposing the spread of the far-right anti-democratic forces that threaten to undermine the USA. That process is already underway as voter laws are changed to end democracy as anyone might reasonably recognise it in some states. It can only get worse if Trump runs for the Republicans again, as he might.

I would add that there are other issues where such an alignment of institutional investors and endowment bodies with political interests is required: support for action on climate change is the other that springs to mind.

But, in a crisis, and we have a crisis, it would be churlish to ignore calls like this. What is being said is that the very structures of society are now being undermined by the far-right and that all have a duty to oppose that if anything else that we might reasonably want to achieve is not to become impossible.

Coalitions of the willing in defence of democracy need to be created. And the threat is not just in the USA. Democracy is tottering on the brink in the UK as well. It would help so much if our Opposition helped organise and cooperate with those willing to save it, but if they won't I think it time to work with all who might. Are there any equivalent calls in the UK in that case?

Running away is not the answer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 3:54pm in

I noted this report in the Guardian:

New Zealand, Iceland, the UK, Tasmania and Ireland are the places best suited to survive a global collapse of society, according to a study.

The researchers said human civilisation was “in a perilous state” due to the highly interconnected and energy-intensive society that had developed and the environmental damage this had caused.

A collapse could arise from shocks, such as a severe financial crisis, the impacts of the climate crisis, destruction of nature, an even worse pandemic than Covid-19 or a combination of these, the scientists said.

I did so in the context of a question I asked on Twitter yesterday:

I was expecting climate change to be the predominant answer to that question. For some it was, but the largest number, by far, suggested our biggest problem was our leader, putting the threat he creates in various ways, but all making clear that the way he is undermining the democracy that we live in is the greatest challenge that we face.

I am not pretending for a moment that a couple of hundred replies is scientific. But, I also think them illuminating. The message was that we cannot run away from the climate crisis, a financial crisis, or anything much else come to that if the politics that enables them all is predominant and destroying society from within, and that is what is happening.

The premise that we can run away is, then, wrong.

The places to which these scientists say we can run have no solution to the political-economic problems that we actually face.

Unless we face down the threat to society that comes from the far-right nowhere is going to be exempt, least of all the UK.

It's folly to pretend otherwise and time to end giving space to the idea that it is possible to do so.

State money, ‘collateral’ and getting things done

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 7:55am in

I have just watched a lecture by Ann Pettifor which she gave last year at the Institute of International Economic Affairs in Dublin. I regret that, in spite of my best endeavours, I cannot refind the actual link but I’m not sure it matters as I wrote down much of what she said, and that... Read more

ScoMo’s Creepy Mate Tells Him That The Best Table Tennis Players Aren’t Even At The Olympics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 7:00am in

Prime Minister for Sydney Scott Morrison has called an urgent Cabinet meeting to tell his colleagues that his creepy mate George Christensen has informed him today that the best table tennis players in the world aren’t even competing at the Olympics.

“Old Mate George Christensen certainly knows a thing or two about ping pong,” said the PM. ”You catch up with him for a Zoom, and it’s all he’ll talk about.”

”He keeps trying to send me photos, but the Federal police keep blocking them.”

When asked why he allowed his creepy mate (aka the Member for Dawson) so much leeway, the Prime Minister said: ”I reject the premise of your question.”

”The Coalition is a broad church. I like church, and George is very broad.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, George has just sent me a link showing highlights of the Manila girls table tennis tournament. It’s amazing what these girls can do. George says they don’t even use bats!”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

We’re also on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/theunoz

The (un)Australian Live At The Newsagency Recorded live, to purchase click here:

https://bit.ly/2y8DH68

The ABC continues to deny right-wing bias by The Drum.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 4:58am in

Tags 

Media, Politics

It is was with some sadness that I penned an article indicating what I saw as a right-winged bias by The Drum in its selection of some panellists. Since that article, I have continued to exchange correspondence with the ABC and I believe that the thread of responses mirrors the same tactics the Government uses to conceal obvious bias on their part. The ABC’s tactics has been at first ignore, then deny and if that fails spin the story.

A hallmark of the Morrison Government has been its continuous use of marketing and spin to conceal its dedication to rewarding the ‘haves’ at the expense of the rest of us.  Their continued effort to conceal the truth about the sports rorts, parking stations, etc. has damaged any level of trust held for them.  The spin defines them, and over recent days the press, particularly the ABC have been applying pressure to our political leaders, especially the PM to take responsibility for their inaction and failure to adequately vaccinate us from the COVID outbreak.  There has been a continued implication that Morrison uses his marketing skills to avoid personal responsibility however, journalists have taken pride in holding him to account and at least a partial apology.

A healthy democracy relies on a free and impartial press to keep us informed about important issues that affect us and in Australia we rely heavily on our ABC to do just that.  The ABC should be free from intimidation by those wealthy companies who control the advertising revenue so vital for their existence.

It is was with some sadness that on the 16 July I penned an article indicating, in John Menadue’s Public Policy Journal, Pearls and Irritations about what I saw as a right-winged bias by The Drum in its selection of some panellists.  I did this after I had made a formal complaint to the ABC and had not received any meaningful response.

Since that article I have continued to exchange correspondence with the ABC regarding my criticism and I believe that the thread of responses mirrors the same tactics the Government uses to conceal obvious bias on their part.  The ABC’s tactics has been at first ignore, then deny and if that fails spin the story.

My first complaint went through to Denise Musto, Investigations Manager, Audience and Consumer Affairs.  In her response she denied any bias, she pointed out they followed Section 4 of their Code of Conduct and that if I considered ‘a particular program was not in keeping with ABC editorial standards’ I needed to highlight where they had transgressed and with direct reference to the content.  Further, she would need more specific details other than a list of panellists to get a substantive response.

I was puzzled as my compliant was regarding the proportion of panellists with affiliation to the Liberal National parties compared to Labor and the Greens.  I had supplied very specific details but, as a courtesy by return email I asked what type of additional information they would require especially considering my only complaint was the proportional distribution of panellists with political affiliations.  I received no further information regarding this matter.

The ABC News Team also responded thanking me for my interest and declared The Drum selects guests from a huge and diverse range of backgrounds and political affiliation is only one consideration.  I was confused as the political affiliation was the source of my complaint and the astonishing bias I asserted was ignored.

I replied on the 17 July stating ‘I find this reply confusing.  In essence, my complaint was that I believed that there was an obvious bias in the selection of panellist from political backgrounds.  As a consequence, I was again asked to provide evidence of my claim please note that we require specific examples to support your concerns – including the date of broadcast’.  

I responded including the statistic that ‘the distribution based on their Party affiliation shows that 79% are Liberals, 20% Nationals and 1% Labor and the Greens never had a voice’.  As a counter claim I pointed out that ‘you (The Drum) have provided no such quantitative evidence to support your counter claims.  This imbalance is a direct infringement of the ABC’s Code of Conduct which requires even-handedness’.  The Code states that you havea statutory duty to ensure that the gathering and presentation of news and information is impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism’.

In my response I also addressed their counter claim that when I contend that The Drum had a bias I was informed that it ‘selects guests from a huge and diverse range of backgrounds, and political affiliation is only one consideration’. I had made no complaint about any other criteria than political affiliation.  However, by mentioning political affiliations they concede that this is a consideration so by any rational conclusion that despite the parameters of their Code of Conduct, they deliberately chose panellist with a political affiliation predominantly from Liberals; what other conclusion could I reach?

I completed that correspondence with the statement ‘from the evidence and your response I can only conclude one or all of the following:

  • You are incapable of understanding the content and importance of my complaint
  • You deliberately defy your Code of Conduct
  • You really believe what you say which indicates a very poor comprehension of effective journalism
  • You really know what you are doing and this action reflects your intellectual and moral integrity.’

Perhaps I should have included that I could be wrong, however I believe in evidence and could see nothing to suggest an error on my part.

I also passed on this correspondence to Media Watch and, apart from an acknowledgement of receipt I have heard nothing.

Yesterday I received what I suspect is a final reply regarding my complaint from Annie White, Editor, ABC News, Analysis & Investigations who opened with the statement that she ‘was advised by Denise Musto, that (she) need not reply to your (my) email of 9 July.

Ms White then continued, I believe in good faith to do her best to ‘explain better’ the guiding values of the program.  These values are to ‘try to represent a balanced set of views on the issues of the day’ and ‘part of that balance is political perspective and that the Drum never features elected politicians’.  Further, the program ‘seeks to spotlight diverse communities and neglected voices, to better represent modern Australia, as well as those who may have a political background but also now are not bound by the party line.’

She goes on ‘in terms of the Editorial Policies there is no requirement for a head count from any organisation or other body. What is required is a balanced presentation, over time, of views, so whether they are former sitting politicians, or conservatives in the business community, or reside in a mining community, or from a religious body – the editorial priority is there being a reasonable representation of that perspective.’

I would think that it would be prudent to keep a tally of the panellists.  I investigated 34 shows before I made my complaint.  However, from my university studies of statistical analyses a sample of 36 makes the findings of proportional comparisons more significant.  So, if I include the next two episodes in my sample, Ewen Jones a former Liberal/National Party representative from Queensland was a panellist and there were no representatives from any other party.  This strengthens my findings it increases the evidence of political bias.  From this sample you could conclude with some degree of confidence that there is a strong bias of Liberal representation distribution of the panellist on the show.

Ms White assured me that ‘their previous roles as Liberal MPs is disclosed because that is required according to the editorial guidelines, but is not the reason for their inclusion.’  Later she asserts that ‘our panels are published, and panellists’ backgrounds fully disclosed in the interests of transparency. This information can be found on The Drum’s website’.   I went to the website and the example of this ‘full disclosure’ is shown below!

I have not been able to find any other source that would rectify this – it is hardly a full disclosure!

Ms White went on to claim that they ‘absolutely do have former ALP and Green representatives, although prompted by your email I can agree not in the months you describe – this is absolutely not a strategy or a directive or any such conspiracy simply a reflection of the guests who have appeared instead.’  She goes on to explain the ‘complexity each panellist brings and that some panellists have run for ALP selection’.  The availability of this rationalisation of the selection criteria would be useful but I cannot see how the audience would be aware of any such selection criteria from the ‘disclosures’ provided.

In any case, if they are to criticise my data it would be appropriate to provide the evidence that allows them to make such claims.  Their criticism that my ‘chart attempts to break down this complexity’ is a nonsense statement, I would contend that the data I presented reflects the real situation and is a direct contrast to the complete lack of information that would support the ABC’s claims!

I appreciate the ABC maintains that it ‘remains loyal to its charter and up-holds your (their) Code of Conduct’ however, in recent times I cannot find any way the Drum has achieved this in regards to my complaint.  I contend that their selection of panellists with a political affiliation has blatantly breached the principles they seek to defend.

I find this whole process disappointing.  I pointed out an undeniable bias in the selection of panellists with political affiliations.  An acceptance of the evidence or a data driven rejection of my claim, an apology and an undertaking to address that imbalance in future would have seen this dispute finished in two lots of correspondence.  However, the initial dismissing of my complaint and the subsequent inaccurate defence of their decisions has all the hallmarks of, dare I say ‘marketing the message’ instead of truth telling. I expect more from my ABC!

Share and Enjoy !

SHARE
twitterTWEET
linkedinSHARE
shortlinkCOPY
emailEMAIL
printPRINT

Allan Patience: Is the Australian federation in danger of balkanisation?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 4:55am in

Tags 

Politics

The Morrison government’s dishonesty about obtaining sufficient anti-COVID vaccines and its reluctance to provide the nation with dedicated quarantine facilities threaten the cohesion of the Australian federal system. Is the historical shift of power to the federal government reversing as state premiers do their own thing in response to the immense public health crisis now confronting the nation?

Premier Berejiklian’s plea for other states’ vaccine supplies be redirected to NSW, to help curb the outbreak of the Delta variant of the COVID virus in Sydney, appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Simultaneously, Morrison is too afraid to demand that the vaccines be redirected (although he has the power to do so) for fear of confirming the label of “Prime Minister of NSW.” Meanwhile, state premiers are reluctant to give up whatever vaccine supplies they have, regardless of the seriousness of the NSW situation. It appears that state parochialism is now superior to the national interest.

The hubris of the NSW premier and her government at outbreak of the virus has certainly not helped matters. The virus is now out in the community, especially in western Sydney where people are most at risk. This is a state problem with national ramifications. If further breakouts of the virus occur in regional NSW, and erupt in other states, a national public health crisis will result. Checking the spread of the virus in NSW must be a national priority, a challenge for which the Morrison government obviously lacks the will or the capacity to meet head on.

What is occurring in NSW has economic repercussions that extend into the entire Australian economy. And while it is true that without a healthy population you can’t have a healthy economy, so too without a healthy economy you won’t have a healthy population. It’s not a simple either/or matter. The two policy areas are inextricably entwined.

Morrison and Frydenberg must stop being policy laggards and step up to provide real assistance for people suffering from the health and economic effects of the pandemic. It’s time for the kind of statesman-like federal leadership that has been completely absent for far too long. And this time the government must not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing. Frydenberg must immediately resurrect the Jobkeeper payments to the increasing numbers of workers who are being negatively affected by lockdowns – but this time without the rorts, and across all the states equally.

It’s high time Morrison stopped blaming everyone but himself for the problems for which his government is directly responsible. These include insufficient vaccines, inadequate quarantining arrangements, poor communications, contradictory messaging (especially about AstraZeneca), ever-changing strategies to deal with the problems the government itself has created, hiding away when the going gets tough. Morrison’s querulous blathering at press conferences must cease. And if he continues demonstrating that he is not up to the job (and he’s been pretty convincing about this for a long time now), his Liberal colleagues will have to bite the bullet and replace him.

Meanwhile, the bunkering down by the state premiers may have short-term political gains for them. However, their individual efforts are inflaming the problem, not solving it. Australia is a facing national challenge to the health of its people and its economy. The plethora of state health ministers, state chief medical officers and their deputies, and all the bureaucratic entanglements that go with them are making a mess of the handling of the COVID crisis. They are the clearest evidence yet of the internal contradictions besetting the decrepit Australian federal system.

A nationally coordinated response to the current pandemic would enable COVID hot spots to be identified and any lockdowns would be confined to those hot spots. The absurd pretence that state borders can be made impenetrable would then be avoidable. “Rings of steel” are a state fantasy. As much as possible, normal travel and economic activities could continue outside the hotspots. The logistics for this to happen are beyond the capabilities of individual states. Indeed the states themselves are obstacles to the arrangements that would make the fight against the pandemic more effective. In short, the states might think they are protecting their own people, but in fact they are getting in the way of protecting the entire nation.

The so-called “National Cabinet” has not provided the leadership that Australia so urgently needs amid the grip of the COVID crisis. Nor will its structuring allow it to be so. Premiers have been acting as prima donnas while Scott Morrison and his ministers have been glumly sitting on their hands, hoping it will all go away. The ridiculous “peer competitiveness” between NSW and Victoria during the two states’ differing responses to the pandemic is seriously undermining the national interest.

It’s obviously time for the constitutional responsibility for health to be handed to the federal government. The country needs a fully coordinated national strategy to deal with COVID-19 and all subsequent pandemics that are likely to hit our shores – probably sooner than later. That strategy must include a National Health Scheme modelled on the highly successful British NHS. This will facilitate getting the out-of-control medical profession (especially at specialist levels) under control. Doctors are aping the legal profession by pricing themselves out of the reach of all but the wealthy.

An Australian version of an NHS could commence simply by providing a public GP service to the community, in competition with the private sector GP service. Public specialist services could be added down the track. There would be no compulsion for medicos to submit to the system. Competition would be sufficient to make it a success. Neoliberals claim that competition will solve all market distortions. Its patent failure as far as medical costs are concerned is a direct cause of the excessive fees demanded by the medical profession today.

The pandemic is a national challenge, not a simple state concern. The chaotic approaches taken by the different states coupled with their childish political bickering with each other and with the federal government show that Australian politics lacks the democratic statesmanship that is essential if we are to get through the crisis.

This is all the result of a massive public policy failure and political leadership at the national level. The Morrison government will go down in history as one of the most meretricious, corrupt, and incompetent governments in Australian political history, a devastating failure especially in its mishandling of the federation. If this situation continues for much longer, the states will balkanise the country, rendering the federal government immaterial to its future. That may satisfy a lot of state egos, but it will mean the end of a united Australia as it disintegrates into a parochial conglomeration of mini-states in the South Pacific whose regional leader will be New Zealand.

Share and Enjoy !

SHARE
twitterTWEET
linkedinSHARE
shortlinkCOPY
emailEMAIL
printPRINT

The ALP is supporting stage three tax cuts for the wealthy.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 4:55am in

Tags 

Economy, Politics

Progressive taxation is the cornerstone of a fair, equitable and just society. Just don’t tell that to the Australian Labor Party.

On 26 July, Anthony Albanese announced that Labor now formally supports stage three of the Coalition’s income tax cuts – a move which brings Australia closer to a more regressive, flat income tax system than at any other time in our history. These changes mean that Australia’s future will be economically and ethically poorer, no matter the outcome of the next election.

 

To explain the significance of these tax cuts, it is worth revisiting the logic behind progressive taxation in the first place. In brief: the more you earn, the greater your marginal tax rate. This ensures that lower-income earners do not have a greater share of their income taxed than higher-income earners – a situation known as “regressive taxation”. This isn’t just good ethics, it’s good economics as well.

 

Ethically, progressive taxation means that higher-income earners contribute to the society which made their success possible. The burden for financing good schools and hospitals should not fall overwhelmingly on the poor. Economically, the wealthier you are, the less you spend on personal consumption (relative to your overall income). The reason for this is quite simple: a loaf of bread costs the same whether you are a builder or a banker. By taxing higher earners more, governments can invest without reducing overall spending in the economy. Despite claiming to be better, fairer economic managers, Labor appears to have forgotten all of this.

 

This brings me to stage three of the government’s legislated tax cuts. Scheduled to take effect in 2024, these cuts will apply the same marginal tax rate to anyone earning between $45,000 and $200,000 per year. It does this by reducing the 32.5 per cent tax bracket to 30 per cent and abolishing the 37 per cent tax bracket altogether. Simple mathematics dictates that those earning more, benefit more. The Australia Institute calculated that 79-91 per cent of the benefits will flow to the top 20 per cent, with just 3-4 per cent of the benefits going to lower-income earners. These changes will reduce Federal Government revenue by $137 billion over a decade, entrench privilege, and exacerbate income inequality.

 

Of course, one expects such a naked assault on egalitarianism from the Coalition. It hardly makes sense to blame a party that believes in smaller government and lower taxes for achieving exactly that. When asked about the government’s future economic plan, federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg claimed to be inspired by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, two former politicians known for cutting taxes, deregulating industry, and aggressively breaking the power of trade unions. Fair call – at least the Government is doing what it believes in. Can the same be said of the Labor Party?

 

Since losing the 2019 Federal election, Labor has engaged in a period of soul-searching. Actually, that would be far too charitable. Under the leadership of Anthony Albanese – who once remarked that he got into politics to “fight Tories” – Labor has systematically purged its policy platform of anything even remotely approximating economic redistribution. Franking credits reform? Gone. Policies to make housing more affordable? No way. Action on climate change? Ask us closer to the election. And now, finally, Labor has rolled over and abandoned its former opposition to the most regressive taxation changes since John Howard.

 

Labor has promised, however, to set up a Minister for Youth, to “listen” to the concerns of young people. As a young, former member of the ALP, I recognise this for the rhetorical window-dressing exercise that it is. I am concerned about precarious employment and stagnant wages. I am concerned about unaffordable housing and rising costs of living. Above all, I am concerned about the catastrophic effects of unchecked climate change. Will Labor take a bold, ambitious policy platform on these issues to the next election? Apparently not.

 

A progressive party should believe in a progressive taxation system. Either Labor disagrees with this statement, or it no longer considers itself progressive. Albanese tells us that Labor wants to create a society where “no one is left behind”. Progressive voters will feel rightly bemused by this slogan. Labor left us behind long ago.

Share and Enjoy !

SHARE
twitterTWEET
linkedinSHARE
shortlinkCOPY
emailEMAIL
printPRINT

Nationalisation is possible, when it’s in defence of nukes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 12:24am in

The FT has reported that:

Sheffield Forgemasters, one of Britain’s oldest steelmakers, is to be acquired by the UK’s Ministry of Defence for £2.5m as the government firms up its control of vital aspects of the country’s nuclear industry supply chain.

As they also note:

The deal paves the way for up to £400m of investment over the next 10 years by the MoD to replace equipment and infrastructure at the steelmaker, which has been struggling financially for years.

That the company was unable to make such an investment is not surprising. The most recently filed group balance sheet shows serious short term financial stress:

That figure for net current liabilities is not pretty.

But. there are serious questions to ask here. First, never let it be said again that strategically important companies cannot be nationalised in the public interest.

Not let it be said that the government cannot decide who should be winners and losers in our economy.

And come to that, never let it be said that investment to secure important government goals is not possible, because it very clearly is.

In other words, let it now be said, loud and clear, that nationalisation is definitely on the agenda, at least when it suits the government.

But in that case, also ask what this government is really about, because it is not the promotion of the standard Tory agenda. Instead, this company was acquired to preserve nuclear capacity. So what we learn is that the forces of oppression can be supported by the state, but maybe not much else can be.

What does that say?

House’s Resolve to Curb Surveillance State Faces Biggest Test Since Trump Presidency

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 12:22am in

Tags 

Politics

In a huge win for surveillance reformers, the House Rules Committee agreed on Wednesday morning to another full chamber vote on a bipartisan proposal that would limit the federal government’s warrantless searches of Americans’ private data. The vote, expected later in the day, will now test rank-and-file lawmakers’ willpower to break with congressional leaders, who’ve killed similar measures in years past, and safeguard their constituents’ Fourth Amendment rights after the Donald Trump presidency brought greater attention across the political spectrum to the surveillance state’s excesses.

A group of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives — Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.; Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; Thomas Massie, R-Ky.; and Warren Davidson, R-Ohio — introduced the proposal as an amendment to the Justice Department’s Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations bill. The amendment would ban the government from using funds to conduct searches of Americans’ digital communications without court approval. Such extrajudicial monitoring became authorized in 2008 via the Section 702 provision of the FISA Amendments Act, which bolstered spying authorities first laid out in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Although FISA is intended to target foreigners, federal intelligence agencies have nevertheless used it to search through Americans’ private data. In April, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court publicly released an opinion that found agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation made hundreds of queries through collected documents using the names and identifiers of Americans who, for example, applied to participate in the FBI’s “Citizen Academy.”

With bipartisan support, the House already passed similar amendments to Defense Department appropriations bills in 2014 and 2015 to close the Section 702 loophole, but they were ultimately excluded from the final legislation during conference negotiations with the Senate. Lofgren, Massie, and others put forward the proposal again in more recent years, but it failed to gather majority support.

“What we’ve seen over and over again is that folks like Adam Schiff, folks like Nancy Pelosi, folks like Mitch McConnell are so deeply committed to maintaining the surveillance state and avoiding even the most modest reforms that they’ve effectively, from on high, scuttled these attempts at reform,” said Evan Greer, director of digital rights group Fight for The Future.

But activists are hopeful this year will be different. Greer said demands are especially high on Democrats after last summer’s George Floyd protests, which highlighted the disproportionate targeting of surveillance programs on Black and brown communities. Trump’s Justice Department also secretly spied on journalists’ communications, and Greer expects more revelations of abuses during his presidency to come out in the years ahead.

Republicans are also feeling the pressure to tackle surveillance reform. Although the Trump administration embraced federal law enforcement’s extensive powers to track journalists, the former president oversaw a potentially transformative shift in right-wing opinion by fomenting populist resentment against government surveillance when it suited his interests. Trump’s attacks on the FBI for wiretapping his 2016 campaign, and even Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s recent lamentations against alleged National Security Agency spying, may result in more conservative legislators voting to close the Section 702 loophole.

“There’s no reason to think we’ve lost any Democrats on this issue, but it is very clear that we’ve won a whole boatload of Republicans,” said Sean Vitka, policy counsel at Demand Progress, an internet advocacy group. “It’s very plausible that 100 Republicans have moved into an opposed-to-FISA stance across the board.”

Even if the House overwhelmingly votes in favor of the amendment, it will still have to gain the support of conference negotiators to be included in the final appropriations bill. Vitka is hopeful that may happen this year, since Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is a stronger proponent for reform than past committee chairs. Leahy, along with senators like Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and Utah Republican Mike Lee, has been a top surveillance critic in recent years.

Despite the new political tide, champions of the amendment will still face the usual private sector companies and government agencies that want to leave Section 702 untouched. As Greer noted, surveillance is big business for contractors, and even if congressional leaders feel the pressure from a large vote tally and conference negotiators, they still may cave to unsubstantiated claims that intelligence agents make about the national security dangers of reform.

“There’s just huge pressure always from the intelligence community, who just absolutely refuse to acknowledge the harms and abuses and will just always go to politicians at the top and basically say, ‘if you limit in any way anything that we can do, the next 9/11 is going to be your fault,’” Greer said, “even though there’s zero evidence to suggest that these massive government surveillance programs ever prevented a single terrorist attack or saved a single human life.”

If the measure fails to make it into the final justice appropriations bill, Vitka suggested activists could push to include it in the Fiscal Year 2022 defense spending bill, as Lofgren and her colleagues have attempted in the past. He said the outcome of this year’s fight will help set the stage for a much larger battle in 2023, when the 2008 measure authorizing Section 702 is set to expire.

“The goal is to make sure it is not reauthorized without major reform,” Vitka said.

The post House’s Resolve to Curb Surveillance State Faces Biggest Test Since Trump Presidency appeared first on The Intercept.

Pages