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Jim Hightower - Say 'No way' to NSA

The very fine public servant, Russ Feingold, cautioned against the steady slippage of our democracy toward autocracy back in October 2001, when he stood tall as the only U.S. Senator to vote against the Patriot Act. Warning that its anti-democratic provisions would create a nation "where the government is entitled to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications," Feingold rightly concluded: "That country wouldn't be America."

So here we are, having devolved from the founders' principled insistence on erecting the strongest palisades for the defense of the people's personal liberties — to now having a secret government inside our borders and inside our lives. The National Security Agency is running a labyrinthine, secret, extravagant, unconstitutional and out-of-control electronic surveillance operation that targets you.

Yes, you! And me. Its not just German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other head-of-state allies who are furious that this veracious nest of snoops has been listening-in on their private conversations for years, but also everyone living in our own Land of the Free. We citizens have been redefined by our government as suspects.

Not that NSA officialdom actually thinks that you, Mr. Upright or Ms. Doright, are terrorists or even "persons of interest" — but, then again, you might be. So, the spook bureaucracy has unilaterally chosen to create an elaborate, electronic Rube-Goldbergish spy matrix that (A) appropriates and agglomerates everyone's "metadata" — a geek term defined as data that provides information about other data — channels it into (B) banks of rapidly spinning supercomputers that (C) analyze your and my terrorist inclinations, based on (D) the phone calls we make and get, (E) e-mails we send and receive, (F) websites we visit and topics we Google, (G) Facebook friends and pages we like, and (H) credit card expenditures and bank transactions we make.

Even the code-names of NSA's array of electronic eyes are almost comically Orwellian: PRISM, Tempora, XKeyscore, and — my favorite — Boundless Informant.

Boundless indeed.

But all this, and for what? To make you and me safe from terrorists, the hierarchy chants in unison. Constantly pointing to 9/11, the spies and their political henchmen solemnly assert that, hypothetically, bulk surveillance of every American might have, possibly could have, maybe would have stopped that horrific plot. But the phone conversations that mattered in that case were those that did NOT happen — the breakdown in communication between the CIA and the FBI, and between FBI headquarters and its local agents.
When the top brass of U.S. SpyWorld did a dog-and-pony show for the House intelligence committee on June 18, they claimed that "dozens" of terrorist attacks had been prevented since 9/11 by NSA's SuperVac programs. Dozens? "More than 50," clarified NSA's director. But wait, how many of those were plots for terrorist attacks on our soil? "A little over 10," he mumbled. That's it? Years of scooping up ALL metadata on EVERY American to find only 10 plots?

Moreover, he was able to name only four of those 10, and none were serious threats to do major harm to Americans. In fact, one involved a bombing in India, one is a questionable case of $8,500 ostensibly sent to terrorists in Somalia, one was actually uncovered by regular police work, and the fourth was not a plot to attack the U.S., but to send funds abroad to al-Qaida. For this, we should shred our Bill of Rights?

"We've got congressional oversight and judicial oversight," Obama said to a reporter on Sept. 13, then expressed exasperation that people don't have faith in the system, "And if people can't trust not only the executive branch, but also don't trust Congress and don't trust federal judges to make sure that we're abiding by the Constitution, due process, and rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here."

Well, yes sir, you do have some problems, BIG ones. Obama and the surveillance establishment are proposing a bit more "disclosure" to fix the agency's PR problem. But that's just warmed over B.S. We can't give him — or Congress — a pass on this. It's too big, too destructive of our values and self-respect. NSA's domestic spy matrix and the Patriot Act itself confront us as a multi-eyed, hydra-headed, democracy-devouring monster. Forget disclosure; the monster must be dismantled.

(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Pat Buchanan - 'Normal' never coming back?

The first reports in early May of 1960 were that a U.S. weather plane, flying out of Turkey, had gone missing. A silent Moscow knew better. After letting the Americans crawl out on a limb, expatiating on their cover story, Russia sawed it off.

Actually, said Nikita Khrushchev, we shot down a U.S. spy plane 1000 miles inside our country flying over a restricted zone. We have the pilot, we have the camera, we have the pictures. We have the hollow silver dollar containing the poisoned-tipped needle CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers declined to use.

Two weeks later, Khrushchev used the U-2 incident and Ike's refusal to apologize to dynamite the Paris summit and the gauzy Spirit of Camp David that had come out of his 10-day visit to the USA. Eisenhower's reciprocal trip to Russia was now dead.

A year later, President Kennedy would be berated by Khrushchev in Vienna. The Berlin Wall would go up. And Khrushchev would begin secretly to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from Key West.

Had there been no U-2 incident, would the history of the Cold War have been different? Perhaps.

Yet, while there were critics of launching Power's U-2 flight so close to the summit, Americans understood the need for espionage. Like us, the Soviets were installing ballistic missiles, every single one of which could incinerate an American city.

Post 9/11, too, Americans accepted the necessity for the National Security Agency to retrieve and sift through phone calls and e-mails to keep us secure from terror attacks. Many have come to accept today's risks of an invasion of their privacy — for greater security for their family. And there remains a deposit of trust among Americans that the NSA, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency are not only working for us, they are defending us.

How long Americans will continue to repose this trust, however, is starting to come into question. Last week, we learned that a high official of the U.S. government turned 200 private phone numbers of 35 friendly foreign leaders, basically the Rolodex of the president, over to the NSA for tapping and taping. Allied leaders, with whom America works toward common goals, have for years apparently had their private conversations listened to, transcribed and passed around by their supposed U.S. friends.

Angela Merkel has apparently been the subject of phone taps since before she rose to the leadership of Germany and Europe. A victim of the East German Stasi, Ms. Merkel is not amused.
We are told not to be naive; everyone does it. Spying, not only between enemies but among allies, is commonplace. This is how the world works. Deal with it.

But why are we doing this? Is it all really about coping with the terrorist threat? Or is it because we have the ability to do it, and the more information we have, even stolen surreptitiously from friends and allies, the better? Gives us a leg up in the great game of nations.

U.S. diplomats say that one of their assignments abroad is to know what the host government is thinking and planning politically, economically, strategically. That this is an aspect of diplomacy. But relations among friendly nations are not unlike the NFL. While films are taken of rival teams' games and studied, scouts observe practices, and rumors are picked up of injuries, there are lines that most opposing NFL teams do not cross. The lines of unethical conduct and criminality.

To learn that an owner or coach of one NFL franchise had wiretapped the home phones of coaches and players of a Super Bowl rival would, if revealed, be regarded as rotten business.

What kind of camaraderie, cooperation or friendship can endure in an environment where constant snooping on one's closest friends is accepted practice?

In the Nixon White House, there were serious leaks that revealed our secret bombing of Communist sanctuaries in Cambodia to protect our troops, and of our fallback position in the strategic arms talks. Wiretaps were planted on aides to Henry Kissinger and White House staffers who had no knowledge of what had been leaked. Relationships were altered, some poisoned for a lifetime.

Why should we not expect a similar reaction among foreign friends who discover their personal and political secrets have been daily scooped up and filed by their American friends, and found their way into the president's daily intelligence brief?

The Cold War was a clash of ideologies and empires for the future of the world. Men took drastic measures to preserve what they had. At the end of the Cold War, the old tactics and measures were not set aside, but improved upon, and now are no longer restricted for use against the likes of al-Qaida, but against allies.

At the Cold War's end, the late Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick talked hopefully of America becoming again "a normal country in a normal time." Seems as though the normal times are never coming back.

(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 October 2013 08:37

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Henry D. Lipman - Crafting expanded health insurance coverage — a N.H. avantage!

As someone who has been deeply involved in New Hampshire health care delivery and financing for more than a quarter century, I have personally observed the health consequences and crushing financial strain of patients without health insurance coverage. People may forgo needed preventative care and treatment, go without needed medications, and often end up in emergency departments, the most expensive place to receive treatment. An established primary care relationship would have avoided any needless morbidity or mortality, all of which sap the strength of our families and the economic vitality of our communities. It is with this perspective that I 'd like to impress upon those pursuing a legislative solution to increased access to health insurance, how important it is to both craft the access and sustainable financing to ensure that an initial achievement remains a sustainable one.
In crafting the New Hampshire plan for expanded health insurance coverage, the saying that comes to mind is "measure twice and cut once." This saying also describes the challenge for the New Hampshire Legislature. We have only one opportunity to achieve this in a responsible and sustainable way, thus maximizing benefits for our state while minimizing any risks. It is vitally important to all of our fellow citizens that we get this right.
There appears to be a growing political consensus that expanded health insurance coverage represents the fundamental building block for improving health care for the citizenry. However, the benefits of such an expansion alone will prove illusory without a sustainable financing plan behind it.
As an individual citizen, I call upon our elected state leaders to expand health insurance coverage through a New Hampshire solution that adds to the New Hampshire Advantage. Other states have crafted state-centric plans and have sought and obtained the necessary waivers from the federal government on a speedy basis. From my perspective, the key elements of such a plan would include:
1. Strengthening New Hampshire's private insurance market for those currently with and without coverage, through use of private insurance to cover newly eligible (and those currently eligible where there is the flexibility and capacity to do so). We as a state are relatively small from a population standpoint, which makes it hard to support options in insurance coverage. Retaining individuals in the private market helps us contend with that challenge versus adding to it.
2. Promote the highest level of coverage continuity (i.e. avoid "churning") to promote health and the cost to individuals and the state. It is sensible to have continuity with your provider and insurer so that investments in health promotion can be more readily sustained.

3. Improve budget predictability for the state by financing premiums versus services. In financing premiums versus services, the state will have the benefit of fixed unit costs in the coverage it supports.

4. Ensure protection to the state from any potential financing changes from the federal level. Arguably, the more coverage that comes from tax credits and private coverage reduces future exposure to the state should federal policy shift.

5. Secure a federal match to finance this expanded coverage that is competitive with other neighboring states. Our state is in optimal position now to negotiate the parameters of expanded coverage that will drive the fed's and state's effective participation to support sustainable implementation.

The aforementioned saying expresses something considered to be a general truth. The truth of expanding coverage is that it represents a one-time opportunity to do it right to ensure a sustainable system that protects patients and taxpayers. We can and should come together to achieve a plan with these elements. Moreover, we should allow a relatively short-time, in the scheme of things, to secure the available beneficial waivers from the federal government, as some other states have recently done. That will prove the key "measurement" in the future level of success we get from expanded coverage as individuals and for the generations to follow.
My appreciation is extended to all of those in Concord who are working towards increasing access to health insurance for my home town and the state as a whole.

(Henry D. Lipman is senior vice president for Financial Strategy and External Relations at LRGHealthcare in Laconia. He also represents Ward 3 on the Laconia City Council.)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 10:20

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Susan Estrich - A teacher from Danvers

Danvers, Mass., is two towns away from where I grew up. I used to shop at the mall there. When I was much younger and stronger, I'd ride my bike that far. We played Danvers in football. I went to camp in Danvers.

If you'd asked me yesterday or the day before whether Danvers was a scary town, I would have laughed. Danvers? I live in Los Angeles. In Danvers, kids still ride their bikes at night.

Danvers should be safe. And I always thought it was — until I read about the murder of math teacher Colleen Ritzer, originally from Andover, one more town away, and only a year older than my daughter.

The alleged murderer was arraigned in the First District Court of Essex County. When I was a kid, my first job was at the Essex County Registry of Deeds, right next door to the courthouse, and for "fun" (would-be lawyer that I was), I used to go over at lunch and sit in on the trials. There was one family murder, but I never sat in on a case like this. Things like this didn't happen in Salem or Danvers or Andover.

Until they did.

Why does a 14-year-old murder a well-liked, dedicated, beautiful and talented math teacher just 10 years older than him? I'm sure his lawyers will come up with some excuse, mental illness or an abuse excuse, family troubles, diminished capacity, one of the long list of defenses and excuses I used to teach.

Is it wrong to say I couldn't care less what his excuse is? Is it wrong to say that if 14 is old enough to kill — and it is — then it's old enough to be responsible and to be punished as an adult?

Maybe I've lost my empathy. Or maybe I've just become very clear about who does and does not deserve empathy Not the alleged killer. The victim and her family.
Ritzer is the second teacher to be killed this week by a student (allegedly, of course). Two days earlier, in Sparks, Nev., another math teacher — this time a man, a former Marine and National Guardsman — was shot at school by a 12-year-old who also shot two other students before killing himself.

You can try to find a pattern. But really, what could it be? That teaching math is life threatening? Ridiculous. I'm pretty sure the gun-control laws in Massachusetts are tougher than in Nevada. So the 14-year-old used a box cutter, allegedly. The kid in Nevada reportedly got his gun from home. Some people are describing the kid in Danvers as "soft-spoken," whatever that means (like the "baby-faced" Marathon bomber, who was no baby-face), and others are speculating that he was infatuated with his math teacher. If every teacher of an infatuated student were vulnerable to murder, well, there would be no profession.

In all of my years living on the North Shore of Boston, as a student and as an adult, I never heard of a student killing a teacher. I certainly would remember. It just didn't happen.

So why now?

It's the sort of thing we need to talk about thoughtfully, not screaming at one another about gun control, but listening respectfully, trying to figure out what's gone wrong and what we can do about it. But we don't have those kinds of conversations anymore — about anything. There is no discourse. It's all just ideological prattle, screaming back and forth, talking heads competing to be outrageous enough to get their own shows. Meanwhile, decent people shake their heads, and parents and families mourn losses that are just unfathomable.

Two math teachers in one week. So wrong.

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Sanborn – Only your realtor stands between you and the unknown

September was another strong month for residential home sales in the twelve communities covered by this report. There were 104 transactions at an average sales price of $406,327 for the month compared to 91 sales at $316,816 last September. Last month's average sales price was pumped up by eight sales over $1 million with one sale coming in at $7 million. For the first three quarters of the year there have been 784 sales at an average price of $302,663 compared to 676 sales at an average of $299,060 for the same period in 2012. That's a 15 percent increase in the total number of sales. That's almost as scary as Halloween!

And, as Halloween approaches, I felt it is my civic duty to provide homebuyers with some tips on determining whether a home could be haunted or not. After all, some people are more sensitive to otherworldly phenomenon than others and don't want to live in a house with some unseen previous owners still there. It is kind of the same way some people get worked up about radon. You can't see radon either, but it scares the bejeesus out of some folks.

Anyway, it is worth a discussion because many times a great home is ruled out and not purchased because of something strange going on during a showing. As a realtor, I have a duty to set the record straight and clarify some of these "occurrences." Realtors have had to take continuing education paranormal courses and can help you determine whether the unsettling event you just experienced was a haunting, your imagination, or just part of buying a home. Buying a home without a realtor can be pretty scary.

The most common sign that a place is haunted will be that you will feel like you just walked through a cold spot or that the room suddenly drops in temperature. This could very well mean that you just walked through dear departed Uncle Josiah because he just couldn't get out of the way in time. When you look at houses, try not to move too quickly and barge into rooms. This will give those souls still living there time to get out of your way. Taking your time also allows you to observe more of the home you are considering buying. It might also help you to determine if that sudden chill comes from a broken window or drafty door.

Another common sign that you have an unwanted guest in the house is unexplained noises. Usually, these noises occur in the middle of the night in the pitch black, so if you hear them in broad daylight during the showing you can be assured things are going to get worse. That scurrying and scratching sound could be a squirrel in the ceiling...or maybe not. That banging sound could just be air in the heating pipes, but then you realize the house has forced hot air heat. Did that door just slam shut because Josiah is mad that you are here or is it because of sudden drop in air pressure in the house? Now, you are beginning to see why you need a realtor who can set you straight on these things.

Sometimes on showings you hear hushed, faint whispers when you are in a room by yourself. That can be pretty unnerving, especially when you realize that they whispering about you. Was it your realtor talking to the listing agent? Perhaps not, the listing agent was outside... What about that uneasy feeling that you are being watched? If the homeowner didn't leave during the showing it is can be very uncomfortable and that's why we always try to insist they are not there. But what if Josiah didn't leave either and it feels like he is up on the corner of the ceiling? Makes the hair stand up on your neck, doesn't it? Buying a house on your own can be a scary thing.

It is well documented that strange animal behavior is another indicator that there is an unknown presence in a room. Animals have sharper senses than humans and their psychic abilities are much more finely tuned. I have been on many showings where the owner's beloved pet was in his crate barking his lungs out when we came in to look at the house. That's normal for a dog. Not so much for a cat. Could it be a sign that something else is going on?

Many times on showings you may be unsettled by a shadow that you catch out of the corner of your eye. You might also be startled when you glance in the bathroom mirror and see someone lurking behind you. Then, with great relief, you realize it is your realtor. And behind him is Josiah. But that doesn't scare you, because even though your realtor is pretty scary looking too, you have him between you and the unknown...

Happy Halloween!

Please feel free to visit www.lakesregionhome.com to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others. Data was compiled using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System as of 10/23/13. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Friday, 25 October 2013 07:19

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