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Our conversation with Senator Mark Udall over the NSA surveillance controversy

“It shouldn’t take leaks for Congress to be motivated to seek a better balance between our privacy and our security.”  Senator Mark Udall to the PULP. 

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Mark Udall

Mark Udall

Sen. Mark Udall, along with Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, has been advocating scaling back the ability the government has to collect phone data from millions of Americans for security purposes and calling for more government transparency.

“It may be more convenient for the NSA to collect this data in bulk, rather than directing specific queries to the various phone companies, but in our judgment convenience alone does not justify the collection of the personal information of huge numbers of ordinary Americans if the same or more information can be obtained using less intrusive methods,” said Udall and Wyden in a joint statement from June 19. Government officials defend the collection programs stating only metadata, and not actual conversations, are being collected. The Wall Street Journal reported that officials have stated they have only reviewed a fraction of one percent of the collected data. Following is an unedited email interview conducted with Sen. Udall regarding the NSA and collection programs:

PULP: Sen. Dianne Feinstein has defended the policies in question saying they have worked. One example she gives is the Zazi case from 2009. Are her claims sound, especially since we’ve experienced mass shootings and the Boston bombings?

Senator Udall: The NSA has said publicly that collection under FISA Section 702 (also known as the PRISM program) was critical to the disruption of the Zazi threat against the U.S.,
and I agree. General Alexander testified to that publicly this past week. I continue to believe that the PRISM program is valuable. But to reiterate, it has not been demonstrated to me that the PATRIOT Act phone call-data collection (Section 215) has produced uniquely important intelligence that has led to thwarting of plots.

PULP: You recently told Colorado Public Radio that you’re more focused on the 215 program rather than the 702 program because it has been successful, can you explain what makes the 702 program successful?

Udall: I agree with Director Clapper and General Alexander that the intelligence collected under this program is valuable and effective. It is targeted at foreign persons
located outside the United States. Despite this fact, Congress must continue to exercise close oversight of this program to ensure that the communications of Americans that are collected incidentally as part of this program are protected. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I strongly believe there are ways to improve the balance between privacy and our national security in how the program is conducted.

PULP: Where do you believe America should go from here?

Udall: Congress should immediately reopen the PATRIOT Act, so we can have a fulsome debate about government surveillance programs, Americans’ privacy rights and the limits of executive power. I also strongly believe we need to pass the legislation I introduced with Sen. Ron Wyden that would limit the federal government’s ability to collect data on Americans’ phone calls without a
demonstrated link to terrorism or espionage. Although I strongly believe some authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provide valuable information that helps protect our national security, Americans with no link to terrorism or espionage should not have to worry that their private information is being swept up.

I also support legislation to ensure that FISA Court opinions are responsibly revealed to the American people, so they can have a better understanding of how the PATRIOT Act’s business records provision and other provisions under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are being
interpreted.

PULP: In the interview with Colorado Public Radio, you said you didn’t necessarily agree with Mr. Snowden’s disclosures. How else should American’s learn of these events?

Udall: As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I swore an oath to protect our nation’s secrets even as I work hard to exercise strong oversight over the intelligence community. Let me be clear: I abhor leaks and am never glad when our national security is potentially compromised. It shouldn’t take leaks for Congress to be motivated to seek a better balance between our privacy and our security. But if Americans don’t even know where the line is being drawn between privacy and security because the laws on the books are being secretly interpreted, they won’t know to call on their elected representatives to adjust the balance – which is why I have fought for such interpretations to be declassified. The administration should have been more upfront with the American people, both about its secret interpretations of our intelligence laws and about the extent of its surveillance programs.

That also is why I am fighting to pass legislation to narrow the PATRIOT Act to ensure that Americans know they cannot be surveilled unless there is a clear link to terrorism or espionage.

PULP: Can you tell us what actions you took in congress when you were first briefed on the information the NSA was gathering?

Udall: I publicly opposed the long-term extensions of the PATRIOT Act in 2011 and the FISA Amendments Act in 2012. During debates on those bills, I spoke out publicly and offered amendments to address my concerns about “secret interpretations” of the PATRIOT Act and an overly broad reach of Section 215, as well as amendments to improve the Section 702 program under FISA. I also have repeatedly pushed this administration to be clear with the American people about how the federal government is interpreting and using its surveillance powers. Given the classified nature of the programs we were debating, I could not expose information that could have revealed operational details about these programs. I am still limited in what I can say about these programs to the information that the NSA and the Director of National Intelligence has declassified over the last few weeks. However, these have been longtime concerns of mine that I have done everything in my power to highlight — short of disclosing classified information.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

Colorado

Expect more bigger, more damaging hail storms as they hit areas with growing populations

limate change will make the atmosphere more moist, but the effect that will have on hailstones isn’t clear experts aren’t clear.

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BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Hailstorms inflict billions of dollars in damage yearly in North America alone, and the cost will rise as the growing population builds more homes, offices and factories, climate and weather experts said Tuesday.

The role of climate change in hailstorms is harder to assess, the experts said at a conference at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Climate change will likely make large hailstorms worse, but population growth is more of a certainty, said Andreas Prein, a climate modeling scientist at the atmospheric research center.

“We know pretty certain that we will have more people in the future, and they will have more stuff, and this stuff can be damaged,” Prein said. “I think this component is more certain than what we can say about climate change at the moment.”

This year is expected to be the 11th in a row in which the damage from severe storms exceeds $10 billion in the United States, and 70 percent of that cost comes from hail, said Ian Giammanco, a research meteorologist for the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

“It’s such a huge driver of the dollar loss each year,” he said.

Costs are rising in the U.S. because homes are getting bigger, from about 1,700 square feet (139 square meters) in the early 1980s to 2,500 square feet (232 square meters) in 2015, he said. New subdivisions also pack homes in more tightly, Giammanco said.

“So it’s a bigger target for hailstorms to hit,” he said.

The effects of climate change on hail and the resulting damage are harder to calculate because hailstorms require distinct ingredients, and global warming affects them in different ways, Prein said.

To form, hailstorms require moisture, an updraft, variable winds and freezing temperatures at lower levels of the storm cloud, he said.

Updrafts lift water droplets into the clouds, where they attract other droplets and freeze together, scientists say. Winds of varying speed and direction keep the droplets suspended in the cloud long enough to grow into hailstones. When they eventually fall, freezing temperatures in the cloud keep them from melting before they hit warmer air closer to the ground.

Climate change will likely increase updrafts, helping hailstones form, Prein said.

But it will inhibit two hail-producing conditions, he said. Warmer temperatures will expand higher into the atmosphere, so falling hailstones have more time to melt before hitting the ground. And differences in wind speed and direction will subside, he said.

Climate change will make the atmosphere more moist, but the effect that will have on hailstones isn’t clear, he said.

Kristen Rasmussen, an assistant professor at Colorado State University, said the combined effects of climate change will probably inhibit the number of weaker storms but increase the number of severe ones.

“So we actually think that’s why we’re seeing a decrease in the number of weak to moderate storms and an increase in the most severe storms,” she said. “If those storms are able to break through this inhibition, they … have the potential to be more severe, and they can tap into more energy when they do so.”

The researchers said they need more data to understand the relationship between climate change and hailstorms. Improved science could also help predict hailstorms and calculate risks better, they said.

The Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Andes in South America and the Himalayas all have conditions that make them hotspots for hail, Rasmussen said.

A May 2017 hailstorm in the Denver area caused $2.3 billion in insurance losses. Last week, hail injured 14 people in Colorado Springs and killed at least five animals at the city zoo. Damage estimates were still being compiled.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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Colorado

Colorado voters will decide on $1.6 billion tax increase for education

A $1.6 billion initiative to benefit Colorado schools, paid for by higher taxes on corporations and wealthier individuals, will appear on the ballot this November.

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A $1.6 billion initiative to benefit Colorado schools, paid for by higher taxes on corporations and wealthier individuals, will appear on the ballot this November.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office said on Thursday that supporters of the measure had more than met the signature requirements.

Supporters of the effort, dubbed Great Schools, Thriving Communities, turned in 179,390 signatures last month, of which 130,022 were deemed valid. They needed just 98,492 valid signatures to get on the ballot. Under more stringent requirements adopted by voters in 2016, those signatures also needed to represent 2 percent of the registered voters in every state Senate district.

Initiative 93 represents the third attempt in seven years to raise money for education. Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires that voters approve any tax increase, and voters have twice before rejected statewide school funding measures by wide margins, most recently in 2013. To pass, Initiative 93 would need approval from 55 percent of voters.

The measure could share the ballot with a major tax increase for transportation, as well as a measure that would require the state to spend more on roads without raising taxes.

In addition to raising taxes for schools, Initiative 93 would fully fund all-day kindergarten and increase funding for preschool and for students with particular needs, such as those learning English and those who have disabilities. School districts would have broad discretion, though, about how to spend the new revenue.

Conservative critics of the measure say that’s one problem with it. In their view, it amounts to putting a lot more money into a system that has not significantly improved student achievement, without clear mechanisms to change that.

“The research is clear that simply adding more money to the same system will not lead to increased student achievement,” the conservative education reform advocacy group Ready Colorado said in an email to members. “Funding increases should be tied to policies that will improve educational outcomes.”

The group also criticized the measure for introducing a tiered tax system to replace Colorado’s flat income tax. That’s one key difference between this attempt and Amendment 66 in 2013. The last effort would have raised taxes on everyone, while this tax increase would affect those earning more than $150,000.

In contrast, the Colorado Children’s Campaign quickly issued a statement in support of the measure, calling it a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to create an education financing system that is more adequate, modern, equitable, and sustainable. This is the first step in removing structural barriers to opportunity and ensuring every chance for every child to succeed.”

Colorado ranks 28th among states in per-pupil spending, when all state, local, and federal dollars are combined, according to the most recent ranking from the National Education Association. However, school funding varies considerably around the state, and half of Colorado school districts, most of them in rural areas, operate on a four-day week because they can’t afford to be open five days.

Since the Great Recession, state lawmakers have held back $7.5 billion in money that would have otherwise gone to schools under a formula in the state constitution. The 2018-19 state budget included a 6.95 percent increase for K-12 education, but those who want to see more money for schools say it doesn’t begin to address years of underfunding.

Earlier this summer, Denver-based pollster Floyd Ciruli told Chalkbeat that statewide tax increases remain a tough sell in Colorado, but the prominence of education in the contentious Democratic primary for governor may have “primed” the electorate on this issue.

Some school districts are already talking about how they’ll spend the money. Denver Public Schools, which is currently engaged in negotiations with its teachers union, announced Thursday that it would put $36 million toward teacher pay if the tax increase passes, including raising starting pay and offering larger incentives to teachers who work in more challenging schools. The 2,300-student Sterling district on Colorado’s Eastern Plains also met recently with its teachers to discuss how to spend an estimated $3.7 million that district would get from the tax increase.

This isn’t just wishful thinking: It’s also part of marketing the tax increase to the public.

The tax measure calls for:

  • Raising the corporate income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 6 percent.
  • Raising the personal income tax rate from a flat 4.63 percent to between 5 percent and 8.25 percent for people earning more than $150,000. The highest tax rate would be paid by people earning $500,000 or more.
  • Setting the residential property assessment rate at 7 percent of market value for schools. That’s lower than it is now but higher than it is predicted to be in 2019 because current law has the unintended effect of gradually reducing the residential assessment rate.
  • Setting the non-residential property assessment rate at 24 percent of market value, less than the current 29 percent.

According to an initial fiscal analysis by the state, the average taxpayer earning more than $150,000 would pay an additional $519 a year, while those earning less would be unaffected. The average corporate taxpayer would pay an additional $11,085 a year. The change in property taxes would vary considerably around the state, but based on the average statewide school levy, many property owners would pay $28 more on each $100,000 of market value in 2019 than they otherwise would. Commercial property owners will see a decrease.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

US & World

Wyoming officials oppose SecDef Mattis on returning war-trophy to the Philippines

Wyoming officials contest the Department of Defense calling the return of The Bells of Balangiga of a “national security interest of the United States.”

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The United States should not return church bells seized as war trophies from the Philippines over a century ago, Wyoming’s congressional delegation said Monday.

It’s a position Wyoming officials have repeated often over the years amid reports the Bells of Balangiga were to be repatriated. This time, however, the U.S. Defense Department appears intent on following through.

Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote members of Congress over the weekend saying it was “in the national security interest of the United States” to return the bells.

Two of the Bells of Balangiga are at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The third is with the U.S. Army in South Korea.

U.S. Army soldiers took the bells following an attack on the island of Samar in which 48 American troops were killed in 1901.

“These bells are memorials to American war dead and should not be transferred to the Philippines,” the all-Republican delegation made up of U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, said in a joint statement Monday.

Most U.S. veterans oppose returning the bells to the Philippines and the delegation opposes any effort by President Donald Trump’s administration to return the bells without veterans’ support, the statement said.

Groups including the American Legion and Republican Gov. Matt Mead opposed returning the bells when the idea came up in 2012, during President Barack Obama’s administration.

This time, the Defense Department consulted at length with veterans’ service organizations about possibly returning the bells, Mattis wrote.

Filipinos revere the bells as symbols of national pride and President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly called for their return. Fewer Filipino combatants died than the Americans in the Balangiga attack but perhaps five times more than the 4,200 Americans were killed over the course of the 1899-1902 Philippine-American War. The war also killed 100,000 or more civilians, according to some estimates.

U.S. Air Force officials didn’t respond to a message seeking comment Monday.

The two bells in Wyoming followed a U.S. Army infantry regiment based on Samar during the U.S. occupation. The 11th Infantry arrived in 1904 at Fort D.A. Russell, which in 1930 became Fort Francis E. Warren and in 1949 F.E. Warren Air Force Base.

The third bell followed the 9th Infantry to Camp Red Cloud in South Korea.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

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