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Report: US considers phone companies ‘arm of government’



The US government doesn’t have to reveal information about phone companies that may have spied illegally on Americans because those phone companies are an “arm of the government,” the US Justice Department argued in a recent court case.

In a lawsuit over the Bush administration’s decision to give immunity to telecom companies over its warrantless wiretapping program, the Justice Department argued that it doesn’t have to publicly reveal what it discussed with the phone companies because those discussions were “inter-agency communications,” explains Ryan Singel at Wired.

He cites a passage from a court document in which the department argues that “the communications between the agencies and telecommunications companies regarding the immunity provisions of the proposed legislation have been regarded as intra-agency….”

Singel was reporting on privacy watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation’s two-year-long legal battle with the DoJ over access to those communications. In 2008, the Bush administration passed a law granting reotroactive immunity to phone companies that had participated in the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

After news reports in 2007 suggested that the phone companies had lobbied the government to have those protections put in place, the EFF launched a freedom-of-information request to have discussions between the Justice Department and the phone companies made public. When the government refused, the EFF took the matter to court.

On September 24, a US District Court judge sided with the EFF and ordered the government to “release more records about the lobbying campaign to provide immunity to the telecommunications giants that participated in the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program,” the EFF stated.


The judge gave the Justice Department until last Friday to hand over the documents. But, late on Thursday, the government appealed for a 30-day stay of the judge’s order. That order was refused, but the judge has delayed any further decisions on the case for another week.


Blogger Marcy Wheeler at FireDogLake says there are more interesting revelations about the government’s attitude towards constitutional powers in the delay request it filed last week.

“The language attempting to protect agency discussions with Congress describe Congress as a mere appendage to the executive branch which did not, in 2008, have its own distinct constitutional interest in legislation concerning matters in which the executive branch had been found to have flouted duly passed laws,” Wheeler writes. She cites the following passages from the court filing (PDF):


Given the purpose and role of the communications in the agencies’ own deliberations, the agencies have regarded their communications with Congress as intra-agency documents under the foregoing lines of authority….

…In providing the agencies with information and views about legislative options for use in the development of the Executive Branch’s own legislative position, Congress was participating in a common effort with the Executive Branch to advance the public interest.

“It is a fascinating comment on the state of separation of powers that Congress would be described by the executive branch as a mere appendage to the executive branch,” Wheeler wrote.

She also argued that there is a fundamental contradiction in the government claiming that companies it contracted to do (potentially illegal) work would be treated as government agencies:

These were telecoms lobbying! Lobbying about programs that brought them and will continue to bring them ongoing business. But by treating the telecoms as agencies for this negotiation, the Obama Administration … is treating this lobbying as part of the task that telecoms have been contracted to do by the government. We are paying telecom contractors … to lobby our government and elected representatives (who are, at this point, just an appendage to the executive branch anyway) to make sure they continue to get that contracted work.

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Selfies and the self: What do they say about us and our society?



The selfie craze speaks volumes about the era in which we live: how images race around the globe and can dominate public discourse, eliciting strong emotions and even blurring the lines of reality.

Sometimes, that can be a very toxic mix, experts say.

"We are truly in the age of the picture, of the fleeting image," said psychoanalyst, essayist and philosophy professor Elsa Godart.

"The selfie marks the arrival of a new sort of language that plays on the way we see ourselves, on our emotions."

Selfies are everywhere you look on social media.

Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are flooded with the knowing poses: a teenager with her kitten, a Chinese man in front of the Eiffel Tower, newlyweds at Disneyland, a fan with a movie star.

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Here are 4 winners and 9 losers from the first 2020 Democratic primary debate



With ten candidates on stage Wednesday, the opening debate of the 2020 Democratic primary in Miami was a packed mess. And this was only the first course in a two-part event — 10 more candidates will debate on the following night.

A crowded field makes it difficult to stand out, and that means that even after a big night like a debate, the most likely result is that not much changes. But the debate was still significant, giving candidates the chance to exceed, meet, or fall below expectations for their performances.

Here's a list — necessarily subjective, of course — of the people who came out on the top when the dust was settled, and those who came out on the bottom.

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Here are 3 ways Julián Castro stood out in the first Democratic Debate



There were many predictions going into the first Democratic debate on MSNBC, but no one predicted that Julián Castro would break out from the crowd.

Check out the top three ways Castro stood out from the crowd.


The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development was the outright winner of the immigration section of the debate

It should "piss us all off," Castro said about the father and his little girl who were found face-down in the shores of the Rio Grande River this week. “It’s heartbreaking."

Castro is a second generation American who got into specifics on immigration policy, calling for an outright "Marshall Plan" style of action for Guatemala and Honduras. He joined with other Democrats calling for an end to President Donald Trump's family separation policy, but he then suggested ending the "metering" of legitimate asylum seekers.

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