A Federal District Court judge ruled on Monday that the National Security Agency program that is systematically keeping records of all Americans’ phone calls most likely violates the Constitution, and he ordered the government to stop collecting data on two plaintiffs’ personal calls and destroy the records of their calling history.
In a 68-page ruling, Judge Richard J. Leon of the District of Columbia called the program’s technology “almost Orwellian” and suggested that James Madison, the author of the Constitution, would be “aghast” to learn that the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way.
“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Judge Leon wrote. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”
Judge Leon stayed his injunction “in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues,” allowing the government time to appeal it, a matter that he said could take some six months.
Vanee Vines, a spokeswoman for the N.S.A., had no immediate comment on the ruling by Judge Leon, a 2002 appointee of President George W. Bush.
The ruling is the first successful legal challenge brought against the program since it was revealed in June after leaks by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden. It was brought by several plaintiffs led by Larry Klayman, a conservative public-interest lawyer. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a similar lawsuit in the Southern District of New York.
In a statement distributed by the journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was a recipient of leaked documents from Mr. Snowden and who wrote the first article about the bulk data collection, Mr. Snowden hailed the ruling.
“I acted on my belief that the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts,” Mr. Snowden said. “Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”
Though long and detailed, the ruling is not a final judgment, but rather a preliminary injunction to stop the data collection while the plaintiffs pursued the case. It turned on whether there was a substantial likelihood that they would ultimately succeed and whether they would suffer substantial harm in the meantime.
But Judge Leon left little doubt about his view.
“The question that I will ultimately have to answer when I reach the merits of this case someday is whether people have a reasonable expectation of privacy that is violated when the government, without any basis whatsoever to suspect them of any wrongdoing, collects and stores for five years their telephony metadata for purposes of subjecting it to high-tech querying and analysis without any case-by-case judicial approval,” he wrote. “For the many reasons set forth above, it is significantly likely that on that day, I will answer that question in plaintiffs’ favor.”"
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By cutting off federal funding for research and stymieing data collection and sharing, the National Rifle Association has tried to do to the study of gun violence what climate deniers have done to the science of global warming. No wonder: When it comes to hard numbers, some of the gun lobby’s favorite arguments are full of holes.
Myth #1: They’re coming for your guns.
Fact-check: No one knows the exact number of guns in America, but it’s clear there’s no practical way to round them all up (never mind that no one in Washington is proposing this). Yet if you fantasize about rifle-toting citizens facing down the government, you’ll rest easy knowing that America’s roughly 80 million gun owners already have the feds and cops outgunned by a factor of around 79 to 1.
Myth #2: Guns don’t kill people—people kill people.
Fact-check: People with more guns tend to kill more people—with guns. The states with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114% higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. Also, gun death rates tend to be higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership. Gun death rates are generally lower in states with restrictions such as assault-weapons bans or safe-storage requirements.
Myth #3: An armed society is a polite society.
Fact-check: Drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively.
• Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without.
• In states with Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot in self-defense, those policies have been linked to a 7 to 10% increase in homicides.
Myth #4: More good guys with guns can stop rampaging bad guys.
Fact-check: Mass shootings stopped by armed civilians in the past 30 years: 0
• Chances that a shooting at an ER involves guns taken from guards: 1 in 5
Myth #5: Keeping a gun at home makes you safer.
Fact-check: Owning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicide, suicide, and accidental death by gun.
• For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home.
• 43% of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked firearm.
• In one experiment, one third of 8-to-12-year-old boys who found a handgun pulled the trigger.
Myth #6: Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer.
Fact-check: In 2011, nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than bycivilians trying to stop a crime.
• In one survey, nearly 1% of Americans reported using guns to defend themselves or their property. However, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50% involved using guns in an aggressive manner, such as escalating an argument.
• A Philadelphia study found that the odds of an assault victim being shot were 4.5 times greater if he carried a gun. His odds of being killed were 4.2 times greater.
Myth #7: Guns make women safer.
Fact-check: In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.
• A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
• One study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in states with lower gun ownership rates.
Myth #9: More and more Americans are becoming gun owners.
Fact-check: More guns are being sold, but they’re owned by a shrinking portion of the population.
• About 50% of Americans said they had a gun in their homes in 1973. Today, about 45% say they do. Overall, 35% of Americans personally own a gun.
• Around 80% of gun owners are men. On average they own 7.9 guns each.
Myth #10: We don’t need more gun laws—we just need to enforce the ones we have.
Fact-check: Weak laws and loopholes backed by the gun lobby make it easier to get guns illegally.
• Around 40% of all legal gun sales involve private sellers and don’t require background checks.40% of prison inmates who used guns in their crimes got them this way.
• An investigation found 62% of online gun sellers were willing to sell to buyers who said they couldn’t pass a background check.
• 20% of licensed California gun dealers agreed to sell handguns to researchers posing as illegal “straw” buyers.
• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has not had a permanent director for 6 years, due to an NRA-backed requirement that the Senate approve nominees.
This article has been updated.
Icons in gun ownership chart: Handgun designed by Simon Child, rifle designed by Nadav Barkan, shotgun designed by Ammar Ceker, all from the Noun Project
Front page image by konstantynov/Shutterstock
It’s hardly a secret that the National Rifle Association’s political power obliterated last month’s Senate bill seeking to expand background checks on gun sales. But do you know exactly how much it costs the NRA to buy a politician’s vote?
Usually, the NRA’s cash infusion ensures that legislation to address gun violence doesn’t even materialize. But the Newtown, Connecticut massacre encouraged a single gun control measure to cautiously tip-toe out onto the Senate floor. Despite the fact that a vast majority of Americans – and an overwhelming majority of NRA members  – support expanded background checks, certain senators allowed the sizeable donations they had received from the NRA, as well as the fear of future NRA-fueled backlash, to influence their vote.
So, what kind of cash could compel elected officials to aid and abet criminals, the mentally ill and terrorists by leaving open loopholes from them to purchase weapons? In the most recent election cycle, the NRA paid a total of $293,749  to buy the votes of 38 of the 45 people who voted to kill the background check bill.
NRA donations to individual senators in the latest cycle are listed at the end of the post; here is the quick analysis:
About 85 percent of the senators who voted against gun sale background checks had received NRA donations during their latest campaign.
Among these senators, the average NRA campaign contribution was $7,730 for one election cycle.
The NRA’s favorite senators, who hold the group’s “A+” rating, earned 27 percent more cash, on average. The 10 senators with “A+” ratings who opposed background checks together took in $97,950, or an average of $9,795 each in their last campaign.
The largest amount the NRA donated to a single politician in one cycle was $19,800, which went to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Of the seven senators (not counting Harry Reid ) who voted against expanded background checks without benefiting from a recent NRA contribution, three are Democrats. A fourth, Roy Blunt (R-MO), did receive nearly $10,000 from the NRA for his 2010 House race before getting skipped over for his 2012 Senate race. A fifth senator, Daniel Coats (R-IN), only holds a “C+” rating from the NRA.
NRA Spent $100 Million Influencing Politics Since 1990s
The nearly $300,000 the NRA spent to keep its grip on the Senate in recent years is only the tip of the iceberg. The gun rights group has continually flooded Washington with cash since OpenSecrets.org started keeping track two decades ago:
Since 1990, the nation’s biggest gun lobby group has shelled out a total of $21.3 million on campaign contributions.
The NRA has spent an additional $29.9 million on lobbying since 1998.
At least $19.8 million of additional outside spending has funded ads, a number which doesn’t appear to include the reported $25 million4 spent just on the 2012 election cycle.
It’s clear the NRA’s immutable and extreme positions serve only to protect the profits of gun manufacturers. No other reasonable interpretation exists for its extreme partisanship over the clear desires of the membership it claims to represent. After all, three in four NRA households  support expanded background checks. Overall, 73 percent of Americans  believe the Senate should try again to pass legislation expanding background checks.
No Hope For House Background Check Bill
Reps. Pete King (R-NY) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) would like to bring the same background check bill  that failed in the Senate to the House floor for a vote, an extremely unlikely prospect given the death grip the NRA currently holds in the chamber.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pocketed $12,450  in NRA cash in the last cycle, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) raked in $19,850 . That is just the beginning – more than half of House members (242  representatives) have an “A” rating with the NRA.
The more people who are aware of the connection between campaign contributions and voting records, the more transparent politics will be. Citizens have a responsibility to hold their lawmakers accountable. Consider sharing this information to help pierce the NRA armor.
Recent NRA Donations to 45 Senators Who Killed Expanded Background Checks
Below is a senator-by-senator, state-by-state breakdown of what the NRA spent in campaign donations in each senator’s most recent election cycle. Everyone listed has an “A” NRA rating unless otherwise noted. The “N/A” designation means they were one of the seven who the NRA did not fund.
The New York Times has put together a terrific interactive map with the same information.
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), $4,500
Mark Begich (D-AK), N/A
Jeff Sessions (R-AL), A+, $4,950
Richard Shelby (R-AL), A+. $13,400
John Boozman, (R-AR), $4,950
Mark Pryor (D-AR), C-, N/A
Jeff Flake (R-AZ), $6,950
Marco Rubio (R-FL), B+. $4,950
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), A+, $12,200
Johnny Isakson (R-GA), $2,500
Chuck Grassley (R-IA), $6,950
Jim Risch (R-ID), A+, $14,850
Michael D. Crapo (R-ID), A+, $5950
Daniel Coats (R-IN), C+, N/A
Jerry Moran (R-KS), $7,950
Pat Roberts (R-KS), $5,950
Mitch McConnell (R-KY), $19,800
Rand Paul (R-KY), N/A
David Vitter (R-LA), $4,950
Roy Blunt (R-MO), N/A in Senate Race, however Blunt received $9,900 from the NRA in his 2010 House race.
Thad Cochran (R-MS), $8,500
Roger Wicker (R-MS), A+. $13,350
Max Baucus (D-MT), A+, $7,450
Richard Burr (R-NC), $7,900
Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), N/A
John Hoeven (R-ND), $4,950
Mike Johanns (R-NE), $4,800
Deb Fischer (R-NE), $4,950
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), N/A
Harry Reid  (D-NV), B, $8,950
Dean Heller (R-NV), $9,900
Rob Portman (R-OH), $9,900
Tom Coburn (R-OK). $2,000
James M. Inhofe (R-OK), A+. $8,400
Lindsey Graham (R-SC), $7,400
Tim Scott (R-SC), $2,000
John Thune (R-SD), A+, $7,500
Bob Corker (R-TN), $4,950
Lamar Alexander (R-TN), $9,900
John Cornyn (R-TX), $12,450
Ted Cruz (R-TX), A+. $9,900
Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT), $5,000
Mike Lee (R-UT), $2,500
Ron Johnson (R-WI), $5,950
John Barrasso (R-WY), $17,349
Michael B. Enzi (R-WY), $5,950
 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) $8,950 donation from the NRA is not included in the donation averages because he reportedly voted against the bill only as a procedural move to allow him to re-introduce it later.
 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) reportedly voted against the expanded background check bill as a procedural move to allow him to re-introduce it later.
And today we no longer fight to become Europe, we fight to remain Ukraine
After police used brutal force to disperse week-long anti-government protests in Kyiv on November 30, protesters have returned to the streets in greater numbers and are demanding the government’s resignation.
Yesterday in Thailand, riot cops yield to peaceful protesters by removing barricades AND their helmets in a shocking gesture of solidarity.
Protesters toppled a monument to Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin on Sunday during the biggest march and rally in central Kiev since President Viktor Yanukovich galvanized his opposition by turning down a trade deal with the European Union.
ICYMI, they toppled the Lenin statue, a pivotal part of the uprising against the government’s decision to align with Russia over the EU. The opposition has called a 48 hour ultimatum to have the prime minister disband the government before marching into his private residence. Watch this set of news.