Nation briefs for January 20


Lawmakers: Surveillance idea will not work

WASHINGTON (AP) — A chief element of President Barack Obama’s attempt to overhaul U.S. surveillance will not work, leaders of Congress’ intelligence committees said Sunday, pushing back against the idea the government should cede control of how Americans’ phone records are stored.

Obama, under pressure to calm the controversy about government spying, said Friday he wants bulk phone data stored outside the government to reduce the risk the records will be abused. The president said he will require a special judge’s advance approval before intelligence agencies can examine someone’s data and will force analysts to keep their searches closer to suspected terrorists or organizations.

“And I think that’s a very difficult thing,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday. “Because the whole purpose of this program is to provide instantaneous information to be able to disrupt any plot that may be taking place.”

Under the surveillance program, the NSA gathers phone numbers called and the length of conversations, but not the content of the calls. Obama said the NSA sometimes needs to tap those records to find people linked to suspected terrorists. But he said eventually the bulk data should be stored somewhere out of the government’s hands. That could mean finding a way for phone companies to store the records, though some companies have balked at the idea, or it could mean creating a third-party entity to keep the records.

Feinstein, D-Calif., said many Americans don’t understand threats persist a dozen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“New bombs are being devised. New terrorists are emerging, new groups. Actually, a new level of viciousness. And I think we need to be prepared,” Feinstein said.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Obama intensified a sense of uncertainty about the country’s ability to root out terrorist threats. Obama didn’t say who should have control of Americans’ data; he directed the attorney general and director of national intelligence to find a solution within 60 days.

“We really did need a decision on Friday, and what we got was lots of uncertainty,” Rogers, R-Mich., said. “And just in my conversations over the weekend with intelligence officials, this new level of uncertainty is already having a bit of an impact on our ability to protect Americans by finding terrorists who are trying to reach into the United States.”

The lawmakers did praise the president for his defense of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

“First, I thought it was very important that the president laid out no abuses, this was not an illegal program, it wasn’t a rogue agency,” Rogers said.

Va. quickly emerging as key in gay marriage fight

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Almost overnight, Virginia emerged as a critical state in the nationwide fight to grant gay men and women the right to wed.

This purple state was once perceived as unfriendly and even bordering on hostile to gay rights. That’s changed after a seismic political shift in the top three elected offices, from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats who support gay marriage.

Two federal lawsuits challenging the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage are moving forward, and a hearing on one of the cases is scheduled Jan. 30.

With the recent court gains in Utah and Oklahoma, gay rights advocates are heartened by the new mood in Virginia. Symbolically, as well, they said, the challenges of the state’s gay marriage ban resonate because of the founding state’s history of erecting a wall between church and state and a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a Virginia couple and a past taboo: interracial marriage.

“Virginia is one of several important battlefronts where we have the opportunity now to build on the momentum, embrace the public’s movement in favor of the freedom to marry and end the discrimination,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of New York-based Freedom to Marry, which seeks to have same-sex marriage bans struck down nationwide.

With the election of Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring, the state made a hairpin turn away from the socially conservative officeholders they succeeded, particularly Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, an activist on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

Employers advertise most jobs since 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers advertised more jobs in November and more Americans quit, positive signs for millions who are unemployed and looking for work.

The Labor Department said Friday job openings rose 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted 4 million, the most in 5 1/2 years. And the number of people quitting increased 1.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted 2.4 million, a five-year high.

Job openings haven’t topped 4 million since March 2008, just a few months after the Great Recession began. Openings at that level are generally consistent with a healthy job market.

And more workers quitting can also be a positive signal because people usually quit when they either have a new job — typically for more pay — or are confident they can find one.

The data suggest the competition for jobs is getting a little bit easier. There were 2.7 unemployed workers for each available job in November, down from 6.7 just after the recession ended in July 2009. In a healthy economy the ratio is roughly 2 to 1.

 

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