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Council Members Call For More Openness in San Jose's Permit Process

Two San Jose council members say their city makes it too tough on small business owners who want to open shop or expand.

CPUC to File Revised PG&E Penalty

The California Public Utilities Commission is set to file a revised penalty proposal Monday for PG&E’s part in the fatal San Bruno gas line explosion.

Will the U.S. Supreme Court Reverse California Redistricting?

In 2010, California voters approved a new way of redrawing congressional districts as a way to combat partisan gerrymandering. The state took the power away from the Legislature and put it in the hands of a nonpartisan citizen commission. But California's system could be threatened by a case now pending at the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the court heard arguments in a challenge to Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission, where Arizona legislative leaders argued that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures exclusive control of congressional elections.

Lawmaker Wants State To Collect Data on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

State agencies already collect information about our sex and race. A bill introduced in Sacramento on Thursday would require them to start asking about our sexual orientation and gender identity.

PBS NewsHour

Pentagon chief considers relaxing age restrictions for military enlistment

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In a speech at his former high school today, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said the military needs to be more flexible in order to recruit and retain quality people. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

ABINGTON, Pa. — Saying the military needs to do more to compete with corporate America for quality recruits, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opened the door Monday to relaxing some enlistment standards — particularly for high-tech or cyber security jobs.

Speaking to students at his former suburban Philadelphia high school, Carter said the military could ease age requirements and bring in older people who are mid-career, or provide student loan repayments to attract students who have finished college.

There are few details so far, but Carter said the military needs to be more flexible in order to recruit and retain quality people.

The idea, largely in line with the civilian approach to recruitment, upends the military’s more rigid mindset, which puts a high value on certain standards. It reignites a persistent debate about how the services approve waivers for recruits who have committed lesser crimes, behaved badly, are older than current regulations allow or have other physical issues that prevent them from joining the military.

According to Pentagon documents and officials, Carter sees recruitment and retention as major challenges to a military coming out of two wars and facing turmoil around the world.

Specifically, the Pentagon pointed to cyber jobs as an area where standards — such as age or minor drug offenses — could be relaxed. Military leaders have long complained that it is difficult to attract and keep cyber professionals in the services because they can make far more money in private industry.

This is not the first time, however, that the services have looked to reduced restrictions as a way to entice more recruits.

During 2006-2007, the military steadily increased the number of bad behavior waivers as the services — particularly the Army and Marine Corps — struggled to meet deployment demands in Iraq and Afghanistan. The services let in more recruits with criminal records, including some with felony convictions, in order to meet recruiting quotas.

And in some cases, the services relaxed age restrictions, allowing older people to enlist or rejoin the military.

But as the wars dragged on and suicides, sexual assaults and other bad behavior by service members spiked, military leaders began to question whether there was a link to the relaxed enlistment standards.

Carter also is considering other changes to help ensure the military attracts the best and brightest, including programs to pay off student debt, improvements to the retirement, promotion and evaluation systems and doing more to allow sabbaticals for service members.

There has been much discussion lately about allowing service members to participate in 401(k)-type programs, because as much as 80 percent of the people who enlist don’t stay in service long enough to earn retirement benefits.

Carter talked about some of his ideas during his stop at Abington Senior High outside Philadelphia.

In a speech to more than 1,000 students, Carter said the military is going to have to work harder to compete with corporate America for highly-skilled graduates.

“Because we too often talk about sacrifice alone, which is no small thing, we probably don’t spend enough time highlighting the opportunities that exist and the fulfillment one has from achieving excellence and doing it in service to your country,” said Carter, a member of Abington’s class of 1972. “No one should gloss over the hardships or the dangers of military life, but I do want you to understand how fulfilling and rewarding military life can be also.”

Carter also alluded to his lack of military service, telling students that, “you don’t have to join the military service to serve your country, I didn’t.”

But he said “the military, and public service as a whole is worthy of your respect, worthy of your support and worth of your consideration.”

After visiting his former high school, Carter will travel to Fort Drum, New York, home of the Army’s storied 10th Mountain Division, where he will meet with troops.

Brigades from the 10th Mountain Division served as anchor units in eastern Afghanistan for much of the war, particularly during the early years when the U.S. had only a smaller force there. For many years they rotated with brigades from the 82nd Airborne Division.

And on Tuesday, he will visit Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

The Defense Department has launched a partnership with the institute and the Schultz Family Foundation for a program called Onward to Opportunity, which will provide industry-specific training and job placement assistance for service members and their spouses as the troops leave the military.

The post Pentagon chief considers relaxing age restrictions for military enlistment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

AP: NSA weighed ending phone program before Snowden leak

Video still by PBS NewsHour

Video still by PBS NewsHour

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency considered abandoning its secret program to collect and store American calling records in the months before leaker Edward Snowden revealed the practice, current and former intelligence officials say, because some officials believed the costs outweighed the meager counterterrorism benefits.

After the leak and the collective surprise around the world, NSA leaders strongly defended the phone records program to Congress and the public, but without disclosing the internal debate.

The proposal to kill the program was circulating among top managers but had not yet reached the desk of Gen. Keith Alexander, then the NSA director, according to current and former intelligence officials who would not be quoted because the details are sensitive. Two former senior NSA officials say they doubt Alexander would have approved it.

Still, the behind-the-scenes NSA concerns, which have not been reported previously, could be relevant as Congress decides whether to renew or modify the phone records collection when the law authorizing it expires in June.

The internal critics pointed out that the already high costs of vacuuming up and storing the “to and from” information from nearly every domestic landline call were rising, the system was not capturing most cellphone calls, and the program was not central to unraveling terrorist plots, the officials said. They worried about public outrage if the program ever was revealed.

After the program was disclosed, civil liberties advocates attacked it, saying the records could give a secret intelligence agency a road map to Americans’ private activities. NSA officials presented a forceful rebuttal that helped shape public opinion.

Responding to widespread criticism, President Barack Obama in January 2014 proposed that the NSA stop collecting the records, but instead request them when needed in terrorism investigations from telephone companies, which tend to keep them for 18 months.

Yet the president has insisted that legislation is required to adopt his proposal, and Congress has not acted. So the NSA continues to collect and store records of private U.S. phone calls for use in terrorism investigations under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Many lawmakers want the program to continue as is.

Alexander argued that the program was an essential tool because it allows the FBI and the NSA to hunt for domestic plots by searching American calling records against phone numbers associated with international terrorists. He and other NSA officials support Obama’s plan to let the phone companies keep the data, as long as the government quickly can search it.

Civil liberties activists say it was never a good idea to allow a secret intelligence agency to store records of Americans’ private phone calls, and some are not sure the government should search them in bulk. They say the government can point to only a single domestic terrorism defendant who was implicated by a phone records search under the program, a San Diego taxi driver who was convicted of raising $15,000 for a Somali terrorist group.

Some fault NSA for failing to disclose the internal debate about the program.

“This is consistent with our experience with the intelligence community,” said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. “Even when we have classified briefings, it’s like a game of 20 questions and we can’t get to the bottom of anything.”

The proposal to halt phone records collection that was circulating in 2013 was separate from a 2009 examination of the program by NSA, sparked by objections from a senior NSA official, reported in November by The Associated Press. In that case, a senior NSA code breaker learned about the program and concluded it was wrong for the agency to collect and store American records. The NSA enlisted the Justice Department in an examination of whether the search function could be preserved with the records stored by the phone companies.

That would not work without a change in the law, the review concluded. Alexander, who retired in March 2014, opted to continue the program as is.

But the internal debate continued, current and former officials say, and critics within the NSA pressed their case against the program. To them, the program had become an expensive insurance policy with an increasing number of loopholes, given the lack of mobile data. They also knew it would be deeply controversial if made public.

By 2013, some NSA officials were ready to stop the bulk collection even though they knew they would lose the ability to search a database of U.S. calling records. As always, the FBI still would be able to obtain the phone records of suspects through a court order.

There was a precedent for ending collection cold turkey. Two years earlier, the NSA cited similar cost-benefit calculations when it stopped another secret program under which it was collecting Americans’ email metadata — information showing who was communicating with whom, but not the content of the messages. That decision was made public via the Snowden leaks.

Alexander believed that the FBI and the NSA were still getting crucial value out of the phone records program, in contrast to the email records program, former NSA officials say.

After the Snowden leaks, independent experts who looked at the program didn’t agree. A presidential task force examined NSA surveillance and recommended ending the phone records collection, saying it posed unacceptable privacy risks while doing little if anything to stop terrorism. The task force included Michael Morell, a former deputy CIA director, and Richard Clarke, a former White House counter terrorism adviser.

“We cannot discount the risk, in light of the lessons of our own history, that at some point in the future, high-level government officials will decide that this massive database of extraordinarily sensitive private information is there for the plucking,” the report said. Times, dates and numbers called can provide a window into a person’s activities and connections.

A separate inquiry by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded the same thing.

David Medine, chairman of that board, said the concerns raised internally by NSA officials were the same as theirs, yet when NSA officials came before the privacy board, they “put on a pretty strong defense for the program. Except their success stories didn’t pan out,” he said.

The post AP: NSA weighed ending phone program before Snowden leak appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

What does an Arab League joint military force mean for the crisis in Yemen?

YEMEN-CONFLICT-TAEZ

Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The decision today by the 21 nations of the Arab League to create a joint military force because of the crisis in Yemen raises the question, why didn’t the organization mobilize the same way to fight ISIS in Iraq?

For more about this and for the latest on the military situation in Iraq, we are joined via Skype by Matt Bradley of The Wall Street Journal.

So, why is it that the Arab states very quickly got involved in Yemen — it’s almost a proxy war for Shia and Sunni states — but that’s not the case in Iraq?

MATT BRADLEY, The Wall Street Journal:  Well, they did get involved rather quickly in Iraq.

The problem was, was that Iraq was led at the time, on June 10, when Islamic State rampaged through Northern Iraq, they were — Iraq was led by Nouri al-Maliki, who was a personal problem for many of the Sunni Arab leaders in the region.

So, he was considered to be very closely aligned with Iran, but also a lot of the Sunni leaders in the region simply just didn’t like him.  They didn’t consider him to be a reliable partner.  And now it’s part of the reason why some of the Sunni states, such as Saudi Arabia, were so reluctant to get behind Maliki’s effort to repel Islamic State.

And in some ways, they were more than willing sort of tacitly back Islamic State, until they found out the true nature of the threat.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  In Iraq, how likely are we to see any ground forces from the Arab League or even part of the U.S. coalition?

MATT BRADLEY:  It doesn’t seem like there’s going to be ground forces from the Arab League any time soon.

The Arab League ground forces is — is not — is not a fully developed force quite yet.  And so that would have to — if that were to be deployed, it would be quite a long time in the future.

I don’t think that the United States or the Iraqis or the Iranians, for that matter, have the kind of patience to wait for a fully developed Arab League force to come together strategically, militarily, and legally to form that kind of legal apparatus that would build an Arab army that has long been the dream of many of the Sunni Arab states.

And they want to move to Mosul later this year and retake Iraq’s second largest city from Islamic State, before that city stays too long under Islamic State control and really atrophies economically and politically.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, what is an update on the fighting in the battle for Tikrit?

MATT BRADLEY:  Well, Tikrit is now entering — tomorrow, it will be entering the fourth week of its — of the assault on Tikrit.

And what was so unusual about this was that these Iranian-backed militias started the fight in Tikrit on March 2.

And they didn’t warn the United States, and they didn’t make any effort to coordinate with U.S. airstrikes that have successfully repelled some Islamic State elements throughout the country and in Syria, especially in Kobani, where the United States was really flogging Islamic State.

So, for the first two weeks, these Iranian-backed Shiite militias were able to repel Islamic State from the areas outside of Tikrit.  But once it entered the third week, the fight sort of stalled.

And that is when, after a couple of days of that impasse, Baghdad went to the United States and asked them to intervene.  And so the United States said, we will intervene, as long as these Shiite militias take a backseat role in the continuing fighting in Tikrit.

So what we are seeing now is a very difficult moment, where these Shiite militias have been asked to sort of withdraw from the front lines while the United States moves forward.

But, without these Shiite militias, who are backed by Iran, in Tikrit, the United States doesn’t have a strong, reliable, on-the-ground partner capable of moving in to Tikrit and really liberating it from Islamic State.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, Matt Bradley of The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

MATT BRADLEY:  Thank you.

The post What does an Arab League joint military force mean for the crisis in Yemen? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

NSA considered scrapping phone program before Snowden leaks

National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers testifies before a House (Select) Intelligence Committee hearing in
         Washington November 20, 2014. The NSA considered abandoning its secret program to collect and store American call records
         before leaker Edward Snowden revealed the practice, intelligence officials say. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers testifies before a House (Select) Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington November 20, 2014. The NSA considered abandoning its secret program to collect and store American call records before leaker Edward Snowden revealed the practice, intelligence officials say. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency considered abandoning its secret program to collect and store American calling records in the months before leaker Edward Snowden revealed the practice, current and former intelligence officials say, because some officials believed the costs outweighed the meager counterterrorism benefits.

After the leak and the collective surprise around the world, NSA leaders strongly defended the phone records program to Congress and the public, but without disclosing the internal debate.

The proposal to kill the program was circulating among top managers but had not yet reached the desk of Gen. Keith Alexander, then the NSA director, according to current and former intelligence officials who would not be quoted because the details are sensitive. Two former senior NSA officials say they doubt Alexander would have approved it.

Still, the behind-the-scenes NSA concerns, which have not been reported previously, could be relevant as Congress decides whether to renew or modify the phone records collection when the law authorizing it expires in June.

The internal critics pointed out that the already high costs of vacuuming up and storing the “to and from” information from nearly every domestic landline call were rising, the system was not capturing most cellphone calls, and program was not central to unraveling terrorist plots, the officials said. They worried about public outrage if the program ever was revealed.

After the program was disclosed, civil liberties advocates attacked it, saying the records could give a secret intelligence agency a road map to Americans’ private activities. NSA officials presented a forceful rebuttal that helped shaped public opinion.

Responding to widespread criticism, President Barack Obama in January 2014 proposed that the NSA stop collecting the records, but instead request them when needed in terrorism investigations from telephone companies, which tend to keep them for 18 months.

Yet the president has insisted that legislation is required to adopt his proposal, and Congress has not acted. So the NSA continues to collect and store records of private U.S. phone calls for use in terrorism investigations under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Many lawmakers want the program to continue as is.

Alexander argued that the program was an essential tool because it allows the FBI and the NSA to hunt for domestic plots by searching American calling records against phone numbers associated with international terrorists. He and other NSA officials support Obama’s plan to let the phone companies keep the data, as long as the government quickly can search it.

Civil liberties activists say it was never a good idea to allow a secret intelligence agency to store records of Americans’ private phone calls, and some are not sure the government should search them in bulk. They say government can point to only a single domestic terrorism defendant who was implicated by a phone records search under the program, a San Diego taxi driver who was convicted of raising $15,000 for a Somali terrorist group.

Some fault NSA for failing to disclose the internal debate about the program.

“This is consistent with our experience with the intelligence community,” said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. “Even when we have classified briefings, it’s like a game of 20 questions and we can’t get to the bottom of anything.”

The proposal to halt phone records collection that was circulating in 2013 was separate from a 2009 examination of the program by NSA, sparked by objections from a senior NSA official, reported in November by The Associated Press. In that case, a senior NSA code breaker learned about the program and concluded it was wrong for the agency to collect and store American records. The NSA enlisted the Justice Department in an examination of whether the search function could be preserved with the records stores by the phone companies.

That would not work without a change in the law, the review concluded. Alexander, who retired in March 2014, opted to continue the program as is.

But the internal debate continued, current and former officials say, and critics within the NSA pressed their case against the program. To them, the program had become an expensive insurance policy with an increasing number of loopholes, given the lack of mobile data. They also knew it would be deeply controversial if made public.

By 2013, some NSA officials were ready to stop the bulk collection even though they knew they would lose the ability to search a database of U.S. calling records. As always, the FBI still would be able to obtain the phone records of suspects through a court order.

There was a precedent for ending collection cold turkey. Two years earlier, the NSA cited similar cost-benefit calculations when it stopped another secret program under which it was collecting Americans’ email metadata – information showing who was communicating with whom, but not the content of the messages. That decision was made public via the Snowden leaks.

Alexander believed that the FBI and the NSA were still getting crucial value out of the phone records program, in contrast to the email records program, former NSA officials say.

After the Snowden leaks, independent experts who looked at the program didn’t agree. A presidential task force examined NSA surveillance and recommended ending the phone records collection, saying it posed unacceptable privacy risks while doing little if anything to stop terrorism. The task force included Michael Morell, a former deputy CIA director, and Richard Clarke, a former White House counter terrorism adviser.

“We cannot discount the risk, in light of the lessons of our own history, that at some point in the future, high-level government officials will decide that this massive database of extraordinarily sensitive private information is there for the plucking,” the report said. Times, dates and numbers called can provide a window into a person’s activities and connections.

A separate inquiry by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded the same thing.

David Medine, chairman of that board, said the concerns raised internally by NSA officials were the same as theirs, yet when NSA officials came before the privacy board, they “put on a pretty strong defense for the program. Except their success stories didn’t pan out,” he said.

The post NSA considered scrapping phone program before Snowden leaks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.