Tag Archives: Senate

A 16-Year Old Programmer Just Made a Plugin That Shows Where Politicians Get Their Funding

Nicholas Rubin is a 16-year old self-taught computer programmer from Seattle, Washington. He is also the inventor of Greenhouse, a new browser plugin that let’s you know exactly where politicians get their campaign funding from.

When the plugin is active, the names of House or Senate members on any given webpage are highlighted. All you have to do is hover your mouse over the name of a politician, and a box will pop up showing all the industries and groups that contributed funds to their campaign, as well as how much the politician got from each sector.

What the plugin looks like in action. Click to enlarge

The box also shows you what percentage of their contributions came from small donors (contributions of less than $200), and let’s you know whether or not they are in favor of reforming our relatively seedy campaign finance system.

Here’s the statement that Nicholas released with the plugin:

“It is my hope that providing increased transparency around the amount and source of funding of our elected representatives may play a small role in educating citizens and promoting change. If you use the extension when reading about a Congressional vote on energy policy, for example, maybe you’ll discover that a sponsor of a bill has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry. Or maybe you’ll learn that the top donors to a member of Congress who opposes tort reform are lawyers and law firms. I use data from the last full election cycle (2012) and plan to update it as more relevant data becomes available. Special thanks to OpenSecrets.org for providing access to that data.

The motto of Greenhouse is: “Some are red. Some are blue. All are green.” What it signifies is that the influence of money on our government isn’t a partisan issue. Whether Democrat or Republican, we should all want a political system that is independent of the influence of big money and not dependent on endless cycles of fundraising from special interests. The United States of America was founded to serve individuals, not big interests or big industries. Yet every year we seem to move farther and farther away from our Founders’ vision.”

I must say this is one of the best ideas I have ever seen to combat against the influence of special interest groups on our political system.

For years, politicians have pretended to personally care about issues when, more often than not, the truth is that they were bribed by that industry (through campaign finance) to make decisions that  would help the industry.

I don’t think this will make politicians At the very least, it will make politicians think twice about where they get their contributions from.

You can download the Greenhouse plugin for free here. (NOTE: because of the plugins popularity, Greenhouse’s homepage was down when this story was published, but I’m sure they will have it back up and running soon.)

(h/t Represent.Us)

The CIA vs. The Senate: Spying and Surveillance Takes A New Turn

Diane Feinstein is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. When Edward Snowden made his revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance program, Feinstein criticized him, saying she believed the program was not only constitutional but necessary to protect the country from attack.

But after the CIA spied on her Senate Committee, she changed her tune quite a bit. Today she took to the Senate floor to warn that the increasing power of the CIA threatens the Constitutional division of power.

Feinstein after speaking with the Senate (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Feinstein after speaking with the Senate (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Here’s the background story.

Feinstein’s Intelligence Committee has been investigating the CIA since December of 2007, when the New York Times revealed that the agency had destroyed tapes of its agents using “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Feinstein recalled her first briefing on this issue:

“The resulting staff report was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us.”

Feinstein said that the CIA did everything they could to hinder the investigation, including hiring a team of, “outside contractors–who otherwise would not have had access to these sensitive documents,” to read through all the documents (6.2 million pages worth) multiple times.

Also, while this was going on, documents that Senate staffers found and marked as interesting would then mysteriously disappear from the CIA’s system.

Black Sites. Source: Wikimedia Commons
“Black Sites”- countries that hosted secret CIA prisons outside US jurisdiction. Source: Wikimedia Commons

It got so bad that the Senate committee decided to move the investigation from the CIA-leased facility that had been hosting them to a Senate office building.

Defending the decision to move the investigation, Feinstein said,

“As I have detailed, the CIA has previously withheld and destroyed information about its Detention and Interrogation Program … there was a need to preserve and protect the Internal Panetta Review in the committee’s own secure spaces.”

The CIA responded by hacking the computers the committee was using at the old site, and then having their top lawyer file a crimes report with the Department of Justice against the committee’s staff.

This really got Feinstein going. Here’s her response:

“I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center–the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the Detention and Interrogation Program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study. And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff–the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers–including the acting general counsel himself–provided inaccurate information to the Justice Department about the program.”

Edward Snowden, who spoke at South by Southwest Interactive Festival yesterday, called out Feinstein for being a hypocrite, comparing her to German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

“It’s clear the CIA was trying to play ‘keep away’ with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that’s a serious constitutional concern. But it’s equally if not more concerning that we’re seeing another ‘Merkel Effect,’ where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”

White House Spokesman Jay Carney (Photo: AP)
White House Spokesman Jay Carney (Photo: AP)

Where’s the president in all this mess? Well, Obama has avoided speaking directly about it, but White House spokesman Jay Carney said,

“The president has great confidence in [current CIA director] John Brennan and confidence in our intelligence community and in our professionals at the CIA.”

Read more from the Huffington Post here.

Feature image courtesy of Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Government Adds $75 Million to NSA Budget to Avoid Future Snowdens

The House Intelligence Committee approved a new spending bill for the National Security Agency (NSA) on Thursday. Included in the new spending bill was an additional $75 million dollars to,

improve its internal security and mitigate insider threats to classified material.”

That’s pretty much as close as you can get to saying, “make sure there’s no more Ed Snowdens” without saying it outright.

Interestingly enough, the NSA had already deployed security software (purchased from the massive defense contracting corporation Raytheon) to prevent insider leaks before Edward Snowden made his revelations. However, the system had yet to be installed at the station in Hawaii that Snowden worked at due to,

the limitations of the station’s network connection back to the continental US.”

Apparently there weren’t many limitations on the station’s network connection to Wikileaks!

Read the full story here.

Thought We Were Done Bailing Out Wall Street? Not So Fast

Thought We Were Done Bailing Out Wall Street? Not So Fast

(click link above for full story)

After taxpayers were burdened with the cost of bailing out the irresponsible gambling of Wall Street following the housing bubble burst and consequent recession in 2008, Congress passed legislation known as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to make it so these financial institutions could not get paid for losses sustained in particularly risky investments (like the derivatives which crashed the market and forced us to bail them out in the first place).

Recently, however, The House of Representatives oh so quietly voted to repeal these very protections. In fact, the legislation, known officially as the Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act, was co-sponsored by a bi-partisan group of 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats (The vote passed 292-122, with 70 of the 200 Democrats in the House joining 222 of the 231 Republicans).

It seems Congress can shutdown the government over funding a law, but when it comes to funding their high-stakes Wall Street gambling buddies they can come together for the greater good of the…er…banks.

I guess this isn’t surprising though. In total, House member received $22.4million dollars in campaign funding from lobbyist groups in favor of this bill (around 6 times the contributions from groups opposed). Even better, 70 of the 85 lines in this bill are copied almost word for word from a piece of model legislation written by lobbyists for Citigroup, a bank that was bailed out to the tune of $45billion following the recession.

Way to represent your constituencies, House of Representatives.