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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 7/6/2013

Drones:  The Border Patrol owns drones. We know that. But now we know that they “lend” them to domestic law enforcement agencies “to investigate fishing violations, search for missing persons, and inspect levees along the Mississippi River, among other things.” (NY Times)

 

Censorship:  The U.S. Army has blocked the entire Guardian website, the paper that reported Edward Snowden’s leaked documents, from its troops in the Middle East and Asia. (Guardian) I guess our troops aren’t considered citizens.

 

NSA Spying:  Documents released by Edward Snowden disclosed that the National Security Agency was not only spying on European citizens, it had also bugged “buildings housing European Union institutions” in Washington D.C. And the European Union’s computer network was also infiltrated. “In this way, the Americans were able to access discussions in EU rooms as well as emails and internal documents on computers.” (Der Spiegel) Will this have any impact on the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations? (TWW, TPP, 6/1/13)

 

Bolivia:  President Evo Morales’ plane from Russia was re-routed - at American insistence - to Austria on the suspicion that it was carrying Edward Snowden. The plane and the president was delayed 14 hours while a search was conducted. Apparently France, Spain, and Portugal “all refused to let it through their airspace.” Needless to say, Morales is pissed. (Guardian)

 

Egypt:  Demonstrations in the last couple of weeks have resulted in the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The military sided with the people and removed him. Morsi barely won the election last year and promised an “inclusive” government, but he demonized his opponents and sought Sharia law, really pissing off the women. The chief justice of the constitutional court, Adli Mansour, will become acting president. (NY Times) The military issued warrants for up to 300 members of the Muslim Brotherhood. (Guardian)

 

EU:  Croatia became the 28th member of the European Union. (Reuters)

 

France:  It’s using many of the same programs to spy on its citizens that we use. (LaMonde) Ya think other EU countries are doing the same thing?

 

Russia:  They passed a law barring LGBT couples “in foreign countries” from adopting children. (AFP)

 

Tunisia:  They saw Egypt’s success and started their own protest. (Reuters)

 

Venezuela:  It offered asylum to Snowden. (NY Times)

 

Arizona:  It sued the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) for allowing DREAM students (TWW, DREAM Act, 6/16/12) to register as in-state students. After Obama relaxed the rules on children brought here illegally by their parents, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer issued an executive order preventing any agency from offering any services to them. (TWW, Arizona, 12/8/12) MCCCD grants in-state tuition to students with a valid work permit issued by the federal government as proof of residency. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has filed suit against MCCCD. (Arizona Public Media)

 

California:  The Supreme Court denied a petition from supporters of Proposition 8 to set aside the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ order last week to vacate the stay on marriage equality. (KQED)

 

Idaho:  They passed a law that places restrictions on the use of drones by government or law enforcement, “particularly when it comes to the gathering of evidence and surveillance of private property.” (New American)

 

Illinois:  Governor Pat Quinn (D) vetoed parts of a gun bill “that would have allowed people to carry more than one gun, carry guns into some places that serve alcohol, and carry a partly exposed gun.” He said that there are at least 9 provisions that made the bill flawed and presented “serious safety problems.” House Speaker Michael Madigan (D) and Senate President John Cullerton (D) said they can muster the votes to override the veto. (Reuters)

 

New Jersey:  Governor Chris Christie vetoed Medicaid expansion. (Reuters) Maybe he’s trying to get back in good graces with the far rightwing.

 

North Carolina:  It dropped long-term unemployment benefits. As many as 70,000 long-term unemployed workers will lose benefits so that the state can “repay debt more quickly.” North Carolina has the 5th largest unemployment rate at 8.8%. If you remember, the federal government passed an extension for long-term unemployment benefits but North Carolina’s Republican legislature cut the benefits and, thus, forfeits the federal funds. (BBC) Makes a lot of sense, huh?

 

Ohio:  Governor John Kasich signed the 2014 budget bill - surrounded by a group of white men. But he vetoed 22 amendments and left in place 5 amendments that defunded Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics, restricted transfer agreements for patients, put a gag on rape crisis centers from mentioning abortion to rape victims, and shifted money from Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) to “medically inaccurate faith-based crisis pregnancy centers.” There was also an amendment requiring forced ultrasounds as a condition for obtaining an abortion. (RH Reality Check)

 

Oregon:  The legislature passed a law creating a college fund for in-state residents. Students could go to school without paying tuition or borrowing money with a promise to pay it back after graduation to the tune of 3% of their paychecks “for a specified number of years” - about 25. The governor is expected to sign the bill. (Huffington Post)

 

Wisconsin:  Another attack on women. Wisconsin passed a bill which mandates that a woman get an ultrasound before getting an abortion. If it’s during the first trimester, this will require an invasive transvaginal probe. (The Cap Times)

 

Corporate Taxes:  According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), our largest, most profitable corporations have paid an effective tax rate of 12.6%, even though the statutory tax rate is 35%. How much are you paying? Even when they took into account state and local taxes and taxes paid to foreign nations, the rate only creeped up to 17%. The reductions were due to exemptions, deferrals, tax credits, and other incentives. Pepco Holdings, General Electric, DuPont, Verizon, Boeing, and Honeywell paid next to nothing. (Citizens for Tax Justice) Wells Fargo got $8 billion in tax breaks while executives at its subsidiary, Wachovia, avoided being indicted for laundering money for the Mexican drug cartels. (Guardian) And don’t forget that the corporate tax rate of 35% is the lowest in 60 years, and they want it to be even lower yet. (Citizens for Tax Justice) Tax havens cost us about $150 billion every year (Fact Coalition) and it’s estimated that U.S. corporations are holding about $1.6 trillion in offshore accounts. (Citizens for Tax Justice) One building in the Cayman Islands is the official location of 18,857 corporations. (GAO) Because of all these dodges, corporations, which used to pay 30% of all federal taxes, now pay less than 7%. (Fact Coalition) Guess who’s paying the rest. How are they getting away with it? Investments. Over the last 4-year election cycle, big corporations paid $216 million to Congress. In return they got $223 billion in tax breaks. (Public Interest Research Group) That's quite a return. Many of these are shell corporations, a risk to our national security. (Fact Coalition) Think it’s about time that something get done?

 

Student Loans:  The interest rate for student loans doubled on Monday, from 3.4% to 6.8%. (Washington Post) This is because Republicans blocked every bill to keep the rates low. Student loan debt has quadrupled in the last 10 years. (New York Federal Reserve) Yet the rich in this country are getting richer while the middle- and lower-class are stagnant. Les Leopold at Alternet asks why we can’t make Wall Street pick up the tab. Good question.

 

FBI Covered Up Plots:  The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund obtained FBI documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that showed that the FBI had knowledge of a plot to assassinate Occupy Wall Street leaders in Texas using silencer-equipped sniper rifles. However, the FBI didn’t bother to inform Occupy leaders or local police. Guess they didn’t care if people were murdered.

 

Marijuana:  A federal judge has ruled that the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the U.S. (maybe the world) can stay open while the city of Oakland fights a federal government effort to shut it down. (Reuters)

 

Obamacare:  The administration announced a one-year delay, until 2015, for the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) employer mandate to kick in. “96% of U.S. businesses have fewer than 50 employees and are already exempt from the mandate. The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 94% of firms with 50 to 199 employees already provide coverage - as do 98% of firms with 200 or more workers.” So what’s this all about? Employees who work 30 or more hours a week are considered “full time” under the law but more than one-third don’t cover employees. (McClatchy) These are the employers who are screwing their employees anyway, so now we’re going to give them leave to find a way to finagle out of health insurance? Also, I wonder if the administration can to it. The 2014 date is written in law. Doesn’t this take a new law?

 

Generic Drugs:  In light of the recent Supreme Court decision (TWW, Supremes on Generic Drugs, 6/29/13), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering allowing generic drug makers to change their safety labels, which may open them up to lawsuits. (NY Times)

 

Pre-Packaged Food:  80% of pre-packaged foods in the U.S. are banned in other countries. Lobbyists at work again. Examples: Froot Loops, Swanson dinners, Mountain Dew, frozen potato and bread products. (Yahoo) Babble has a list of the 11 worst pre-packaged kids’ food offenders: Cheese and sandwich crackers, sugary cereals, chicken nuggets, box Mac & Cheese, cereal bars, canned tuna, yogurt smoothies, hot dogs, pre-made lunch kits, frozen kids dinners, sport or fruit drinks.

 

Coal Residuals:  Rep. David McKinley (R, WV) has introduced H.R. 2218, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, which would amend a portion of the Solid Waste Disposal Act “to encourage recovery and beneficial use of coal combustion residuals and establish requirements for the proper management and disposal of coal combustion residuals that are protective of human health and the environment.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Coal combustion residuals (CCR) consist of “inorganic residues that remain after pulverized coal is burned.” This legislation would allow the states to create and enforce their own CCR permit programs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would have the authority to review their programs and, if inadequate, to step in and directly regulate CCRs. “The bill also would impose an intergovernmental and private-sector mandate on owners and operators of structures that receive CCR by establishing minimum federal requirements for the management and disposal of CCR.” Interestingly, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act regulates how much the government can force the private-sector to pay. For 2013 (it’s adjusted annually) that amount is $75 million. However, “given the number of private-sector entities that would need to take corrective action,” the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the costs of these mandates will probably exceed that limit, probably going to $150 million in 2013.

 

Bee Colony Collapse:  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sided with industry lobbyists and approved the use of neonicotinoid pesticides which have been “linked repeatedly to mass bee deaths, also known as Colony Collapse Disorder.” The EU recently banned this stuff. (Natural Society)

 

Algae Bloom:  Qingdao in east China has had algae blooms for the last 6 years. This year the bloom was twice as big as the last largest in 2008 and overtook the beach. It’s not dangerous to humans but it sucks the oxygen from the water, destroying sea life. It’s believed it’s being caused by pollution from agriculture and industry. (Guardian)

 

Jobs:  We added 195,000 jobs in June. The May numbers were revised upward from 175,000 jobs to 195,000 and the April numbers were revised upward from 149,000 to 199,000. Still, the unemployment rate remains unchanged at 7.6%. (Guardian) Heidi Shierholz pointed out that, 4 years into our recovery, we’re just a 5th of the way out of the hole left by the Great Recession. (Economic Policy Institute)

 

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