Originally Published: 7/13/2013
NSA Spying: In 2007 the Bush administration, facing severe criticism about it’s warrantless wiretapping program, decided to turn more decision-making over to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). (NY Times) Since then, the FISC “has quietly become a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come.” One of their decisions took the Supreme Court’s principle of the “special needs” doctrine (IT Law Wiki) and applied it to the NSA’s “collection and examination of Americans’ communications data to track possible terrorists” so that it “does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment.” William C. Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University, said that this is “another way of tilting the scales toward the government in its access to all this data.” (NY Times) James Robertson, a former federal judge for the District of Columbia, was one of the judges selected to sit on FISC. He criticized the Bush changes which “turned the FISA court into an administrative agency making rules for others to follow.” (Guardian)
Microsoft Cooperation: Apparently Microsoft has cooperated with the NSA. Hell, cooperation is too soft; it’s been helping. It showed the NSA how to circumvent its own encryption “to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal.” It also “worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to ‘understand’ potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases.” After Microsoft bought Skype, “the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism.” (See Guardian for details of the Prism program.) The Guardian released information from more documents suppled by Edward Snowden. “Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a ‘team sport.’” (Guardian)
Insider Threat Program: This is another program aimed at federal departments and agencies nationwide, “including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration, and the Education and Agriculture departments.” McClatchy got documents showing that some agencies are using the program “to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for ‘high-risk persons or behaviors’ among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equaled with espionage.” Secrecy has gone too far. Now they’re mandating that federal employees spy on co-workers.
TAFTA: As you know, I’ve been very critical about and free-trade agreements. (TWW, TPP, 6/1/13) But it’s getting worse. Now we have another free-trade agreement being negotiated - TAFTA, the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, which “U.S. and European banks, agribusiness, and other powerful industry groups” have been pushing. (Public Citizen) It’s another way for corporations to take over the world. (TWW, Investor-State System, 6/1/13) The good news is that Edward Snowden’s revelations that the U.S. has been spying on France has caused French President Francois Hollande to rethink free-trade agreements with the U.S. (AP)
Ireland: Despite the movement in the U.S. to restrict women’s access to abortion, Ireland is moving in the other direction. It has had a ban on all abortions, but a bill just passed that would allow a woman to abort if her life is at risk or if she’s suicidal. (Guardian)
Kansas: Remember when people were talking about arming teachers in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings? Well, Kansas passed a law for teachers to go into the classroom packing. But they’ve run into a glitch. EMC Insurance, which insures 85% - 90% of all Kansas schools, has refused to renew their insurance coverage if teachers and custodians are allowed to carry concealed firearms on their campuses. “We’ve been writing school business for almost 40 years, and one of the underwriting guidelines we follow for schools is that any on-site armed security should be provided by uniformed, qualified law enforcement officers.” (USA Today)
North Carolina: For the past couple of months, activists have been staging “Moral Monday” to protest proposed anti-abortion bills. More than 700 people have been arrested. This past Monday, 2,000 people “flooded” the state capitol and 64 were arrested. The bill was passed this week by the senate which requires abortion clinics to conform to the same safety standards as ambulatory centers, “a requirement currently met by only one of the state’s clinics.” (The Nation) That’s not all North Carolina nut-jobs are up to. Both the Senate and the House have tax plans that would eliminate the earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) which helps more than 900,000 workers earning low wages. The plans “would give huge tax cuts to the wealthy and profitable businesses while failing to address the state’s flawed tax system. (North Carolina Justice Center)
South Carolina: In January 2012 state attorney general Alan Wilson requested the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate claims by Kevin Shwedo, Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, that more than 900 persons who were deceased voted in the last election. So, they investigated. The State Election Commission found that whatever issues existed were usually due to human error, like a clerical mistake or scanning problem and not because anyone intentionally impersonated a deceased person. For example, hundreds of errors were due to mistakes like confusing a father and son who share the same name. (Charlotte Observer)
Texas: The Texas House of Representatives rolled out their anti-abortion bill again. (TWW, Texas, 6/29/13) 28-year-old Sarah Slamen wanted to voice her concern. She was dragged out. (You Tube) The House passed it on Wednesday. (CNN) The Senate passed it on Friday. Governor Rick Perry will sign it next week. (NY Times) Remember the Schoolhouse Rock! song “I’m Just a Bill?” Texas has its own version. (DailyDot)
Washington D.C.: The city council gave final approval to a bill the requires some large retailers to pay their employees a 50% premium over the city’s minimum wage. Walmart had warned that this would jeopardize their plans for 3 new stores in the District. (Washington Post)
Wisconsin: U. S. District Judge William Conley issued a temporary restraining order against the enforcement of the new anti-abortion bill. (TWW, Wisconsin, 7/6/13) The restraining order will remain in effect until a hearing July 17th. Planned Parenthood brought the suit. (Wisconsin State Journal)
Marijuana Has Been Patented: By the United States. U.S. Patent #6630507, filed 2/2/01 and granted October 2003, was issued to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for cannabinoids. Inventors are listed as Aidan J. Hampson of Irvine, CA; Julius Axelrod of Rockville, MD; and Maurizio Grimaldi of Bethesda, MD. All the “inventors” worked for the National Institutes Mental Health (NIMH) at the time of their “invention.” (LinkedIn) (Profiles in Science) (Southern Research). This is why the U.S. holds the patent - the researchers worked for the government.
Marijuana-Benefits: The patent is for cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants. The abstract states that “Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties” which make them “useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases.” They also found that cannabinoids can limit neurological damage following strokes or other traumas, and aid in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and HIV dementia. This is all in direct contradiction to the Fact Sheet issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which tells us how bad marijuana is. So, federal government, which is it? Obviously it’s the one that brings the DEA the most money with which to employ thousands of law enforcement thugs who pursue marijuana growers and users. Read the list of news releases on all the stuff they’re doing. I wonder how much this costs us.
Marijuana-Supporters: The American Medical Association (AMA) wants cannabinoid-based medicines to be developed. Notice that “medicines” implies that a pharmaceutical company is producing them. Supporters include the American Glaucoma Society which says that marijuana can lower intraocular pressure. (International Business Times) 76% of U.S. doctors and 78% of doctors internationally say they would approve the use of marijuana. (CBS) Barron’s, the news weekly published by Dow Jones, has as its cover story an article that basically supports the legalization of marijuana. Guess they figured out a way to make money off of it when its legal - and it must be as much as they make off of it being illegal. Maybe they don’t know about the U.S. patent.
Marijuana-States: States have been passing laws approving medical marijuana. Some have even decriminalized it altogether. Still the feds have been pursuing the federal laws, particularly going after legal growers. The United States Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution criticizing the failure of marijuana prohibition and urging the federal government to respect the ability of states and localities to implement its own laws without federal interference.
Farm Bill: Having failed to pass this thing (TWW, Farm Bill, 6/22/13), the House took another direction. It approved a bill without the nutrition programs in it. Those will be in another bill. In this way Republicans can approve the grand welfare program for agribusiness while rejecting the puny programs for American families. (Wall Street Journal) They have no shame. Nevertheless, it still only passed 216-208. (Politico)
Climate Deniers: Despite the fact that 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is taking place, 55% of congressional Republicans don’t accept it. Check out your state and see where it stands. (Think Progress)
Fukushima: We heard a while back that the plant had been leaking radioactive water into the ocean. (TWW, Japan, 5/14/11; Fukushima Fallout, 6/18/11; Fukushima, 9/17/11) Now, Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, says that it’s probably been leaking for the past 2 years. Bad? Yes. But worse is that they don’t know where the leak is coming from or how to stop it. (NY Times)
Hanford Nuclear Site: Workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington have detected higher radioactivity levels. “State and federal officials have long said leaking tanks . . . do not pose an immediate threat to the environment or public health.” Who do they think they’re kidding? The Columbia River - “the largest waterway in the Pacific Northwest” - is only 5 miles away. If radioactive waste hits the groundwater it could reach the river. (NBC News)
Gas Explosion: 8 people were injured in an explosion at a natural gas fracking site in Doddridge County, WV. “2 crews were preparing to enter production tubing into the well when the accident occurred.” (TribLive) Try Googling the incident. It’s almost impossible to find any information on the event. Why is this? I think it’s because it happens so frequently. Check out Natural Gas Watch.
Gas Leak: A natural gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico sprung a leak last Tuesday that “left a 4-mile-wide ‘rainbow sheen’ on the water’s surface south of Louisiana.” Talos Energy, owner of the platform, expected it to be plugged within a day. “The leak happened while it was trying to permanently plug the well.” 5 people were evacuated. (CNN) As of Thursday they were pumping mud into the well and hadn’t yet stopped the leak. (CNN)
Armed Guards: Gogebic Taconite’s mining site in the Penokee Hills forest in Wisconsin has hired semi-automatic gun-toting, masked security guards from Bulletproof Securities, “an Arizona company that boasts a ‘no compromise security force.’” They are guarding construction equipment “in a scenic forest that draws scores of hikers and vacationers in addition to mine protesters.” (Wisconsin State Journal)
Minimum Wage: According to the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, increasing the minimum wage wouldn’t do much for the economy in the long-run, but in the short-run it could add as much as .3% to the GDP. “That’s not insignificant for an economy that expanded at a soft annualized rate of just 1.1% over the last 2 quarters.” (Reuters) If the minimum wage was pegged to productivity, it would be significantly higher. The Economic Policy Institute calculated that it would be $18.67 per hour.
Another Merger: AT&T is going to buy Cricket. (AFP) So, what do we have now? About 4 major mobile communications companies? That does a whole lot for competition, doesn’t it? Even though the Sherman Anti-Trust Act is still in effect, it hasn’t been enforced since the Reagan administration.