Originally Published: 8/3/2013
X-Keyscore: More documents from Edward Snowden have revealed yet another spying program which allows the National Security Agency (NSA) “to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats, and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.” “The NSA boasts in training materials that the program . . . is its ‘widest-reaching system for developing intelligence from the internet.” This is probably what Snowden meant when he said he could wiretap anyone, even the president. (TWW, National Security as an Industry, 6/15/13) X-Keyscore is what the NSA calls “Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). “One presentation claims the program covers ‘nearly everything a typical user does on the internet,’ including the content of emails, websites visited, and searches, as well as their metadata.” Analysts also intercept “real time” individual internet activity. (Guardian) By the way, Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum and “allowed him to walk free out of a Moscow airport transit zone on Thursday despite the risk of a breach in relations with the United States.” (NY Times) Putin thumbed his nose at us.
Abdulelah Haider Shaye: Shaye is a “prominent” Yemeni journalist. In 2010 he was imprisoned for exposing the December 2009 U.S. cruise missile attack on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah that killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children. At first the Yemeni government took credit for the attack, saying it was targeting an al-Qaeda training camp. “But it was later revealed through WikiLeaks cables that it was in fact a U.S. attack.” For his journalistic exposure, in January 2011, after a trial that “was condemned by many human rights and press freedom groups,” he was sentenced to 5 years on terrorism-related charges. At that time Yemen’s then-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was going to pardon Shaye, but Obama called him and asked him not to. He has now been released - to the dismay of the U.S. The White House says it is “concerned and disappointed” by Shaye’s release. (Democracy Now)
Bradley Manning: He was acquitted of aiding the enemy but convicted a 5 counts of espionage, 5 of theft, 1 of computer fraud, and several lesser infractions. He could be sentenced to as much as 135 years in prison. Would someone explain to me how a private was given access to information so sensitive that it could be considered “aiding the enemy.” Either the Army screwed up or what he leaked wasn’t dangerous - just embarrassing. (NY Times) Kind of reminds you of Snowden, doesn’t it? Another low-level employee who was given access to mounds of data. But what exactly did Manning “reveal?” Here’s a rundown by Democratic Underground.
Gitmo: 2 detainees have finally been transferred out of the prison. They were sent to Algeria. (Talk Radio News) I hope they can get their lives back and won’t become terrorists now that we’ve tried so hard to make them terrorists.
NSA Data Gathering: Last week conservatives and liberals joined together to defeat an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would have reined in the NSA spying. (TWW, Data Gathering, 7/27/13) Why did they do that? Haven’t they heard the outcry from the American people? Probably, but the outcry from their funders was louder. The 217 people who voted “no” received twice as much campaign financing from the defense and intelligence industry as the 205 who voted “yes.” An analysis by MapLight found that defense cash was a better predictor of a member’s vote than party affiliation. Those who voted “no” raked in 122% more money from defense contractors than those who voted to dismantle it. Firms like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Technologies, Honeywell, and others put out $12.97 million in donations for the 2-year period ending December 31, 2012. Those who voted to keep the spying going received on average $41,635 while those who voted to end it received an average of $18,765. Still think Citizens United isn’t influencing things?
Mobile Phone Tracking: A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit just handed law enforcement a victory. They decided that warrantless searches of historical location data stored by mobile phone service providers is okie, dokie. They said that such a search was “not per se unconstitutional” because location data was “clearly a business record” and therefore not protected by the Fourth Amendment. (NY Times)
Arkansas: A school district in Clarksville, Arkansas is arming more than 20 faculty members and staff with concealed 9 mm handguns. (AP)
North Carolina: Governor Pat McCrory signed the outrageous abortion bill passed by the NC legislature. (TWW, North Carolina, 7/13/13) During his campaign last fall he said that he wouldn’t approve any new abortion restrictions. Guess he lied. (AP)
Government Shut-Down: Remember I told you last week that House Republicans are threatening to shut down the government rather than fund Obamacare? They figure this will end the program. (TWW, Hostage, 7/27/13) Well, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), shutting down the government will not stop the Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation.
Budget: The House and the Senate, each having presented a budget unacceptable to the other, have gone on a 5-week recess - with no budget in site. (Washington Post)
Supreme Court: Last week it came out that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, was part of the secret group Groundswell that hoped to advance the conservative agenda. (Care2) She had previously founded Liberty Central, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group opposed to the Affordable Care Act. (NY Times) Also, Justice Thomas and Antonin Scalia have participated in secretive political strategy sessions hosted by the Koch Industries. (Huffington Post) Common Cause has raised questions about whether Supreme Court justices should be disqualified from ruling on cases that could aid their political allies. For example, the ties to the Koch Industries should have disqualified them for ruling in the case of Citizens United. (NY Times) There is a judicial Code of Conduct that requires federal judges to recuse themselves in cases where there may be a potential or perceived conflict of interest. Supreme Court justices, however, are not required to follow the code. Now, Democrats in the House and Senate are planning to re-introduce legislation that has failed before. It would hold the Supreme Court justices to the same judicial standards as federal judges. (Mother Jones)
Chris Hayes: He offered us the height of satire this week. If you haven’t seen it, you should. (MSNBC) Apparently Hayes got the idea for this broadcast from Cord Jefferson of Gawker, who he interviews.
Student Loans: It’s amazing. They got a bill done and sent it to Obama for signature. Of course, the reason it got done is because the Dems caved in to Republican demands. Student loan rates jumped to 6.8% on July 1st because they couldn’t agree on anything. (TWW, Student Loans, 7/20/13) This bill lets undergraduates borrow at, now, 3.9%; graduate students at 5.4%; parents at 6.4%. In the future, interest rates will be tied to market rates, but there are caps: no more than 8.25% for undergrads, 9.5% for grads, and 10.5% for parents. (Boston Globe)
Detroit Bankruptcy: Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder, who just gave Detroit’s emergency manager the go-ahead to file bankruptcy, has now given “thumbs-up” to a plan for a new $650 million Detroit Red Wings hockey arena. Almost half of that $650 million will be paid with public funds. They don’t have money to fight fires, collect trash, or keep paying the puny average of $19,000 a year pension. But they have $283 million to “subsidize a new arena for the Red Wings owner and founder of America’s worst pizza-pizza chain, Little Caesar’s, Mike Ilitch, whose family is worth $2.7 billion dollars.” Snyder says, “This is part of investing in Detroit’s future.” (The Nation) Whose future?
Defending Walmart: Ever wonder what to say to people who defend Walmart? John Fugelsang has the answer. This is good.
Obamacare: In July Obama announced a 1-year delay in the imposition of penalties and requirements under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). (TWW, Obamacare, 7/6/13) The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that this delay will raise the 10-year costs of its health insurance coverage provisions by about $12 billion.
Birth Control: If you recall, Hobby Lobby was given a temporary exemption from a requirement under ACA that it offer insurance coverage for birth control to its employees. (TWW, Birth Control, 7/20/13) Now a panel of the Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit has ruled that Hobby Lobby “must comply.” That means that 2 different U.S. Appeals Courts have different opinions - meaning it will probably head to the Supreme Court. What’s interesting about this decision is that it addresses the question of corporate status. Citizens United declared that corporations are people and, thus, have a right to free speech (no matter how much it costs). But in this case the justices found that there was “a ‘total absence of case law’ to support the argument that corporations are protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of religion. Judge Robert E. Cowen wrote: “Even if we were to disregard the lack of historical recognition of the right, we simply cannot understand how a for-profit, secular corporation - apart from its owners - can exercise religion.” He added that it didn’t seem plausible that an entity “created to make money could exercise such an inherently ‘human’ right.” (Washington Post) This’ll be interesting.
GMOs: France’s highest administrative court rejected the ban on growing Monsanto’s GMO corn. It found there was no scientific justification for the ban. (Reuters)
More Effects of Global Warming: A 12-year-old girl in Arkansas is struggling to survive after being diagnosed with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, “caused by a brain-eating amoeba.” She probably contracted it while swimming at a water park. The amoeba is called Naegleria fowleri, and “can be found in warm streams, rivers and lakes, as well as soil.” The condition is usually fatal. (Huffington Post) Fortunately, risk of infection of very low. Only 3 to 8 people die from it annually. Unfortunately, it’s increasing. “In recent years, N. fowleri has popped up in unexpected locations, which some experts suggest is a sign that warmer waters - caused by brutal summer heat waves and rising temperatures across the country - are catalyzing their spread.” Experts believe we’ll see the little critter “farther and farther north.” (The Verge)
Petcoke: Remember I told you about the piles of petroleum coke stored by the Koch Brothers in Detroit? (TWW, Petroleum Coke, 5/25/13) Well, while workers were unloading a new batch, a wind storm came up and spread the crap into the air - to drift around to points unknown. Watch the video. (Windsor Star)
CO2 Decline: Regardless of what you’ve heard, the decline in CO2 last year was due to “aggressive energy efficiency efforts by households, companies, and motorists” - not the increased use of natural gas, which we get from fracking. (Inside Climate News)
Caribbean: A survey of the Caribbean coral reefs is being done to determine how much has been degraded by climate change, pollution, overfishing, and degradation. It’s expected that as much as 80% has been lost in recent years, “but the survey should give a more accurate picture of where the losses have had the most effect and on the causes.” (Guardian)
Lost Cities: Climate Central has put together this great interactive map on the future of cities that are falling below sea level. The sea level is rising by about 1” per decade, but “in an invisible shadow process, our long-term sea level rise commitment or ‘lock-in’ - the sea level rise we don’t see now, but which carbon emissions and warming have locked in for later years - is growing 10 times faster, and this growth rate is accelerating.”
Fracking: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a study that found that fracking in Dimmock PA has caused “significant damage” to drinking-water aquifers. (Washington Post)
Tar Sands: A series of leaks from underground wells at a tar sands operation in Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada has been leaking for at least 10 weeks. But, “recent documents show that the company responsible for the spill estimates that the tar sands oil has been leaking into the ecosystem for around 4 months, based on winter snow coverage.” (Think Progress)
Another Pipeline Leak: This time in Thailand. “Roughly 50,000 litres of crude oil gushed into the sea on Saturday about 20 kilometres (12 miles) off the coast of the eastern province of Rayong. . . The oil reached Ao Phrao beach on the island of Ko Samet where hundreds of navy personnel, national park officials, company workers, and villagers raced to remove it.” (AFP) Damned pipelines.
North Pole: It’s now a lake. Watch this time-lapsed photography of the North Pole melting. Poor Santa. (Mother Nature Network)
Fukushima: Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announced that radioactive cesium levels in a water well were 9,000% higher on July 8th than they were 3 days earlier. No one knows why. (Natural News)
Joblessness: According to an AP survey, 4 out of 5 adults “struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.” No one should be surprised. We know that a consumer culture based on corporate profit, limitless exploitation of workers, and the continued extraction of fossil fuel is doomed.
Jobs: Obama wanted a bill for jobs but, of course, Republicans don’t want to create jobs. So he sweetened the pot and offered them corporate tax cuts in exchange for the jobs bill. They still rejected it. (Washington Post) Of course they would. The big corporations, their financial support, don’t pay any taxes.
Minimum Wage: Hart Research’s survey found that 80% of Americans believe the minimum wage should be raised to $10.10 an hour. Among Democrats the support was 92%; Independents, 80%; and Republicans 62%. Guess we’ve finally agreed on something.
Fast-Food Workers: They launched a one-day strike across the nation. “What began in Manhattan 8 months ago first spread to Chicago and Washington and this week has hit St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, and Flint, Mich. On Wednesday alone, workers picketed McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Popeye’s, and Long John Silver’s restaurants in those cities with an ambitious agenda: pay of $15 an hour, twice what many now earn.” (NY Times) Could you live on fast-food wages? Try this interactive and find out. (Mother Jones)
Fabrice Tourre: Tourre was a Goldman Sachs trader “at the center of a toxic mortgage deal” that lead to the Great Republican Recession. A jury found him guilty of 6 counts of civil securities fraud. (NY Times)