Originally Published: 8/24/2013
Making Money on Your Fears: Since the attacks of 9/11, more than 1,931 firms have become dedicated to keeping you scared. “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy, and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it, or exactly how many agencies do the same work.” The Washington Post conducted a 2-year investigation and found 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies that work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States. In Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area there are 33 building complexes that have been built, or are being built, for top-secret intelligence work. “Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. There are 3 very large private firms that make the most money from fear of terrorism. The Chertoff Group was founded by the former Director of Homeland Security under Dubya, Michael Chertoff. Dubya’s former Director of National Security (NSA), Michael V. Hayden, is now a principal in this group which hires itself out to consult on security and combating terrorism. The company is also the developer and manufacturer of Rapiscan, those full-body scanners at the airport. It’s been reported that Rapiscan alone made $118 million from the government between 2009 and 2010. (Huffington Post) Booz Allen Hamilton is the former employer of Edward Snowden. 23% of its income comes from NSA contracts - $1.3 billion just last year. (NY Times) Science Applications International is sometimes referred to as “NSA West” because so many former NSA employees go to work there. It makes a boatload of money off government contracts. In fact, it’s the NSA’s largest contract and last year reported a net income of $535 million. (Crocodyl) There are more - many more - for which our tax dollars are paying. This is why everything else is going to hell. We need to rethink things now.
FISA Court: In 2011 then-Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) Chief Judge John D. Bates “sharply rebuked the NSA for repeatedly misleading the court. According to secret documents declassified by James Clapper, director of the NSA, they had collected 56,000 emails over 3 years by Americans “as part of a massive surveillance program to combat terrorism that was designed to target foreigners.” Bates wrote: “For the first time, the government has now advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe.” (McClatchy) Ya think this was a mistake? Ya think this is the only one? This hasn’t stopped them, however. Since the court decision, the NSA “paid millions of dollars to cover the costs of major internet companies involved in the Prism surveillance program.” These include Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Facebook. (Guardian)
Snowden Leaks: As you know, Edward Snowden has done his leaking through the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald. The Guardian is a British publication. The British government has decided that the Guardian has had “it’s fun” and now they “want the stuff back.” That’s right. The British government threatened the Guardian with legal action if it didn’t turn over all the documents it had from Snowden. “Later, two ‘security experts’ from the secretive Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had visited the paper’s London offices and watched as computer hard drives containing Snowden material were reduced to mangled bits of metal.” (Reuters)
NSA Review: President Obama promised that there would be a review of the NSA surveillance programs by an independent and outside panel of experts. NOT! ABC has reported that the panel will consist of Michael Morell, a recent acting head of the CIA, and 3 former White House advisers.
Facial Recognition: The spooks are getting closer to “developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces.” The project is called Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS, how appropriate). (NY Times)
FISA Court Appointee: Chief Justice John Roberts is in charge of appointing judges to FISC. To date he has loaded it with Republican-appointed judges. Now, maybe in response to the fallout from the Snowden leaks, he has appointed José A. Cabranes, a Clinton appointee. However, “he is considered among the more conservative-leaning Democratic appointees on crime and security issues.” (NY Times)
Egypt: People have been calling for the U.S. to stop aid to Egypt. So, how much do we give them in aid? ProPublica has an article on this. Apparantly we started giving Egypt aid in 1979, as a “reward” for its peace treaty with Israel. Since then aid has averaged about $2 billion a year, most of which is military aid. In the last few years it has been $1.55 billion. But the State Department has been giving Egypt economic aid - about $250 million a year. Some of that has been cut in recent years. The military aid, however, is the real interesting thing. We don’t send them money. It goes to U.S. contractors for such things as F-16 fighter planes, Apache attack helicopters, etc. Those then get sent to Egypt. So, is this an “aid” program for Egypt or for U.S. war contractors? If aid gets cut off who suffers? Egypt or U.S. workers?
Syria: The carnage continues and, again, it looks like chemical weapons were used on the citizenry. If you remember, UN human rights investigators believed in May that it was the Syrian rebels using the chemicals, not the Assad regime. (TWW, Syria, 5/11/13) Maybe they’ve been doing this to get the U.S. involved. If this is true, they may have succeeded. Obama is “weighing potential military responses.” (NY Times) The Syrian government said it has found chemical agents in rebel tunnels in Damascus. (Guardian) Did they?
Alabama: The Tallapoosa County Probate Office “has ended its illegal practice of denying marriage licenses to people unable to provide proof of immigration status.” (Southern Poverty Law Center)
Illinois: They passed a law that private gun sales must now be approved by the state police to assure the buyer has a valid Firearm Owner’s ID card and requires gun owners to report lost or stolen guns within 72 hours or face penalties. (WGN-TV)
Louisiana: I just couldn’t pass this up. It’s so outrageous it just has to be told. A recent survey by Public Policy Polling in Louisiana asked, “Who do you think was more responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina: George W. Bush or Barack Obama?” 29% said Obama was more responsible and 44% said they were uncertain. Out of the 29% who said Obama was more responsible, 84% were Republicans. Just to tickle your memory, Hurricane Katrina occurred in 2005 when George W. Bush was president and Barack Obama was a freshman senator.
New Jersey: They’ve passed a new law barring “gay conversion” therapy of minors, saying the health risks “outweigh concerns over the government setting limits on parental choice.” (AP)
New Mexico: New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, in a brief to the state Supreme Court, stated he would refuse to defend New Mexico’s ban on same-sex marriage and asked the court to declare the ban unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has since declined to hear the case and sent it back to the lower courts. According to Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellis, this “means it could be many months or years before the matter is resolved.” So, his office has begun offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (Doña Ana County)
New York: A couple of weeks ago the New York City Council passed 2 laws that would “greatly increase oversight of the New York Police Department and of its widespread use of stop-and-frisk tactics.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the laws. This week the City County re-passed them over his veto. (NY Times)
Oklahoma: U.S. district Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange “permanently enjoined” the Oklahoma State Election Board and its secretary from “certifying results of the vote in which State Question 755 was approved by Oklahoma voters.” Question 755 was a constitutional amendment that prohibited state courts from considering international or Islamic law when deciding cases. It passed with 70% of the vote in 2010. Miles-LaGrange issued a temporary restraining order barring certification of the election’s results 3 years ago. This was a permanent order. (NewsOK)
Texas: Texas Governor Rick Perry is known for his wanting to “kill” Obamacare, but his health officials are negotiating for $100 million to implement it. (Politico)
Shield Law: The Senate Judiciary Committee is looking, once again, to provide protections for journalists and their sources. But they’ve run into a problem with defining “journalist.” The bill “defines a journalist as a person who has a ‘primary intent to investigate events and procure material’ in order to inform the public by regularly gathering information through interviews and observations. The person also must intend to report on the news at the start of obtaining any protected information and must plan to publish that news.” But some, including Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, CA), believe that this definition would apply to employees of WikiLeaks and doesn’t like it. She wants a definition that the Shield Law would only apply to “real reporters,” not “bloggers and others in the Internet age who don’t necessarily receive salaries.” (McClatchy) If Feinstein had her way, Thomas Paine wouldn’t have been protected.
Non-Profits: The IRS is being sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFR) over its “failure to audit thousands of churches that allegedly violated federal tax law by engaging in partisan advocacy.” They made a motion to dismiss the suit and it was denied. (Raw Story) Also, Representative Chris Van Hollen (D, MD) has joined with campaign finance watchdogs Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center, and Public Citizen in another lawsuit against the IRS for its interpretation of the law that governs tax-exempt eligibility for social welfare groups. (TWW, IRS-gate, 5/18/13) Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has already filed a lawsuit in the same controversy. (Washington Post)
Tribune Newspapers: The Koch brothers, Charles and David, “have ended their pursuit of the Los Angeles Times and other Tribune Co. newspapers after months of protests by community groups, journalists, and other free press advocates.” (AFL-CIO) Still think we don’t have a voice?
Rating Colleges: President Obama announced a plan to rate colleges “based on measures like tuition, graduation rates, debt and earnings of graduates, and the percentage of lower-income students who attend.” He wants to do this before 2015 and it’ll take congressional approval. (NY Times) Guess he can forget it then, huh? You know who else will hate it? Those private schools like the University of Phoenix who charge exorbitant rates and have an extremely low graduation rate. And they have the money to dangle in front of congress critters.
Health and Inequality: A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that in 1990 the United States ranked 20th on life expectancy among 34 major industrial nations. We now rank 27th despite spending much more on health care than any other nation. We are losing ground globally “by every” health measure. While many blame our poor health on poor personal habits and limited access to health care, some epidemiologists point out that we ranked as one of the world’s healthiest back in the 1950s, when Americans smoked heavily, ate a diet rich in fats, and hardly ever exercised. Stephen Bezruchka, a Public Health Lecturer at the Departments of Health Services and Global Health of the University of Washington, posits that inequality of income and wealth are more determinative indicators than personal habits. (Annual Reviews) (Let Bezruchka explain it to you. It’s long but if you’re interested, it’s worthwhile.) Indeed, other studies have found that inequality is directly linked to poor health as well as other social problems. (Equality Trust)
Health Care Costs: Premiums for employer-provided health insurance increased very little this year, “a further sign that once-torrid health care inflation has abated for now.” The average annual premium for a family of 4 rose about 4% according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (NY Times)
Fukushima: Another leak. This time it’s a storage tank. On Tuesday Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) announced that about 300 tons of highly contaminated water is seeping out daily. It’s the worst such leak since the meltdown and is separate from other reported contaminated water leaks. “[T]he leak is already the most severe since the crisis began.” Tepco “said it did not know how the water leaked out or where it had leak to, but it believed that the spillage had not flowed into the Pacific ocean.” It’s leaking into the groundwater. (Guardian) That was Tuesday. On Wednesday Japan issued a warning saying that this latest incident “will dramatically raise the incident’s severity level from 1 to 3 on the 8-point scale used by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for radiation releases.” Each single-digit increase in the scale represents a 10-fold increase in severity of radiological release. (Guardian)
Flat Wages: According to the Economic Policy Institute, “The wage and benefit growth of the vast majority, including white-collar and blue-collar workers and those with and without a college degree, has stagnated, as the fruits of overall growth have accrued disproportionately to the richest households. The wage-setting mechanism has been broken for a generation but has particularly faltered in the last 10 years . . . Corporate profts, on the other hand, are at historic highs. Income growth has been captured by those in the top 1%, driven by high profitability and by the tremendous wage growth among executives and in the finance sector.” Well, uh, tell us something we don’t know. Check out this chart. Since 2000 productivity growth has far outpaced wages and compensation, and the difference continues to climb annually.