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Originally Published: 7/19/2014

NSA Goal:  William Binney, “one of the highest-level whistleblowers to ever emerge from the NSA” is blowing the lid off the goals of the National Security Agency. Speaking at a conference in London, he stated: “At least 80% of fibre-optic cables globally go via the U.S. This is no accident and allows the U.S. to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the U.S. The NSA lies about what it stores.” [Emphasis added.] He claims that the NSA will soon be able to collect “the total of Internet traffic annually” and “described a future where surveillance is ubiquitous and government intrusion unlimited.” He claims the ultimate goal is “total population control.” He also claims that the documents released by Edward Snowden show that “the NSA is not just pursuing terrorism, as it claims, but ordinary citizens going about their daily communications.” He also claims that NSA “has stopped zero attacks.” He faults the lack of oversight, especially the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). (Guardian) I would add that the faulty FISC is due to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was obsolete to begin with and made worse through “changes” since 9/11. (See Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, The New Surveillance Law, Warrantless Surveillance, The USA Patriot Act, and Domestic Surveillance.) Generate enough fear and you can do anything.

 

CISA:  Last year the Snowden leaks had a positive effect. The House of Representatives had been considering a program called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a “Star Wars” type of defense for computer networks. It was “designed to intercept cyberattacks before they could cripple power plants, banks, or financial markets.” But the Snowden leaks put a stop to the idea. “The plan was always a little vague . . . but today it may be Snowden’s biggest single victim.” (NY Times) Great, you say. Yeah, but it’s back, “and apparently its authors want to keep you in the dark about it for as long as possible.” Now it’s called the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) “and it is a nightmare for civil liberties.” The Senate Intelligence Committee “marked up and modified” the bill last week “in complete secrecy.” Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, CA), chair of the Committee and the bill's chief backer, calls it an “information-sharing” law “that’s supposed to help the government and tech and telecom companies better hand information back and forth to the government about ‘cyberthreat’ data, such as malware.” But many claim it is written so broadly “it would allow companies to hand over huge swaths of your data - including emails and other communications records - to the government with no legal process whatsoever. . . Your data can get handed over by the tech companies and others to the Department of Homeland Security . . . but then it can be passed along to the nation’s intelligence agencies.” And the companies are given immunity from lawsuits. It also includes provisions to strengthen the government’s ability to go after whistleblowers.” (Guardian)

 

Gitmo:  The U.S. is going to transfer 6 Gitmo detainees to Uruguay early next month. They have already been cleared for transfer but were waiting to find a country that would take them. Of the 149 men still left there, 72 have been cleared as they are not considered a threat to the United States. (AFP)

 

Australia:  The Australian Senate voted to dump the country’s carbon tax and emissions trading, something Prime Minister Tony Abbott has wanted. “The repeal was fiercely opposed by the opposition Labor and Greens Party, which portrayed the vote as a stain on the country’s international reputation.” (Al Jazeera)

 

Gaza:  Israel escalated its 10-day war against Gaza and Hamas. “With intense fighting forcing thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that his military were ready for a ‘significant expansion’ of the ground operation he has ordered to destroy Hamas tunnels dug under the border to Israel.” (Guardian)

 

Ukraine:  283 passengers and 15 crew were killed when their plane, MH117, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was blown out of the sky. Many believe it was brought down by Ukrainian separatists. (McClatchy) Russia has been supporting the separatists, so many are blaming Vladimir Putin for the incident. (Reuters) It’s believed that a Russian-made surface-to-air missile (SAM) was used but it couldn’t be a typical, shoulder-held SAM. It had to be something bigger, that could go 30,000 feet up to strike a passenger jet. A “Buk” missile is a SAM that is vehicle-mounted and has that range. (AFP) It’s unlikely that the separatists had the ability to “function the way they’re functioning . . . without sophisticated equipment and sophisticated training, and that is coming from Russia.” (Washington Post) International investigators arrived on the scene and found they were blocked by armed separatists and couldn’t gain access to the site. They left after warning shots were fired. (Guardian)

 

Alaska:  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put a set of restrictions on the Pebble Mine in southwest Alaska near Bristol Bay. This will “in effect prevent the development of a controversial copper and gold mine in Alaska which many said would have been disastrous for the state’s largest salmon fishery.” (Guardian)

 

California’s Death Penalty:  The U.S. District Court ruled that California’s death penalty system “is so arbitrary and plagued with delay” that it is unconstitutional, “a decision that is expected to inspire similar arguments in death penalty appeals around the country.” California has hundreds of people on death row but hasn’t executed anyone since 2006. “About 40% of California’s 748 death row inmates have been there more than 19 years.” Judge Cormac J. Carney wrote that it is a sentence “that no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.” (NY Times)

 

California on Fracking:  On July 7th the state’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources issued a cease and desist order to 7 energy companies “warning that they may be injecting their waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, and stating that their waste disposal ‘poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.’” Now they’ve ordered 11 oil and gas waste injection sites to be shut down and will review more than 100 others. (Pro Publica)

 

Colorado:  Colorado’s Supreme Court ordered the Denver County clerk to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples “pending the resolution of an appeal by the state’s attorney general.” (Reuters)

 

North Carolina:  The Durham police department has officially banned a tactic used by officers to gain entry into homes for searches. According to Indy Week, the officers targeted homes where individuals with outstanding warrants were believed to be living. The officers “lied about non-existent 911 calls to try to convince residents to allow them to search their homes.” The tactic is illegal. Wanna bet this isn’t just being done in Durham, NC? Check your own police department.

 

Oklahoma:  A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has, for the second time, ruled that Oklahoma must allow gay couples to marry. Of course, it again stayed its ruling to allow for appeal. (Guardian)

 

Texas:  A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that Texas engaged in discrimination by not allowing the Confederate flag - “a symbol of sacrifice, independence, and Southern heritage” - on its license plates. The judges determined that the license plates reflect the views of the person who displays them and are, thus, protected by the First Amendment. But in another decision, another panel of the same court determined that the University of Texas “can continue using race as a factor in undergraduate admissions as a way of promoting diversity on campus.” (Washington Post)

 

Utah:  The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take Utah’s request for an emergency stay of an appeals court order for the state to recognize same-sex marriages. (Reuters)

 

Budget Deficit:  The White House is predicting that the budget deficit this year will fall to $583 billion, “the first to dip below $600 billion” since the Great Republican Recession. (Washington Post)

 

Agent Orange:  Do you remember this? It was a defoliant used in Vietnam - which the military denied for years - which caused health problems and birth defects. One of the largest manufacturers was Dow Chemical. Despite testimony from more than 250 U.S. veterans “who say they were sickened by the defoliant” on Okinawa - the former military base from which much of U.S. operations in Vietnam was launched - the Pentagon has always denied it was present there. Well, they lied. “Dozens of rusting barrels” were found buried on a dumpsite on the former military land in Okinawa City “containing chemical precursors to defoliant Agent Orange.” About half of the barrels contained markings of Dow. “An excavation last year unearthed more than 20 other barrels at the same site. They, too, contained high levels of dioxin - causing concerns among the parents of children who attend 2 on-base schools nearby.” (Japan Times)

 

Income Inequality:  John Oliver did a wonderful piece on income equality but he hits on the estate tax and this is great. Watch it. (You Tube)

 

Highway Fund:  The Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August, so congress critters are busy trying to find a fix. No matter that they’ve been told about this for years and ignored it. In fact, the last time they raised the gas tax was in 1993. If it had kept up with inflation it would be 30% higher today. But Republicans in control of the House Ways and Means Committee don’t want to raise the gas tax. Not in an election year. So they have an alternative fix. Get this. The Committee’s proposal, which passed, is to let corporations underfund their pension plans. Less money going into pension funds means higher profits, and higher profits mean they’ll pay more in taxes. Voilà. Everything is okie, dokie. (NY Times) They’d better do something. America’s roads are in bad shape. In California, 34% of the 172,201 miles of public roads are in poor condition. Check out your state in this map. (Washington Post) And go to the next map on the condition of bridges. In California 28% of the 24,955 bridges are considered “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.”

 

Oil Exploration:  The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has reopened portions of the eastern seaboard - from Delaware to Florida - to oil and gas exploration by energy companies. Exploration in these areas was closed years ago. What’s quite problematic is that they also approved the use of sonic cannons to pinpoint energy deposits. These waters are homes to whales, dolphins, turtles, and many other marine animals. The sound waves from these cannons are 100 times louder than a jet engine. Scientists say that “underwater microphones have picked up blasts from these sonic cannons over distances of thousands of miles, and the constant banging - amplified in water by orders of magnitude - poses unavoidable dangers for marine life.” Whales and dolphins depend on their hearing and echolocation “to feed, communicate, and keep in touch with their family groups across hundreds of miles. Even fish and crabs navigate and communicate by sound.” (AP)

 

Climate Change:  Here’s proof that climate change is having a terrific effect on disastrous weather. In fact, the Washington Post has lots of charts showing the effects.

 

Fukushima:  5 sites within the Fukushima evacuation zone and 14 rice paddies more than 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside the evacuation zone were contaminated with radioactive material. Last August the crops gathered had cesium levels beyond Japan’s safety limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram. The contamination was blamed on the “removal of a large piece of debris from the Fukushima No. 3 reactor building for the contamination.” But Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) didn’t bother to notify anyone. How many people ate those crops? And, despite the contamination from removal of debris, TEPCO is going to remove debris from the No. 1 reactor later this month. (RT)

 

Renewable Energy:  The Department of Energy announced a loan guarantee program of up to $4 billion to support innovative renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that “avoid, reduce, or sequester greenhouse gases.” Sounds good, huh? Uh, well, in 2013 federal and state subsidies for “discovery and production of oil, gas, and coal were $21.6 billion. (EcoWatch)

 

Yellowstone:  Parts of the park are being closed because a “massive underground supervolcano beneath it is melting the asphalt roads.” (Raw Story)

 

Citigroup:  It agreed to pay $7 billion to settle a federal investigation “into the toxic mortgage products the bank sold in the run-up to the financial crisis.” According to Attorney General Eric Holder: “The bank’s misconduct was egregious. As a result of their assurances that toxic financial products were sound, Citigroup was able to expand its market share and increase profits.” $4 billion will go to the Justice Department; $500 million to state attorneys general and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC); and $2.5 billion “has been earmarked for struggling consumers and will be used to help struggling homeowners with principal reductions on home loans and other relief programs as well as financing the construction and preservation of affordable rental housing.” (Guardian) Let me point out that $7 billion isn’t even a slap on the wrist. And $2.5 billion for consumers and struggling homeowners? You’ve got to be kidding! No wonder they keep doing these things.

 

The Wonk

 

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