Originally Published: 8/2/2014
Spying on Congress: An internal CIA investigation confirmed the allegations that it had infiltrated the database used by the Senate Intelligence Committee staff when it was compiling a report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. (TWW, CIA, 3/8/14) CIA Inspector General David Buckley gave a private briefing on his findings which revealed that 5 CIA employees - 2 lawyers and 3 IT specialists - “improperly accessed or ‘caused access’ to a database that only committee staff were permitted to use.” Buckley also found that “a CIA crimes report to the Justice Department alleging that the panel staff removed classified documents from a top-secret facility without authorization was based on ‘inaccurate information.’” (TWW, CIA, 3/8/14) And Buckley also found that the CIA “conducted keyword searches of the emails of staffers of the committee’s Democratic majority - and reviewed some of them - and that the 3 CIA information technology specialists showed ‘a lack of condor’ in interviews with Buckley’s office.” In other words, they lied. The report didn’t say who ordered this stuff. (McClatchy) The CIA conceded that it had done all these things. (Reuters) CIA Director John Brennan, who denied it all last March, has now apologized. (CNN) If the director didn’t know this was going on, then who ordered it and who’s in charge? And if he did know about it, then he lied to the Senate committee and the Justice Department. Which is worse? If he doesn’t resign, he should be fired. However, with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, Obama “voiced ‘full confidence’” in Brennan. (McClatchy)
Torture: The Senate investigation that sparked the CIA spying mentioned above, resulted in a scathing report. President Obama admitted that, after the 9/11 attacks, the CIA “tortured some folks.” He has turned over to Congress a report about an investigation into “enhanced interrogation techniques.” If you remember, shortly after taking office, Obama banned the use of such techniques. (Reuters) However, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D, CA) said that the report was returned to them from the White House after its declassification review with “significant portions” of the findings censored. Feinstein released a statement saying: “A preliminary review of the report indicates that there have been significant redactions. We need additional time to understand the basis for these redactions and determine their justification.” (McClatchy)
Stopping Terrorists: A new report has found that “nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 feature the ‘direct involvement’ of government agents or informants.” The report by Human Rights Watch says this “raises questions about the U.S. criminal justice system’s ability to respect civil rights and due process in post-9/11 terrorism cases. It portrays a system that features not just the sting operations but secret evidence, anonymous juries, extensive pretrial detentions, and convictions significantly removed from actual plots.” (Guardian)
Stopping the NSA: Senator Patrick Leahy (D, VT) introduced a bill as a counterpart to the U.S.A. Freedom Act passed in May by the House of Representatives. (TWW, U.S.A. Freedom Act, 5/24/14) But this version “contains some stricter privacy measures and broader transparency requirements - the absence of which caused civil libertarians, privacy groups, and technology firms to abandon their support for the House version. Many of them are backing Leahy’s bill.” Leahy asked “whether we are in control of our own government or the other way around.” His bill would still give the NSA access to “enormous amounts of American phone data” but it would require a judge to issue an order to telecoms for detailed records based on “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of association with terrorism or a foreign power. But the bill purportedly bans bulk collection of records. (Guardian)
Gaza and Israel: I ran across this interesting piece. Patrick Cockburn at the Independent wrote: “Israeli spokesmen have their work cut out explaining how they have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, compared with just 3 civilians killed in Israel by Hamas rocket and mortar fire.” He explains that Israel has enhanced its PR skills by using a “professional, well-researched, and confidential study on how to influence the media and public opinion in America and Europe,” written by Frank Luntz, “the expert Republican pollster and political strategist.” Very interesting piece.
Colorado: It is going to begin issuing driver’s licenses and ID cards to immigrants, “regardless of their legal status.” (Al Jazeera)
Massachusetts: The state legislature passed a bill “that gives police chiefs authority to turn down a resident’s requests to buy a rifle or shotgun if they believe the person may be a danger.” Governor Deval Patrick (D) has said he’ll sign it. (Reuters)
Mississippi: A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th District ruled that a Mississippi law “that would have shut the sole abortion clinic in the state by requiring its doctors to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals” would effectively end abortions in the state, illegally shifting its constitutional obligations to neighboring states. Judge E. Grady Jolly wrote: “A state cannot lean on its sovereign neighbors to provide protection of its citizens’ federal constitutional rights.” (NY Times)
Virginia: A panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 4th District in Richmond ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. (Washington Post)
Washington, D.C.: Judge Frederick Sculling of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the District’s ban on carrying handguns outside the home is unconstitutional. (NY Times) So, while judges sit in courthouses where weapons are banned - maybe because they’re so important they have to be safe - the rest of us walking around don’t deserve that same protection. We’re not important.
VA Healthcare: The chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Jeff Miller (R, FL), and the chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Bernie Sanders (I, VT), announced they’ve reached an agreement to reconcile the 2 bills. (Guardian) According to Talk Radio News, they will provide $17 billion in emergency funds “to address ongoing scandals and problems that have plagued the department.” $10 billion is for outside healthcare providers “to be contracted to provide healthcare services to veterans who live more than 40 miles away from their closest VA hospital.” They will also lease 27 facilities across the country “to help address the massive veteran wait times.” $5 billion will be used to hire additional doctors and nurses.
Veteran Suicide: This is unbelievable. A survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has found that almost half of all veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan “know at least 1 fellow U.S. troop who has attempted suicide, and 40% know someone who has died by suicide.” There were 2,000 respondents to the survey. 53% “say that they have a mental health injury, and nearly one third of all veterans said that they themselves have considered taking their own life since joining the military.” (Christian Science Monitor) I wonder what the numbers are like for employees of Blackwater (formerly known as Xe and now known as Academi) and CACI. (TWW, CACI Int’l., 9/19/09; Privatizing War, 1/1/11)
Income Inequality: Well, it’s getting worse. According to a study by the Russell Sage Foundation at Stanford University, it isn’t just that the rich are getting richer. Everyone else is getting poorer. In 2003 the inflation-adjusted net worth for an average household was $87,992. In 2013 it was $56,335 - a 36% decline.
Social Security: The Social Security and Medicare annual report came out this week. They are still expecting a shortfall in 2033. So, raise the cap, you dummies.
Immigrant Surge: The House came up with a bill to solve the problems posed by the influx of Central American migrants, mostly unaccompanied children, that are flooding across the border. (TWW, Immigrant Surge, 7/12/14) Then they went on vacation. While Obama had asked for $3.7 billion, the House appropriated $694 million and made it easier to deport the children. Since the Senate had already left for the 5-week vacation, the bill will sit until they get back in September. (Reuters)
Immigration Reform: Since Congress has gone on vacation without solving the immigration problems, Obama is preparing to take executive action. “Administration officials have told allies in private meetings” that they are reviewing a “range of options that could provide legal protections and work permits to a significant portion of the nation’s more than 11 million undocumented residents. . . Ideas under consideration could include temporary relief for law-abiding undocumented immigrants who are closely related to U.S. citizens or those who have lived in the country a certain number of years - a population that advocates say could reach as high as 5 million.” (Washington Post)
Highway Fund: Not a minute too soon, Congress finally came up with a solution to the fading Highway Fund. (TWW, Highway Fund, 7/19/14) Well, it’s a stop-gap solution that provides funding of $11 billion which will keep about 6,000 state highway and transit projects going through next May. (Washington Post) Obviously Republicans are thinking that they’ll take the Senate and hold the House this November and will be able to do what they want.
Economy: It grew at a “fast” 4% in the second quarter of the year. (Washington Post)
Suing the President: Yes, the Republicans are going forward with it, claiming that his executive order extending the time for companies to comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) amounts to tyranny and abuse of power. With all the stuff still undone, this is what they’re focusing on - just before going on vacation - again. Listen to what Jon Stewart has to say about it.
Medicare: According to the same Social Security and Medicare annual report mentioned above, there’s some good news. The Trustees extended Medicare’s solvency by 4 years, from 2026 to 2030, primarily due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which is helping to reduce costs. (Washington Post) But, get this. The prediction that Medicare would run out of money soon has been going on since 1970. Using Congressional Research Service (CRS) data, Vox put together this chart of the past projections. “[E]ach time the projected insolvency date gets close, there’s typically a pattern where Congress steps in and passes some type of policy to make trust fund dollars stretch at least a decade longer. . . In other words, the date of projected insolvency speaks to a world that doesn’t really exist.”
Labeling Meat: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the mandatory “country of origin” labels for meat and related products. Judge Stephen F. Williams cited consumer interest and health concerns. (McClatchy)
Economic Costs of Climate Change: A new report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers warns that “delaying action on climate change would carry a heavy price, racking up an additional 40% in economic losses from climate impacts and other costs over the course of 10 years.” Obama is launching 2 new initiatives “dealing with fast-rising methane emissions from the natural gas industry, and buffering food security against future climate change.” (Guardian) I hate to point this out, but Obama has been the big push behind the growth of the natural gas industry.
Colorado River Basin: It provides water to 7 states and about 40 million people. The latest findings are that the “historic drought is threatening the region’s future access to water.” The Basin - which covers Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California - “has lost about 65 cubic kilometers of fresh water, nearly double the volume of the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead.” While we all think of the water coming from surface water, “about two-thirds of the water lost over the past 9 years came from underground water supplies.” And Lake Mead is at its lowest level since it was created in the 1930s. (Washington Post)
NLRB: The National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s - and other parent corporations - could be held jointly liable for labor and wage violations by its franchise operators. The ruling came after the NLRB’s legal team investigated many complaints that fast-food workers brought accusing McDonald’s and its franchisees of unfair labor practices. (USA Today)
Labor Law Violations: President Obama signed an executive order “aimed at requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations.” The violations will be taken into account when deciding to whom to award contracts worth more than $500,000. (McClatchy)
Jobs: The U.S. economy added 209,000 jobs in July. The unemployment rate is now at 6.2%. (Guardian)