Home
About the Wonk
Mission Statement
Member Benefits Privacy Statement
Contact Us
Feedback
 
U.S. Government
Government Issues
Weekly Wonk



WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 8/29/2015

Police Surveillance:  Local police departments are using high-tech monitoring devices called Stingrays to track your mobile phone activity and find your exact location. And, if you’re arrested, the cops don’t tell the court that they used a Stingray, so neither the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, or the defendant knows that the evidence gathered came from an electronic device with no warrant. The cops can’t disclose they used the Stingray because they signed a confidentiality agreement with the FBI barring them from saying anything. So, they’ve found a way to circumvent the 4th Amendment and any due process. An investigation by USA Today found that nearly 60 state and local law enforcement agencies in 21 states are using Stingrays to find people suspected of committing common street crimes. But the cell site simulators also gather information from innocent bystanders and it’s not clear what is being done with that data. There are no federal guidelines or laws regulating Stingray activity so local cops are given free rein to use them however they wish. The FBI claims it has no authority to regulate how local police use the devices. We have no idea of how many convictions have been obtained as a result of this program because we don’t know how many police departments are participating in it.

 

The USA Today investigation, however, did turn up the use of Stingray in Baltimore. “In one case after another, USA Today found police in Baltimore and other cities used the phone tracker . . . to locate the perpetrators of routine street crimes and frequently concealed that fact from the suspects, their lawyers, and even judges. In the process, they quietly transformed a form of surveillance billed as a tool to hunt terrorists and kidnappers into a staple of everyday policing. . . Defense attorneys assigned to many of those cases said they did not know a Stingray had been used until USA Today contacted them, even though state law requires that they be told about electronic surveillance.” [Emphasis added.] (USA Today)

 

NSA:  A 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that public interest lawyer Larry Klayman, the founder of Freedom Watch, has not proved his standing to sue the NSA for collecting his phone records. Why? Because the records are secret and he can’t prove they’ve got them. The panel sent the case back down to the lower court. More importantly, “The panel’s ruling also reverses a ban on the NSA’s collection that had been imposed - and temporarily stayed - by a District Court judge in December 2013.” (TWW, NSA, 12/21/13) The ruling doesn’t “address the constitutionality or legality of the program.” (Washington Post)

 

Supreme Court Protesting:  Another 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that a 1949 law which outlawed protesting on the grand plaza in front of the Supreme Court is constitutional. The court’s decision rested “on the premise that demonstrations on the court’s doorsteps might lead to the perception that the court is swayed by public opinion rather than the dictates of the law.” In 2013 U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell struck down the restrictions, writing: “It cannot possibly be consistent with the First Amendment for the government to so broadly prohibit expression in virtually any form in front of a courthouse, even the Supreme Court.”  (Washington Post)

 

Gitmo Prisoners:  There are only 116 detainees left at Guantánamo Bay. Of these, only 3 were apprehended by U.S. forces. “The foundations of the guilt of the remaining 113, whom U.S. politicians often refer to as the ‘worst of the worst’ terrorists, involves a degree of faith in the Pakistani and Afghan spies, warlords, and security services who initially captured 98 of the remaining Guantánamo population.” 68 were captured by Pakistani security forces or “apparent informants.” Another 30 were sent to Gitmo “by forces from Afghanistan - mostly warlords and affiliates of early U.S. efforts to topple the Taliban after 9/11.” What does this mean? “No U.S. official nor human rights critic believes all 116 detainees are innocent of all terrorism charges. Yet the reality that nearly 85% of detentions at Guantánamo stem from foreign partners with their own interests in round-ups - overwhelmingly of Arab men in south Asian countries - rarely factors into the heated rhetoric from conservative politicians who warn of dire consequences should Barack Obama finally close the facility.” (Guardian)

 

Manipulating Intelligence:  I don’t know why anyone is surprised. The Pentagon has been manipulating intelligence for a long time. But now a civilian Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) employee has alleged that officials at the U.S. Central Command (CentCom) fudged the conclusions of an intelligence report that examined the effectiveness of the bombings against ISIS. The charges have triggered an investigation by the Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General. (NY Times)

 

China:  Its stock market plunged again (TWW, China, 7/11/15), causing “global losses” and “deepening fears over the health of the world’s second-largest economy.” (Al Jazeera) Aftershocks hit Wall Street. (See below.)

 

Honduras:  21 House Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that he “suspend U.S. assistance to law enforcement and state security forces in Honduras.” The letter claims that human rights abuses are extensive. “[T]he letter detailed widespread government repression in the Central American country that proliferated in the wake of a right-wing 2009 coup d’etat.” (District Sentinel)

 

India:  The Chochin International Airport has become the first airport in the world that completely operates on solar power.

 

Immigration Walls:  It’s not just the U.S. talking about putting up walls to keep immigrants out. It’s going on all over Europe. In some instances the European Union is building walls. In some areas the Schengen Area is building walls. In some others the EU is building them but the Schengen is not. Check out the map. (Washington Post)

 

Alaska:  Governor Bill Walker (I) wanted to expand Medicaid in his state using the money provided under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The legislature wouldn’t approve his plan so he went ahead with it, bypassing the legislature. The legislature sued to block the expansion. Alaska Superior Court Judge Frank A. Pfiffner “turned down that request. The judge said the legislators who objected had not proved so far that starting to expand the program would cause the state ‘irreparable harm’ or that the governor had clearly overstepped his authority.” The decision will probably be appealed. (Washington Post)

 

Arizona:  Governor Doug Ducey (R) is “in the process of canceling its contract with Utah-based Management and Training Corp in the wake of riots and violence inside 2 units at the Kingman prison last month.” (Reuters) Who will run the prison? Wanna bet they turn it over to Corrections Corporation of America? (TWW, Private Prisons, 6/29/13; Arizona, 12/1/12; Private Prisons, 8/11/12; Private Prisons, 2/18/12; Ohio, 9/3/11; Private Prisons, 6/25/11; Private Prisons, 5/21/11; Privatization in Action, 3/26/11; Arizona’s Immigration Law, 10/30/10)

 

Colorado:  Between 40 and 50 workers have won their “wage theft” case against a grocery store in the Denver suburb of Aurora and will collect a total of $305,000 in back wages and penalties. (RH Realty Check)

 

Kentucky:  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that Kim Davis, a court official who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples - or anyone else - must do so “while she continues to pursue litigation.” The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky had ruled that she must issue the licenses regardless of her personal beliefs. She appealed to the Court of Appeals and continued refusing issuing licenses saying there was an appeal pending. This ruling makes her issue licenses while she’s appealing - probably to the Supreme Court. (Washington Post)

 

Debt Ceiling:  It’s that time again. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that if the limit isn’t raised, “the measures that the Treasury has been taking to avoid breaching that limit will be exhausted sometime between mid-November and early December, and the Treasury will then run out of cash.”

 

Military Spending:  We know that the U.S. budget for military spending is huge. (TWW, Defense Spending, 9/1/12) But how big is it compared to other countries? Vox has this great chart. “Not only does the U.S. defense budget equal about half of the world’s total military spending, but a huge chunk of the rest of the total is spent by close American allies.”

 

Military Bases:  The U.S. is the most powerful country the world has ever seen. Besides the incredible spending (see above), we do it by maintaining 800 military bases around the world. This video at Vox only shows 200 of them; there isn’t enough room on the map to show them all. Most were set up after World War II. “There’s not a place on earth that is not covered by a U.S. military base.” We spend between $70 and $100 billion a year just to keep the bases open.

 

Your Luggage:  I always wondered what happened to my checked luggage at the airport. Well, the Washington Post just answered that question. This video was shot at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. “The Schipol airport was one of the first to adopt the robotic arm for baggage handling, so the system is more advanced than some, but the general idea is the same.” And there’s a link to another 3D version that lets you look all around. This is amazing but be careful. It’s kinda like a rollercoaster ride and you may get nauseous.

 

Hamburger:  I may never eat another hamburger. A new report from Consumer Reports says that much of the hamburger sold isn’t safe. They tested 458 pounds of beef (the equivalent of 1,832 quarter-pounders) from 103 grocery, big-box, and natural food stores in 26 cities across the country. They analyzed samples for 5 common types of bacteria including toxin-producing strains. All 458 pounds contained at least 1 type of bacteria. 10% were contaminated with a strain of S. aureus, a superbug that, under certain circumstances, can produce a toxin that can make you sick and can’t be destroyed with proper cooking.

 

FDA:  According to an analysis by BioMedTracker commissioned by Forbes, the Food and Drug Administration is approving just about everything. “As recently as 2008, companies filing applications to sell never-before-marketed drugs, which are referred to by the FDA as ‘new molecular entities,’ faced rejection 66% of the time. Yet so far this year the FDA has rejected only 3 uses for new chemical entities, and approved 25, an approval rate of 89%.” However, “the 2015 rejection count includes rejections of Avycaz, a new antibiotic from Allergan, for hospital-acquired pneumonia, and selling Jardiance, a diabetes drug from Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim, in combination with metformin. But Avycaz was approved for 2 other uses and Jardiance is on the market by itself. So, in reality, the FDA approval rate is more like 96%.”

 

Tar Sands Mine:  Remember I told you about the tar sands mine that was being set up in Utah? (TWW, Tar Sands Mining, 6/29/13) “Across the rolling green hills of the Book Cliffs of eastern Utah, about 165 miles from Salt Lake City,” U.S. Oil Sands, a Canadian company, is about to start mining. (AP) So, while everyone was screaming about the Keystone XL Pipeline, the southern route was approved (TWW, Keystone XL, 12/21/13) and is now operating (TWW, Keystone XL, 1/25/14). And now we have our own mine. We’re easily distracted.

 

Polluted Streams:  The U.S. Geological Survey “found insecticides known as neonicotinoids - which have been tied to bee colony collapse (TWW, Bees, 4/4/15) and have been found to have little effect on increasing crops (TWW, Pesticides, 6/28/14) - in a little more than half of both urban and agricultural streams sampled across the nation and Puerto Rico.” The study was conducted from 2011 to 2014. “Use of neonicotinoids to control pest insects has been increasing over the past decade, especially on corn and soybeans. Much of this increase is due to a shift from leaf applications to using the insecticides prophylactically on seeds.” (KTVZ)

 

Garbage Patches:  I’ve told you before about the garbage patches floating in our oceans. Now some animators from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have developed a “scientific visualization” of the plastic garbage patches across the world. The video shows how the ocean currents move the plastic into the garbage patches. It’s fascinating and frightening at the same time. That plastic bag you just threw out, or the plastic bottle, or the plastic “to-go” container, will probably end up somewhere in one of these patches.

 

Home Healthcare Workers:  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned the decision of a federal judge that “had scrapped the Labor Department rules earlier this year after finding that the agency had overstepped its authority. . . But [this court] said the Labor Department has the power to interpret the law to change that exemption.” So, with this decision, Obama’s regulations “that guarantee overtime and minimum wage protection” to home healthcare workers is reinstated. (AP)

 

Employer Definition:  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) just put out a 3 to 2 decision that significantly changes the definition of “employer.” The decision will force companies to take responsibility for the “labor law violations of their subcontractors and franchisees.” The Board stated in its news release: “With more than 2.87 million of the nation’s workers employed through temporary agencies in August 2014, the Board held that its previous joint employer standard has failed to keep pace with changes in the workplace and economic circumstances.” This may open the door for more unionization of workers. However, it’s expected that employers will appeal the decision. (Washington Post)

 

Wall Street:  In the wake of the crash of the Chinese stock market (see above), Wall Street went into “free-fall,” with “all 3 indexes in correction.” It opened Monday “with the Dow Jones industrial average losing more than 1,000 points following a more-than 8% drop in Chinese shares and a selloff in oil and other commodities. The Dow has never lost more than 800 points in a day.” Futures sales on the Nasdaq, S&P, and Dow “were halted briefly before the market opened after hitting a circuit breaker.” Oil prices, as well as the dollar, fell. (Reuters) By Tuesday morning, “U.S. stocks rebounded” while China’s continued to slide (Washington Post), but Tuesday “in the last hour of trading” all gains were wiped out. (Washington Post) Markets rallied “strongly” Wednesday morning. (Guardian) By Thursday Chinese stocks rebounded. (Al Jazeera

 

The Wonk

FOLLOW THE ISSUE WONK
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Subscribe to the
Weekly Wonk:


Email Address

This Is CAPTCHA Image

CAPTCHA value


**************

SPONSORS
Forest Books Facebook Page
Click here to visit my facebook page.
Please follow me on Twitter

© Copyright 2006-19 - The Issue Wonk™
The Issue Wonk, Inc. - All Rights Reserved