Originally Published: 10/24/2015
The Drone Papers: The Intercept has obtained “a cache of secret documents detailing the inner workings of the U.S. military’s assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The documents, provided by a whistleblower, offer an unprecedented glimpse into Obama’s drone wars.” So begins the report, and it’s extensive. The biggest take-away I got from it is that the U.S. drone program kills innocent people as often as 90% of the time. The documents they obtained reinforce our previous perception that the Obama administration is “cooking the books” when it comes to the true number of civilians killed in drone strikes. They do this by simply “categorizing unidentified people killed in a strike as enemies, even if they were not identified as targets.” And the documents point out that the program goes well beyond the stated objectives of al-Qaeda and the Taliban and is going after members of other local armed groups in countries where there is no war. Assassinations depend on unreliable intelligence with the military being overly reliant on metadata from phones and computers as well as communications intercepts - “signals intelligence.” And the so-called “kill chain” that directs the program ends at the very top, with the President of the United States. (The diagram shown here is from the chapter entitled “Find, Fix, Finish.”) The report is truly shocking.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is pushing ahead with its lawsuit “to compel the CIA to turn over basic details” about its drone program. That’s right, folks. There are 2 drone programs being conducted. The ACLU’s suit pertains to both the CIA’s program and the program run by the Department of Defense (DOD). The leaked documents obtained by The Intercept only pertain to the military’s program. “In combination, the 2 programs are believed to have killed thousands of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan.” (Guardian)
Chicago Black Site: Homan Square is a Chicago black site where cops have subjected suspects to all kinds of torture to get confessions - many false - since 1972. (TWW, Chicago Black Site, 2/28/15) The Guardian, which broke the story back in February, has followed up with a lawsuit and ongoing investigation and has found that more than 7,000 people have been “disappeared” since August 2004, “nearly twice as many detentions as previously disclosed.” Nearly 6,000 of those were black, “which represents more than twice the proportion of the city’s population.” Only 68 of those were allowed access to attorneys “or a public notice of their whereabouts.” Police allowed lawyers access in only .094% of the 7,185 arrests in 11 years. And there are no booking records generated at Homan Square. According to Craig Futterman, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who studies policing: “The reality is, no one knows where that person is at Homan Square. They’re disappeared at that point.” The Guardian also has an interesting interactive that shows that, of the 7,182 who were disappeared, 82% were black and another 12% were Hispanic. 75% of the arrests resulted in drug-related charges but “few of the arrestees are drug kingpins.” According to Chicago’s records most of these people were “lower-level arrests from the narcotics unit.” And 65% of the detentions occurred in the 5 years since Rahm Emanuel took office as Chicago’s mayor.
Fusion Centers: Those blasted Fusion Centers (See The Constitution-Free Zone; TWW, Local Cops, 1/4/14; Stepping Back, 8/16/08; Who’s Snooping?, 7/5/08; Fusion Centers, 4/19/08; Domestic Spying, 4/5/08; Intelligence Centers, 7/28/07) aren’t getting enough leeway, according to Rep. Lou Barletta (R, PA). He has introduced H.R. 3598, Fusion Center Enhancement Act of 2015, which, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), aims “to improve communication between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and state and local entities.” The really interesting part of CBO’s analysis is that it states that DHS “is currently carrying out activities similar to those required by this bill.” In other words, DHS is currently doing something illegal so this bill makes it legal. And Rep. Martha McSally (R, AZ) introduced H.R. 3503, Department of Homeland Security Support to Fusion Centers Act of 2015, which would have DHS “evaluate the effectiveness of information systems and the deployment at fusion centers.” This bill would also require DHS to “establish a program to provide access to certain classified information for state and local personnel at fusion centers.” (CBO) Looks like they really want to expand these fusion centers and share more classified information with local police.
NSA: U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III dismissed an ACLU lawsuit against the National Security Agency. Ellis said that the suit relied on “the subjective fear of surveillance” because the NSA wouldn’t admit that it collected any information. “Ellis admitted that acquiring enough information to prove illegal spying was difficult whether or not illegal spying had occurred, but said that difficulty was a feature, not a bug.” (Guardian)
Canada: Canadians “resoundingly” ended “Conservative Stephen Harper’s attempt to shift the nation to the right” and voted for the Liberal Party. This will put Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, as the new Prime Minister. (Washington Post)
Tax Avoidance: The European Union ordered the Dutch government “to recover money from Starbucks” and ordered Luxembourg “to claw back funds from a Fiat Chrysler unit,” in an “expanding crackdown on tax avoidance by corporations.” The EU’s antitrust chief said that Luxembourg and the Netherlands “had given the multinational corporations illegal state aid by letting them shift profits and pay lower tax rates than those available to other companies.” (NY Times)
Arkansas: The state supreme court ruled that the lower court judge “overstepped his jurisdiction” when he halted the executions of 8 death row inmates. (TWW, Arkansas, 10/17/15) But, the supreme court also granted its own stay to give the inmates time to challenge the law “that allows the state not to disclose where it gets its execution drugs.” (Guardian)
California: It has become the first state with a policy of providing sex reassignment surgery for some prisoners, “adopting a set of specific guidelines on what services it will provide to transgender prisoners.” (NY Times)
North Dakota: An Oasis Petroleum well blew out last weekend and was “out of control” at least 3 days after the spill. Thousands of barrels of crude spilled in those first 3 days. (UPI)
Ohio: It has postponed all executions until 2017 because it cannot obtain the drugs it chose “after a 2014 legal injection using different chemicals had the inmate appearing to gasp for air.” (TWW, Ohio, 1/10/15) (NBC)
Tennessee: A proposal in Greene County to allow the county to raise the Confederate flag over its courthouse was voted down by the Greene County commissioners. (Guardian)
Texas: It is cutting funding to Planned Parenthood for Medicaid services. (Al Jazeera) 3 days after Governor Greg Abbott (R) made this decision, “state health department investigators showed up on Thursday at Planned Parenthood health centers in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Brownsville with orders to turn over thousands of pages of documents, including patients’ records and employees’ home addresses and telephone numbers.” (NY Times)
Wisconsin: Governor Scott Walker (R) signed a bill that limits the John Doe law. The law “has given prosecutors the power to obtain search warrants and order people to testify and turn over documents in investigations that typically take place in secret.” It has been a “longstanding tool against political corruption” and it was used to investigate Walker “and his allies.” So, they limited the scope to investigations of drugs and violent crimes. In other words, they have no tool to investigate political corruption anymore. (NY Times)
Defense Authorization Act: President Obama vetoed the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (only his 5th veto) “because of the way it would sidestep budget limitations for the military and because it would restrict the transfer of detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay.” (Washington Post) If you remember, the sequestration (TWW, Super Committee, 11/23/11) included cuts to the military but this Congress wants the military excluded - which means other services would have to be cut to make up for it. Also, ever since Obama was elected they’ve included the language barring him from using federal funds to transfer detainees out of Gitmo and thus closing it. Looks like he’s fighting back - finally.
The Counted: Up to 928 from last week's 914. (Guardian) That's 14 people killed by law enforcement this last week.
Charter Schools: The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released a report exposing the problems related to more than $3.7 billion dollars spent at the federal level since 1995 to expand charter schools across the nation. According to CMD, the Department of Education (DOE) has little information on how much money it has granted to charter school organizations through state governments, and which charter schools have received funding. The $3.7 billion does not include money spent at the state level. “What has happened is that the federal government has passed off the primary responsibility of determining which charters are eligible to receive funds to the states. And states have pawned off that responsibility to authorizers, some of which are public entities, like school districts, while others are purely private. . . As a consequence, the public does not know how much federal seed money each charter has received and does not know how it has really been spent - this contrasts with public schools whose spending is governed by school boards accountable for public budgets and records.”
Prison Phone Calls: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to crack down on exorbitant prison phone rates. “With the cost of a call sometimes ballooning to $14 per minute once inside prison walls, the FCC for the first time capped rates for local and in-state long-distance inmate calling, and cut its existing cap on interstate long-distance calls by up to 50%. At the same time, the FCC closed loopholes by barring most add-on fees imposed by inmate calling service (ICS) providers, and set strict limits on the few fees that remain. Extra fees and charges can increase the cost of families staying in touch by phone with loved ones who are incarcerated by as much as 40%.”
Socialism: I ran across this piece from 2011 wherein the author lists all the things happening in our country for which socialism is responsible. I thought you might be interested. Number 1, of course, is our military, which provides defense for the nation. Then there’s highways and roads, public libraries, police and fire departments, the postal service, student loans and grants, garbage collection and public landfills, the polio vaccine, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schools, jails and prisons, and the list goes on. (Big Corporation USA) And don’t forget that all those subsidies we give to corporations, including the $50+ billion a year to oil companies, is also socialism. Something to think about, isn’t it? Socialism is 100% American.
Medical Marijuana: Last year the federal government’s spending bill included what is known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. The amendment bars the Justice Department (DOJ) from using federal funds “to prevent [states that have medical marijuana laws] from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” In other words, the legislation “prevented the DEA from going after medical marijuana dispensaries, provided that such dispensaries were acting in compliance with state law.” The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), however, didn’t see it that way and, instead, the DOJ, under which the DEA operates, interpreted the law as allowing them “to pursue criminal and civil actions against medical marijuana businesses and the patients who patronized them.” This week Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court in Northern California went through the floor debate on the language to determine the lawmakers’ intent. He determined that the law was intended to prevent the federal government from intervening in state laws and called the DOJ’s interpretation “counterintuitive and opportunistic.” (Washington Post)
Arctic Drilling: The Interior Department is “canceling future lease sales and will not extend current leases in Arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast, a decision that significantly reduces the chances for future Arctic offshore drilling.” (AP) That is, until another president puts the leases back in place.
Extinction: EcoWatch put up a piece on the plastic garbage and trash in our oceans and the damage it’s doing to ocean life. They’ve captioned their photos “Your Convenience is Their Extinction,” and I think the title is appropriate. “About 8 million metric tons of plastic waste is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, and all marine life - from tiny plankton to giant whales - have to live in it.” Please, please folks. Stop using plastic and, if you get stuck with it, recycle it.
Kill the Animals: A German hunter paid $60,000 to kill “one of the largest elephants ever seen in Zimbabwe.” The bull elephant was estimated to be between 40 and 60 years old. The tusks, “confirmed its exceptional nature, weighing an estimated 120 pounds each.” Hunters are celebrating all over the world saying he might have been “the biggest elephant killed in Africa for almost 30 years.” (Telegraph)