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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 4/23/2016

Military Budget:  We’ve been through this before. The U.S. “outspends every other nation on earth when it comes to our military. We spend more than the next 7 countries combined.” According to the National Priorities Project, the Pentagon’s spending “is subject to the same rules of corporate greed that plague our entire economy. More than half of the Pentagon budget goes to for-profit contractors.” [Emphasis added.] “In fiscal year 2014, the United States government paid out an astounding $444 billion in federal contracts. That’s equivalent to almost 40% of the federal discretionary budget for 2014.” And who are the contractors? National Priorities Project also has a list of the top 10. Number 1 is Lockheed Martin, receiving $32.3 billion in 2014. “That’s 7% of all federal contracts, and the equivalent of 3% of discretionary spending in 2014.” Lockheed that year had more than $5.5 billion in profit - not revenue, profit, and paid its CEO more than $34 million. And what was that money for? The F-35 jet fighter which has been in development since 2001 and is still not ready. Back in 2013 I reported that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program was being called an “unmitigated disaster.” Costs keep rising, the project never gets done, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that the program will go well over $1 trillion. (TWW, F-35, 2/23/13) But just this past January the Pentagon announced it had awarded another $61 million contract to Lockheed Martin for the F-35 “Logistics Services Support.” (Defense World) When will the madness end? How much good could we do for our citizens if we weren’t spending so much on military contractors? You might also notice that politicos and lawmakers call this the “defense” budget. That’s a misnomer. We’re not defending ourselves. It’s a budget for imperialism.

 

Democracy Spring:  The protests continued on Monday, the last day of the scheduled movement, and ice cream moguls Ben & Jerry were arrested along with 300 others. Since the beginning of the protests, 1,200 have been arrested, according to police. (Guardian)

 

Gitmo:  9 more detainees were released from Guantánamo Bay prison. They’re all going to Saudi Arabia. That leaves 80 people still in there. (Guardian)

 

Iraq:  Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced plans to send 217 more U.S. troops to Iraq, “expanding the Pentagon’s ongoing train and advise program. The latest deployments will bring the total U.S. soldier count in Iraq to above 4,000 for the first time since 2011, when President Obama ordered a full withdrawal from the country.” This new deployment requires our soldiers “to operate closer to the front lines than in previous assignments.” Most of them will be special forces. (District Sentinel)

 

California:  San Francisco passed “landmark legislation” requiring all new buildings under 10 storeys in height “to be fitted with rooftop solar panels.” (Guardian)

 

Colorado:  The Douglas County school district disclosed that it spent more than $12,000 on Bushmaster “long guns” for its security team - “the kind of assault weapons that gunmen have used in deadly mass shootings in Colorado and across the country in recent years. School safety experts say this is the first case of a U.S. public school district arming its in-house security officers.” (Guardian)

 

Michigan:  State attorney general Bill Schuette (R) announced a total of 13 felony charges and 5 misdemeanor charges against 2 state and 1 city official over the Flint water contamination crisis. (TWW, Michigan, 1/30/16) “3 officials responsible for maintaining safe water in the city of Flint tinkered with evidence, tweaked testing, and misled county and federal officials, helping to set in motion a citywide lead contamination of drinking water.” (Detroit Free Press)

 

New York:  With less than 24 hours before the presidential primary, a group of New Yorkers who saw their party affiliations mysteriously switched filed a lawsuit seeking to open the state’s closed primary so that they could cast a ballot. According to WNYC, 63,558 Brooklyn Democratic registrants were dropped between last November and April. That’s 7% of registered Democrats in one borough. “No other borough in New York City nor county in the rest of the state saw such a significant decline in active registered Democrats. In fact, only 7 of the state’s 62 counties saw a drop in the number of Democrats. Everywhere else saw the numbers increase.” A New York City board of elections official has been suspended without pay over the incident. Diane Haslett-Rudiano is the Brooklyn Borough Office Chief. (WABC-TV)

 

North Carolina:  NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that if the state doesn’t change the “bathroom law,” it will pull the 2017 all-star game scheduled to be held in Charlotte. (Washington Post) I guess the state can add this to all the other business it’s losing. (TWW, North Carolina, 4/16/16)

 

Pennsylvania:  It became the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana. (The Cannabist)

 

Virginia on School Bathroom Policy:  The 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled a Virginia school board is violating anti-discrimination laws by barring a transgender boy from using the boys’ restroom. In this case it was a county school board policy. It’s interesting to note that North Carolina, which passed a law like this (TWW, North Carolina, 3/26/16), belongs to this same circuit. (Guardian)

 

Virginia on Voting:  Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) issued an executive order that will make all ex-felons eligible to vote in the upcoming presidential election. “This will allow an estimated 180,000 to 210,000 former felons who are not in prison or on probation or parole to register to vote this year in Virginia.” He will have to “sign an identical executive order every month for the remaining 2 years of his term to capture violent felons who get out of prison each month. The next governor could easily reverse the designation for future felons.” (Washington Post)

 

3 Strikes:  Last year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down, 8 to 1, the 1984 federal law that mandated a sentencing term based on the “3 strikes” definitions. (TWW, 3 Strikes, 6/27/15) This week they ruled 7 to 1 that last year’s decision applies retroactively. “The move to apply the June 2015 opinion retroactively could eventually see more than 1,000 prisoners released earlier than previously expected.” Last year Justice Samuel Alito was the sole dissenter. This year it was Justice Clarence Thomas. (District Sentinel)

 

Iran:  The Supremes ruled 6 to 2 that Congress “had not violated the separation of powers when it passed a bill making it easier for about 1,300 people to collect money on behalf of those killed or injured in the 1983 bombing of a U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut and other attacks blamed on Iran.” This clears the way for victims to collect almost $2 billion in seized Iranian assets. Citizens are usually barred from suing foreign governments in U.S. courts, but there is an exception for terrorist acts. Iran has never responded to the suit. (Washington Post) The majority opinion was written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Elena Keegan and Clarence Thomas (in all but Part II-C of the opinion). Dissenting were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (SCOTUSBlog)

 

The Counted:  So far this year 316 people have been killed by law enforcement, up from 298 last week. That’s another 18 people killed by cops this week. (Guardian)

 

Harriet Tubman:  As I’m sure you’ve heard, Harriet Tubman will be the new face of the $20 bill - but not until the year 2030. (Washington Post) For those of you who don’t know who she was, I encourage you to read about her. She was an amazing woman and prominent in our history of slavery, the Civil War, and women’s suffrage. (AlterNet)

 

Freedom of the Press:  Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has come out with its annual World Press Freedom Index, an analysis of “freedom of the press” across the world. Unfortunately, once again, the U.S. didn’t do so well. We came out 41st out of 180 nations, behind Estonia, Cyprus, Belize, and Finland. “The main cause for concern for RSF continues to be the current administration’s obsessive control of information, which manifests itself through the war on whistleblowers and journalists’ sources, as well as the lack of government transparency, which reports have continually criticized. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined.” While we didn’t do real well, we’ve come up in ranking. In 2014 we were 46th (TWW, Freedom of the Press, 2/15/14) but in 2011 we were 47th. (TWW, Freedom of the Press, 1/28/12) The best we ever achieved was in 2002 when we were at 17th. (TWW, Freedom of the Press, 10/25/08) The worst was 2004 when were were at 53rd, tied with Botswana, Croatia, and Tonga. (TWW, Press Freedom Index, 10/28/06)

 

Housing Debt Relief:  Finally, after all these years, the Obama administration is going to grant some debt relief to Americans whose home values “plummeted after financial markets were tanked by Wall Street.” The Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHA) announced that it would grant mortgage principal reductions “to about 33,000 underwater homeowners.” (District Sentinel) 33,000? Are you kidding me?

 

United Healthcare:  It’s pulling out of most of the state markets with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It is the nation’s largest health insurer. The Obama administration claims that United Healthcare only covers about 6% of all ACA enrollees and that it has never priced its plans competitively. United Healthcare CEO Stephen Hemsley claims it was sustaining financial losses. (The Hill) I guess they never thought about cutting Hemsley’s compensation. In 2012 his total compensation was $48.86 million. (Forbes) Ya think it’s gone down since then? 

 

Great Barrier Reef:  Scientists say that about 93% of the Great Barrier Reef is now bleached. “Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force has surveyed 911 coral reefs by air, and found at least some bleaching of the vast majority of them. The bleaching was the worst in the reef’s remote northern sector - where virtually no reefs escaped it.” Severe bleaching means that the corals could die, “depending on how long they are subject to these conditions.” Scientists said they are already seeing the death of about 50% of the reefs. It’s being caused by unusually high water temperatures which forces zooxanthellae, a symbiotic algae, to leave the corals’ bodies. “This changes their color to white and can also in effect starve them of nutrients. If bleaching continues for too long, corals die.” (Washington Post)

 

Air Pollution:  The American Lung Association has put out its “State of the Air” report. It found that 166 million Americans - more than half of the U.S. population - are living in unhealthy ozone or particle pollution with serious health risks. They list the cleanest and worst cities by ozone, by year round particle pollution, and by short-term particle pollution. And there’s an interactive where you can put in your city and see how it’s doing. There’s a lot of information in this report.

 

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