Tagged: Congress

Military-Industrial welfare state: Pentagon says drone armada billion$ unjustified

Reaper

The Pentagon’s internal watchdog has questioned the air force’s need for 46 armed Reaper drones, and suggested the flying service is wasting $8.8 billion on superfluous aircraft.

As purchases of General Atomics’s MQ-9 Reaper ballooned from 60 aircraft in 2007 to the current 401, air force officials did not justify the need for an expanding drone fleet…

During that time, costs for purchasing one of the signature counter-terrorism weapons of Barack Obama’s presidency increased by 934%, from $1.1 billion to more than $11.4 billion, according to a declassified September report by the Pentagon inspector general. Purchasing costs are a fraction of what the drones cost to operate and maintain over their time in service: in 2012, the Pentagon estimated the total costs for them at $76.8 billion…

Responding to heavy demand for additional aerial intelligence from troops deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, the former defense secretary Leon Panetta in 2011 ordered the air force to buy sufficient drones to perform 65 combat air patrols, missions that require up to four aircraft to observe a target for nearly 24 hours.

But the air force’s air combat command “did not conduct and maintain consistent, complete and verifiable analyses for determining the necessary MQ-9 procurement quantity”, the inspector general found. Combing through insufficient or incorrect air force analyses, Pentagon investigators found that the officials “could not provide the underlying support for aircraft quantity determinations” and sidestepped a bureaucratic process for determining needed capabilities…

Pentagon inspectors found that the air force’s inability to justify its continuing Reaper purchases risks wasting $2.5 billion for 13 mission-ready drones; $2.1 billion for 11 training drones; $958 million for five test drones; $766 million for four air national guard drones; and $1.7 billion for nine attrition-reserve drones.

The per-cost waste of the questionable drone purchases works out to roughly $192 million for each of the 46 Reapers the inspector general was unable to justify buying.

We all know what Congress’ response will be to this critical finding by the Inspector General. They – Republicans and Democrats alike – will double the purchase.

Keeping the military-industrial complex fat and happy is one of the primary requirements of holding federal elected office.

Pentagon questions niche vessels — anyone think Congress cares?

The Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian said the U.S. Navy needs more ships with the protection and firepower to survive an advanced adversary, not just “niche platforms,” weeks after she ordered cuts in the $34 billion Littoral Combat Ship program.

Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox’s remarks in a San Diego speech…in part reflect Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s concerns about the ship designed for shallow coastal waters, said a defense official who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations at the Pentagon.

Addressing the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the Naval Institute, Fox said “the threats to surface combatants continue to grow — not just from advanced military powers, but from the proliferation of more advanced, precise anti-ship munitions around the globe. Clearly, this puts a premium on underseas capabilities — submarines — that can deploy and strike with relative freedom of movement.”

The Littoral Combat Ship, made in two versions by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) and Austal Ltd. (ASB), is a lightly armed vessel intended for roles from submarine-hunting to mine-sweeping. Questions have been raised about its mounting costs and survivability in combat. Last month, Fox directed the Navy to truncate the program to 32 ships after 2019 rather than the 52 previously planned by 2026…

Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational testing, has written that the Littoral Combat Ship “is not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat” because its designs don’t include features “necessary to conduct sustained combat operations in a major conflict as expected for the Navy’s other surface combatants.” The Navy has acknowledged the vessels are being built to the service’s lowest level of survivability

In other words, don’t send it to refuel in Yemen.

Fox also warned against the “natural tendency to hang on to combat forces at the expense of enablers,” such as electronic warfare and other countermeasures.

“In many respects the U.S. Navy has been so dominant for so long at sea that I worry we never really embraced these solutions,” she said. “The time to start investing in the next generation of electronic warfare is now.”

The average chickenhawk in Congress still thinks they’re watching rerun episodes of “Victory at Sea” with a soundtrack by Richard Rogers. All they care about is how many government jobs end up on their home turf – producing non-consumable goods.

Perish the thought we spend some pile of money on education, infrastructure or healthcare. That would be socialism.

Bipartisan group in Congress tries for wildfire preparedness – again


Ain’t enough water here to make tea — much less put out a fire

Efforts to address the upcoming wildfire season are already under way in Congress and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On Jan. 8, Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., reintroduced H.R. 167, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. The bill aims to fund activities to suppress large fires so that the Forest Service and BLM do not have to draw money from fire-prevention programs. A spokesman for the office of Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said Crapo and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., plan to reintroduce their identical bill in the Senate early next month.

Last year, the bills were co-sponsored by nearly 150 members of Congress and supported by a broad coalition of more than 300 organizations, but did not make it out of committee to be voted on by the full House or Senate…

The bill would budget for catastrophic wildfires in the same way that responses to other natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes are funded. Routine wildland firefighting costs, which make up about 70 percent of the cost of wildfire suppression, would be funded through the normal budgeting and appropriations process. Very large fires, which represent about 1 percent of wildland fires but make up 30 percent of costs, would be funded under existing disaster programs.

The question that remains for Congressional Republicans is will they join Democrats to protect the lives and homes of Americans in regions threatened by wildfire? Comparing the threat to hurricanes and earthquakes means nothing to the idjit votes in Congress. Tea Party and other rightwing nutballs have already demonstrated their willingness to screw over Americans who suffer from natural disasters.

They have refused to support funds either for preparedness or post-disaster remedies. The usual proposal from the Congressional conservative clown show is that funds be taken away from food stamps, unemployment insurance, programs to implement healthcare, education and the general welfare of anyone below the rank of corporate official in our national hierarchy of importance – in order to fund aid to ordinary citizens whose lives have been uprooted by disaster.

Think this will change with Republicans in charge of legislation?

Republican priority in Congress — paying off the owners of the whorehouse!

school for scoundrels
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So how did House Republicans kick things off when they came back into session this week? Answer: They quickly passed a few noncontroversial bills (the Hire More Heroes Act, etc.), but then came the real top priorities. Something about abortion? Or gun rights? Maybe an immigration bill? Some other tea party hot button?

Nope. First up was a new rule that would speed the bankruptcy of the Social Security disability fund. It passed. Next they tried to sneak through a massive omnibus bill full of goodies for Wall Street

Democrats rushed in to squash the Republican Frankenbill. H.R. 37 came up for a vote Wednesday under a suspension of the rules, meaning that it needed a two-thirds vote. So Democrats would have to supply several dozen votes for the bill to pass….“It has not yet been 24 hours since members of Congress have been sworn in,” said Democrat Dan Kildee (D-MI) on the House floor, “When Main Street had its needs we couldn’t get a hearing. When Wall Street asks, we suspend the rules without taking a breath.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi termed it a “brazen attempt” to “sneak through a New Year’s present to big banks.” Ultimately, enough Democrats shied away from the bill for it to fail by a vote of 276 to 146. Only 35 Democrats voted with all but 1 Republican in favor. The lack of two-thirds support means that the bill would not survive a Presidential veto either.

There you have it. All the tea-party stuff will come eventually, but the very first actions of the Republican House were ones to hurt disabled workers and give a huge gift to Wall Street. Actions speak louder than words, and these were their first actions. Welcome to 2015.

Meanwhile, mainstream media – which conservative fools say is guided by the Left – sits quietly and obedient, rewriting excerpts from press releases by Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Joseph Goebbels.

OK, I made up the last name.

Point being, there is no criticism or comparison with years of unproductive stonewalling by today’s version of Republican conservatism. Our Free Press tiptoes away from any acknowledgement of the class basis of Congressional folderol. Of course. They are owned by the same pimps.

The completion of the Republican transition into the Christian Confederacy Party is left at the feet of the Tea Party nutballs. They aren’t yet allowed total control of the Republican Party. But, they get to stand and chant dirges from the Dark Ages as counterpoint to Smiling Mitch-and-Serious John’s sophistry lessons.

Palestine becomes a member of the International Criminal Court


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Francois Lenoir

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has confirmed that the Palestinians will officially become a member of the International Criminal Court on April 1…

On Friday the Palestinians delivered to U.N. headquarters documents on joining the Rome Statute of the ICC and other international treaties, in a move that has heightened tensions with Israel and could lead to cuts in U.S. aid.

Israel will say, Jump! Obama and Congress will ask, “How high?”

The official announcement of the date of the Palestinian accession to the ICC, in the form of a letter from Ban, was posted on a U.N. website. The United Nations is the official depositary of the Rome Statute and many other treaties.

Under ICC rules, Palestinian membership would allow the court, based in The Hague, to exercise jurisdiction over war crimes committed by anyone on Palestinian territory, without a referral from the U.N. Security Council. Israel, like the United States, is not a party to the Rome statute, but its citizens could be tried for actions taken on Palestinian land…

Momentum to recognize a Palestinian state has built since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas succeeded in a bid for de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, which made Palestinians eligible to join the ICC.

Overdue.

Also overdue is prosecution of Israel for apartheid, all the fascist practices that government has instituted in territory acquired by force of arms.

What’s the scoop on NSA’s Xmas Eve document dump?

While many Americans were cozying up on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, the National Security Agency was busy posting dozens of quarterly reports detailing incidents where it potentially violated U.S. laws through improper monitoring of U.S. citizens and foreigners…

Yes, they hoped no one would notice.

The NSA, like other American intelligence agencies, relies on a 1981 executive order that legalized the surveillance of foreigners living outside of the U.S. It uses that same executive order “to sweep up the international communications of countless Americans,” the American Civil Liberties Union writes.

…The NSA report’s executive summary reads, “After foreign intelligence or counterintelligence information is acquired, it must be analyzed to remove or mask certain protected categories of information, including U.S. person information, unless specific exceptions apply.”

“Data incorrectly acquired is almost always deleted,” it continues.

Bet that makes you feel secure.

Of course, it doesn’t happen quite like that. Edward Snowden’s 2013 leaks revealed the NSA is monitoring more than 1 billion people globally. Its spying on Americans is expansive.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that has been dredging up documents since July 2013. These most recent documents are a series of quarterly reports turned over to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board. They date from late 2001 to mid-year 2013…

The heavily redacted reports detail many, many incidents where NSA agents pulled up the wrong information with the database. Each incident is followed by a statement that the data was either not accessed or the query and results were deleted.

Other reports cover agents being granted access to data without the proper training or using searches that were no longer meant to be in effect. Raw data was at times accidentally emailed or kept on an unsecured computer.

There is also at least one instance where an NSA employee purposefully sought out data that was both unnecessary and illegal. One document states a woman went through her husband’s phone contacts “without his knowledge to obtain names and phone numbers for targeting” over a period of 2-3 years…

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board published a report in January stating the case for ending phone records collection. But legislators have yet to pass any limits on the NSA’s power.

Anyone who believes Congress controlled by Republicans and Tea Bag Nutballs will clamp down on the NSA should know I have a seawater resort I’d like to sell them in La Bajada, New Mexico.

Not that the usual clot of Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and just plain cowards of both parties are likely to make any bipartisan changes in NSA or CIA or FBI practices.

Which states are years ahead of Congress and the White House?

image
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Over the last nine months, Vox writing fellow German Lopez found himself covering two major policy changes in the U.S.: the rapid growth in support of same-sex marriage across the country, and the smaller, but gaining-in-momentum movement to legalize marijuana. German found inspiration to bring the two threads together after seeing politics writer Phil Bump compare the two policies at the Washington Post. With the visuals team, German created a chart comparing medical marijuana laws, full marijuana legalization, and same-sex marriage rights around the country. The end result: a playful chart that shows where you can legally get high at a same-sex wedding. It’s simple, it’s fun, and, yet, it delivers so much information about the state of affairs in the U.S. right now.

This short piece is a VOX specialty. It illustrates the growth and usefulness – therefore importance if you find thinking useful – of this new information source.

I’ve grown to accept their decision to omit reader comments. Of course, I qualify for Barry Ritholtz’s infamous acronym – if you don’t like the rules, GYOB. Get your own blog.

Though I have functioned as contributing editor at blogs with traffic as high as 5 million visitors per week, ideas and issues I consider important always start out here at my personal blog.

Brutal torture by CIA as stupid as ever


Another almost-invisible supporter of human rights in the CIA

The CIA’s post-9/11 embrace of torture was brutal and ineffective – and the agency repeatedly lied about its usefulness, a milestone report by the Senate intelligence committee…concludes.

After examining 20 case studies, the report found that torture “regularly resulted in fabricated information,” said committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, in a statement summarizing the findings. She called the torture program “a stain on our values and on our history”…

The torture that the CIA carried out was even more extreme than what it portrayed to congressional overseers and the George W Bush administration, the committee found. It went beyond techniques already made public through a decade of leaks and lawsuits…

Contractor psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen played a critical role in establishing the torture program in 2002. A company they formed to contract their services to the CIA was worth more than $180m, and by the time of the contract’s 2009 cancellation, they had received $81m in payouts.

So much for “do no harm!”

The committee’s findings, which the CIA largely rejects, are the result of a four-year, $40m investigation that plunged relations between the spy agency and the Senate committee charged with overseeing it to a historic low.

The investigation that led to the report, and the question of how much of the document would be released and when, has pitted chairwoman Feinstein and her committee allies against the CIA and its White House backers. For 10 months, with the blessing of President Barack Obama, the agency has fought to conceal vast amounts of the report from the public, with an entreaty to Feinstein from secretary of state John Kerry occurring as recently as Friday.

CIA director John Brennan, an Obama confidante, conceded in a Tuesday statement that the program “had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes” owing from what he described as unpreparedness for a massive interrogation and detentions program…

Obama banned CIA torture upon taking office, but the continuing lack of legal consequences for agency torturers has led human rights campaigners to view the Senate report as their last hope for official recognition and accountability for torture.

Though the committee released hundreds of pages of declassified excerpts from the report on Tuesday, the majority of the 6,000-plus page classified version remains secret, disappointing human rights groups that have long pushed for broader transparency…

Republican members of the intelligence committee questioned the report in their own 100-page document. They wrote blah, blah, blah and blah.

Read the whole report summary over here.

James Clapper, director of (sic) national intelligence, is leading the ranks of apologists with what is becoming the party line of liberals who are patting themselves on the back because the report finally came out. “Only the heroic United States with our great history, blah, blah, blah, would do this, blah, blah, blah.”

It took over a decade of effort by hundreds of individuals dedicated to preserving our Constitution and what few standards remain in American politics to force our government to come out with this report. Our politicians spend more time hiding the corruption of standards of decency than, say, any criminal prosecutor in St, Louis county or New York City.

Trying to elicit praise for admitting we broke everything from international treaties to our own federal laws by torturing detainees is something thugs like Dick Cheney may demand from his creepy followers. Criminal practices are not praiseworthy even when finally admitting you committed the crimes.

Abandoned oil wells still spewing methane into the air we breathe


Just in the first oil boom state, Pennsylvania — 200K/1 million abandoned oil wells

Some of the millions of abandoned oil and natural gas wells in the United States are still spewing methane, marking a potentially large source of unrecorded greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study released on Monday.

Researchers at Princeton University measured emissions from dozens of abandoned wells in Pennsylvania in 2013 and 2014 and found they were emitting an average of 0.27 kg (0.6 lbs) of methane per day, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“These measurements show that methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells can be significant,” according to the study. “The research required to quantify these emissions nationally should be undertaken so they can be accurately described and included in greenhouse gas emissions inventories.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is mulling whether to issue mandatory standards for reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as part of President Barack Obama’s broad climate action plan.

Presuming Barack Obama isn’t interned at Gitmo by the incoming Republican-dominated Congress.

Environmental groups have told the EPA that directly targeting methane rather than secondary volatile organic compounds, which the agency currently regulates, is more effective and can help the United States make steeper greenhouse gas emission cuts.

The history of extractive industries – whether mining or well-drilling – is one of the worst serial crimewaves in the United States. Between abandoned mines, wells ignored because their production of crap hydrocarbons isn’t sufficiently profitable – it is a tale of poisonous dangers left to rot.