Tagged: profits

How we waste dollar$ on the Border Patrol drone program?

Click to enlargeMatt York/AP

A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol drone aircraft lifts off at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, AZ

Over the past two fiscal years, Customs and Border Protection – CBP – drones helped nab less than 3 percent of the drugs seized by agents in the few sectors where they were used, according to CBP’s own figures.

By comparison, since this fiscal year began on Oct. 1, manned aircraft have accounted for more than 99 percent of weapons, cash and meth seizures, 95 percent of cocaine seizures, and 89 percent of marijuana seizures in which aerial assets were involved, according to CBP data.

To CBP, drug seizures “are not an appropriate performance measure,” spokesman Carlos Lazo said, noting that the drones “detect illegal cross-border activity … on a daily basis.”

[Actually] For budget reasons, the drones don’t fly every day.

In theory, CBP’s $600 million-and-counting drone program is intended to help close the gaps through which smugglers move people and drugs across the border.

“The problem,” Sutherland said, “is that we can’t usually say we apprehended or stopped a group. All we can say is we detected them.”

But the cost-effectiveness of the drones repeatedly has come under fire from by government auditors. Most recently, in January, a critique by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General said — not for the first time— that the drones cost too much and catch too little. Inspectors recommended that, rather than buy any more drones, CBP look for better alternatives…

The Predator B drone and its marine variant, the Guardian, are made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., of Poway, Calif., an affiliate of General Atomics.

General Atomics and GAAS spent nearly $2.4 million lobbying in 2005, when they won their first CBP contract, according to disclosure forms filed with the government. Since then, the two affiliates have spent more than $23 million more on lobbying, while winning sole-source, non-competitive contracts in 2007 and 2012. Officials at GAAS declined to be interviewed.

RTFA for pages of really interesting info on cost-savings alternatives. Alternatives which suggest greater efficiencies, more useful tasks accomplished for less expense.

Then, reflect for a moment on whether this body of programmatic fact will count for more in the mind of your elected Congress-critters than the size of the campaign donations offered by lobbyists from firms heavily into selling us drones?

Another great piece of journalism from azcentral.com.

Wyoming rakes in more than $4.4 Million from taxes on wind-power

Click to enlargeDave Showalter

More than $4.4 million was generated from taxes on wind production across Wyoming in the last fiscal year, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Albany, Carbon, Converse, Laramie, Natrona and Uinta counties share in $2.7 million with the state’s portion of the revenue at slightly more than $1.7 million…

This year’s taxes from wind-generated electricity are the tip of the iceberg to state and local coffers. When the Chokecherry Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project’s 1,000 wind turbines come online, they could eventually bring in more $10 million in revenues annually, from wind generation alone.

Coupled with property taxes and the sales and use tax, Chokecherry promises to be a financial boon to Carbon County, said Kara Choquette, communications director for the Power Company of Wyoming…

“This represents a very significant and positive financial impact for the county, all of the public entities that get a portion of the property taxes and all of the cities and towns that get a portion of the sales and use tax.” Choquette said. “Along with the generation tax, it’s in the hundreds and millions of dollars. That’s a pretty significant increase over what Wyoming is getting now from all of the wind turbines combined.”

We have much of the same potential plus more solar – especially in downstate New Mexico. Of course the state engineer’s office made the determination that we could be a net power exporting state in wind-generated electricity 20 years ago. Our beloved PNM took no notice.

Congrats to Wyoming for making this growing infrastructure part of a larger picture beyond public utility executives patting themselves on the back.

Of course, we’re all farting around – dawdling behind Colorado when it comes to doing something sensible like legalizing marijuana. A renewable resource that slows traffic, generates income for the state and jobs for the young at heart – and brings miles of smiles.

Eric Holder just took away an unconstitutional police power

“I’ll give you ten bucks for the iPhone!”

The Department of Justice…has curtailed a federal program that allowed police to seize and keep cash, cars, and other private property without evidence of a crime…

Local and state police will no longer be able to seize and keep private assets through the federal program unless they’re directly linked to public safety concerns. Items that can still be “adopted” include illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives, and property associated with child pornography.

Police have been heavily criticized for using the program to seize people’s assets without evidence of a crime and pocketing the proceeds to fund their own departments.

The change places a big check on police power.

The federal program, expanded through the War on Drugs [of course], allowed local and state police departments to seize private property allegedly used for criminal purposes, even without evidence of a crime, and share the proceeds with federal agencies. Police would keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds, while federal agencies claimed the rest.

States still allow police to seize private assets, but some of the state laws are more limited and force at least some of the proceeds to go to a state’s general fund — instead of the police departments themselves.

Critics of the federal program said it created an incentive for police to unnecessarily stop and search people, since the seizures could be used to fund their own departments. A previous Washington Post investigation found police routinely seized property without any evidence of wrongdoing.

Here’s a good background article: “How police can take your stuff, sell it, and pay for armored cars with the money“.

It’s what happens in a great many municipalities – though, here in one of the poorest states in the GOUSA, I think the money from illicit sales of conficated property is often used just to keep a local township or city afloat. After all, New Mexico has a Republican “Education Governor” who wants to cut the budget for some or all community colleges – and a Municipal League trying to reinstate taxes on food.

The usual three razzy cheers for what today’s conservatives try to pass off as fiscal conservatism.

Still, it’s nice to see the Department of Justice actually practice a little of the good stuff that makes it into presidential speeches.

FDA pimps for Big Pharma — working harder than ever to stop Canadian prescriptions

For more than two years, Jean and Lee Edes have saved hundreds of dollars by ordering their prescription drugs from Canada…But when they called their Canadian pharmacy recently to check on an order, the Mount Dora couple learned the pills had been seized at the U.S. border.

They ended up paying for the medications twice: $276 for the Canadian package that was shipped but never arrived — and almost two times that amount to fill the prescriptions locally for drugs to treat osteoporosis, high cholesterol and a thyroid condition.

The frustrated couple complained to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is one sponsor of a bill in Congress that would make it legal to order prescriptions from Canada.

The Florida Democrat said the incident involving the Edeses’ pills is part of a growing crackdown on an illegal — yet widespread — practice that the Food and Drug Administration has mostly ignored in the past.

Nelson said the government’s tactics include confiscating drugs at the border, pressuring Visa and MasterCard to stop paying for the purchases, threatening legal action against insurance companies that cover Canadian drugs and, in one instance, having FDA agents board a bus carrying Minnesota seniors to inspect the medications they purchased across the border…

William Hubbard, FDA associate commissioner for policy and planning, said the agency has not stepped up actions against U.S. consumers…”We are not being aggressive in enforcing the laws,” Hubbard said…

Hubbard is a liar. His function is to police and threaten folks who resent the inflated prices paid for prescriptive drugs inside the protected American territory for Pharmaceutical corporations.

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Criminal hacker who coded Mariposa botnet jailed in Slovenia

A hacker accused of masterminding one of the biggest ever botnets has been sentenced to just under 5 years in jail.

Matjaz Skorjanc was arrested in 2010 after a two-year investigation into malware that had hijacked about 12.7 million computers around the world.

The 27-year-old was found guilty of creating the Mariposa botnet software, assisting others in “wrongdoings” and money laundering…

In addition to the 58-month jail term, Skorjanc was also ordered to pay a €4,000 fine and give up a flat and car he was alleged to have bought with money he had received from a Spanish criminal syndicate.

The prosecutors in the case have said they also intended to challenge the Slovenian court’s ruling because they had wanted a tougher jail sentence of seven-and-a-half-years.

The former medical student’s ex-girlfriend Nusa Coh was also sentenced to eight months probation for money laundering…

The botnet got its name because it was created with software called ButterFly Flooder that was alleged to have been written by Skorjanc and advertised on the net as a way to “stress test” computer networks and remotely control Windows and Linux PCs.

Computers in more than 190 countries were infected by Mariposa, which spread by a variety of methods including via instant messages, peer-to-peer file-sharing systems and removable storage devices…

The scale of the problem led the FBI to team up with European law enforcement agencies, the Georgia Tech Information Security Center and other security experts to track down the perpetrators…

“I think the sentence is significant and will be remembered as a milestone in the prosecution of cybercrimes,” Keith Murphy, chief executive of Defence Intelligence told the BBC.

It’s a milestone among adults. Too many hackers still have an understanding of life and society barely beyond sophomoric. Little understanding of commerce and freedom of communication makes clowns like Skorjanc an ideal candidate for the NSA and the criminal clones aping their ideology around the world. He just happened to choose the overt variety of corruption and evil.

Nice to see something more than the slap-on-the-wrist style usually reserved for petit bourgeois anarchists and profiteers.

Class action lawsuit claims InBev watering down Budweiser beer

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI), the world’s biggest brewer, was sued by consumers in three U.S. states for allegedly overstating the alcohol content in its Budweiser beer.

AB InBev’s St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos. routinely adds extra water to its finished products to produce malt beverages with significantly less alcohol content than displayed on its labels, violating state statutes on consumer protection, according to a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Philadelphia. Similar lawsuits were filed in federal courts in New Jersey and San Francisco.

“AB’s customers are overcharged for watered-down beer and AB is unjustly enriched by the additional volume it can sell,” Thomas and Gerald Greenberg said in the Philadelphia complaint…

The claims against Anheuser-Busch are “completely false,” Peter Kraemer, the company’s vice president of brewing and supply, said in an e-mail…“Our beers are in full compliance with all alcohol labeling laws,” Kraemer said….

The complaints accuse the AB InBev unit of also mislabeling the amount of alcohol in Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum, Michelob, King Cobra, Busch Ice, Black Crown, Bud Light Lime, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, Natural Ice and Michelob Ultra.

Josh Boxer, an attorney for plaintiffs in California, said additional lawsuits will be filed against the company in Ohio and Colorado. The California complaint, filed by Sonoma County residents Nina Giampaoli and John Elbert, seek to represent consumers in the state and consumers nationwide who have purchased AB InBev products in the past five years. All three complaints seek damages exceeding $5 million.

Total damages “could be quite significant based on the volume of products that AB produces a year,” Boxer said…

You betcha!

AB InBev allegedly keeps the alcohol level for each batch of malt beverage at specifications above the desired final product at least initially then adds water and CO2 to the final stage of the brewing process, according to the complaint.

The company began using in-line alcohol measuring instruments known as Anton Paar meters that can measure the alcohol content in malt beverages to within hundredths of one percent, according to the complaint. AB allegedly uses the precision technology to shave the alcohol content instead of providing consumers with a product based on the stated label, the Greenbergs said in the complaint.

Adding water to the brewing process cuts the stated alcohol content by 3 to 8 percent, Boxer said.

Budweiser announced the takeover move by InBev in 2006 – which was completed in 2009. Beaucoup Budweiser fans worried about an even larger corporate entity screwing with their favorite beer. I not only don’t drink anything from either, I don’t think anyone in my family does either. So, we never especially worried about their business ethics except within the context of marketing. Like could they screwup the English Football Association even more than the Brits managed to on their own?

Still, there is nothing more classic about capitalism than some scumbag “watering the beer” to increase profits. Should be an interesting case to follow.

U.K. prosecutor makes first arrests in Libor-rigging fraud

The U.K. Serious Fraud Office and City of London Police made the first three arrests in global probes into tampering with benchmark interest rates including the London interbank offered rate.

The three men arrested, ranging in age from 33 to 47, are all British nationals living in the U.K., the SFO said in an e-mailed statement. The agency and police also searched three homes in Surrey and Essex.

Global authorities are investigating claims that more than a dozen banks altered submissions used to set benchmarks such as Libor to profit from bets on interest-rate derivatives or make the lenders’ finances appear healthier. Swiss lender UBS AG is expected to face a fine as early as this week that may surpass the record $466 million paid in June by Barclays Plc, the U.K.’s second-biggest bank, to settle claims it attempted to manipulate Libor…

Libor, a benchmark for more than $300 trillion of financial products worldwide, is derived from a survey of banks conducted each day on behalf of the British Bankers’ Association in London. The rates help determine borrowing costs for everything from mortgages to student loans…

Criminal probes by the SFO and U.S. Department of Justice are running in parallel with civil investigations being conducted by the Justice Department’s fraud division, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the U.K. Financial Services Authority.

Anyone think the brave conservatives in our Congress will stand up and applaud, encourage prosecution of this criminal fraud?

Here we have an international conspiracy that manipulated rates affecting everything from student loans and mortgages to funding for corporate expansion. The investigating bodies accept as a premise they will not charge the management of these banks as responsible for the crime – only individuals will take the fall for the crime. The banks will pay fines. If the fines are big enough to affect their profit margins, they will pass the cost along to customers.


Exploring other options for palliative care

Paula Span…wrote last week about the poor choices facing patients, most very old and within six months of death, who need nursing home care after a hospitalization.

Medicare will pay for hospice, the acknowledged gold standard for those at the end of life and their families, and it will also pay for skilled nursing (known in this universe as the “sniff” benefit, for Skilled Nursing Facility or S.N.F.)…but only rarely will it cover both at the same time, which creates a financial bind.

Rather than pay hundreds of dollars a day out of pocket for room and board in a nursing home, most families opt for S.N.F. coverage. But they pay a price in other ways: they lose the visits by nurses and aides and social workers, the comfort care, the pain relief and the spiritual support that can make hospice such a godsend, whether patients are at home or in nursing homes.

The study I wrote about, by a team mostly based at the University of California, San Francisco, found ongoing repercussions from this forced decision. People were much more likely to die in hospitals or nursing homes when they used the S.N.F. benefit. Though studies repeatedly find that most people would prefer to die at home, only 11 percent did. But those who did not use S.N.F. were far more likely to be enrolled in hospice – and 40 percent of them died at home.

On the other coast, meanwhile, researchers in Providence, R.I., and Boston exploring some of the same issues have documented still other problems when people nearing death use nursing homes…

The whole purpose of Medicare’s paying for skilled nursing, recall, is to help patients get stronger and return home, or at least to improve their health. But physical therapy, for instance, may serve little purpose for those who are bed-bound, who are totally incontinent, who can’t feed themselves. “These are people who are on a decline,” Dr. Miller said. “They’re not going to get better.”

Yet they received a lot of medical interventions compared to those in hospice care. Those using S.N.F. were significantly more likely to receive feeding tubes, intravenous fluids, injections and medications — none of which can stop or slow dementia, of course, or are likely to increase quality of life…

People in palliative care and hospice have complained about this restriction for years, and they may want to keep complaining. The Affordable Care Act calls for a demonstration project of “concurrent care,” a three-year experiment allowing up to 15 hospice programs around the country to enroll patients who can also continue to receive all the other services that Medicare covers, including skilled nursing…

But the statute doesn’t set a target date, so who knows when or whether this experiment will happen? Too bad, because a lot of patients and families would like to know the answer.

I certainly would like to know. And I’m the kind of taxpayer, medicare client, who will ask.

I’m drafting an email to go to medicare.gov, my Congress critters, asking about this experiment, how and when it will be started? I suggest if you’re in the same demographic – or you have family members who are or will be – please do the same.

Yes, I feel very strongly about dying where I have lived – in my home.

Charity refuses donations from former Navy SEAL’s book profits

The former Navy SEAL who wrote No Easy Day under the pen name Mark Owen has promised to donate a majority of his profits to charities, but one of the non-profit groups he touted – the Navy SEAL Foundation – has ruled out accepting his donations.

“The Navy SEAL Foundation is committed to providing immediate and ongoing support and assistance to the Naval Special Warfare community and their families.

“With this principled mission in mind, the Foundation will not be accepting any donations that are generated from the book or any related activities,” the group said in a statement on its website…

The book has shot to the top of bestseller lists amid an avalanche of publicity, but Owen’s decision to publish his first-hand account has angered many fellow SEALs, including the commander of the elite units, who say he has betrayed the ethos of the special operators to be “quiet professionals”.

The Pentagon has accused the author of revealing classified information and violating non-disclosure agreements he signed while in uniform, which it says require him to submit any manuscript to the defence officials before publication.

NDA’s are something often regarded lightly by my fellow geeks. And perhaps in the world of tech that is so.

I say with equal consideration that is not the case in the life of those military women and men charged with defending their nation.

Any regular visitor here knows well of my feelings about the misuse of military power by our country and others, over time, over history — and today. I joke a bit about being a citizen of Earth more than I am of any political entity. But, I have always respected the charge of non-disclosure sacred to the lives of those brave or foolhardy enough – or sufficiently dedicated – to commit to a military life. I extend that to those I have known and lived alongside in military service – even in wars I have opposed.

Commodity trader boasts – “We’ll make a killing out of food crisis”

The United Nations, aid agencies and the British Government have lined up to attack the world’s largest commodities trading company, Glencore, after it described the current global food crisis and soaring world prices as a “good” business opportunity.

With the US experiencing a rerun of the drought “Dust Bowl” days of the 1930s and Russia suffering a similar food crisis that could see Vladimir Putin’s government banning grain exports, the senior economist of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Concepcion Calpe, told The Independent: “Private companies like Glencore are playing a game that will make them enormous profits.”

Ms Calpe said leading international politicians and banks expecting Glencore to back away from trading in potential starvation and hunger in developing nations for “ethical reasons” would be disappointed.

“This won’t happen,” she said. “So now is the time to change the rules and regulations about how Glencore and other multinationals such as ADM and Monsanto operate. They know this and have been lobbying heavily around the world to water down and halt any reform.”

Glencore’s director of agriculture trading, Chris Mahoney, sparked the controversy when he said: “The environment is a good one. High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities.

“We will be able to provide the world with solutions… and that should also be good for Glencore.”

RTFA for a touch more detail – about the greed, self-serving ethics of the corporate world that relies upon Free Market ideology and economics as the only excuse needed to justify profiteering from the pain and hunger of the world.