Army has reached $1 billion in energy-saving projects


Click to enlargeUS Army Corps of Engineers

In less than five years, the Army has engaged in 127 energy-saving projects with the private sector that now exceed $1 billion in investments, announced Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning…

The president challenged all federal agencies in December 2011 to partner with companies to save energy. It was called the Energy Savings and Performance-Based Contracting Investments Initiative and the president wanted all of government to execute $4 billion in projects by the end of 2016.

The Army’s projects alone represent 33 percent of all the federal government’s current contributions to meeting the president’s goal…

On our installations, and wherever we maintain and train our force, the Army is focused on finding the sweet spot between energy efficiency and energy security,” he said. The 127 projects have been undertaken at 52 installations.

“This is a case where public policy has worked well,” said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment.

These contracts are important to the Army, she said. Federal agencies like the Army can leverage their utility budgets and take the steps essential to enhancing resiliency, achieving cost savings, and improving operations and maintenance, with no upfront costs to the government, she explained.

The costs of the projects are paid back over time as the Army realizes savings from the improvements…

RTFA for beaucoup details. Especially pleasant – and surprising – to see a chunk of the Pentagon come through with savings of any kind projected over time.

Obama said he’d let science – not ideology – dictate policy — [except for the so-called War on Drugs]

On Thursday, the Drug Enforcement Agency formally refused to reconsider its classification of marijuana, which is officially regulated as a dangerous substance with no medical value, alongside drugs like heroin and LSD. Despite a growing body of scientific evidence and changes in public opinion, the federal government has refused to budge on a 46-year-old stance borne out of the War on Drugs.

According to the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 61 percent of Americans support legalization. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws reports that eight out of ten Americans support medical marijuana legalization…

As public opinion moves in favor of legalizing pot, the DEA is clinging to the past — with little scientific evidence to back up their position.

Research has shown that pot has a multitude of medical benefits. And by reaffirming its position, the government has set back patients who relied on it for treatment for years.

Thursday’s announcement means pot will remain a Schedule I drug, defined as having “no medical value and a high potential for abuse.” That means the federal government believes marijuana is just as harmful as heroin and less harmful than cocaine. It also bars scientists from receiving federal funding and forces them to jump through hoops to conduct their research. Insurance companies are banned from covering marijuana treatment, so patients have to rely on the black market for treatment.

As of 2013, 78 percent of physicians in the world support the use of medical marijuana. In May, Ohio became the 25th U.S. state to legalize it. Even Congressional Republicans who have long opposed pot legalization recently vocalized support for more medical marijuana research.

And Republicans are more afraid of science than they are of democracy, non-white voters and women. More or less.

If Obama persists in saying he prefers science over ideology, how about opting for backbone over election year-opportunism.

White House staff plays key role in deadly drone strikes — and faces no Congressional oversight


Click to enlargeNorthrop Grumman

The White House staff for national security, exempt from review by Congress, plays a substantial role in the process for killing suspected terrorists, according to a newly released document on drone strikes.

The 2013 document, known informally as the “playbook” for Barack Obama’s signature counterterrorism operations, was released on Saturday by the justice department as the result of court requests by the American Civil Liberties Union. The playbook provides the closest look to date at the bureaucratic machinery of global killing that Obama will pass on to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

The document designates the National Security Council staff as a body of review over “all operational plans” for either killing or capturing terrorist subjects. Once representatives of various cabinet agencies and departments meet to discuss a specific plan, NSC attorneys provide legal input.

…While the NSC staff plays a role in nominating people for inclusion on the so-called “kill list”, it neither makes the nomination nor involves itself in carrying out a strike or raid.

Such plans include the length of time permissible for killing or capturing people in a designated place, the “strike and surveillance” assets to be used, the specific counter-terrorism objectives to be achieved, and a “near certainty” that civilians will neither be killed nor, for non-lethal action, injured while capturing a target. The NSC staff convenes meetings across agencies for nominating any named “high-value target” to the “kill list”, and passes on those considered validly marked for death to a meeting of cabinet deputies. It also receives written assessments of the results of each strike…

The US justice department released a public version of the three-year-old document…after the ACLU persuaded a federal judge in February to decide against the Obama administration’s argument for total secrecy…

Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU attorney who spearheaded the lawsuit for the playbook’s disclosure, noted the power of the NSC…“The Obama administration notably has taken the position that the NSC is not an agency and is therefore beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.”

The NSC now has about 400 employees. None are approved by the Senate. They do not testify before Congress. Their records are automagically presumed to be privileged.

Privacy and civil liberty watchdog confronts right-wing limits in Congress

A leading Democrat in Congress is pushing back against an effort to impose new constraints on a civil liberties watchdog agency that investigates the nation’s security programs.

The agency, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, is a bipartisan five-member panel that Congress created after a recommendation by the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its members and staff have security clearances and a mandate to investigate government practices that affect individual rights…

Since the independent board began fully operating three years ago, it has produced a high-profile report about the once-secret National Security Agency program that collected bulk records of Americans’ phone calls. It called the program ineffective and illegal and said it should be shut down. Congress later did so by enacting the U.S.A. Freedom Act.

The oversight board also issued a report that brought to light new details about how the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the FISA Amendments Act worked. It is currently scrutinizing programs that operate under Executive Order 12333, which sets rules for espionage activities that Congress has left unregulated by statute.

In the letter, obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, described the provisions as “completely unacceptable” and “misguided.” He deplored what he portrayed as an emerging pattern of efforts by the intelligence panels to undermine the oversight board’s independence and authority. He also said any proposed changes to the board should go through the Judiciary Committee.

That proposal comes at a time when the Obama administration has highlighted the privacy board’s role in negotiations over a recently completed trans-Atlantic agreement for handling private data amid concern in Europe about using internet and technology companies based in America. Those concerns came after leaks by the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden about National Security Agency surveillance programs.

As usual, Senator Leahy is more polite to his most reactionary colleagues than truth presumes necessary. The usual cabal of right-wing creeps who care less about individual liberty than a controlling power of the free speech and thought, privacy and progress of American citizens. Regardless of the number of lies and contradictions they author.

RTFA for any details you might want. It ain’t news. It does require as much vigilance as ever.

Just in case you were worried taxpayers weren’t providing Israel with enough weapons…?

The White House on Friday told members of Congress that it had offered to substantially sweeten a decade-long military aid package for Israel

Under the proposed terms, the United States would insist that the Israelis use the tens of billions of dollars they receive under the deal to buy United States-made goods and services, rather than spend a sizable portion in their own country as they are permitted to do now.

The administration laid out details of the package in a lengthy letter to senators who had written to the White House in April urging the completion of a new aid deal…

In the letter…Susan Rice…national security adviser, and Shaun Donovan…director of the OMB, said that the administration was prepared to increase the existing military aid package for Israel, worth nearly $30 billion, and sign a new one “that would constitute the largest pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history.”…

Such an aid agreement “would build on the unparalleled support that the United States has provided to Israel under President Obama,” Ms. Rice and Mr. Donovan said. “Through word and deed, this administration has blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

…Political dynamics have complicated the talks.

Some analysts in the United States and Israel say that Mr. Netanyahu is calculating that he may reach a more advantageous deal with a future president, a charge that the Israelis strenuously deny. Others have suggested that Mr. Obama is pressing to finish the agreement in part to insulate himself against accusations that he has been too tough on Israel, especially if he decides later this year to pressure the country to accept a peace deal with the Palestinians that embraces a two-state solution.

What that means in plain English is that the Trumpkin is ready to promise Netanyahu absolutely anything to move not only conservative Jewish voters to support him; but, maybe more. He will give away the Pentagon farm and offer nary a peep if Israel decides to roll up the rest of Palestinian land that they haven’t yet stolen. Scares the crap out of some Democrats.

The negotiations have unfolded in secret, with neither side willing to detail its position on an agreement that people close to the talks have said could top $40 billion. For months, United States and Israeli officials have haggled over the price tag, as Israel has insisted on a higher figure than the United States was willing to support…

Under the existing agreement, Israel is permitted to spend about a quarter of the military aid it receives outside the United States, and 13 percent of it on fuel — allowances that no other recipient of United States funding receives…

The provision originated in the 1980s as a way to spur the development of Israel’s defense industry, which is now booming. Israel has become one of the top 10 arms exporters in the world, competing with the United States.

Uh-huh. We’re all buddies in the Imperial Club. Death and destruction is still one of the most profitable businesses in our world.

Daniel Radcliffe and Edward Snowden in an off-Broadway play about “Privacy”

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and actor Daniel Radcliffe will appear together in a play starting on Saturday in New York City.

The show, Privacy, premiered in London in 2014 and has been refashioned for the American theatre. It was inspired by Snowden’s revelations that the US government was conducting mass surveillance on its citizens.

Radcliffe and Snowden…rehearsed…though Radcliffe was in a Manhattan auditorium speaking to Snowden on video from Moscow, where he has lived since June 2013.

Snowden’s appearance in the play at the Public Theater will be confined to a screen as the US government has a warrant out for his arrest, because he leaked confidential NSA documents to journalists, including those at the Guardian.

Snowden and Radcliffe will appear together for about one minute, according to the Times, and only one of the men will be speaking live – the one actually on stage. The dialogue comes at a climactic moment and centers on statements Snowden has made about privacy.

Gotta piss off Uncle Sugar. Many of the creeps in and outside government officialdom who leaped to condemn Snowden are stuffed from eating their words. Even Obama has to admit much of this generation’s fight against government surveillance of American citizens flows from the critical revelations of Edward Snowden.

Not that our elected and appointed overlords have reduced or limited their commitment to snooping on us all. They’ve just been forced into more judicious choices of words describing their paranoia.

News orgs demand DOJ release secret rules targeting journalists with gag order National Security Letters

Freedom of the Press Foundation recently filed a huge brief in the organization’s case demanding that the Justice Department release its secret rules for targeting journalists with National Security Letters…A coalition of 37 news organizations – including the New York Times, The Associated Press, USA Today, Buzzfeed, and tons more – filed an amicus brief in support of the Freedom of the Press Foundation case, demanding that the Department of Justice do the same…

NSLs are controversial (and unconstitutional) surveillance tools that allow the FBI to collect private information in national security cases without any involvement whatsoever from judges or courts. FPF filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in 2015 demanding their secret rules for using NSLs on members of the media, and Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press filed the amicus brief on behalf of the thirty seven news organization…

In response to our lawsuit, the Justice Department released to us some documents in December 2015 that confirmed that these secret rules do, in fact, exist. However the agency refused to release the specific rules or even acknowledge where the actual rules are located — even though we already know they appear in the classified annex of the FBI’s Department Investigations and Operations Guide, which is published in redacted form on the FBI’s website…

By exempting National Security Letters (and potentially FISA court orders) from their media guidelines, the Justice Department makes a mockery of the supposed restrictions. Because almost every leak investigation involving the media involves national security, the FBI and DOJ can simply use NSLs to freely get much of the information they would otherwise need to comply with strict rules to get — all in complete secrecy and without any oversight.

Our government and its alphabet soup of spies simply rewrite their way around constitutional protections every time they are caught snooping illegally.

True – a lot a of this corruption started with the Bush Administration’s so-called Patriot Act. National Security Letters containing gag orders are a particularly malevolent police state tool. You can’t tell anyone you’re even being investigated or contacted. But, the Obama Administration hasn’t changed the rules regardless of their public chatter about a return to constitutional law.

Clinton and Obama are lying about Snowden

An explosive exposé shows that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden repeatedly tried to raise concerns about illegal mass surveillance, but was ignored.

Hundreds of internal NSA documents declassified and released by journalists prove that claims made by senior officials in the Obama administration and prominent politicians like Hillary Clinton, who accused Snowden of failing to use available whisteblower protections, are false…

U.S. government officials have previously claimed that Snowden did not raise concerns about illegal mass surveillance before leaking classified documents to reporters. The NSA originally insisted that Snowden had simply sent a single email raising concern of potential overreach.

Internal documents, on the other hand, VICE News writes, reveal “that not only was the truth about the ‘single email’ more complex and nuanced than the NSA disclosed to the public, but that Snowden had a face-to-face interaction with one of the people involved in responding to that email.”

The exposé also reveals that the NSA admitted to altering emails related to its discussions about Snowden…

In her response, Clinton echoed a debunked story that claimed that Russia and China got access to Snowden’s classified documents. The shoddy report originated in a right-wing British newspaper that referred to Snowden as a pilfering “fugitive” and cited no evidence, only unverifiable claims by anonymous British officials.

To date, there is no evidence Snowden’s leaks jeopardized U.S. security in any tangible way. The Obama administration has frequently claimed this, but thoroughly redacted its official reports on how this is supposedly true to such a point that no one can actually read its justification…

In his testimony to the European Parliament in March 2014, VICE noted, Snowden was asked whether he “exhausted all avenues before taking the decision to go public.”

“Yes,” he replied. “I had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than 10 distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them\.”

“As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the U.S. government,” continued Snowden, who had been an NSA contractor with the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, “I was not protected by U.S. whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about law breaking in accordance with the recommended process.”

The hundreds of pages of internal documents from the U.S. government that are now available, VICE News emphasizes, show that Snowden “had repeatedly attempted to raise his concerns inside the NSA about its surveillance of U.S. citizens — and the agency had done nothing.”

My cynicism about government led by either of the two old parties continues unabated. Defense of constitutional freedoms is not a standard honored by either party. There may be differences in corruption. Most of the time that feels like inquiries about being “a little bit pregnant” from an anti-abortion fanatic.

The only part I find confounding is that – in practice – Democrats really have nothing to lose by standing up and supporting whistleblowers, freedom fighters in a long American tradition. Their backwards practices in foreign policy are generally forgiven by a perpetually ignorant electorate. And the average voter still thinks the Dem Establishment is out there standing up for the little guy. They really should try living up to a reputation leftover from the days of FDR and the New Deal.

Federal court backs up Senate decision to hide the full CIA torture report

A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit calling for the full release of a U.S. Senate report detailing the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation and detention program following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the American Civil Liberties Union, which sought access to the more than 6,000-page document, often referred to as the “Senate torture report.”…

When the report was released in 2014, only a 500-page executive summary was made public. It said the CIA misled the White House and public about torture of detainees. Some captives were deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours, at times with their hands shackled above their heads, and the report recorded cases of simulated drowning or “waterboarding” and sexual abuse, including “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” without any documented medical need.

I wonder what the response would be to a national referendum calling for “rectal feeding” of some of our elected officials?

The ACLU sued under the Freedom of Information Act in 2013 to obtain the full report prior to its release. Congressional documents are exempt from the law, but the ACLU said the Senate Intelligence Committee relinquished control when it transmitted the report to the White House and other agencies, which are subject to freedom of information requests.

The appeals court on Friday upheld a lower court’s decision in favor of the government.

Transparency becomes less and less a standard, a priority, for the government of the United States. Keep on rocking in the Free World!

Obama to expand data-sharing from NSA snooping

The Obama administration is on the verge of permitting the National Security Agency to share more of the private communications it intercepts with other American intelligence agencies without first applying any privacy protections to them…

The change would relax longstanding restrictions on access to the contents of the phone calls and email the security agency vacuums up around the world, including bulk collection of satellite transmissions, communications between foreigners as they cross network switches in the United States, and messages acquired overseas or provided by allies.

The idea is to let more experts across American intelligence gain direct access to unprocessed information, increasing the chances that they will recognize any possible nuggets of value. That also means more officials will be looking at private messages — not only foreigners’ phone calls and emails that have not yet had irrelevant personal information screened out, but also communications to, from, or about Americans that the N.S.A.’s foreign intelligence programs swept in incidentally.

Civil liberties advocates criticized the change, arguing that it will weaken privacy protections. They said the government should disclose how much American content the N.S.A. collects incidentally — which agency officials have said is hard to measure — and let the public debate what the rules should be for handling that information.

And we know how much the Obama administration – and its predecessors – really care about privacy rights of Americans. Don’t we? Just ask your friendly neighborhood FBI agent.