"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Campaign Finance’

Obama’s New Chief Of Staff Jack Lew Is Former Citigroup COO; Heaviliy Invested & Made Millions On Bets Housing Market Would Collapse

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Oldspeak: “Another Clinton-era retread and Wall Street acolyte hired by Obama. Oh and he made millions off of millions of Americans being rendered homeless. It’s no wonder there’s been no significant regulation imposed on Wall Street since the last global economic meltdown it contributed to. Pro-deregulation, de-facto Wall Street lobbyists surround the President and are writing ‘financial regulation’ legislation on Capitol Hill. The conditions for yet another meltdown exist right now, as Wall Street and it’s consorts around the world are hitting the casinos that double as our economies HARD. If you think the last meltdown was bad, The next one’s gonna be a DOOSY.” “Profit Is Paramount”

 

By Truthdig:

Jack Lew is a liberal who worked for Speaker Tip O’Neill and studied under beloved progressive Sen. Paul Wellstone, but he was also the chief operating officer of a Citigroup unit and doesn’t fault deregulation for the shoddy economy.

The president says Lew was chosen by his predecessor, William Daley, who offered a surprise resignation after one year on the job.

Shahien Nasiripour of The Huffington Post reported in 2010 that Lew testified to the Senate that he did not believe deregulation caused the financial meltdown:

Lew, a former OMB chief for President Bill Clinton, told the panel that “the problems in the financial industry preceded deregulation,” and after discussing those issues, added that he didn’t “personally know the extent to which deregulation drove it, but I don’t believe that deregulation was the proximate cause.”

Lew, who headed President Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget during the period when Clinton signed off on the major deregulation of Wall Street and the telecommunications industry, made a fortune while at Citi. That same Huffington Post report notes that his 2009 bonus alone amounted to nearly a million dollars.

When he announced his new chief of staff, Obama declared, “Jack’s economic advice has been invaluable and he has my complete trust, both because of his mastery of the numbers, but because of the values behind those numbers.”

William Daley Resigns As White House Chief of Staff

By Democracy Now:

In a major shakeup inside the Obama administration, White House chief of staff William Daley announced his resignation Monday just over a year after taking the position. He will be replaced by Jack Lew, head of the Office of Management and Budget. President Obama praised Jack Lew’s public service.

President Obama: “Jack’s economic advice has been invaluable and he has my complete trust. Both because of his mastery of the numbers, but because of the values behind those numbers, ever since he began his career in public service as a top aide to Speaker Tip O’Neil, Jack has fought an America were hard work and responsibility pay off. A place where everybody gets a fair shot, everybody does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same rules. And that belief is reflected in every decision that Jack makes.”

After serving as budget director in the Clinton administration, Lew became chief operating officer of Citigroup Alternative Investments in 2008. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee criticized Obama for selecting Lew because his unit at Citigroup heavily invested in a hedge fund that bet on the housing market to collapse.

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For Sale: The Desperate States Of America

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2011 at 11:35 am

Oldspeak:” The U.S. economy is being restructured in a way that will largely benefit wealthy elites and be detrimental to the rest. Everything public: Government, Schools, Prisons, Energy, Services, Parks, Lands, Housing Health Care, etc. if the free-market ideologues in government have their way, is to be privatized. The usual result of  privatization: significant increases in costs to customers; reduction in quality of and access to service. When dealing with organizations whose prime directives are to Internalize and maximize ever-increasing profit while externalizing and minimizing as much cost as possible this is the only logical outcome. We’ve seen it played out time and time again in the gutting of America. “The core tenets of free market fundamentalism —  privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services — has laid the foundation for the economic breakdown we are witnessing today.  And this recession-induced breakdown is being used by professional disaster capitalists to warrant more privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services until there is nothing left.  It is clear that the continued auctioning off of pieces of the state to large corporations will result in a total loss of democratic control to the disaster capitalists who are profiting immensely from their orchestrated crisis.” –Rania Khalek.  Meanwhile, the “Defense” budget continues to grow. Why is our “civilization” predicated on “owning” everything, hoarding “wealth” and “power”? Why are a few deranged people, Bohemian Grove Members willing to sacrifice our entire planet for their own personal gain?

By Rania Khalek @ Common Dreams

While we have been frantically playing defense against relentless assaults on multiple fronts, from anti-union legislation to draconian anti-choice laws to the attempted privatization of Medicare, the selling off of public assets to the private sector has received little attention.

As states face a budget shortfall of $125 billion dollars for fiscal year 2012, leaders are searching for creative ways to fill budget gaps, while refusing to consider the one legitimate solution: forcing tax-dodging corporations and the rich to pay their fair share in taxes.  Rather than upset the moneyed interests who bought their seats in office, politicians of all stripes prefer to cut pensions, close schools, slash child nutrition programs, and most importantly privatize, privatize, privatize!

In 2008, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley auctioned off the city’s 36,000 parking meters to a Morgan-Stanley lead partnership, for a lump sum of $1.15 billion.  According to Bloomberg, Chicago drivers will pay Morgan Stanley at least $11.6 billion to park at city meters over the next 75 years, 10 times what the system was sold for.  The Mayor used millions from the deal to help balance the budget, but since then, Morgan Stanley has raised parking fees 42%.  It now plans on stuffing more cars into fewer metered spaces by getting rid of marking lines, raising the number of metered slots and expanding the hours that require fees.  Chicago gave up billions of dollars in revenue for a short-term fix and now, if the city faces another fiscal crisis, it will be left with an asset that generates revenue for Morgan Stanley.  Despite the controversy in Chicago, the Associated Press reports that New York is exploring private options for its parking spaces as well.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), a member of the Tea Party Caucus, has suggested that one way to help close the nation’s budget deficit is to “start liquidating” public lands in Utah by privatizing large parts of the state, 70 percent of which is owned by the federal government.  Soon after, Utah Governor Gary Herbert hopped on board, agreeing that Ross’s idea was “worth exploring.”  He even went so far as to claim that the land would be better in private hands because private owners maintained Indian artifacts and burial grounds better.  Apparently his position is quite popular, since it has been embraced by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and John McCain (R-AZ), who proposed a bill which would sell off land in Utah and other western states.

The most insidious privatization scheme so far this year was in Wisconsin, the center of the state budget battles.  A provision in Republican Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill would have empowered politicians to sell any state-owned heating, cooling, or power plant, including those located in prisons and the University of Wisconsin campuses, to anyone for any price at any time, without public approval or a call for bids.  Although the provision was ultimately removed from the budget bill just before it passed, it is expected to be taken up again later this year.

In an effort to offset an $8 billion budget deficit, Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich has proposed privatizing five prisons, a sale expected to bring in an estimated $200 million.  Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature is set to require the state to privatize prisons in South Florida, home to one-fifth of the statewide inmate population of 101,000.  Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal plans to sell three state prisons to private operators.  Similar bills have sprung up in other states, nevermind that evidence showing that private prisons actually save any money is seriously lacking.

In more desperate and bizarre attempts to fill in budget gaps the City Council in Naperville, IL is considering giving corporations exclusive rights to plaster their logos on city property.  One proposed municipal sponsorship deal would allow Kentucky Fried Chicken to repair potholes in exchange for stamping the fresh asphalt with the chicken chain’s logo.

It would be foolish to assume that the push for privatization is isolated to the GOP or the states.  The “liberal” Obama administration has proposed legislation that would establish a presidentially appointed, seven-member Civilian Property Realignment Board, tasked with evaluating excess federal properties.  The surplus includes 12,000 buildings, pieces of land and other property nationwide that the federal government wants to get rid of.

According to McClatchy, the White House claims it would see savings of as much as $15 billion by no longer having to maintain or pay for utilities at some of the underused or unused facilities.  The government in 2009 reported spending $134 million to maintain buildings that have been declared excess.  It costs an estimated $1.3 billion a year to maintain federal buildings that aren’t yet declared surplus but that go underused.  However, it remains unclear if and how this strategy would result in a significant enough amount of savings to make a dent in a trillion dollar deficit.

Ironically, the list includes land where the dorms in Daniel Boone National Forest are located, which once served as a camp for workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Great Depression work program.  Rather than invest in jobs programs to put the unemployed back to work like FDR did during the Great Depression — an idea that the Obama administration has all but abandoned — the President has instead chosen the path of austerity and privatization, tactics that have historically been detrimental to society.

It’s no secret that corporate behemoths, backed by their free-market think tanks and foundations have long dreamed of privatizing everything public.  Thus far, they have been largely successful in hollowing out the defense department by outsourcing computer, intelligence, and even combat operations to for-profit companies like Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, and Blackwater, to name a few.  We now know that this was done intentionally, strategically planned by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who profited magnificently as a result.  The terrorist attacks on 9-11 presented the Bush administration with the opportunity to accelerate the outsourcing of war.

In the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein thoroughly documents how wealthy elites often use times of crisis and chaos to impose unpopular policies that restructure economies and political systems to further advance their interests.  She calls these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.”

While catastrophic events, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, are difficult to predict, economic disasters are not.  With this in mind, it’s difficult to deny that the economic crisis has been somewhat manufactured to serve as a pretext for draconian cuts into social programs that the corporate state has long been eyeing.  On it’s face, this theory seems conspiratorial, however a brief review of recent history demonstrates a trend of intentional crisis generation.

Paul Krugman understood this concept in 2003, during the implementation of the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy, when he wrote the following:

“the gimmicks used to make an $800-billion-plus tax cut carry an official price tag of only $320 billion are a joke, yet the cost without the gimmicks is so large that the nation can’t possibly afford it while keeping its other promises.

But then maybe that’s the point. The Financial Times suggests that ”more extreme Republicans” actually want a fiscal train wreck: ”Proposing to slash federal spending, particularly on social programs, is a tricky electoral proposition, but a fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door.”

It’s no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. But not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration’s policies might actually be driven by those ideologues — that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut — was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories.”

As the free-market ideologues in government continue to neglect America’s aging infrastructure while making deep cuts into education funding and borrowing upwards of a trillion dollars for two failed wars, they reaffirm the perception that the government is inefficient and incapable of providing what they believe private enterprise can do better.

The fact of the matter is that those now shrieking about big government debts and deficits have spent the last decade maximizing government spending with unaffordable wars, financial deregulation, and tax cuts for the wealthy, which they knew would cost trillions of dollars.  Today, the consequences of their actions, which they were warned about, are the ploy these very same people are using to justifythe accelerated demise of welfare programs, and the incremental destruction of the meager social safety net that guarantees Americans won’t starve in their old age.

The core tenets of free market fundamentalism —  privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services — has laid the foundation for the economic breakdown we are witnessing today.  And this recession-induced breakdown is being used by professional disaster capitalists to warrant more privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services until there is nothing left.  It is clear that the continued auctioning off of pieces of the state to large corporations will result in a total loss of democratic control to the disaster capitalists who are profiting immensely from their orchestrated crisis.

Rania Khalek is a young, progressive activist with a passionate dedication to social justice. Check out her blog Missing Pieces or follow her on twitter @Rania_ak. You can contact her at raniakhalek@gmail.com.


Provision Expanding Unchecked Executive Branch War Power Could Slip Through The House

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Oldspeak: ‘War Is Peace’– George Orwell. ‘Before Congress this week, the proposed authorization of a worldwide war goes much further…allowing war wherever there are terrorism suspects in any country around the world without an expiration date, geographical boundaries or connection to the 9/11 attacks or any other specific harm or threat to the United States. There have been no hearings on the provision, nor has its necessity been explained by Rep. McKeon or anyone else in Congress.’ – Amanda Simon.

By Amanda Simon @ ACLU:

Tucked inside the National Defense Authorization Act, being marked up by the House Armed Services Committee this week, is a hugely important provision that hasn’t been getting a lot of attention — a brand new authorization for a worldwide war.

This stealth provision was added to the bill by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), but has a bit of a history. It was first proposed by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey in 2008 after the Bush administration lost the Boumediene v. Bush case, in which the Supreme Court decided that federal courts would subject the administration’s asserted law of war basis to hold Guantanamo detainees to searching review. An idea that may have originally been intended to bolster the Bush administration’s basis for holding Guantanamo detainees is now being promoted as an authorization of a worldwide war — and could become the single biggest ceding of unchecked war authority to the executive branch in modern American history.

The current authorization of war provided the constitutional authority for the executive branch to go to war in Afghanistan. Subsequently, it has reportedly been invoked by the executive branch much more broadly to also use military force in Yemen and elsewhere, to justify torture and abuse of detainees, to eavesdrop and spy on American citizens without warrants, and to imprison people captured far from any battlefieldwithout charge or trial.

Before Congress this week, the proposed authorization of a worldwide war goes much further, however, allowing war wherever there are terrorism suspects in any country around the world without an expiration date, geographical boundaries or connection to the 9/11 attacks or any other specific harm or threat to the United States. There have been no hearings on the provision, nor has its necessity been explained by Rep. McKeon or anyone else in Congress.

The idea that Congress is about to pass new authority for a worldwide war as we’re trying to ramp down our efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan is starting to getattention. We’re hoping that the House Armed Serviced Committee, and the full House, will reconsider this troubling and dangerous provision. We’ll keep you updated as this troubling provision progresses, but you can help now by telling your representative to oppose any new and expanded war authority.

Bin Laden Death Now Part Of Obama’s Re-elect Message

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2011 at 11:11 am

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a DNC event at Austin City Limits Moody Theater in Austin, Texas, May 10

Oldspeak: “While targeted assassination translates into campaign contributions to Obama’s billion dollar re-election war chest “We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.” –Noam Chomsky. We have to ask ourselves… was it all worth it? Is normalizing assassination of alleged criminals and flouting the rule of law and due process really the way we wanna go? How does this make us any different from our enemies?

By Peter Nicolas @ The Los Angeles Times:

Osama bin Laden, mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, is now an applause line in a presidential campaign speech.

Bin Laden’s name came up a couple of times in Obama’s address Tuesday evening at a fund-raising event in Austin, Texas.

Early in Obama’s appearance, someone shouted out, “Thank you for getting Bin Laden!’’

Obama said that was a “case in point’’ – a reason for voters to let him “finish what we started.’’

Later, Obama ticked off what he described as his administration’s accomplishments: lifting the ban on gays in the military; bringing troops home from Iraq.

And then: “And because of the extraordinary bravery of the men and women who wear this nation’s uniform and the outstanding work of our intelligence agencies,’’ Obama said, “Osama bin Laden will never again threaten the United States.’’

The crowd roared.

While the president has basked in the success of the operation, Bin Laden’s sons released a statement Tuesday criticizing the administration, saying the U.S. broke international law in killing an unarmed man.

In Washington, Vice President Biden, coming off another round of deficit talks, was asked by reporters whether Bin Laden’s killing at the hands of the U.S. military was illegal.

“Are you kidding?” Biden replied.

President Obama Heckled At San Francisco Fundraiser By Democratic Activists Wanting Change

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Democratic Hecklers At Obama Fundraiser in San Francisco

Oldspeak: “It’s about GOTDAMN time. President Obama has finally been made aware, to his face, in public, by the people who helped elect him that they are not happy. 4 wars, guantanamo still open, authorizing indefinite detention/assassination of  U.S. citizens, worldwide “black site” torture network still active,  austerity measures, dirty energy policy, weak health care and financial policy, extention and expansion of Bush era policies, etc etc are not the change the people who elected him believe in…. Alas, I fear it’ll barely make a dent in the Presidents Unreality Bubble thanks to the horde of corprocrats he’s “chosen” to surround himself with. But that doesn’t mean the people should stop making our voices heard. It means they have to make our voices heard LOUDER….”
By Rachel Rose Hartman @ Yahoo News:
As President Obama addressed the crowd at a breakfast fundraiser in San Francisco Thursday, he fielded some audience input that he wasn’t bargaining for.

A woman in the crowd suddenly rose from her seat and said: “Mr. President, we wrote you a song,” according to the White House pool report. The president attempted to quiet her, but the woman and her table of donors at the St. Regis Hotel breakfast broke into song and raised signs that read “Free Bradley Manning”–the Army intelligence specialist accused of releasing diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Yesterday, it was reported that Manning had been moved to a less restrictive prison following pressure from human rights groups.

The protesters said they had spent $5,000 donating to Obama. “We’ll vote for you in 2012, yes that’s true. Look at the Republicans–what else can we do?” they reportedly chanted.

“We paid our dues. Where’s our change?” they sang.

You can watch a clip of the protesters below, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

As the protesters sang, the pool report notes that Obama turned to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, to ask if she was responsible for the interruption. “Nancy, did you do this?” he reportedly asked. Her look said she did not, according to the report.

The woman who first addressed the president was escorted out of the room and Obama told the crowd “that was a nice song.”

He quickly resumed his speech.

Adam Martin reports for Atlantic Wire that the song lyrics can be found on the website for Fresh Juice, a group that offers money in exchange for video of people singing its songs in public. “Fresh Juice appears to be linked to Courage to Resist, an activist group that supports members of the military who go against U.S. war efforts,” Martin wrote.


Unmanned Drones Fly Through Congress To Patrol U.S. Skies

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Oldspeak:”The unmanned chickens come home to roost. The death dealing spybots deployed in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and god knows where else will be deployed right here in the U.S.A. in a “security” and “law enforcement” role.  Indeed, Skynet is effect. As the surveillance state expands under the guise of ‘national security’, law enforcement and job creation; privacy, civil liberties, and air safety are compromised. Behold in all it’s splendor, the powerful workings of the military-industrial complex. Offense industry lobbyists throws hundreds of thousands of dollars in “campaign contributions” at democrat and republican politicians alike. Those politicians then perform their yearly debt exploding ritual of passing an ever larger “Defense Authorization Act”. The Offense Industry continues to build more and more machines for death and destruction and exports them at great profit to as many countries as will buy them. At the same time, the U.S. spends more on weapons than the next 19 nations COMBINED. The Military Industrial complex Eisenhower warned of is now self-aware, self-perpetuating and ever expanding. With its devastating drain on taxpayer resources that could be used domestically for infrastructure, education, job creation, green energy development, etc etc etc…. The offense industry not teachers, not unions, or public workers/programs/services/ is a large part of the reason the U.S. is hurtling toward imminent collapse.”

By Nick Mottern @ Truthout:

Within weeks and possibly days, President Obama is likely to sign into law a bill that will bring unmanned aerial vehicles – drones – into US general airspace, crisscrossing the country in company with passenger planes and other human-carrying aircraft.

The story of how planes without on-board pilots will gain entry into our crowded airspace, where birds are life threatening, possibly within the next three years, is one involving campaign contributions, jobs and fear. As we will see, safety appears not to be the top priority.

I became aware of the pro-drone legislation from a February 10, 2011, Syracuse Post Standard report that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) was supporting an amendment to the pending Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill (S. 223) that would create test zones for the introduction of drones into general airspace.

Senator Schumer was interested in the pro-drone amendment because MQ-9 Reaper drones, killer drones that are flying over Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, are stationed at Hancock Air Base near Syracuse. However, FAA safety restrictions have limited drone flights out of Hancock.

“If Schumer’s legislative move succeeds this week,” said the Post Standard, “it would help ensure the future of 1,215 jobs at the (air) base in Mattydale (New York) and potentially lead to millions of dollars in radar research contracts for local defense companies.”

Bad Drones – Good Drones?

Drones have a grisly war history of misidentification. For example, on April 11, 2011, The Los Angeles Times carried a story of how a failure of US Air Force drone operators at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to accurately identify the enemy led to the deaths in February 2010 of at least 15 non-combatant Afghani men, the wounding of 12 more and the deaths of a woman and three children.

“Technology can occasionally give you a false sense of security that you can see everything, that you can hear everything, that you know everything,” said Air Force Major Gen. James O. Poss, who oversaw the Air Force investigation, according to the Times. “I really do think we have learned from this.”

The newspaper said that survivors were compensated with $2,900 and families of the dead got $4,800.

Drones like the Reaper are also used for assassination, killing people without trial or conviction, a violation of international law, compounded by the problem of misidentification.

The Reaper can also be used strictly for surveillance and there are a variety of drones that can perform either killer or surveillance functions. Drones are also being produced for commercial uses, which include scanning land and oceans for agricultural, mining and fishing enterprises.

Given the deadly record of drones, I and others in New York State and elsewhere, moved to lobby Senator Schumer to end his support of the drone amendment.

Drone Envy

We knew we were starting very late. On February 15, we presented a letter (appearing at the end of this article) at Senator Schumer’s Peekskill, New York, office urging him to abandon the drone amendment. He did not respond and his staff did not provide any information to us until well after the FAA reauthorization bill, with the pro-drone language embodied in an omnibus amendment, cleared the Senate on February 17.

According to Open Secrets.org, Senator Schumer received $10,000 for his 2010 re-election campaign from Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin is one of at least 50 companies making drones of various sizes and types and it produces Hellfire missiles, used by drones and other aircraft. Lockheed employs 2,200 in Syracuse.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also supported the drone amendment, saying in a press release: “This bill is about making southwest Ohio a critical part of this high-growth initiative. UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) could be used for a host of important purposes, from patrolling the border, to surveying Kandahar province, to combating drug smuggling and it’s critical that Wright-Patterson Air Force Base plays a key role in their development and testing. I’ve worked on a bipartisan basis – first with (former) Sen. (George) Voinovich and now with Sen. (Rob) Portman – to enable the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson and the Springfield National Guard to test unmanned aerial systems in Southwest Ohio.”

Among other Senate supporters of the drone amendment were Sens. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) and John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), whose state seeks to be a center of drone development and where the University of North Dakota claims to be the first in offering a four-year degree program for drone pilots “hoping to take the sticks in a field expected to swell to a $20 billion industry over the next decade.”

Senator Hoeven said on the Senate floor, in support of the amendment:

“We’re already flying UAVs in airspace all over the world. Now we need to open the skies for them at home to make our nation more secure, our communities safer and our economy more dynamic, creating jobs and opportunities in our country. If we don’t you can be sure other nations will.”

(Note: Open Secrets shows no major aerospace companies contributing to Senators Brown or Hoeven in 2010; Senator Conrad received $22,600 in 2010 from Carlyle Group, which owns ARINC, a company with drone business.)

With Senate approval of the FAA bill, our anti-drone lobbying shifted to the House of Representatives where the FAA reauthorization (H.R. 658) containing pro-drone amendments similar to those in the Senate was still under consideration. While the senate drone legislation did not set a deadline for drone entry into general US skyways; a House amendment, which was ultimately approved, sets a deadline of September 30, 2015, for integration of commercial drones.

Gliding on Zephyrs of Cash

I thought that it might be possible to strip the drone amendments from reauthorization bill with last-minute floor action by one or two House allies. However, as I watched the House action on the FAA bill on C-Span on March 31, it became clear that the Republican leadership was determined to win every amendment that it put forward and to crush amendments put forward by Democrats. None of the members of Congress we hoped would act, including Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), Brian Higgins (D-New York) and John Tierney (D-Massachusetts), wished to make a comment, much less a fight, over the amendments and it may have been they felt is was not worth the effort.

Had there been more time for contacting Congressional aides and identifying drone supporters, it would also have been clear that there was strong aerospace industry activity in both houses of Congress for the drone amendments.

The drone amendments that ended up in the House bill came from Rep. John Mica (R-Florida), chair of the House transportation Committee, and Rep. Candice Miller (R-Michigan), a member of the transportation and homeland security committees and also a member of the Congressional Unmanned Systems (drone) Caucus, comprised of 43 members of the House.

Congressman Mica did not speak in any detail on the floor of the House about his drone amendment, referring to it only as being included in an omnibus amendment package. He introduced into the record a letter from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry group, saying: “Without a doubt, UAS (unmanned aerial systems) will have a tremendous impact on the aerospace industry and aid in driving economic development in many regions across the country. How quickly new job creation and economic benefits become a reality however depends on the progress and timeliness of UAS integration efforts.” The Mica amendment package was approved 251-168.

Congresswoman Miller’s remarks in support of her amendment, which was approved by a voice vote, focused on the use of drones for law enforcement and border security:

“My amendment is designed to help expedite and to improve the process by which FAA works with government agencies to incorporate unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs as they’re commonly called, into the National Airspace System. Currently, Mr. Chairman, law enforcement agencies across the country, from Customs and Border Protection to local police departments, et cetera, are ready to embrace the new technology and to start utilizing UAVs in the pursuit of enforcing the law and protecting our border as well.

“However, the FAA has been very hesitant to give authorization to these UAVs due to limited air space and restrictions that they have. I certainly can appreciate those concerns; but when we’re talking about Customs and Border Protection or the FBI, what have you, we are talking about missions of national security. And certainly there’s nothing more important than that. It was a very, very lengthy exercise to get the FAA to authorize the use of UAVs on the southern border. While they’re finally being utilized down there, we are certainly a long way from fully utilizing these technologies.”

After the pro-drone amendments passed the House, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-California) chair of the Congressional drone caucus, released a statement saying that the House FAA bill “promotes the safe integration of unmanned systems into national airspace. Carefully integrating these systems by 2015 will improve our border defenses, public safety and emergency response systems.

“Although this bill is a step in the right direction, I have concerns with the FAA’s languid Certification of Authorization requirement for public unmanned systems.”

Congressman Mica received the following contributions for his 2010 re-election campaign from these companies involved with drones, according Open Secrets:

Boeing – $10,000
Honeywell – $10,000 (makes engines for the Reaper and Predator drones)
Lockheed Martin – $10,000
Raytheon – $10,000

And for Congresswoman Miller in her 2010 race:

Honeywell – $10,000
General Dynamics – $8,500
Ford – $10,000 (Ford engines are used in a Boeing drone, although as a Michigan representative if is likely she would get Ford money in any case)

Congressman McKeon received the following contributions among those for his 2010 campaign:

Lockheed Martin – $52,000
Northrop Grumman – $50,500
Boeing – $28,900

His combined contributions from “defense aerospace” and “defense electronics” were $232,900.

We were hoping that Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-New York) might assist in opposing the drone amendments given his opposition to our wars, in spite of his membership on the drone caucus. But we found that his aide wanted to talk only about Hinchey’s opposition to the wars, not about drones. In 2010, the following contractors with interests in drones were among his major contributors:

Lockheed Martin – $10,000
Boeing – $10,000
Honeywell – $10,000
L-3 Communications – $9,500

All the biggest aerospace contractors have an interest of one kind or another in drone manufacture. The top Congressional aerospace campaign contributor in 2009-2010 was Boeing, $2.57 million, followed by Lockheed Martin, $2.4 million, according to Open Secrets.org [4].

A Department of Defense summary of the 2012 Obama military budget notes:

“The fiscal 2012 budget continues strong funding for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that enhance intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. The base budget includes $4.8 billion to develop and procure additional Global Hawk Class (RQ-4), Predator Class (MQ 1/9) and other less expensive, low-altitude systems.” [Emphasis added.]

Time magazine reported in 2008 that Barack Obama’s campaign “pocketed $870,165 from defense contractor sources, 34% more than the $647,313 in contributions McCain’s campaign received from the same sector.”

At this writing, the Senate and House versions of the FAA reauthorization bill, which cover a wide range of aviation concerns, will be submitted soon to a conference committee made up of members of both houses of Congress. A compromise bill will be presented to both houses for a vote and then sent to the White House for signature. The conference committee could meet as early as the week beginning April 18, if not before. Action should be completed at the latest by May 30, when the current FAA authorization expires.

Observations

1. Safety

It is obvious that many in Congress have embraced drones of all kinds for money, for themselves and their constituents, willfully ignoring what drones are doing in war or the real dangers they will bring with them into the skies over the US.

In March 2010, Congressman Tierney held drone hearings and heard testimony that addressed ways in which the US use of killer drones has violated international law.

Ideally, Congress would by now have banned the use of drones for assassination and limited their battlefield use to situations in which troops on the ground can make visual identification of enemy forces. This is presuming that the US is involved in wars that do not violate international law, unlike the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As for use of drones over the United States, at this writing, the FAA restricts drone flights to specific zones where they can be carefully segregated from general air traffic. As suggested above, the military, some law enforcement officials and drone manufacturers have been pushing the FAA to move fast to allow drones to fly much more freely. The FAA has resisted quick introduction for safety reasons, as indicated in the following testimony by Henry Krakowski, chief operating officer of the FAA air traffic organization before Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation Operations in September 2010:

“As the most complex airspace in the world, the NAS (National Airspace System) encompasses an average of over 100,000 aviation operations per day, including commercial air traffic, cargo operations, business jets, etc. Additionally, there are over 238,000 general aviation aircraft that represent a wide range of sophistication and capabilities that may enter the system at any time. There are over 500 air traffic control facilities, more than 12,000 air navigation facilities and over 19,000 airports, not to mention the thousands of other communications, surveillance, weather reporting and other aviation support facilities. With this volume of traffic and high degree of complexity, the FAA maintains an extremely safe airspace through diligent oversight and the strong commitment to our safety mission …

“While UASs (unmanned aerial systems) offer a promising new technology, the limited safety and operational data available to date does not support the expedited or full integration in the NAS. Because current available data is insufficient to allow unfettered integration of UASs into the NAS – where the public travels every day – the FAA must continue to move forward deliberately and cautiously, in accordance with our safety mandate.”

At the same time that Congress is pushing the FAA to allow drones to fly everywhere, the House version of the FAA bill would roll back the agency’s budget to 2008 levels, allocating $57.8 billion for a four-year period.The larger issue is whether drone technology can ever be perfected to the point where pilots on the ground are going to be able to look out for danger in the same way pilots in the air can. As Air Force General Poss said in the quote at the beginning of this article, technology can lead to unwarranted confidence. It seems certain that if Congress, the military, law enforcement agencies and the aerospace industry get their way, we will be having drone hits on passenger aircraft just as we are having bird hits now.

In addition, there is no restriction in the FAA reauthorization against drones flying in US airspace carrying weapons, raising the specter of accidental firings at other aircraft and at people and objects on the ground and of mid-air explosions from accidental hits on other aircraft. The Pentagon is also planning drone aircraft that can carry nuclear weapons.

2. Who Will Watch the Watchers?

Drones also present a real threat to personal privacy and safety. Drones are envisioned as eyes in the sky for police departments as well as for border patrols. Although members of Congress touted drones for surveillance, nothing in the FAA legislation discusses when surveillance can be undertaken or any restrictions on use of material gathered in drone surveillance.

This becomes of even greater concern in view of the problems of drone misidentification, demonstrated in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

There is also the possibility, not addressed in the FAA reauthorization, of police arming their drones to fight crime, which raises the fundamental issues of misidentification, due process and collateral damage, among others.

This article is obviously being written at a very late date. How could we have known sooner about the pro-drone amendments and their implications?

3. Citizen Surveillance

At this point, there is no anti-war legislative action office in Washington, DC, that is devoted solely to: (1) providing continuing information to grassroots organizers on weapons and war funding; and (2) building grassroots response organizations in Congressional districts.

Matt Southworth of the Friends Committee on National Legislation was helpful in identifying some Congressional aides who might wish to help address the drone amendments, but he was stretched thin and had only limited time to make calls, much less visits. Ideally grassroots anti-war groups would have the benefit of one or two people in Washington who would follow weapons and war funding legislation, such as the drone amendments, and provide early warning to local anti-war organizers.

A model for this would be Bread for the World, which develops grassroots organizations to lobby Congress on hunger and food policy issues.

This points also to the need for local educational groups that work to inform the public not only on current wars but on business/job alternatives to the military contracting work being done by plants in their areas.

What we need immediately is legislation banning the use of US drones for assassination and banning drones from US general aviation skyways.

*    *    *    *

Senator Charles Schumer February 15, 2011
One Park Place, Suite 100
Peekskill, New York 10566

Dear Senator Schumer:

On February 10, 2011 you issued a press release saying that you want to amend the Federal Aviation Administration law so that air space will be expanded around Syracuse for testing of “cutting edge military drones.” You said this will “unleash millions of investment into the region and create jobs.”

For the reasons outlined in the attached flyer, we the undersigned urge you to reverse course and work to end all drone testing, training and operation in New York State, including drone operations at Fort Drum in Watertown NY.

We want to emphasize here that the atrocities and assassinations being committed by the United States using drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen are unconscionable. The idea that you would use job creation as a reason for encouraging the development and use of these weapons is morally unacceptable.

Every single minute, $300,000 goes into our wars. Because of this spending, the United States cannot meet the educational and employment needs of its citizens. For you to tout job creation from weapons building under these circumstances is astounding.

We would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience to discuss these concerns. Please respond to the WESPAC Foundation at (914) 449-6514 orwespacfoundation@gmail.com [5]

Sincerely,

Harriet Ackerman, Hastings on Hudson
Wayne Alt, Buffalo
John Amidon, Albany
Sondra Armer, Croton on Hudson
Kevin Ascher, Mount Kisco
Frank Brodhead, Hastings on Hudson
Brooklyn for Peace
Elaine Brower, World Can’t Wait, Military Families Speak Out, New York City
Russell Brown, Veterans for Peace, Buffalo
Frank Carbone, Newburgh
Joe Catron, Brooklyn
Ben Chitty, Co-cordinator Tappan Zee Brigade, Veterans for Peace Chapt. 61, Yonkers
Martha Conte, White Plains
Andrew Courtney, Croton on Hudson
Pamela Daly, Hartsdale
Don DeBar, Ossining
Sandra Dolman, Peekskill
Gayle Dunkelberger, Katonah
Roger Drew, Greenburgh
Marilyn Ellie, Cortlandt
Gail L. Evans
Sarah Flounders, International Action Center, New York City
Kathryn Joy Fuller, Syracuse
Carol Gable, Gaithersburg, MD (formerly of Mamaroneck)
Felice Gelman, Tarrytown
Mirene Ghossen, New Rochelle
Jack Gilroy, Endwell
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Stoney Point
Dr. Arthur Grant, Chappaqua
Teresa Gutierrez, May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights, New York City
Dennis Hanratty, New Rochelle
Mary Herbst, Grand Island
Judith A. and George E. Homanich, Buffalo
Joan Indusi, Ossining
Dottie Ji, Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War
Agnes Johnson, Bronx
Mary Johnson, Mt. Kisco
Lorraine and Sam Katen, Mamaroneck
Kathy Kelly, Co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Chicago, IL
Nada Khader, White Plains
Ed Kinane, Syracuse
Charlotte Koons, Women Opposed to the Nuclear Threat, Northport
Cecelia Lavan, New Rochelle
Maxine Lawrence, Ossining
Leila Luvka, Somers
Jeff Mackler, Administrative Committee, United National AntiWar Committee
Kwame Madden, Peekskill
Ann Marwick, Yorktown Heights
Kathryn Mang-Haag, Kenmore
Larry McGovern, Dobbs Ferry
Nick Mottern, Hastings on Hudson
Dan M. Nalven, Ossining
Valerie Niederhoffer, Buffalo
Ardeshir and Ellie Ommani, Co-Founders, American-Iranian Friendship Committee, Armonk
Pepi Powell, Peekskill
Peg Rapp, Washington Heights Counter-recruitment, New York City
Ken Roberts, Yonkers
Joanne Robinson, Yonkers
Enrico Rodrigues, White Plains
Victoria Ross, Buffalo
Meredith Ryan, Mount Vernon
Lisa Savage, Brunswick, ME
Pat Sorbini, Buffalo
David Swanson, author of War is a Lie, Co-founder WarIsACrime.org, Washington, DC
Syracuse Peace Council
United National AntiWar Committee
Roland Van Deusen, Clayton
Rose Viviano, Syracuse
Bennett Weiss, Newburgh



As Middle America Scrambles To Keep A Roof Overhead, The Few At The Top Break Campaign Spending Records

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2010 at 1:28 pm

 

Bank of America Corporate Headquarters

 

Oldspeak:”Millions unemployed, millions more making less money, and the top 74 TRIPLED their income in 2009. And the masters of the universe poured a good chunk of their “earnings” into electing politicians who will pass laws that govern us all… Plutocracy in action.”

From Sam Pizzigati @ Too Much: A Commentary on Excess and Inequality:

And so what have Americans learned from the now-concluded 2010 mid-term election campaign, aside from the existence of an Aqua Buddha?

Not much. In fact, given the gap between the severity of our current national economic crisis and the substantive emptiness of this fall’s campaigning, we have may just experienced our most inane election season ever. The level of our political discourse has probably never, at least in modern times, been lower.

The level of cash spent on our electioneering, meanwhile, has never been higher. This year’s federal mid-term contests will likely eat up an all-time record $4 billion. That’s enough, says the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, to “treat each and every American to a Big Mac and fries.”

This $4 billion, we ought to keep in mind, doesn’t include any of the cash spent on this year’s plentiful gubernatorial and state legislative races. The nation’s overall campaign expenditure total will likely top $5 billion. And even this figure understates the massive cash deluge cascading over the American body politic.

None of the campaign spending totals, for instance, include the $108 millionspent by “independent groups” to advertise against the health care reform legislation — after that legislation’s passage last March.

Where’s all this cash coming from? Certainly not from average Americans. With unemployment still near double-digits and consumer confidencerunning at record lows, most Americans simply don’t have any cash to spare.

Some 53 percent of Americans, the Washington Post reported last week, say they now worry “about not having enough money” to pay their rent or mortgage. That shouldn’t be surprising. The middle fifth of American households, note Census data released in September, averaged only $49,534 last year, over $2,000 less than these households averaged in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.

Not all Americans, of course, are worrying about their wallets. America’s awesomely affluent have survived the Great Recession quite comfortably. But we didn’t know exactly how comfortably until midway through last month, when officials at the Social Security Administration released the first detailed official federal data on how the nation’s wealthy fared in 2009.

The nation’s wealthy, the new data show, fared just fine. And the wealthiest of the wealthy, the same data show, fared fantastically.

Americans who took home over $1 million in paycheck income in 2009 averaged close to a quarter-million more — $246,985, to be exact — than they made in 2008, after inflation. Americans who made over $50 million in paycheck income in 2009, notes tax analyst David Cay Johnston, did spectacularly better.

The 74 Americans who took home over $50 million worth of paycheck dollars last year ended up with more than triple the combined income the $50 million-plus set took home in 2008. Together, these 74 enjoyed a $38.4 billion payday in 2009.

These super rich actually pocketed considerably more than $38.4 billion in personal income. The Social Security Administration data only cover income subject to Medicare payroll tax. Left uncounted in these data sets: income our rich make buying and selling stocks and bonds and other assets, as well as other flavors of investment income ranging from rent to dividends and interest.

In other words, the new Social Security wage data don’t tell us anything about the earnings of hedge fund managers and other Wall Street investment superstars who report the bulk of their income as capital gains. The top-earning 25 of these hedge fund managers, Alpha reported earlier this year,collected $25.3 billion from hedge fund operations in 2009, an average of over $1 billion each.

How much in total personal income did these 25 hedgies pull in last year? We won’t have any official data on the total 2009 incomes of the nation’s highest-earners until midway through next year. That data will come from the IRS.

But here’s what we do know about how much cash our super rich stashed away in 2009, America’s worst year economically since the 1930s: The 74 Americans who show up at the top of the new wage data list and the 25 other Americans who top the hedge fund list together took home $63.7 billion last year.

These 99 ultra rich could have footed the entire $5 billion 2010 election campaign bill, out of their 2009 earnings, and still have, on average, nearly $600 million each left over from all the loot they stuffed into their pockets last year.

How much did these 99 ultra rich actually plow into the 2010 mid-term elections? We don’t know — and likely never will. The Supreme Court’sCitizens United ruling last January, as public interest analyst Charlie Craynotes, has “opened the floodgates” for “front groups wishing to keep their funders anonymous.” In effect, says Cray, “a powerful ‘shadow party’ has emerged on the conservative right.”

This shadowy network has no trouble whatsoever raising millions from America’s wealthy. For these wealthy, political contributions offer a return few other investments can match.

Hedge fund kingpins, for instance, have so far whacked aside every legislative effort on Capitol Hill to end the “carried interest” loophole, the tax code provision that lets hedgies claim the bulk of their income, for tax purposes, as a “capital gain.” This loophole last year saved the top 25 hedge fund earners an average $200 million each.

And the 74 Americans who reported over $50 million each on their W-2s last year? By refusing to undo the George W. Bush tax cuts for the rich, after George W. left office, lawmakers saved these 74 an average $25 million each in 2009.

If deep pockets like these wealthy Americans emerge victorious in this November’s elections, House speaker Nancy Pelosi warned last month, “it would mean we are now a plutocracy.”

In truth, the United States has already become a plutocracy. Maybe someday we’ll have a political party with enough spunk to stand up and openly fight it.

 

Sam Pizzigati is the editor of the online weekly Too Much, and an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.