Nel's New Day

May 15, 2015

House Gives DOD $612 with No Audit

When sequestration spending caps were passed in 2011 to avoid the debt ceiling crisis, over 200 congressional Republicans voted in favor of the law. Since then, the GOP has not changed the law, but today the House defied it by passing a $612 billion defense bill with all except eight Republicans  in favor of the budget. Ceilings on everything else–infrastructure, safety net, etc.–are just fine, according to these Republicans, but the war industry needs more money.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) moaned about Democrats ignoring all “the sacrifices [the troops] make,” calling the Dems opposition “indefensible.”  The word “indefensible” is appropriate for the GOP’s refusal to protect military personnel and their families from predatory lending. After Defense Department officials created new safeguards last fall to implement new protections in this area, House GOP members tried to add a provision to the defense bill that would delay the new rules for at least a year. When that failed, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) introduced legislation to again block the DOD from putting its rules into effect. Payday loan companies gave almost $70,000 to Stivers’ campaign.

On the first day of the 114th Congress, Republicans made a rules change to cut 20 percent in Social Security disability benefits, hurting disabled veterans. The proposed GOP change in food stamps will deny 60,000 veterans this life-saving benefit. This year’s GOP funding bill is $1 billion short on providing care and services to veterans.

Last year the GOP failed to support bills that would help veterans have job security, retraining, counseling, and scholarships. Another failed bill because of the GOP would increase VA funding for home structural improvements for those veterans more than 50 percent disabled—for example, those who need a wheelchair ramp in order to live at home.

One of the 135 amendments that passed was a provision by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) to stop the re-listing of the lesser prairie chicken on the endangered species list until 2021, unless the Interior Department determines that a conservation plan is not working. It passed 229-190. Someone might want to ask him how the lesser prairie chicken is related to defense.

A proposed amendment to consider undocumented immigrants with work permits through the DREAMERS program to serve in the military was voted down. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said the rejection was a jobs issue because the military is downsizing.

Also voted down was an amendment “in the form of a limited and narrow authorization against ISIS” because “the defense bill was not the place to debate the war,” according  Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).  As he added, “If not here, where?” President Obama’s airstrikes against ISIL began nine months ago, and he sent a proposal about this authorization three months ago. The GOP has avoided any discussion of this issue in Congress that has cost $2.1 billion with 3,700 airstrikes and about 3,000 military personal sent to Iraq. While the House GOP members are suing the president for his other actions, they oppose reining in his war authority. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) claims that the GOP can’t find 218 votes for any action.

As the GOP pushes the defense funding increase through the House, the Republicans ignore the history of DOD waste. The $400 billion Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can’t pass even the most basic requirements necessary for flying in combat. At this time, it’s $170 billion over budget, and the only thing soaring about it is the cost. Auditors question whether it can serve its purpose as the Pentagon continues to throw more money at it. The jet is vulnerable to engine fires because of its design and the “precision-guided Small Diameter Bomb II doesn’t even fit on the Marine’s version of the jet,” according to Military.com. Software necessary to operate the bomb won’t be operational for another seven years–2022.

Recently appointed Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, oversaw the development of the F-35 fighter jet, which will cost the United States an unprecedented $1.5 trillion. He also oversaw production of $50 billion worth of MRAP armored vehicles with thousands of them scrapped almost immediately at a loss of over $2 billion. The 27,000 MRAPs sent to Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in an over-supply and were then decommissioned to militarize U.S. police departments in places as small as Dundee (MI), population 3,900. To Carter, “nuclear weapons don’t actually cost that much.” This is the program that will cost up to $1 trillion in the next three decades.

Federal auditors found a loss of $43 billion in Afghanistan reconstruction. The Pentagon has no answer for the missing funds other than it may have gone to more direct war needs. John F. Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said, “It’s like you gave your credit card to your teenage daughter or son and then you just never looked at the bills.” Tracking the $100 billion allocated for relief and reconstruction has been almost impossible. “We don’t even have a list from (the Defense Department) of where they spent the money. We have no centralized list of where the taxpayer money went in Afghanistan,” Sopko said.

A never-used $600 million C-27 aircraft sits on runways in Kabul and Germany, and a massive $34 million command center in Helmand has never been used and will probably be leveled. The empty 64,000-square-foot command center with an expensive air-conditioning system can hold over 1,000 people. Its incinerators cost $11.5 million, but no one was hired to run the machines. The military burned its trash in an open-air pit.

The Pentagon spent $7.6 billion fighting a war on opium in Afghanistan where the poppy crop is bigger than ever. The U.S. Air Force bought half a billion dollars worth of transport planes and scrapped them for six cents a pound. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built thousands of buildings for the Afghan military where contractors used low-quality insulation that’s so flammable that international codes prohibit its use. When contractors promised to stop its use and replace the faulty insulation, Maj. Gen. Michael Eyre stopped them. He wrote in a 2014 memo:

 “The typical occupant populations for these facilities are young, fit Afghan soldiers and recruits who have the physical ability to make a hasty retreat during a developing situation.”

The DOD wastes billions of dollars in just spare parts. For example, Boeing overcharges up to 177,000 percent; Hamilton Sundstrand is more reasonable at only 900 percent. A redacted version of a July 2014 report showed that the Pentagon overpaid Bell Helicopter 395 percent-$9 million–just on 33 of 35 sole-source commercial parts.

GOP legislators and presidential candidates are being lobbied by arms dealers to raise the defense budget and go to war. Former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), ex-chair of the House Intelligence Committee, heads up the group called Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security to front for the military-industrial complex. Known for claiming that Edward Snowden was a Russian double agent, Rogers pushed for unlimited surveillance through the CISPA bill and support of NSA.

Rogers’ wife, Kristi Rogers, serves as President and CEO of Aegis LLC, a defense contractor with a $10 billion contract to provide security and intelligence-gathering services to the State Department. The board of his lobbying group is a virtual who’s who of the defense industry and a prominent partner of the New Hampshire GOP.  The situation is reminiscent of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s $34 million pay-off oilfield services provider Halliburton before he instigated the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Pentagon doesn’t even want some of the things that Congress is pushing on them. For example, this $8.76 billion:

  • $4.7 billion: refueling the USS George Washington.
  • $1.46 billion:  15 EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes.
  • $1 billion: starting on an additional San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship.
  • $479 million: four F-35 fighter jets raising the total to 38).
  • $341 million: modernizing 12 Apache helicopters and nine Black Hawk helicopters.
  • $200 million:  another Joint High Speed Vessel ship.
  • $155 million: 12 more MQ-9 Reaper drones.
  • $154 million: another P-8A Poseidon Navy surveillance aircraft.
  • $120 million: M1 Abrams tank upgrades.
  • $150 million: medium and heavy tactical vehicles.

In the past 46 years, food stamps have cost taxpayers $1.035 trillion. That’s less than three times the annual defense budget that the House passed today. Wisconsin is trying to keep people on food stamps from buying shredded cheese while the $43 billion lost in Afghanistan is negligible. At the same time that Congress adds to the defense budget, it cuts security for embassies.

The following chart shows how the U.S. defense budget compares to those in the countries nearest the U.S. in expenditures:

military 2015

The House plans to throw at least $612 billion at the Pentagon without knowing where the taxpayer monies go. In 1990, Congress passed a law requiring all government agencies to achieve audit-readiness. Only the Pentagon has not achieved this within the ensuing two and a half decades. Since the first audit was due in 1997, Congress has extended the deadline several times, most recently until 2017. Boehner and the other House members who voted for the bloated defense budget must instinctively know that the Pentagon needs $612 billion. If Amtrak can survive on an 18-percent reduction, so can the Department of Defense.

April 18, 2013

Shame on the House for CISPA Vote

Yesterday when the Senate voted against the first of nine gun legislation amendments, although the majority of senators voting in favor of it, two women shouted “shame on you” from the gallery. “Shame on you!” If Patricia Maisch and Lori Haas had tried to buy guns, they would have spent less than ten minutes in a background check. For shouting these three words, they spent almost two hours undergoing a check. Maisch disarmed Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, and Haas’ daughter Emily was shot twice during the Virginia Tech shooting.

Congress brought more shame down on themselves today through their vote on CISPA (Cyber Intelligence and Protection Act). The House passed this anti-privacy act by 288-127  with more “yes” votes than last year’s equally flawed bill. Although conservatives claim they want total privacy with gun ownership—even keeping the government from tracking gunpowder used in illegal bombs—they are perfectly willing to give up all privacy to their electronic communication without so much as a whimper.

The bill, passed by enough votes to override the president’s promised veto, now goes to the senate. If it goes into effect, the government can spy on people with even more ease that the Patriot Act gave them.

  • Companies can monitor user actions and share data with the government without a warrant.
  • CISPA overrides existing privacy law and grants broad immunities to participating companies.
  • Information provided to the federal government would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other state laws that could require disclosure.
  • If a company sends information about a user, the government agency does not notify the user, only the company.
  • Internet companies are protected from any legal liability after they hand over  data to the federal government.

The issue here is not security because the government would be allowed to use all private information for issues that have no relationship to cybersecurity. And there would be no accountability because the government would not have to tell anyone what they are doing. It overrules all existing federal and state laws by saying “notwithstanding any other provision of law,” including privacy policies and wiretap laws. Companies may share cybersecurity-related information “with any other entity, including the federal government.”

Of course, the reason for passing the bill is money. Some GOP lawmakers are being paid by companies that will get bundles of money from building CISPA surveillance software. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) admitted this in a tweet that he has since deleted: “House Intelligence Committee received 15 more times from pro-CISPA groups than anti-CISPA orgs.” He knows whereof he speaks after receiving $214,750 from special interest groups that support CISPA.

Passing CISPA will make Rogers’ wife very happy too. Kristi Clemens Rogers was, until recently, the president and CEO of Aegis LLC a “security” defense contractor company. She helped the company get a $10 billion contract with the State Department. The company describes itself as “a leading private security company, provides government and corporate clients with a full spectrum of intelligence-led, culturally-sensitive security solutions to operational and development challenges around the world.” Very important when the government needs to look at every piece of electronic communication from the general public in the United States.

The right to privacy has seriously declined in the past 40 years. Four decades ago, FBI agents couldn’t go undercover at any public meetings unless they were pursing an open investigation. A decade later they could do so with some restrictions. Attorney General John Ashcroft wiped out all these limits in 2003. This year, the Ohio Court of Appeals ruled that it was legal for the Trumbull County Children Services Board to require attendees of its public meetings to sign in before being admitted to the meetings. This is the state of surveillance in the United States.

The National Security Administration is already snooping into the private affairs of people in the United States to such an extent that the NSA doesn’t even know how many people are affected. When Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, tried to find out last summer how many domestic phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and other communications are under surveillance by government agencies, the NSA inspector general stated, “Obtaining such an estimate was beyond the capacity of [the] office.”

One amendment to CISPA requires the Inspector General and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to regularly report on how the government’s use of CISPA is impacting privacy. This is highly unlikely if they can’t even report on their existing surveillance.

According to the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

But not electronic communications.

Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) used the excuse of this week’s Boston bombing to pass this bill. There has been no evidence that this attack was an act of cyberterror.  Yet it is his party that refuses to allow the government to track the purchase of gunpowder because of the NRA’s clout.

Sens. Jay Rockfeller (D-WV) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have introduced legislation to give Internet users the right to opt out of online tracking. The bill would penalize companies that do not obey the users’ requests. Companies would be required to destroy or make anonymous any personal data not necessary for the online service to function. Two years ago, a coalition of Internet companies promised to do this on a voluntary basis, but nothing has been done. These companies–or the ones that create surveillance software– will probably pay off conservative politicians to kill this bill.

Conservative politicians will continue to take money from the NRA to sell guns while they take more money to eradicate the privacy of people in the United States. They can get away with this because the media is focused on disasters and other government issues.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) went on seven television shows last week to address immigration, Face the Nation discussed the gun background checks, and This Week worried about the president’s budget, and Jay-Z’s trip to Cuba. State of the Union went North Korea.  And the Boston bombing and the Texas fertilizer plant plowing up has consumed the last four days of news.

The House is happy about this being temporarily ignored. The committee hearing on CISPA was in secret, and the vote before the House was rushed. Representatives managed to keep most of their privacy while they take away ours.

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