Sunday Funnies and Open Thread

I’m not going to say “I told you so” but I did have the feeling this was going to happen somewhere.  I just don’t think all civic responsibilities lend themselves that well to private enterprise.

It would be interesting to uncover what is happening in other states.  Maybe it’s going better than in these three.

Because the private sector can do everything better, more efficiently, and therefore more cheaply than government, many states have outsourced their prisons to private prison companies to generate cash, and to save money in their budgets. However, three states have now dumped the largest private prison company in the U.S., due to numerous, serious issues. According to ThinkProgress, Idaho cut ties with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), while Texas closed two CCA prisons of its own, and Mississippi ended their relationship with CCA as well. All of this happened within the last month. The problems these states were seeing ranged from inhumane conditions (including the use of prison gangs, denying access to medical care, bad food and sanitation, widespread abuse by guards, and more) to financial problems, such as falsifying hours to extract more money from the government, and deliberately understaffing the prisons.

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Ralph Nader says it’s not just about privacy when we consider the NSA story, it’s about privatization of what were and maybe should still be government functions.

This is a stark example of the blurring of the line between corporate and governmental functions. Booz Allen Hamilton, the company that employed Mr. Snowden, earned over $5 billion in revenues in the last fiscal year, according to The Washington Post. The Carlyle Group, the majority owner of Booz Allen Hamilton, has made nearly $2 billion on its $910 million investment in “government consulting.” It is clear that “national security” is big business.

Given the value and importance of privacy to American ideals, it is disturbing how the terms “privatization” and “private sector” are deceptively used. Many Americans have been led to believe that corporations can and will do a better job handling certain vital tasks than the government can. Such is the ideology of privatization. But in practice, there is very little evidence to prove this notion. Instead, the term “privatization” has become a clever euphemism to draw attention away from a harsh truth. Public functions are being handed over to corporations in sweetheart deals while publicly owned assets such as minerals on public lands and research development breakthroughs are being given away at bargain basement prices.

These functions and assets—which belong to or are the responsibility of the taxpayers—are being used to make an increasingly small pool of top corporate executives very wealthy. And taxpayers are left footing the cleanup bill when corporate greed does not align with the public need.

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And last, I hate that Paula Deen story.  I don’t follow her cooking show or know too much about her but I have watched her a few times when my husband flips through the channels.  She always seemed like a bit of a character to me.  If what everyone’s saying is true it sounds like she made some pretty inappropriate and even racist comments and then botched the apology.  Sheesh, I grew up with people who used the “n” word which was completely cringe worthy and caused a lot of family arguments and even tears on occasion.  But, and this is a big but, there are ways and then better ways to comment or make your point.  I thought this story had a perspective we don’t see in print very often.  It’s something I think about a lot.

When the story broke, media coverage was almost tabloid-like. Not surprising, considering it was the National Enquirer that broke the story. In this day and age, when people want easily digestible bites of information rather than well-detailed and supported fact-based news, many saw the titles and nothing more. Titles such as ‘Paula Deen Admits To Using The N-Word’ and ‘Paula Deen’s Apology for Using The N-Word Is Ridiculous.’ As a result, reactions weren’t much better. As one of my colleagues said, it’s as if someone popped the lid off Ugly and let it all spill out. On Facebook, one page posted a picture of Deen with the text of the alleged comment, captioned “Racist Tw*t… Yes you are.” The ensuing comments on the post ranged from civil discussion to “racist white trash c*nt,” “C*nt fucking retard,” and “shove a stick of butter up her ass.” Really?

There were cases where people made offending remarks about her weight, about her diabetes, about being southern. People called for her to be hanged and lynched. People called her a “cracker,” a “honkey,” and other vulgar, racist words for whites. People called her a bigot, a racist, a bitch, all while calling her that most vile word you can call a woman– a c*nt. I won’t even spell it out, I find it so offensive. Since when did it become socially acceptable to skewer someone with the same type of ignorant language you are accusing them of using?

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I so want to write this kind of long(ish) sentence sometimes……haha

economic cartoon

evidence comic

women comic

Monday Morning

Brent said the Morning Report would be spotty this week so I’ll start with an open thread and a few interesting (to me anyway) links.

This probably seems like a mistake in hindsight.

Foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Some delegates were tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.

The revelation comes as Britain prepares to host another summit on Monday – for the G8 nations, all of whom attended the 2009 meetings which were the object of the systematic spying. It is likely to lead to some tension among visiting delegates who will want the prime minister to explain whether they were targets in 2009 and whether the exercise is to be repeated this week.

In addition to the piece above Snowden isn’t helping himself or us if this  is true.

Former NSA employee, and famed PRISM whistleblower, Edward Snowden is now leaking top secret documents that appear to have nothing to do with the NSA eavesdropping on Americans, and everything to do with hurting the United States’ national security position vis-a-vis Russia before a key Obama-Putin summit.

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In light of the above information it should be an interesting G8 talk Obama is scheduled to give defending our phone and internet surveillance systems.  I have to wonder what those folks will be thinking.

President Barack Obama will defend U.S. phone and internet surveillance efforts during G8 talks next week, explaining to other leaders the importance of the tools in fighting terrorism, and safeguards in place to prevent abuse of the data

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It’s nice to see a company that pays it’s employees well actually do well.  I’ve also heard that Costco employees stick around for years and years and they even have a college education program for people who want to advance within the company.

The big box giant’s profit jumped 19 percent to $459 million last quarter, thanks in part to the company’s efforts to offer discounts to lure more members, according to Bloomberg. The company was able to offer those discounts and boost its profits while paying its workers a decent wage, a claim many of Costco’s competitors can’t make.

A typical Costco worker made $45,000 in 2011, according to Fortune. That’s compared to Sam’s Club workers’ average salary of $17,486 per year, according to salary information site Glassdoor.com.

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I don’t know if any of you saw this interview with the young Air Force guy with PTSD caused by being a drone operator.  I remember thinking that the drones seemed like a good idea for modern warfare, and maybe they are.  I think they save American lives but I’m not sure we’ve gotten their use right yet.

Doesn’t it seem as though we’re not adapting very well to all the new technology and we haven’t actually thought everything through sufficiently?

This is a report on the interview from Richard Engel, but there’s also video at the link.

Bryant said that most of the time he was an operator, he and his team and his commanding officers made a concerted effort to avoid civilian casualties.

But he began to wonder who the enemy targets on the ground were, and whether they really posed a threat. He’s still not certain whether the three men in Afghanistan were really Taliban insurgents or just men with guns in a country where many people carry guns. The men were five miles from American forces arguing with each other when the first missile hit them.

“They (didn’t) seem to be in a hurry,” he recalled. “They (were) just doing their thing. … They were probably carrying rifles, but I wasn’t convinced that they were bad guys.“ But as a 21-year-old airman, said Bryant, he didn’t think he had the standing to ask questions.

He also remembers being convinced that he had seen a child scurry onto his screen during one mission just before a missile struck, despite assurances from others that the figure he’d seen was really a dog.

In 2011, as Bryant’s career as a drone operator neared its end, he said his commander presented him with what amounted to a scorecard. It showed that he had participated in missions that contributed to the deaths of 1,626 people.

“I would’ve been happy if they never even showed me the piece of paper,” he said. “I’ve seen American soldiers die, innocent people die, and insurgents die. And it’s not pretty. It’s not something that I want to have — this diploma.”

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And last but not least from the great state of CA, we passed a budget Friday that made our stingy (hahaha) Governor almost as happy as the other Democrats.  As you probably know Republicans have essentially been side lined.  It ‘s the opposite of states like WI and others where Republicans control all levels.  This piece mentions health care quite a bit and emphasizes how much Obama and others are hoping for a successful implementation here.

Drew Altman, president and chief executive of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the success of the federal healthcare law hinges largely on the outcome in California.

“California is pace-setting, and everyone in health reform is watching very closely,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine its success until it succeeds in California.”

Many of the healthcare changes are riding on this year’s budget and a series of related bills among those lawmakers are expected to take up Saturday.

“California really couldn’t move full speed ahead” until the budget passed, said Chris Perrone, a director at the California HealthCare Foundation. “It clears the path to a lot of work that needs to happen.”

That work includes computer upgrades to process new patients and outreach efforts to ensure that more people enroll in health plans.

Healthcare was one of the final sticking points in budget negotiations this year. Brown insisted on allowing the state to scale back its coverage if federal money is reduced.

What Kind of Whistleblower Would You Be?

I’m not sure what to think about this Snowden guy.  I tend to think the government certainly has an obligation to hold secrets when it comes to national security and yet obviously the American people deserve to know, and I think participate in, the process by which we give up so many of our legal rights in order to acquire that sense of security.

Diane Feinstein thinks he should be tried for treason and John Boehner calls him a traitor.

Political opinion in the US was split with some members of Congress calling for the immediate extradition from Hong Kong of the whistleblower, Edward Snowden. But other senior politicians in both main parties questioned whether US surveillance practices had gone too far.

Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the national intelligence committee, has ordered the NSA to review how it limits the exposure of Americans to government surveillance. But she made clear her disapproval of Snowden. “What he did was an act of treason,” she said.

House Speaker John Boehner defended the NSA programs and their congressional oversight, saying he had been briefed on the programs and that Americans were not “snooped on” unless they communicated with a terrorist in another country.

“He’s a traitor,” Boehner said of Snowden in an interview with ABC News. “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk, it shows our adversaries what our capabilities are, and it’s a giant violation of the law.”

Daniel Ellsberg believes Snowden’s leak is the most important example of whistleblowing in history.

In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than  Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes  the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an “executive coup” against the US constitution.

For the president then to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense – as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress. Not for the first time – as with issues of torture, kidnapping, detention, assassination by drones and death squads –they have shown themselves to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor. They are also black holes for information that the public needs to know.

Ellsberg seems to think this event will give Americans both the incentive and proof  we need to rise up against this “surveillance state”.   Ha, based on the polling I’ve seen this week and comments from both government officials and public forums I’ve been reading, most people don’t really care that much or simply accept it’s the trade off  for being safe.

And it seems to me we have two different kinds of justice being handed out for whistleblowers.  Thanks to Dodd/Frank (don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a crappy bill) the SEC has newly enacted protections for financial whistleblowers and the government has reaped the benefits to the tune of   millions of dollars.

In just its first year, the whistle­blower program already has proven to be a valuable tool in helping us ferret out financial fraud,” then-SEC Chairman Mary L. Schapiro said in November 2012. “When insiders provide us with high-quality road maps of fraudulent wrongdoing, it reduces the length of time we spend investigating and saves the agency substantial resources.”

The SEC’s Investor Protection Fund awarded the Commission’s first Whistleblower Award Program recipient in 2012, but the case and individual haven’t been made public. The Fund represents monetary sanctions received from settlements of SEC cases, including penalties, disgorgement, and interest. The balance at the end of fiscal 2012 was $453 million.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum Obama appears to undermine his own support of protections for whistleblowers, at least in the area of National Security.

The federal appeals court granted another hearing on May 24, and the Obama administration rushed out a memo asking the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management to quickly come up with a litmus test for deciding which federal positions can be classified as being “sensitive,” citing a 2010 OPM proposal that aimed to dramatically expand the number of national security employees.

Whistleblower advocates say the court ruling and the president’s memo spell a major rewiring of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. “It’s not that OPM and DOJ are arguing that whistleblowers in sensitive positions shouldn’t have access to protections. It’s an unintended consequence that they have not tried to prevent,” says Angela Canterbury, public policy director at the Project on Government Oversight, where I used to work. “The Obama administration is undermining the same protections they [formerly] supported.

There are at least five whistleblowers who’ve come up against the heavy hand of the Obama Administration via the DOJ recently.

The Obama administration has waged a war on government whistleblowers. So here are 5 whistleblowers who have been under attack by a president who once said that official whistleblowers were “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.

Check out the Thomas Drake case:

4. Thomas Drake

A former executive at the National Security Agency, Thomas Drake exposed details about the agency’s Trailblazer Project. For this, he was charged under the Espionage Act, though the government’s case against him spectacularly failed.

Drake became concerned about the Trailblazer Project’s cost–at $1 billion, it was way more than the NSA should have been paying for a program they could have instituted in-house. He was also concerned it would violate the privacy of Americans. But Trailblazer, which was supposed to analyze intercepted communications, was chosen to be the NSA’s vehicle for surveillance anyway. Drake disclosed details about the NSA’s wastefulness to a Baltimore Sun reporter.

The government initially threw the book at him, but their case collapsed. As Marcy Wheeler explained in The Nation: “The Department of Justice had been pursuing Drake for alleged violations of the Espionage Act that might have sent him to prison for up to 35 years. But the government withdrew the evidence supporting several of the central charges after a judge ruled Drake would not be able to defend himself unless the government revealed details about one of the National Security Agency’s telecommunications collection programs.” Drake was eventually convicted on the misdemeanor charge of exceeding authorized use of a computer.

I’m really curious what all of you think of the whistleblower issue in particular, but of course I’m also wondering if anyone thinks there’s a reverse of the surveillance state possible.  Is surveillance state too strong of a descriptive?  Do you think Obama is really to blame or is it just the result of an overzealous government at all levels since 9/11?

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