Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gates Warns Against Defense Cuts (Or, The Sky Is Falling)

UPDATE 08/15/11:
'Doomsday' defense cuts loom large for select 12

For the Pentagon, "we're talking about cuts of such magnitude that everything is reduced to some degree," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank. "At that rate, you're eliminating the next generation of weapons."
Oh, no! Eliminate the next generation of weapons? We can not do that! Oh, no! That'll mean that we will only have our creaky old F15's and those mindless drones (aircraft not politicians!) to bomb and strafe guys with rusty Kalashnikovs and RPG's.

BTW, I am all for equipping ground troops with the best of the best, and I'm all for better salaries for troops, and I am all for boosting veterans' benefits -- I think these guys should have housing and health care covered for the rest of their lives -- but we are not talking about that. The hue and cry over potential (and unlikely) "defense" cuts is about white collar welfare for manufacturers of overpriced F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and aircraft carriers that we do not need. Not now, not ten years from now. We do not need them.

Another thing I am for: get our troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, and use the money we save to educate our veterans' children, and invest in a renewable energy and public transportation workforce so those veterans have some place to work (besides in the extortionist, fat at the top military industrial complex). Smart investment in renewable energy would create 4.5 million jobs, over and above those lost by coal miners, and other dirty-energy workers. And it would add $4.3 trillion of domestic revenue to our economy.


WASHINGTON — In a grim warning about financial priorities during a time of fiscal crisis, the defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, said Sunday that budget pressures must not limit Pentagon spending such that the military is unable to defend American interests in an unpredictable world.
Gates Warns Against Big Cuts in Military Spending -- NY Times -- May 24, 2011
But he would say that, wouldn't he? I mean, he is Secretary of Defense. Is this really front page news? Now, if Mr. Gates said the world is more peaceful than he thought, that would be news. If he said the military did not exist to protect overseas, off-shored, corporate interests, that would be news.

Still, someone needs to tell Mr. Gates about the budgetary crisis created by his Republican colleagues as part of their "Starve the Beast" program. At some point, his Republican comrades are sure to recognized that defense is the big, bulging pot belly of the beast, aren't they? You can't always get what you want, Mr. Gates. Unless we borrow the money, or raise taxes. And you're not into that, are you? Besides, folks who aren't Secretary of Defense will tell you the US spends far, far too much on defense; that defense is really offense; and that defense is a big, white-collar welfare program, and it should not be. Let's cut every expenditure that is not for personnel by 80%. That'll get us at least $4.2 trillion in ten years. That's the sort of trimming your fiscally responsible brethren can sink their teeth into, Mr. Gates. And I promise, our "defense" will be just fine.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jail the Whistleblower! (The Curious Case of Thomas Drake)

UPDATE -- 10 JUNE 2011:
A critical moment in the United States’ case against former National Security Agency official Thomas A. Drake came a week ago Friday, when a federal judge ruled that the prosecution could not shield from public disclosure classified information it wanted to present as evidence.

So the prosecutors, rather than reveal what the NSA considered sensitive material, withdrew their proposed exhibits.

That decision effectively doomed the government’s effort to put Drake behind bars for as many as 35 years for unlawfully retaining classified information. As the prosecution crumbled, so went the government’s opportunity to turn Drake’s case into a cautionary tale for would-be leakers.

On Friday, Drake accepted lead prosecutor William M. Welch II’s offer to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor of misusing a government computer to provide information to an unauthorized person. Drake is expected to serve no prison time.

NSA leak trial exposes dilemma for Justice Department, Washington Post

OK, so the Washington Post can not bring themselves to say it: The government blew it. They've been chasing this guy Drake for quite a while, and they just now realized they could not proceed without revealing classified information? Nonsense. They had no case in the first place. Prosecutor Welch and his crew of Justice Department thugs used Drake to send a chilling message to future whistle blowers; and to advance their own reputations as fearless defenders of justice, motherhood, and apple-pie. And this is who they decide to take down? Drake? Fearless, my ass. The US prosecutors succumbed to their own petty arrogance -- they overreached. Cheers, Mr. Drake. ;)

That's the cry of the US Justice Department in the infamous case of Thomas Drake. Throw the bum in jail...for thirty-five years, for violation of the Espionage Act of 1917

Well, it sure seems like government lawyers are prosecuting Mr. Drake out of spite. Or, to put a chill on would be whistle-blowers who expose government wrongdoing. Especially wrongdoing on the part of our domestic intelligence, military-industrial, white-collar welfare apparatus. We do expend a lot of effort and treasure throwing people in jail in this country.

Here's a brief description of the history of his case, and Mr. Drake's alleged offenses from the discussion section of the Facebook page entitled, Save Tom Drake:
Tom Drake and the "Need to Know"
Have you heard of the phase “need to know”? Although rarely addressed in the Thomas Drake case, the need to know principle is at the heart of how information is shared, both classified and unclassified, inside (and outside) the government.

Need to know restricts the sharing of information to those who need the information to do their jobs. Need to know is not used “…to refuse others access to information they hold in an attempt to increase their personal power, prevent unwelcome review of their work, prevent embarrassment resulting from actions or thoughts, or to cover up illegal actions.” (Wikipedia)

Tom successfully practiced need to know throughout his 25-year intelligence career. However, in an environment of gross malfeasance, the need to know principle breaks down. Truth-tellers become the prosecuted. The innocent become the victims.

With close to a billion dollars wasted on a failed, illegal NSA program (Trailblazer) and when urged to remain silent by some of his peers, Tom spoke out. He first went to his superiors, then to congress, to the Department of Defense Inspector General, and finally to the media. He shared information only as allowed by law. He did not use the need to know principle to hide misconduct. He exercised need to know to alert Americans to taxpayer waste and to threats of their civil liberties.

Today Tom’s case has all the symptoms of a retaliatory prosecution – an overzealous prosecutor, prosecutorial selectiveness, an unequal application of the law, a draft conspiratorial indictment, unclassified information being treated as classified, retroactive classification, prejudicial procedural defects, slicing and dicing of the Espionage Act, using the act as a whipping stick on whistleblowers, judicial precedence setting, the silent witness rule, and on and on and on.

The motive for the prosecution of Tom is clear: NSA seeks retribution for its embarrassment; President Obama needs an example for his dislike of leaks.

Last year the DOJ charged Tom Drake with the willful retention of classified information, lying to federal investigators, and obstructing justice. If convicted, Tom faces 35 years in prison. His support bloggers have had a field day on the retention charge, especially considering the DOJ’s push to classify previously unclassified information and to redact unclassified documents. The retention charge is the load-bearing wall of the DOJ’s house of charges. If it collapses, the house of charges comes tumbling down.

Don’t you think the American people had a need to know, even a right to know about the NSA billion dollar fiasco? What about threats to their privacy? Do you think that Tom’s prosecution is retaliatory in nature? If you answered yes to any of these questions, please consider signing the petition below to support Tom, an award winning truth-teller.

Here's the Democracy Now! piece on Drake from May 18, 2011:

And here are the specific charges leveled by the Justice Department against Mr. Drake, from a post by Jesselyn Radack for the Government Accountability Project
I was just on Democracy Now! discussing the prosecution of whistleblower Thomas Drake, who used to be a senior executive at the National Security Agency (NSA). I'm glad people are finally paying attention to this case, thanks to Jane Mayer's explosive cover story in the New Yorker, which Glenn Greenwald referred to as the "must-read article of the month."

The government would have you believe that this is a case involving the disclosure of classified information to a journalist.  It is not.  It's a "retention" case about 5 innocuous pieces of information that Drake allegedly took home, if at all, by mistake. His real crime? Committing the truth by revealing gross waste, mismanagement and illegality at NSA.Let's get down to brass tacks.  Drake never leaked classified information to a reporter, or anyone, and is not CHARGED with "leaking" classified information. So, what is he charged with?:

Count 1 - a "Regular Meetings" document that appeared on NSA's intranet marked as UNCLASSIFIED;

Count 2 - a self-congratulatory "What a Success" document that appeared on NSA's intranet, which was declassified in July 2010 (but the prosecution didn't tell Drake this for 8 months);

Counts 3-5 - information that in whole or in part formed the basis of some of Drake's protected communication to the Department of Defense Inspector General as part of their investigation into NSA's gross waste, mismanagement and illegality related to a secret surveillance program;

Count 6 - obstruction of justice for allegedly impeding the Justice Department's pretextual "leak" investigation into the sources for the New York Times Pulitzer prize-winning article on warrantless wiretapping;

Count 7 - alleged "false statements" for telling the truth, namely, that he never gave the reporter classified information;

Count 8 - alleged "false statements" for telling the truth, namely, that Drake didn't bring any classified documents home;

Count 9 - alleged "false statements" for telling the truth, namely, that he only removed unclassified information from classified documents; and

Count 10 - alleged "false statements" for telling the truth, namely, that he never took handwritten notes that contained classified information.

"That's it??" I hear you saying as you scratch your head.


These charges should be easy to defeat, right?  Unfortunately, Thomas Drake has to do that in a trial where the government has tried to preclude mention of "whistleblowing," "overclassification" and published newspaper articles!  (Thankfully, the judge overruled the government on all three.) But now he has to contend with the government wanting to use a "silent witness rule" through which the judge and jury would use a special code to discuss the evidence but the public would have no clue what's happening, and wait for it . . . the government wants to use classification substitutions for information that is not classified.

Every step of the way this has been an uphill battle.  As the target of a federal criminal "leak investigation" (now closed) myself,  I know what a David vs. Goliath struggle it is to fight the government. Drake blew the whistle on government illegality and now he's the one being prosecuted. It's that simple.

Please sign the petition urging congressional oversight of this case.

Jesselyn Radack is Homeland Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization. This post originally appeared in her Daily Kos column.
Yeah, so think about signing that petition mentioned above. I did.

After all..."Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself..." (click here to listen to the apropos inaugural speech by FDR, which includes this quote, along with a lot of eerily timely sentiments. Give it a hearing.)

"He wondered, as he had many times wondered before, whether he himself was a lunatic. Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one." George Orwell, "1984"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Help! We're Hostage To A Bunch Of Clowns

The debt ceiling looms, and Democrats in Congress once again fail to take on the Republican/Tea Party/Koch-Brother-Americans-for-Prosperity nutcases who eagerly run this country off the rails in the avaricious pursuit of lucre. Rational people are held hostage by howling lunatics like John Boehner, Republican Speaker of the House:
"Americans understand we simply can't keep spending money we don't have," Boehner said. "There will be no debt limit increase without serious budget reforms and significant spending cuts." US hits credit limit, setting up 11-week fight
This is patently foolish and crassly deceptive, but Boehner and his mendacious crew repeat that phrase like the mantra of an over-medicated serial killer. What about an offer to cut wasteful, white-collar welfare defense spending? What about repealing income, capital gain and estate tax cuts for rich people? What about corporate tax loopholes? What about it, Boehner? Cantor? Nothing. Silence. Dumb silence.

The notion that this guy Boehner, and his crooked cronies, Cantor, McCarthy, and the rest occupy seats in the US Congress astonishes me. That otherwise decent people fall for their baloney and vote for them is more astonishing. Worse still, intelligent people afford this insane blathering and flat out lying the dignity of rational, measured replies. These Republican politicians are crooks; paid shills for blundering corporate hacks who know no other way to turn a buck then to beat it out of compliant bystanders, crushed into compliance by persistent cries that the end of the world awaits failure to appease the corporate thugs: war on terror! socialism! left-coast wackos! fruits and nuts! they'll take our guns! abort our fetuses! murder out god! kill us with death panels! tear up the Constitution!

Republican "business leaders" are chickenshit candy asses who can't get out of their own way to earn an honest living, and instead rely on government subsidies, off-shore slave labor, destructive environmental exploitation, and tax loopholes to stay in the money (see private equity funds, leveraged buyouts, carried interest; Glass-Steagall; the Enron loophole; proprietary trading; free-trade; taxpayer funded environmental externalities, such as the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico by an oil spill, or Appalachia by mountaintop removal -- for oil, and coal we do not need; gasbag hydro-frack-ers who will poison every drop of groundwater in the country if we let them; toxic, stinking, fly-infested concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO's) ...and don't forget: starve-the-beast).
"It (failure to raise the debt limit, which we've done ten times since 2001) would tell the world that the U.S. can't get its act together, that this is basically a circus," says William Gross, an influential investor who is managing director of the world's biggest bond fund, Pimco. "Investors ultimately won't want to be held hostage by a bunch of clowns." US hits credit limit, setting up 11-week fight
If Boehner and friends are so damn concerned about the national debt, why don't they assume some austerity themselves and cut their salaries by two thirds, ride Greyhound to and from their district, liquidate their 401k's and make donations to the treasury, and forgo health insurance like millions of poor slobs forced to beg for an extension of unemployment insurance after Republican "business leaders" and financial wizards pulled the rug out from under them and left us in a third world country.

Next stop for the unemployed is an underpass and a street corner where they can beg for spare change. But, don't whine! Lift yourself up by your bootstraps!. Lie and steal like our Republican "entrepreneurs" and Wall Street wizards do. That's the American way.

If anyone reads this, consider voting for the Green Party. The Democrats are hopeless as a defense against Republican malfeasance, and the Green Party offers a truly rational platform unbought by corporate thugs. Hope is Green...


Saturday, May 14, 2011

It Couldn't Happen Here, Could It? A Tale of American Nuclear Power

Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant (NRC image)
Fires in nuclear power plants happen. And they can set off a chain-reaction of nasty events. Compared to saving money and hassle for plant operators, the NRC thinks those nasty events, including meltdown,  evacuation of surrounding communities, and air and groundwater contamination with radioactive isotopes is not such a big deal. So, we tango with the devil so that plant operators can keep their profits and their control of electricity infrastructure, and finance the campaigns of politicians' who support them.

All the while, instead of investing in the wildly overpriced, toxic security risks that nuclear power plants are, we could invest in cheaper, safe alternatives, that have the added benefit of creating long term domestic jobs: Renewables vs Nukes: Intermittency & Reliability

Here's a bit from a recent ProPublica story on the NRC and nuclear power plant fire regulations:
For the first quarter century of U.S. nuclear power, fire wasn't much of an issue. The Browns Ferry blaze forced a paradigm shift.
It began with a tiny flame.
On March 22, 1975, a worker using a candle to hunt for air leaks accidentally set fire to insulation near electrical cables underneath the Browns Ferry control room, which two reactors shared. The plastic foam material flared, and before the flames could be smothered they were sucked along cables into the adjacent reactor building.
The fire seared through trays carrying hundreds of cables, triggering a cascade of shorts and creating havoc in the control room. Indicator lights flicked on and off at random; pumps started on their own and then restarted after being shut down. Smoke poured from a cabinet that controlled emergency cooling, and key pumps on the Unit 1 reactor were lost. Operators "scrammed" the reactor, an emergency shut down.
Loss of cooling is a serious event. When a reactor shuts down, the radioactive fuel remains hot enough to melt. With only one small pump operating, water in the Unit 1 reactor boiled off, dropping nearly 13 feet in depth until only 48 inches covered the top of the reactor core. Uncovered, hot fuel reacts with air to create hydrogen -- the gas that ignited and blew buildings apart at Fukushima Daiichi.
Read the whole story, it's worth it (and drop a few coins in the tip cup -- ProPublica is non-profit):  
NRC Waives Enforcement of Fire Rules at Nuclear Plants