Former Drone Pilots Blow Whistle On “Morally Outrageous” Program

Image result for drone pilotsThree former Air Force airmen spoke out against the USA’s military drone program in a damning NBC special last week. The men, who have over 20 years’ experience between them, claim the use of drones is “one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world,” and branded them “morally outrageous.”

“People think it’s a video game. But when you fire that missile, there’s no re-start,” says former sensor operator Stephen Lewis, who was active in the Drone Program between 2005 and 2010.

It weighs on your conscience, it weighs on your soul, it weighs on your heart. Because of your actions, some child is not going to see their mother or father.

Stephen was so affected by his role in the program that he drank himself to sleep, every single night. His colleagues did the same, saying:

It was the culture there. After every shift, you’d consume a lot of alcohol…to take the edge off, so you didn’t have to think about what you did.

Michael Haas was a technician and instructor between 2005 and 2011. “These drones are very, very good at killing people,” he says. “We were very callous about any collateral damage.” Haas reveals they would often kill people simply because they were associated with a guilty person, and “we didn’t consider other people on-screen.” He also spoke frankly about the de-humanization of targets:

The less they can get you to think of the thing you’re shooting at as human, the easier it becomes for you to just follow through.

Haas reveals the use of code phrases that detract from the real cost of the Drone Program: ‘Cutting the grass before it gets too long,’ for example, is a euphemism for killing people before they become a problem – and the sickening part is, even children are not exempt from this philosophy.

Cian Westmoreland, a technician who served the program between 2006 and 2010, seems mentally and emotionally wiped out in this interview. He says the program is “politically expedient in the short-term” and like the other men, he’s eaten up with guilt about what he did.

I started having nightmares about kids and mothers dying, and I’m trying to help them, but I couldn’t. I just feel helpless, I knew it was my fault.

Cian, visibly upset, feels cheated by his country. “People who join the military…we join because of things we learned in school,” he says. “We learn about our Government, and the great things [the USA] was founded on.” Cian reveals he voted for Obama, who stood for change and human rights, but now he regrets supporting the President.

We learn about our Constitution, and we learn that Americans are always afforded due process. They haven’t honored the Constitution. They should be fighting for that more than anything.

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Visualizing 20 Years of Contractor Misconduct

The Project On Government Oversight is celebrating the holiday season by sharing a colorful display of federal contractor misconduct over the last twenty years.
Federal Contractor Misconduct Database Visual Interpretation

POGO Federal Contractor Misconduct Database - All Misconduct" by Tamara Tershakovec. Visit the site to see the whole interpretation

Using the new download feature on our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database(FCMD), data visualization developer Tamara Tershakovec created a JavaScript graph of the FCMD. The graph lists contractors in order of number of misconduct instances. Every instance is represented with a dot, the size of which correlates with the penalty amount. The dots fall along horizontal lines from earliest resolved instances (January 1995) on the left to the most recent on the right. Details about the instance pop up when you move the cursor over the dot. The gadget on the right side of the screen allows you to filter the graph by misconduct type.

The data download feature truly adds a new dimension to the FCMD. You don’t have to just write or read about the information in our database anymore. Now, with the raw data at your fingertips, you can easily extract it, analyze it, and display it in a completely new form. We hope Tershakovec’s interactive graph inspires others to use their technical and artistic skills on the FCMD to create new ways of understanding contractor misconduct.

Neil Gordon, InvestigatorBy: Neil Gordon - pogo.org December 14, 2015

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Drug Czar Wants More Money to Spend on Taking Your Stuff

Image result for drug crimesThe Washington Post reports that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) wants more money "to identify assets, prosecute cases and 'manage the massive paper flow associated with forfeiture.'"

Asset-forfeiture, in which law enforcement seizes property, cash, and goods that it says is connected to drug crimes and activity, is controversial but incredibly lucrative.

Last year, for instance, cops took more stuff from people than criminals did. And, as Steven Greenhut wrote here, many of the instances are outrageous:

One Anaheim couple almost lost a $1.5 million commercial building after an undercover cop bought $37 in marijuana from a tenant, but the feds dropped that case after bad publicity.

Created in the early days of the nation's war on drugs, asset forfeiture was designed to grab the proceeds from drug kingpins. But most of the money now is grabbed from ordinary citizens. According to a study last year, about 80 percent of the time, seized property is taken from people who have never been charged with anything.

Now the drug czar's office (as ONDCP is popularly known) wants to ramp up efforts even more. From the Post:

Despite calls for reform from lawmakers and advocacy groups, budget numbers recently released by the Office of National Drug Control Policy suggest forfeiture efforts will ramp up next year.

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Secret Policy to Ignore Social Media? Not So Fast

Image result for social mediaThere is a supposed “secret policy” that prevented consular and immigration officers from checking Tashfeen Malik’s social media accounts where she wrote about jihad (possibly under a pseudonym or in personal messages).  If her statements were discovered then she would have been denied a visa, preventing the atrocity.  This is getting a lot of attention onblogs and Secretary Jeh Johnson responded by saying that there are certain limits that probably apply to personal messages although he’s unclear. 

After following this controversy, I heard from six different immigration attorneys that there is no such secret policy and their clients’ routinely have their social media accounts checked by immigration officials – or at least have heard of it happening. 

Matthew Kolken of Kolken and Kolken in Buffalo, New York told me:

The first time I confirmed that the government was investigating social media was around 2009 when an adjudicator at a marriage fraud interview confronted my client with a series of pictures he was tagged in on Facebook. The only person more surprised than me was his wife when she saw that the pictures were posted by his girlfriend the previous weekend.  The silver lining is that when the officer witnessed my client’s rage he approved the application on the spot.

Charles Kuck at Kuck Immigration Partners in Atlanta, Georgia wrote:

USCIS and other government immigration agencies have been using social media for at least the last five years in naturalization, green card, and visa cases.  It is disingenuous of USCIS to now say they have not used information gleaned from these sites to question and even deny applications.  We have advised clients for years of this practice by USCIS, ICE, and other DHS agencies as well as by the Department of State.

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Record Number 18 – 34 Year Olds Living at Home Due to Millennial Job Depression

The 18 – 34 year-old “Boomerang Generation” that is still living with their parents just hit a new an all-time-high of about 32 percent due to Millennials continuing job depression. As a result, a higher percentage of American Millennials are still living at home than there are in socialist France.

More than one-in-three Americans in the work force today are part of the 53.5 million Millennial Generation that surpassed Generation X in the first quarter of 2015.  Immigration to the U.S. continues to disproportionately enlarge the ranks of the Millennial labor force, since most immigrants coming to the U.S. are working age Millennials themselves, according to new Pew Research analysis of Census data.

National unemployment peaked in 2010 at 10 percent and has fallen to 5 percent last month. But 40 percent of the unemployed today are Millennials and they have a 40 percent higher unemployment rate than the national rate. Of the 72 percent of Millennials that are working, the underemployed that are working multiple gig low-paying jobs, has continued to move up from 28 percent in 2008 to about 35 percent today.

A December Bank of America report found that despite the four-year economic expansion, nearly half of Millennials still say the current recession has made it hard to find a job and 21 percent say the crisis made the job search “impossible.”

There have been many theories about why 18-34-year-olds have failed to launch. But the simple fact is that there is a greater percentage of American Millennials still living at home than there are in socialist France.

This job depression explains why Millennials living with their parents peaked in 2012 at 31 percent, fell by -1 percent in 2013, and then jumped back up +4 points to a new all-time-high of 32 percent. 

 

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Are Hospitals Finally Being Forced to Compete in the Bronze Age?

Image result for hospitalsMedicine during the Bronze Age was not for the faint of heart. Overcrowding, lack of sanitation and communicable diseases were common. Foodborne and waterborne pathogens caused stomach ailments and dysentery killed more than one-third of children before their fifth birthday.

A recent article in Modern Healthcare discussed medicine in the Bronze Age. But not the classical period that ended 3,200 years ago.  Rather, it discussed how hospitals are adapting to life when many of their customers are becoming price sensitive because they have high deductible plans (e.g. Bronze plans). The following is an excerpt:

 

“Some hospitals and health systems are starting to review and revise their prices to make themselves more attractive to individual consumers who increasingly experience sticker shock when they pay for services out of pocket under high-deductible health plans.”

Hallelujah! 

The article was enough to send shivers up my spine.  Modern Healthcare goes on to say that hospitals are feeling the heat as more and more of their potential customers are asking questions, such as how much does an MRI cost? According to the author:

“These efforts are at least partly driven by the growing prevalence of high-deductible plans, which prod consumers to shop around for the best price. Prices for office visits, diagnostic imaging, obstetric ultrasounds, colonoscopies and physical therapy — services that consumers increasingly must pay for themselves — especially are coming under the microscope.”

Of course, hospitals’ standard answer to questions about price are often “Gosh! We won’t know the price until we perform the service and we bill your insurer.”  But that response is no longer going to fly with health care consumers. Patients have an increasing array of choices like Health Care Bluebook, Compass Professional Health Services, Vitals and Castlight Health.  These firms’ business models involve assisting health plan enrollees to find cheaper prices for health care. Hospitals can no longer easily hide behind third-party payer contracts to shield them from price competition. Firms like Vitals and Compass can tell patients in seconds where the cheap MRI is; what various facilities charge for a colonoscopy and so on.

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The Waste in Washington Never Stops

Image result for wasteful spendingSen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) follows retired Tom Coburn in reporting on the ludicrous waste of taxpayer dollars in Washington with “Wastebook 2015: The Farce Awakens.” Alas, the waste never sleeps, despite the supposed austerity that we hear so much about.

For instance, the National Institutes of Health spent about $10 million on studies of monkeys on treadmills. The results are to help “address physiological responses of exercise in a marmoset model.”

The Agency for International Development dropped $2.1 million on tourism promotion for Lebanon. Last May the State Department issued a travel advisory urging Americans to avoid this neighbor of Syria “because of ongoing safety and security concerns.”

The National Institutes of Health used $5 million to convince “hipsters” to stop smoking. Parties were organized for and payments were made to persuade Hipsters to quit tobacco.

The National Science Foundation provided $5 million to figure out how long a “koozie” would keep a beer cold. Researchers instructed drinkers not to wipe off condensation drops, which would warm the drink.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse spent almost $1 million to learn that pizza may be as addictive as crack cocaine. At least to college students. Perhaps the Obama administration plans a War on Pizza?

The Department of Agriculture (known as USDA) devoted $119 million in 2015 to underwrite the tobacco industry. Whose prime product the government is paying Hipsters not to use.

NSF provided $276,194 to figure out the impact of physical attraction on dating. Spoiler alert: physical attractiveness helps.

The Department of Defense, with nothing else in the world to do, is spending $2 million to develop music-playing robots. Both trumpet and jazz.

USDA provided $79,000 for a “Broadway and Brunch” party in Redlands, California to promote local farmers. Guests got to sing their favorite show tunes.

NSF shows up again with $2.6 million to promote the use of art for science. Like mimicking moisture vaporizers from the first Star Wars movie.

NSF dropped nearly a million dollars to study how online dating affects relationships. It does.

SBA provided $8500 to Circus Mojo, a Kentucky traveling circus, to travel. The players joined the governor on a trade mission to Canada.

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EPA Rebuked for Abusing the Law

Image result for EPAFresh off the heels of the Paris climate talks, the Environmental Protection Agency has already made headlines. However, this time it’s not because of failing to protect the environment, but because of failing to obey the law. With the EPA being Barack Obama’s favorite ecological weapon to enforce his agenda, one would think that the all-powerful agency would be a bit more careful in pushing its proposals.

It is worth recounting several of the EPA’s abysmal failures leading up to the newest wrongdoings. First, we previously reported that an EPA employee confessed to downloading more than 7,000 pornographic files to his computer and watching them for two to six hours a day. Not exactly the type of worker taxpayers want to be paying for.

Then recall that back in August the very agency that is supposed to protect the environment was found responsible for breaching a retaining wall during an inspection that led to the spillage of three million gallons of toxic chemicals and waste into the Animas river. Of course, the EPA apologized for the incident, but had someone in the private sector been responsible for the spill, the fines would still be piling up.

Then in October, a federal court ruled that the EPA had to stop encroaching on all of the small waterways nationwide. The EPA’s expanded interpretation of the Clean Water Act was an attempt by the agency to take control of every waterway in the United States. The EPA has no regard for state sovereignty, but in this case the court prevailed and the EPA had to stop its power grab.

Yet despite farmers, landowners, businesses and the courts opposing the overreach in the name of the Clean Water Act, the EPA decided to mount an effort to engage the public on the issue with the end being enough congressional support to pass legislation. Rather than relying solely on the mainstream media to push its proposals the EPA turned to different means — social media.

According to The New York Times, congressional auditors have concluded that “the Environmental Protection Agency engaged in ‘covert propaganda’ and violated federal law when it blitzed social media to urge the public to back an Obama administration rule intended to better protect the nations streams and surface waters.”

That’s right; the Government Accountability Office ruled that the EPA went too far to push its cause. As the Times notes, “Federal laws prohibit agencies from engaging in lobbying and propaganda.” Not surprisingly, an EPA official downplayed the findings by GAO and claimed that the EPA was simply using social media as a tool to stay connected and inform people of its activities. In other words, move along; nothing to see here.

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Uber Grandma Won’t Back Down, Foresees a “Paradigm Shift”

Image result for uberSixty-three-year-old Stephanie is the “Uber grandma,” New Hampshire’s new star activist. After Portsmouth police fined her in October for violating an ordinance designed to ban Uber, the ride-sharing app, she refused a plea deal during a court citation on December 7.

Portsmouth charged her with four violations of the city’s transportation ordinance. She allegedly failed to register with the city, submit a criminal background check, and provide a proof of commercial insurance before she could drive with Uber. Stephanie says she is innocent — and is taking the city to trial.

Undeterred by harassment, she also continues her work for Uber clients after her day job as a bus driver.

PanAm Post talked with Stephanie about the accusations, her plans, and the ongoing fight between disruptive ride-sharing apps and the taxi cartels.

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Transparent? Government Spending Billions On PR Machine That Blocks Access to Public Information

Image result for transparent governmentThough President Barack Obama has said he created “the most transparent administration in history,” evidence contradicting that narrative has piled up. The administration has set a new record for rejecting open records requests, shrouded federal advisory committee meetings in unprecedented secrecy, ordered federal agencies to consult with the White House before releasing key documents and moved to prevent the government’s own investigators from accessing federal records they say they need to conduct impartial probes. This all comes at a time when, a new report shows, the federal government has ramped up spending on its own public relations apparatus.

The analysis from the nonpartisan group Open the Books says that since 2007, the federal government spent more than $4 billion on public relations. That includes contracts for outside PR firms and consultants, which have increased by 47 percent. It also includes salaries of the more than 3,000 public affairs officers now employed by federal agencies. Since 2007, the number of such officials has grown by 15 percent and the expenditure on PR salaries has increased by 22 percent, according to the report.

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