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Boycott The Boycott Of The Boycott!

Some Americans claim that the USA has a special, enduring partnership with Israel, and that we should stand with the Israeli government no matter what. Others point out that the government is engaged in human rights abuses. To protest those human rights abuses, these people are engaging in boycotts of Israel.

U.S. Representative Brendan Boyle finds those boycotts of Israel intolerable. So, he has introduced H.R. 2645, a bill to compel the Thrift Savings Fund to divest from any company that participates in a boycott of Israel.

H.R. 2645 is a boycott of the boycott of Israel.

The Thrift Savings Fund is a savings plan for federal government employees. But what if some government employees don’t want their money to be used as an economic threat against companies considering joining in the boycott against Israel?

They can boycott the boycott of the boycott, by refusing to contribute money to the Thrift Savings Fund.

If you don’t like me suggesting this plan of action, well, I suppose you can protest this article by boycotting Irregular Times.

$314 Million to Fight the Russians Before 2020

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio took explained this week why the military contractor General Dynamics needed an extra $314 million: to fight the Russians before 2020.  His floor remarks:

“The big news when I was over there was that there was a road march being conducted by the 2nd Calvary Regiment through Central and Eastern Europe. The 2nd Calvary Regiment is in Europe, but they were taking this road march through Central and Eastern Europe. This was taking
their Strykers, which is the only permanently stationed U.S. armored vehicle in Europe, on roads and through small towns–towns that fear an
increasingly aggressive Russia on their doorstep….

“Their weapons systems are, frankly, inadequate to meet their potential mission requirements if they are called upon. They need a more powerful
gun. They need to replace their .50-caliber machine gun with a 30-millimeter cannon. The soldiers understand that. The Army understands that.

“The Army has already identified this requirement, and prior to the deteriorating situation in Europe, they slated to field this improved weapons systems to these Strykers starting in 2020. So they knew it was a problem. They knew they had to address it. Then we saw this deteriorating situation in Europe caused by Crimea’s being annexed and now the situation on the eastern border of Ukraine.

“The soldiers manning these Strykers today know that 2020 is just too far in the future.”

And so Rob Portman proposed, and so the U.S. Senate passed, an amendment appropriating $314 million to the military contractor General Dynamics to upgrade Stryker fighting vehicles ahead of schedule. Ahead of schedule means that “the first such specially equipped Stryker could be deployed within 18-months after the contract is awarded, according to the release,” which means that the $314 million will be spent to deliver the Stryker upgrades in 2018 instead of 2020. A third of a billion dollars goes to General Dynamics so that the United States can better fight Russia in a ground war in 2018 instead of in 2020.

In case you were wondering, only 6 of the 61 Senators who just voted to throw a third of a billion dollars at a military contractor to move up a ground war with Russia by two years have also cosponsored legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to a livable level. Better a contract for a fictional war overseas than real benefits at home.

Fossil Fools In Congress Vote For Risky Oil Pipeline, Then Vote Against Funds To Deal With Oil Spill Liability

Yesterday, U.S. Representative Lois Capps offered a legislative amendment that would have increased funding for the Pipeline Safety Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The increase in funding is sorely needed because fossil fuels companies are constructing new pipelines for crude oil and gas at an alarming rate.

When pipelines fail, the results are disastrous. Most prominently in the news of late is the oil spill in Santa Barbara, California that fouled park seashores and killed huge amounts of marine life. Other pipeline spills happen all the time. Just yesterday, a Conoco Phillips pipeline burst near Orcutt, California.

congress sepiaGiven the huge amount of waste of fossil fuels in our country, there’s good reason for skepticism of the Drill Baby Drill agenda that calls for pipelines to crisscross the USA. However, if we’re going to have more oil and gas pipelines, we ought to at least have adequate funding of the liability fund that takes care of inevitable pipeline accidents when they happen.

The members of Congress who voted against the Capps amendment chose to go in the opposite direction – to deny adequate liability funding to deal with the destructive pollution that results from spills from fossil fuels pipelines. What makes this particularly astonishing is that 96.8 percent of the members of Congress who voted against increasing funding for the oil spill liability trust fund yesterday voted in favor of approving the Keystone XL pipeline earlier this year.

They want to increase the risk of oil spills, while keeping our nation’s capacity for cleaning up oil spills the same. Even supporters of the Drill Baby Drill mentality ought to be able to recognize the flaw in this plan.

As Bill O’Reilly Denies White Privilege, Frank Demands Evidence of Racial Discrimination. Here it is.

Bill O'Reilly says he does not believe in white privilege.On the national stage, Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly has taken to the airwaves to assert that white privilege does not exist in the United States.  Black people in America are not being discriminated against, O’Reilly says; they just aren’t finding success because they don’t want success enough.

On the small stage of Irregular Times, we’ve had a visitor named Frank who lately has been issuing a challenge, demanding that someone show him evidence of discrimination against black people in America.  There is no such evidence, he says.

Bill O’Reilly and Frank are wrong.  Ample evidence exists of white privilege, and of discrimination against black people:

  • Economists Nicolas Jacquemet and Constantine Yanellis used correspondence tests to find out. They sent out fictional resumes demonstrating equal skill levels, differing only by the name of the applicant. “Anglo-Saxon” names, “African-American” names and “Foreign” names (as judged by survey respondents) appeared at the top of these to apply for real Chicago jobs. Despite showing no difference in qualifications, resumes with Anglo-Saxon names at the top generated phone calls from interested employers 1/3 more often than resumes with African-American or Foreign names. (Labour Economics, 2012)
  • Behavioral economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan also sent fictional resumes out to job listings in Boston and Chicago newspapers. Paired resumes were set to be equivalent with one exception: the use of names perceived to be “highly white” or “highly black” in survey research. Applications with white names generated 50 percent more callbacks than equivalent applications with black names. (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2003)
  • Sociologist Devah Pager sent out trained auditors to apply for jobs posted in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The auditors showed equivalent experience and skill in their applications, and only varied in two aspects: their race (white or black) and the criminal record they fictionally reported to potential employers (felony conviction vs. no criminal record). White auditors with no criminal background were more than twice as likely to be called back by employers after applying than black auditors reporting equivalent experience and skill. White auditors reporting a felony criminal conviction were more likely to receive a callback on their application than black auditors reporting no criminal record. (American Journal of Sociology, 2003)
  • In another study, Pager, Bruce Western and Bart Bonikowski sent out trained auditors to apply for low-wage jobs in New York City. Again, the auditors were taught to use the same modes of communication and made applications with equivalent levels of experience. Black applicants received callbacks from employers at half the rate of equally qualified white applicants. (American Sociological Review, 2009)
  • In yet another study, sociologist S. Michael Gaddis sent out 1,008 fake job applications in which two features varied: the college or university from which an applicant graduated and the name an applicant used. Names were identified as “racialized” if they were strongly associated with black identity (DaQuan, Ebony, Jalen, Lamar, Nia, and Shanice) or white identity (Aubrey, Caleb, Charlie, Erica, Ronny and Lesly). The fake applicants’ alma maters were grouped into two categories: high-prestige universities such as Duke, Harvard or Stanford and “second-tier universities” that are respected but not as well-ranked (University of California-Riverside and University of North Carolina-Greensboro were two such universities). The quality of applicants’ records, and of the applications themselves, were held equal within pairs; only names and university names varied. The results: black applicants received positive employer responses only 75% as often as white applicants graduating from a university of the same status. Applicants with black names graduating from elite universities obtained positive employer responses only about as often as white applicants graduating from second-tier universities. (Social Forces, 2015)
  • Sociologist Raj Ghoshal and Gaddis conducted yet another study in which they sent out more than 1,500 fictitious responses to “roommate wanted” ads in Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. These responses were created to be equivalent with one exception: the names of the fictional people responding to roommate requests. Ghoshal and Gaddis consulted Census records to find names used especially often by people reported black racial identity and by people reporting white racial identity. The fictitious roommate requests associated with black names received a positive response only two-thirds as often as roommate requests associated with white names. (Social Science Research Network, 2015)

These are just a few instances of evidence of continued discrimination against black people in the United States in the 21st Century. Again and again, in equally-qualified pairs of black and white people, white people are favorably treated. That is white privilege. That is a system of racism.

Presidential Candidate Lincoln Chafee Calls For Amnesty for Edward Snowden

Yesterday, former Senator Lincoln Chafee announced that he is running for the Democratic nomination for President in 2016. During his announcement speech, Chafee made it plain that he intends to push for a return to respect for the Bill of Rights.

Chafee said, “I want America to be a leader and inspiration for civilized behavior in this new century. We will abide by the Geneva Conventions, which means we will not torture prisoners. Our sacred Constitution requires a warrant before unreasonable searches, which includes our phone records. Let’s enforce that and while we’re at it allow Edward Snowden to come home.”

Edward Snowden is the whistleblower who informed the American public that George W. Bush and Barack Obama had been directing an unconstitutional Big Brother spying program that conducted electronic surveillance of practically every form of communication invented since 1900. Snowden has been forced to live in exile by Barack Obama’s threat of aggressive prosecution upon his return.

Barack Obama has broken his promise to review strong petitions on the White House web site, like the one demanding a pardon for Edward Snowden, for over 700 days. It’s nice to see a presidential candidate who understands that Snowden is a hero, not a criminal. Thanks for joining the race in this manner, Mr. Chafee.

Bipartisan Group Passes Amendment Banning FBI From Forcing Weak Backdoors To Encryption

Something happened yesterday that shows that not everything in the U.S. Congress is thoroughly messed up. A bipartisan group of members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill for the Department of Justice that bans the Department of Justice from approaching technology companies and forcing them, or even requesting to, install backdoor evasions of encryption software.

The FBI has been forcing companies to create these encryption backdoors in order to make it easier to spy on the American people. Not only have our constitutional right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure been violated as a result, but hackers have also exploited these backdoors to steal data and engage in identity theft.

The amendment, offered by Ted Poe and Zoe Lofgren, states, “none of the funds made available by this Act for the Department of Justice or the Federal Bureau of Investigation may be used to mandate or request that a person (as defined in section 101(m) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1801(m)) alter the product or service of the person to permit the electronic surveillance (as defined in section 101(f) of such Act (50 U.S.C. 1801(f)) of any user of such product or service.”

Poe explained, “Basically what this amendment does, Mr. Chairman, is prohibit the government from going to Apple, for example, and telling Apple that they want an encryption in cell phones that they sell to Americans, an encryption that would allow the FBI to have access to this information, which would include not just conversations, not just include emails, but it would also include text messaging as well.”

Lofgren gave three reasons to vote for the amendment: “First, it is fundamental that our privacy be protected; that the Fourth Amendment be adhered to. Secondly, we all know–and if you ask any computer scientist, they will tell you–that once the vulnerability is introduced for a good reason, it is available for hacking for very bad reasons. Finally, for competitiveness. Think how competitive it is to sell an American product around the world when everyone knows that it is compromised. Not a really good marketing tool.”

Banning the creation of backdoors to evade encryption programs won’t solve all the problems with government and private surveillance of our electronic communications, but it’s an important step. The good news is that the U.S. House of Representatives voted yesterday afternoon to approve the Poe-Lofgren amendment.

The bad news is that the amendment doesn’t take effect unless the Senate includes a similar amendment in its own Department of Justice appropriations bill. Also, there’s nothing in the amendment that prohibits a government agency outside the Department of Justice to do what the FBI used to do, and force companies to create encryption backdoors in their communications projects.

If we’ve learned anything over the last decade, it’s that those in the federal government who are determined to use technology to spy against the American people are creative in finding new means to do their work. Electronic surveillance didn’t end when Congress banned Total Information Awareness, and encryption backdoors may stick around even if the Poe-Lofgren amendment enters into law.

In the Network: Top 10 Federal Contractors of 2014, Connected through Lobbyists

A few years ago, I looked into the ties that connected the top 10 federal contractors of 2010 and 2011, and last year I took an updated look at the top contractors of 2013.  Let’s return to that subject again using federal contracting data for 2014, using files released just last month by the Federal Procurement Data System. The top 10 private contractors with the United States government in fiscal year 2014 were:

1. Lockheed Martin Corp.: $32.2 Billion in contracts
2. Boeing: $19.6 Billion in contracts
3. General Dynamics Corp.: $15.4 Billion in contracts
4. Raytheon: $12.6 Billion in contracts
5. Northrop Grumman Corp.: $10.3 Billion in contracts
6. McKesson Corp.: $6.2 Billion in contracts
7. United Technologies: $6.0 Billion in contracts
8. L-3 Communications: $5.8 Billion in contracts
9. BAE Systems: $5.0 Billion in contracts
10. Huntington Ingalls Industries: $4.7 Billion in contracts

Taken together, these ten private corporations received $117.7 Billion in taxpayer funds in fiscal year 2014, 26.5% of all federal contract dollars received during the year.  That’s a huge share for just 10 corporations, to be sure.  On the other hand, for those of you who worry that concentration of corporate advantage is only accelerating, it may be reassuring for you to learn that this represents a trend on the decline.  Consider the size of federal contracts to the top ten and the share of all federal contract dollars concentrated among the top ten over time (source: fdps.gov):

Size of Federal Contracts going to the top 10 Federal Contractors, 2010 to 2014

Share of All Federal Contracting Dollars Going to the Top 10 Contractors (%), source FDPS

While the amount and share of federal contracting dollars going to the top 10 federal contractors went noticeably down in 2014, the degree of connection between these contractors has lessened, too.  The figure you see below is a sociogram displaying the extent of joint lobbyist hires by the top 10 federal contractor corporations. Patterns in the underlying data, generated from lobbying disclosures filed for activity during the year 2014, are represented by drawing a line between two military contractors if they both hired the services of at least one lobbying firm in 2014. The number drawn on each line indicates the number of lobbying firms those two contractors hired in common.

# of Lobbying Firms Hired Jointly by the Top 10 U.S. Government Contractors, Fiscal Year 2014

While it’s true that all of the top ten federal contractors in 2014 were connected to one another directly or indirectly through the act of hiring the same lobbying firms, the contractor lobbying network for these corporations is actually showing some signs of breaking down a bit.  The cohesion of a network is measured as its density, the share of ties that could possibly be in the network that actually are in the network.  In 2011, the density of the contractor lobbying network was 91.1%, indicating a very tightly connected network in which contractors jointly used the same lobbying shops.  In 2013, the density of the contractor lobbying network had dropped to 82.2%.  By 2014, the density of the contractor lobbying network had dropped further to 66.7%.  That’s still a fairly tight network replete with connections, but it’s not nearly as well-connected as it used to be.  As you can see from the network graph above, there are two corporate outsiders in this lobbying network.  One is Huntington Ingalls, a former part of Northrop Grumman that was sold off four years ago.  The other is the McKesson corporation, a newcomer to the top ten.

Despite all these changes across recent years, one characteristic of the top ten contractors remains the same: each one of these corporations has made its money off of military contracts.  Military contractors such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics are widely known. Huntington Ingalls builds aircraft carriers and assault ships for the U.S. Navy. United Technologies is the parent company of Sikorsky Aircraft, which makes Black Hawk and other combat helicopters. L-3 Communications manufactures military surveillance system. BAE describes itself as a “global provider,” selling military equipment to armies around the world.  Even McKesson Corporation, which as a pharmaceutical corporation would seem to be unconnected to military enterprises, obtains a majority of its contract value in supplying drugs to the Veterans Administration, a business that relies on the production of veterans to remain in operation.  Each of these very large corporations benefits from a war stance.  When these coordinations speak together using their lobbyists as mouthpieces on Capitol Hill, their voices can be difficult to ignore.  Even the slightest unraveling of this network of coordinatation may be a positive sign.

U.S. Senate Approves Bill Radically Increasing Corporate Surveillance Of Americans

Last night, the U.S. Senate voted to pass the USA Freedom Act, blocking any amendments that could have reformed the bill to provide greater protections from electronic surveillance. The legislation is in accord with the version passed in the House, so it is virtually guaranteed to advance to the White House to be signed into law.

Of the USA Freedom Act, Barack Obama says, “This legislation will strengthen civil liberty safeguards”. In reality, the USA Freedom Act does the opposite. It actually increases surveillance, merely shifting who does much of the surveillance.

There’s a big sleight of hand going on with the passage of this legislation. In all their arguments about the USA Freedom Act, most of the politicians in Washington D.C. have been working to get Americans to forget one thing: The baseline in the United States of America is a country without massive electronic surveillance of the American people. The Patriot Act is dead.

What the USA Freedom Act actually does is increase government surveillance of Americans, while also requiring an increase in corporate surveillance of Americans. Phone companies will now be required to keep extensive records of their users communications, enabling a new kind of corporate data-mining. Also, additional forms of government surveillance will be reinstated by the USA Freedom Act.

What’s more, many forms of electronic surveillance of Americans, and other unconstitutional searches and seizures of our private information by government spies will keep on going, without being reformed by the USA Freedom Act at all. For example, for many years, the FBI has been flying aircraft over metropolitan areas in the USA, gathering information from Americans’ private telephone calls and other cellular data communications. This practice continued even after the Patriot Act expired. Likewise, sneak and peek invasions of homes and private offices without search warrants, and without notification, will continue.

This abnormally high level of surveillance is being justified with claims that the government spying against Americans is needed to protect us from terrorism, but there is no evidence that the surveillance ever stopped any terrorist attack from taking place.

Only one Democrat, Tammy Baldwin, voted against the increase of government and corporate surveillance against Americans authorized by the USA Freedom Act.

Bernie Sanders voted against the increase in surveillance.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who just announced his presidential campaign this week, didn’t even bother to vote.

Second Day Without Patriot Act Warrantless Search & No Terrorist Attack: Thank the Jedi

So the Obama administration has been swearing up and down that without the power to search through Americans’ things and communications in bulk without warrants, the nation would be open to terrorist attack.  And yet due to Senate delays, June 2 2015 saw the second day in a row without Patriot Act powers, without bulk warrantless search capabilities and yet also without any terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

What explains this seeming contradiction?  Our crack photojournalists, staking out Capitol Hill, have uncovered the truth in startling footage this evening:

Jedi Protect Capitol Hill from the Terrorists

May the Force be with them.

Just Let The Patriot Act Die

Commenting today on the legislative battle in the United States Senate about whether to reinstate provisions of the Patriot Act, the New York Times has published an article with the hadline, In Debate Over Patriot Act, Lawmakers Weigh Risks Vs. Liberty.

It sounds like a legitimate concern: How do we balance our desire for freedom with the need for protection from terrorists?

There’s just one little catch: Reality. Over the fourteen years it has been active, there has been no evidence at all that the Patriot Act has ever prevented any terrorist attacks in the United States. Besides, almost all of the uses of the Patriot Act have been for investigations of crimes that have nothing at all to do with terrorism.

So, the debate of risks versus liberty is a farce. The debate is over imagined risks versus real loss of liberty. The New York Times, by attempting to show that both sides of the debate have equal merit, and that liberty must of course be compromised, is repeating the propaganda of those who want to maintain and grow a totalitarian surveillance state in blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

time to mess with the NSAIn the past, U.S. senators have justified legislation like the USA Freedom Act, which maintains gigantic loopholes to enable Big Brother surveillance against Americans to continue, by saying that, although they would like strong reforms of the Patriot Act, that’s just not possible at this time – maybe later. That excuse is no longer valid, however.

The Patriot Act is dead. All U.S. senators have to do to prevent the abuses of the Patriot Act from continuing is to refuse to vote for any bill that reinstates any of the provisions of the Patriot Act. The default now is total reform.

Any supposed “reform” bill will actually make things worse than the status quo, making our private lives vulnerable to government spies for no good reason. The USA Freedom Act is thus a clear step in the wrong direction.

The only vote that can be justified by any politician who claims to support the Constitution and to love freedom is a vote against the USA Freedom Act.

The time has come to let the Patriot Act die, completely and finally.

Lindsey Graham’s Top Military Strategy: Forget History

Yesterday, Peregrin Wood joked about Lindsey Graham’s strange claim that, if he is elected President, he will “secure the future”. No, Lindsey Graham isn’t really a time traveling agent, but in another sense, he is trying to use his presidential campaign to rewrite the past.

Unfortunately, Graham’s campaign to rewrite the past has to do with his urgent desire to take the United States into war.

lindsey graham looking silly in uniformLindsey Graham’s campaign web site is thin in terms of content, but already, it features belligerent language pushing for war. Graham writes that “The world is exploding in terror & violence,” and taunts, “You want to know how this war with Radical Islamic Extremists ends? We win, and they lose.”

Senator Graham was one of the fools on Capitol Hill who got us into this mess in the first place. In 2002, though Iraq was not threatening the United States, Graham repeated George W. Bush’s lies that Iraq was in league with Osama Bin Laden, and was on the verge of attacking the United States with missiles armed with biological and chemical weapons.

Those missiles didn’t exist. The biological weapons didn’t exist. The chemical weapons didn’t exist. Saddam Hussein wasn’t in league with Osama Bin Laden.

The United States military wasted a massive number of lives, and spent an enormous treasure, fighting Lindsey Graham’s war in Iraq. He and George W. Bush declared victory after a few months, but the war raged on and on for years, and in the process, Lindsey Graham’s war created the Islamic State.

Now, Lindsey Graham wants to take the United States of America back into Iraq. He wants us to believe that, if only the United States could invade and occupy Iraq, this time, we’d get it right, and make the country a lovely, peaceful place.

It’s a deadly pattern. Republicans took a small conflict, the invasion of Kuwait, and made it into a big war and lengthy standoff that inspired Osama Bin Laden to commit acts of terrorism against the United States. Then, Republicans took those acts of terrorism and used them to begin a War On Terror that dragged the United States into the longest wars in American history in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those wars in turn destabilized the region, and led to the birth of the Islamic State.

But, with the eyes of an historical revisionist, Lindsey Graham refuses to see that pattern. In his view, the problem is that we haven’t been going to war enough. In his opinion, 12 years of war was insufficient. So, he wants to go back to the Republican playbook, and invade again, and occupy again, this time for even longer.

It’s telling that Graham capitalizes “Radical Islamic Extremists”, as if he believes that there really is a single enemy organization out there in the world that goes by the initials RIE, a single centralized foe that we can defeat cleanly and clearly. This judgment of Graham’s is a fundamental blunder in military strategy. There is no single extremist Islamic enemy that can be killed or put out commission, thereby ending violent conflict with a “win”. Every time the USA strikes out at one group, others that are even more dangerous rise to take its place.

In the future, if this war continues, there are only two options:

1. They win, and we lose.

2. We win, and we lose.

Reality is this: The world is not exploding, as Lindsey Graham claims it is. There is violence in the world, but we are not on the verge of destruction.

We can either choose to fan the flames of violence, or take a more intelligent approach to encourage the flames to die down. There are no easy solutions, but this much is certain: Every time the United States has gone into war in the Middle East, it has made violence from that region worse, not better. That’s an historical fact that Lindsey Graham’s revisionism can’t cover up.