Tag Archives: government

“Concrete Facts” and “Irrefutable Evidence” Aren’t Needed to Add Someone to the Terrorist Watch List

Recently, I reported on the rapidly growing terrorist watch list in the United States. In the past 5 years, the government has been adding names to the list at an increasingly fast pace, peaking last year with 468,749 names being added.

Well, it seems part of that ridiculously high number may be explained by a new set of counterterrorism guidelines that were quietly implemented last year.

The Intercept is an online media outlet founded earlier this year by the man who broke the Snowden story, Glenn Greenwald, after he left The Guardian. Recently, they obtained a copy of a 166-page document from the National Counterterrorism Center called the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance”.

The document outlined new guidelines for adding names to the terrorist watch list. One of the key sections outlined how to establish “reasonable suspicion”. The new guidelines state that,

“Although irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary, to be reasonable, suspicion should be as clear and as fully developed as circumstances permit.”

One of the charts in the report. Click to enlarge

This basically means that the Counterterrorism Center can place any individual, foreigner or American, on the terrorist watch list without any real evidence.

This “irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary” clause also allows the Center to designate individuals as members of specefic terrorist organizations without any evidence that they are actually connected.

Surprisingly enough, the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified, meaning that the public is technically able to view them.

However, both the Bush and Obama administrations have fought to keep the watch-list criteria a secret. In a recent example, Attorney General Eric Holder went so far as to invoke the state secrets privilege to avoid disclosing the criteria (he was defending the government from a lawsuit brought by a number of Muslims who were placed on the no-fly list with minimal supporting evidence).

News of these new guidelines comes just a day after UK’s official counter-terrorism watchdog said that Britain’s new definition of terrorism, “could catch political journalists and bloggers”.

You can check out all 166 pages of the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance” here. Read a full report on the document’s full contents in this exclusive piece from The Intercept.

Intercepted Phone Calls Show Russia Directing Separatists to Seize MH17’s Black Boxes

The Ukrainian government has released recordings of alleged phone calls between pro-Russian separatists discussing the fate of Malaysian Flight MH17’s black boxes.

Ukrainian security officials released the tapes on Sunday, claiming that they proved Russia had directed the separatists to find and hide the black boxes.

The call is between Alexander Khodakovsky, leader of the Vostok (East) battalion of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and one of his men (“Oleksiy”) at the crash site. You can listen to the conversations below:

In the first of the recordings, Khodakovsky urges Oleksiy to find MH17’s black boxes, saying,

“Do it really quick, urgently. Moscow is asking where the boxes are… [they] must be under our control”.

In a second call less than an hour later, Khodakovsky talks to another man at the crash site (“Andriy”), telling him,

“I have a request for you. It is not my request. Our friends from high above are very much interested in the fate of the black boxes. I mean people from Moscow.”

He also tells Andriy to,

“Try to take everything that you find so that it doesn’t get into somebody else’s hands.”

Around the time that the recordings were released, Reuters released footage of what appears to be the black boxes being removed from the crash site by the separatists:

Earlier this morning, the news service Interfax reported that rebel Russian separatists in Ukraine had handed over the black boxes to Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee.

Andrei Purgin is the self-proclaimed deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the separatist government in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. Purgin told Interfax:

“Of course, we most likely will give them [the black boxes] to the Interstate Aviation Committee, to Moscow. High-level experts, who will be able to determine exactly the reason of the catastrophe, work there.”

So it seems that the black boxes are on their way to Moscow, if they’re not there already. This will definitely raise a lot more suspicion about Russia’s involvement in the MH17 tragedy.

But, for the sake of objectivity, it is definitely worth noting that these tapes have not been independently verified yet, and are being released by the Ukrainian government, who has every reason in the world to want Russia to be responsible for the tragedy.

That doesn’t mean I believe the tapes are fabricated- it’s just a reminder to tread carefully when trying to make sense of such a complex issue.

Visualizing Just How Fast People’s Names Are Being Added to the Terrorist Watch List

Lung cancer is the most common and most deadly form of cancer, accounting for 27% of all cases. This year, an estimated 224,210 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer.

Almost all of us can probably think of a family member or friend who has been affected by the disease in some way.

Keep that in mind when you read this next stat: last year, the U.S. government added 468,749 to the terrorist watch list. That’s more than double the number of people who will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year.

He has a hyper-speed sleigh powered by reindeer which are clearly genetically altered and he is able to go down every chimney in the world in one night. Definitely going on the watch list

Here’s another way to think about it. Last year, the most sold car in the U.S. was the F-150, selling 521,515 units.

Imagine 9 out of every 10 people who bought a new F-150 last year was put onto the terrorist watch list and you get an idea of just how quickly names are being added.

On average, more than 1,284 names were added to the watch list every day last year. And that number has only been rising in the past couple of years. In 2009, 227,932 names were added to the database. In fiscal 2010 it was 250,847. In 2012, it was 336,712.

In the past five years, more than 1.5 million names have been added to the list. To be added to the list, authorities must have, “a reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is a known or a suspected terrorist.”

Some of the United States’ most wanted terrorists

About 99% of the names submitted to the list are accepted, prompting many to criticize the system for being extremely loose with its classifications.

The figures were revealed in a hearing in Virginia on Friday involving a case from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) which challenges the Constitutionality of the no-fly list.

Gadeir Abbas is a lawyer for the CAIR. Following the hearing, he said,

“There aren’t 1 million people who are known or suspected terrorists. This suggests the standard the government is applying is wildly loose.”

In their defense, counterterrorism officials pointed out that names are regularly removed from the list as well. As of August 2013, there were about 700,000 names on the list.

Read the full story from Yahoo here.

The Russian Government Just Edited the Wikipedia Page for the Plane Shot Down In Ukraine

On Thursday, Malaysian flight MH17,  headed to Amsterdam from Kuala Lampur, was shot down by a surface to air missile over Ukraine. All 298 of the passengers were killed.

As information started to come out, it became apparent that the missile that took the plane down came from an area controlled by pro-Russian separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine.

People walk through the debris of MH17 near the village of Grabovo (Photo: AP)

These pro-Russian groups refused to recognize the new government in Kiev after the Ukrainian revolution and have established strongholds in a number of cities on Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia.

Although the separatists have denied responsibility, much of the evidence points to them. Also, the fact that they are denying investigators access to the crash site while looters steal cash, credit cards and jewelry from the victims doesn’t seem to support their cries of innocence.

It is no secret that the separatist groups have the support of Russia, and many people think Russia holds some of the responsibility for the disaster. The main reason for this is that the missile used, an SA-11, requires a very complex weapons system operated by highly-trained personnel.

Some info about the missile system most likely responsible for taking down MH17. Click to enlarge

Yesterday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby weighed in:

“It strains credulity to think that they could do this without some measure of Russian support and assistance. It is a sophisticated system.”

Then, yesterday evening, a Twitter bot added another piece to the story.

The bot, @RuGovEdits is basically a Russian version of @CongressEdits- it informs people any time a Wikipedia page has been edited by a Russian government IP address.

The Russian Twitter bot announced yesterday that the Wikipedia page for flight MH17 had been edited by the Russian government. What was changed?

Well, the original submission stated the plane was shot down by,

“…by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation.”

The new edited version says that,

“…the plane [flight MH17] was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers.

Russia has maintained that they were not involved in the tragedy and that the flight was brought down by Ukrainian forces, but this new revelation definitely raises questions about the truth of that statement.

(h/t Gizmodo)

Californians Prepare to Vote On A Plan to Split the Golden State Into 6 New States

The idea is the brainchild of Timothy C. Draper.

Draper is the son and grandson of successful venture capitalists. His father founded the Draper & Johnson Investment Company in 1962 and served as both chairman and president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

His grandfather founded Draper, Gaither and Anderson, one of the U.S.’s first venture capital firms in 1958.

Timothy Draper has a vision of six separate Californian states

Timothy attended Stanford University, where he earned an electrical engineering degree before going on to get his MBA from Harvard Business School.

After spending a year at Alex, Brown & Sons (the oldest investment bank in the U.S., founded in 1800), Draper left to start his own venture capital firm with Jon Fisher and Steve Jurvetson.

Draper and Jurvetson are credited with coming up with the idea of advertising at the bottom of Hotmail messages, and the firm, DJF, owned 10% of Skype when it sold to eBay for $4.1 billion in 2005.

Early this year, Draper proposed an initiative to divide California into 6 separate states.

Click to enlarge

In support of his plan, he argues that the state is too big to be representative of its citizens or to be competitive economically:

“With six, you do get a good sense that you can drive 45 minutes in any direction and maybe be part of a different state and it keeps those states on their toes,”

he said while speaking at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. If his plan is approved, each of the six states would have its own government, with it’s own elected officials and Congressional representatives.

Draper recently used Twitter to announce that he had submitted a petition with 1.3 million signatures to put his 6-state initiative up to a popular vote.

The plan definitely has its opponents though. Steve Maviglio is the spokesman for the OneCalifornia committee:

“This is a colossal and divisive waste of time, energy, and money that will hurt the California brand, our ability to attract business and jobs, and move our state forward together,”

he told the San Jose Mercury News. Many opponents also point out that even if Californians vote in favor of the plan, carrying it out would require an act by Congress.

Steven Maviglio is one of the plan’s biggest opponents

Draper also has plans to expand the use of digital currencies. On June 27th, he won an auction to buy 30,000 bitcoins (worth an estimated $19 million) that were confiscated from the dark web’s illicit marketplace Silk Road by U.S. Marshalls.

He plans to use the bitcoins to help start-up bitcoin exchange Varuum increase the use of dgital currency:

“With the help of Vaurum and this newly purchased Bitcoin, we expect to be able to create new services that can provide liquidity and confidence to markets that have been hamstrung by weak currencies,”

Draper said through a statement from Varuum.

As for the six state initiative, the signatures on the petition are currently being verified before an official date for the vote is announced.

Rad more from CBS News here.

True/False: The Last Time A President Signed Executive Orders Less Often Than Obama Was in the 1800s

In recent months, right-wing media outlets have been pushing the narrative of Obama as a dictator who simply signs an executive order whenever he can’t get Congress to do what he wants.

I disagree with plenty of Obama’s politics, but I decided to look into the numbers for myself. Here’s what I found, courtesy of The American Presidency Project at the University of California- Santa Barbara:

executive orders

The first column of numbers shows total executive orders. As of now, Obama is at 182. Since 1900, only two presidents, Gerald Ford (169) and George Bush senior (166) have signed less total executive orders. However, both of them only served one term.

The second column of numbers shows average executive orders signed per year. Obama is currently at 33.58 orders per year.

That’s lower than both Bush Sr. (31.5) and Gerald Ford (68.92). Both were conservatives who advocated small-government.

In fact, it’s lower than any president since Grover Cleveland was in the White House from 1885-1889. He averaged 28.25 executive orders per year during that time (he averaged 35 during his second term from 1893-1897).

If you want to attack Obama’s executive orders, attack their content, not their numbers. You can check them out on whitehouse.gov here.

NOTE: A number of websites seeking to take advantage of the executive order myth (like Western Journalism and Four Winds 10) have posted lists of Obama’s worst executive orders.

The problem is, the orders they list are from 10990-11921. That means they were signed by John F. Kennedy during the Cold War.

Obama’s first order was #13489. While some people claimed this order was essentially a sealing of his records (so nobody could check his birth certificate), it was pretty much the opposite.

It rescinded executive order 13233 (signed by George W. Bush) which let former presidents and even their family members declare “executive privilege” to block public access to White House records for pretty much any reason.

White House Staff Salaries Range from $0 up to $400,000

Under a law established in1995, the White House is required to inform Congress how much it pays their staff. The Obama administration has made this information available to the public in a searchable database form.

According to Yahoo News

“In total, the 457 employees make $37,776,925, for an average yearly salary of about $82,663.”

Salaries range from a $172,200 at the top to the lowest paid, who make $0. Who makes $0? The two Obama aides:

“Nathaniel Loewenthiel, is a recent Yale Law School graduate listed as “policy advisor,” while the other is Elyse Cohen, deputy director of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” fitness initiative. (A White House official notes that employees whose federal salary is $0 “may receive compensation from other sources, such as through fellowships or foundations.”)”

Our current Commander and Chief pulls in a salary of $400,000 a year. He also has access to a $150,000 expense account, a $100,000 tax free travel account, and a $20,000 entertainment budget.

Though they don’t have access to all of the presidential perks, a number of other White House staff aren’t too far behind, pulling in a little less at $172,200. In fact, 11 men and 11 women on the White House staff currently make that much.

It’s hard to say if the compensation for these government employees is too high or too low.

Value and responsibilities vary depending on the position, but in general do you think the staff is overpaid? Underpaid? Or do you trust the White House’s compensation structure and believe the staff is paid fairly?

This Small Town Is Selling Gas Directly to the Public At No Profit to Fight Price Gouging

Somserset is a small town in southern Kentucky. Residents of the town have long complained of Somerset’s high gas prices.

“It’s a lot higher than the rest of the places that are 25 to 30 miles from here,”

says Jimmy Goggins, who lives in Somerset. Jenny Collier, who commutes to Somerset from out of town says that gas prices there are, “about 20 cents higher a gallon…or more.”

So Somerset decided to take a bold step: opening up the gas station that is currently used to fuel city-owned vehicles  to the public, and selling the gas to Somerset citizens.

Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler

“They’re just simply ripping off the public, and they’re doing it because of greed,”

said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler. The city will be purchasing their gasoline from a local refinery, pricing it 15-20 lower than what the local stations are charging now.

“We’re going to set a price, and if the companies want to equal that or go lower than that, we’ve achieved our objective… It is our economy, and we can’t allow anybody to continue to gouge us and take money away from us,”

continued Girdler. He also added that profit wasn’t the point, and that the city would likely only break even on the gas sales.

A gas pump at the city fuel station that will soon be open to the public

Somerset residents are predictably happy about the announcement. However, there are some who aren’t happy at all. A few days after the announcement, the  Kentucky Association of Grocers and Convenience Stores spoke out against the move.

They argue that Somerset’s government is being economically anti-competitive, and also says they are out of line using public facilities to try to compete with the private sector.

For me, the integral question here is this: why are Somerset’s gas prices so high? I tried to look into this question, but so far only local Kentucky news stations have covered this story, and none of them go into detail about this question.

I did however find this comment from reddit user Bitvapors, who claims to be from Somerset:

“This is my town. They haven’t started yet, I don’t think, but gas prices around here are well over $.25/gal higher than surrounding towns and counties, so it’s a big deal.

All the shell stations around here are owned by one man and most of the other stations are serviced by his tankers, so he can pretty much charge whatever he wants.

We’ve been gouged for years, so I hope like hell he’s foaming at the mouth over this.”

Read more from WDRB Kentucky here.

Images courtesy of WDRB Kentucky.

Bill Gates Just Tweeted Something About China’s Growth That’s Guaranteed to Blow Your Mind

China’s economy has been growing at an extremely fast pace over the last couple of decades. Their annual GDP has been rising rapidly, especially since the late 90s, and is expected to surpass U.S. GDP next year.

Click to enlarge

A huge part of this growth has come from construction and real estate. Real estate has become a larger and larger portion of the Chinese economy in recent years.

Click to enlarge

But even those who have been well aware of China’s rapidly growing real estate sector will be shocked by this tweet posted by Bill Gates a few days ago.

Just to add some more perspective, in the last 100 years the U.S. has built pretty much the entire interstate highway system, as well as thousands of skyscrapers, tens of thousands of dams and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

China’s real estate market is not really what it seems, though. There are a number of ghost towns in China- extravagantly built new neighborhoods full of shiny new buildings and beautiful parks and gardens. The only thing missing is people.

While some argue that the towns will eventually be inhabited as more and more Chinese citizens move up to the middle class, many analysts say that very few people will actually be able to afford to live in these new developments any time soon.

60 Minutes did a great piece on China’s ghost towns last year. You can watch it below. You can check out aerial images of some of the ghost towns courtesy of Business Insider here.

It’s also worth noting that China’s housing market has taken a downturn recently. China is the world’s largest trading nation- the fact that their economy depends so heavily on this sector is fueling worries that a Chinese housing slump could cause economic reverberations across the globe.

The Latest from the Middle East: Terrorists, Rebels and the Geopolitical Clusterf***

I’ll try to make this as quick as I can.

Yesterday, we reported on how the new emergent terrorist group ISIS captured Iraq’s second largest city on Tuesday and stole nearly half a billion dollars from the central bank there. All this week the group has been advancing towards Baghdad, taking a number of towns along the way.

ISIS's advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)
ISIS’s advance towards Baghdad. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of The New York Times)

Then early this morning, reports came out that the Syrian government, which the United States is trying to overthrow by backing largely Jihadist rebels (the Syrian government calls them terrorists), is coordinating with the Iraqi government (which was put in by, and is still heavily backed by the U.S. government) to fight against Jihadist rebels/terrorists in Iraq.

Are you still following? Feel free to read that last part again- I had to read it at least five times myself. Ok, ready? Let’s continue.

Amidst all of this ridiculousness, Iran (one of the U.S.’s biggest political foes) has offered to help it’s former sworn enemy, Iraq, and its biggest political foe (the U.S.), to fight against the Jihadist rebels/terrorists of ISIS as well.

It’s interesting how quickly all of these countries were able to put their political differences aside as soon as there was a common enemy.

On top of this already massive mound of geopolitical shit, the Daily Beast just reported that ISIS has been funded for years by wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia: three of the U.S.’s closest allies in the middle east.

Welcome to the geopolitical clusterf***. My brain hurts.