Friday, April 19, 2013

REBEL NEWS 4/19/13:Drone Wars: Privacy vs Profit

Maverick Media’s Rebel News airs 9-10 a.m. (more or less) Friday on WOMM, 105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator in Burlington on The Howie Rose Variety Show and streaming worldwide.

TOP STORY: Welcome to the Drones Wars
States Debate Limits as Business Eyes $89 Billion

Idaho took the lead in protecting people from drone surveillance last week when Gov. Butch Otter became the first state leader to sign legislation.  Known as the “Preserving Freedom from Unwanted Surveillance Act,” the law restricts the use of drones by government or law enforcement, particularly when it involves gathering of evidence and surveillance on private property.
     
Mosquito MAV
In
Florida, the state senate has passed a similar bill, The Freedom from Unwanted Surveillance Act, which prevents police from using drones for routine surveillance. However, it would allow unmanned aircraft if there’s a threat of terrorist attack. 
     Massachusetts and Rhode Island are considering legislation that would prevent police from identifying anyone or anything not related to a warrant.
     According to the ACLU, at least 35 states have considered drone bills so far this year, and 30 states have legislation pending. Most bills require a “probable-cause” warrant for drone use by law enforcement, while a handful seek to ban weaponized drones.
     They come in all sizes, from the Predator drones used in Pakistan and other countries to tiny mosquito drones that can be used covertly in urban neighborhoods and indoors. In the next few years police will increasingly turn to them for surveillance. But groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also see their potential for tracking poachers, while farmers want aerial vehicles to measure crop growth.
     The ACLU is urging state lawmakers to require that police obtain a warrant before using any drone to conduct a search. But the Virginia-based Rutherford Institute argues that governments should go further and ban any information obtained by drones from use in court. In January, Rutherford submitted model legislation to lawmakers in all 50 states.
     In Maine, a Joint Judiciary Committee had a work session last week on LD 236, officially known as “An Act to Protect the Privacy of Citizens from Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Use.” After a debate between the Attorney General and an ACLU spokesperson, committee members voted unanimously to postpone a decision for two weeks.
     In a nearby hearing room, where a debate on gun control was underway, one gun-rights supporter displayed a bumper sticker with a drone on it – and the words "Protect our 2nd amendment rights to shoot down drones."
     Maine’s Attorney General has proposed a temporary moratorium until July 1, 2014. The official rationale is to allow time for law enforcement agencies to come up with "minimum standards," including prior authorization by "some official" before drones could be used for surveillance. But the AG also argues that the drone bill should not impede the possibility of a drone test center in northern Maine. 
     At least 37 states are competing for six drone testing centers that are expected eventually to launch 30,000 drones into the skies. For Maine, one lure could be the promise that the state won’t require operators to get a warrant before launching a spy-bot.
     Democrats, who control Maine’s legislature but not the governorship, hope to win back the top spot again.  Thus, they want backing from the police, aerospace industry interests, new drone manufacturing firms, and citizens living near the closed Loring AFB who believe a drone test center and missile defense base would bring back jobs.
     A variety of activist groups are staging protests in an attempt to stop the use of domestic drones in US airspace.  Events are expected in at least 18 states at research facilities, drone command centers, manufacturing plants, universities that have drone programs and the White House, according to Nick Mottern, founder of Known Drones, a website that tracks unmanned aircraft activity in the US and abroad.
     The protests are being organized by more than 15 anti-drone groups, including Codepink, Veterans for Peace, No Drones Network, and the American Friends Service Committee. The groups oppose both domestic drone use and targeted drone killings overseas.
     On February 7, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released an updated list of communities, states, law enforcement agencies, and universities that have requested and received licenses to deploy drones. The Electronic Freedom Foundation obtained the list via a Freedom of Information Act disclosure and learned that more than 81 public entities have so far applied to the FAA for permission to launch drones.
     
Lethal Ornithopter
Why the rapid push for domestic deployment ?
  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, drone makers hope to speed their entry into a domestic market valued in the billions.  The US House actually has a 60-member “drone caucus” — officially known as the House Unmanned Systems Caucus. In the last four years, it members received nearly $8 million in drone-related campaign contributions. Drone Caucus members from California, Texas, Virginia, and New York received the lion’s share, channeled from firms in the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
     In a recent study, the Teal Group estimates that spending on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will increase over the next decade from current worldwide expenditures of $6.6 billion annually to $11.4 billion. That’s more than $89 billion in the next 10 years. "The UAV market will continue to be strong despite cuts in defense spending," claims Philip Finnegan, Teal’s director of corporate analysis. "UAVs have proved their value in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said, "and will continue to be a high priority for militaries in the United States and worldwide."
     On  April 23, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights will hold a hearing Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing. If you can't attend, you can submit a statement for the record. Chairman Durbin has invited advocates and stakeholders to offer their perspectives and experiences by submitting written testimony.
     Submissions are limited to 10 pages, submitted in PDF or Word Document form to Stephanie Trifone at Stephanie_Trifone@Judiciary-dem.Senate.gov  no later than Monday, April 22, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. Statements can be addressed to Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Cruz, and Members of the Subcommittee. For some reason they can’t accept previously published information as a statement.
     The FAA is currently writing regulations for domestic drone use. According to Defending Dissent, the federal agency's jurisdiction is limited. But it could provide safeguards such as compliance with Fair Information Practices for all licensees, creation of a public database of drone operators – with information about the surveillance equipment used and the operator's data minimization procedure. Operation of drones could also be restricted to only licensees, ruling out wildcat rental operators. Otherwise, it’s going to be crazy up there.

Related Story: How Are Drones Used in the US? PBS Newshour

THIS WEEK ON REBEL NEWS:  Drone laws  vs. drone business, Patrick Leahy and the F-35s, Django unseen in China, the politics of explosion, economic warnings, and a new leak at Fukushima. VERMONT: Marathon security, no pipeline reversals, and considering online gambling. Here are highlights:

Another Time, Another Bomb


ROUND UP
Django Unseen… in China

Quentin Tarantino’s irreverent film about slavery in America, Django Unchained, had China’s street and media buzzing last week after the film was banned from Chinese theaters. The move, beginning with a dramatic plug pulling in a Beijing cinema less than a minute into a screening, came despite major promotion, including telephone interviews with Leonardo DiCaprio. Notices halting all screenings quickly appeared at other cinemas.
     No reason was given for the ban, but the theory is that the full-frontal shots of male slaves and brief female nudity, together with the violence and profanity, could have triggered the censorship. Some media outlets tied to human rights groups have connected the ban and depictions of torture in the film, suggesting that the scenes bothered Chinese officials concerned that audiences might see a parallel with the state’s own alleged torture of dissidents. New ad brag: Banned in Beijing!

ECONOMIC WARNINGS
Are we headed for another crash?

A bubble is biggest before it bursts.  Keep it in mind If you listen to talking heads these days, whose happy talk suggests the current stock market boom is set to continue indefinitely. According to CNN, Americans are more optimistic than they’ve been in six years.
     But as CNBC analyst Marc Faber also explains, "If we continue to move up, the probability of a crash becomes higher."  As to when it might happen, he predicts "sometime in the second half of this year."
     How? After all, the stock market isn’t crashing. But there are signs of trouble. As in 2008, it could take stocks extra time to catch up with other economic realities. 
     What realities? One is the demand for energy. Similar to 2008, overall US demand is falling.  Obviously, it’s good for people to consumer less energy. But it’s also an indication that economic activity is starting to slow down. Beyond that, gold and silver are falling, the price of oil continues to decline, markets in Europe are collapsing, and consumer confidence lags in the US.
     Let’s start with gold. The price was down by about 4 percent last week and has fallen below $1500 an ounce for the first time since July 2011. Overall, the price has dropped 10 percent since the beginning of the year, and is about 22 percent below a record high in September 2011. The rapid fall in recent days—some call it the biggest plunge in more than 30 years -- indicates that deflationary tendencies are strengthening worldwide. Nevertheless, gold remains a safe investment for the long-term. (Imagine Jim Cramer sound effect here)
     So does silver, although the price fell by about 5 percent last week.  If it falls much more it will present an even more favorable buying opportunity. Like gold, there are times when the price swings dramatically. But it could be an even better long-term investment.
     The price of oil was down about 3 percent last week. Many also see this as a positive thing. But remember 2008, a price drop came just before the crash. If the price goes below $80, that could be a signal that a major economic crisis is about to happen.
     According to Wells Fargo, the number of Americans taking loans from retirement accounts rose 28 percent over the past year. Of those taking out loans, about a third were in their 50s, followed by those in their 60s (29%) and those in their 40s (27%). The increase in the 50s group was nearly double the rise among those under 30.
     As the same time, casino spending is declining. Positive, right? But casino spending is one of the most reliable indicators about the overall health of the economy. Lean times in Vegas. 
     Turning to Europe, the unemployment rate in Greece had topped 27.2 percent, up from 25.7 percent last month. This isn’t a depression, it’s an avalanche. European financial stocks have been hit particularly hard -- and for a reason:  many Europe’s major banks are close to insolvent.  Last week, European financial stocks fell to seven month lows.
     According to Reuters, the number of Spanish companies going bankrupt is up 45 percent over the past year. A record number went bust in the first quarter. Companies are under intense pressure from tight credit and low demand. The 2,564 firms filing for insolvency was a 10 percent rise from the last quarter, and a 45 percent increase from the same period last year.
    So, does all this mean another crash is coming? The real question seems to be when.

HEALTH SCARES
New Leak Delays Fukushima Repairs

Efforts to remove highly contaminated water from a leaking underground storage pool at the Fukushima nuclear plant were delayed this week when the plant’s operator found another leak, this time in pipes that would be used to move water to above-ground storage containers.
     Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) discovered that six gallons of water had leaked from a junction in the pipes used to move water between other storage pools. The company is having trouble  finding space to store the huge amounts of toxic water created by makeshift efforts to cool reactors at the Fukushima -plant, which was damaged two years ago by an earthquake and tsunami. Since then, Tepco has been pouring water onto the melted reactors and fuel storage pools to keep them from overheating again.
     The newest leak will force Tepco to postpone removal of water from the No. 2 storage pool while the the faulty pipe is repaired. The pool has spilled 32,000 gallons of radioactive water and may still be leaking. Another recent mishap involved the temporary loss of power for the vital cooling systems last month. A rat had short-circuited part of the electrical system.

VERMONT SCENE
City Marathon Looks at Security

On Sunday May 26, thousands of runners converged in Burlington to take part in the 25th annual Vermont City Marathon, with thousands more cheering them on. "I'd like to think we're safe in Vermont, but I'm sure people in Boston thought that too," said Kasey Flynn, a spectator last year who plans to run this time. But what happened last week at the Boston Marathon “is definitely going to be on all our minds.”
    To help ease public fears race organizers and emergency responders met Tuesday to talk about safety. Burlington police say there will most likely be increased security, which could include bomb sweeps, more cops and asking people to leave any bags behind. If so, they'll get the word out soon. "Nothing is off the table," said Burlington Police Deputy Chief Andi Higbee.

PIPELINE POLITICS:  No Flow Reversal

Environmental regulators say that Act 250, the state’s land use law, applies to any proposal to reverse the flow in an oil pipeline that crosses Vermont. It’s a victory for environmentalists during the fierce debate over another pipeline, the proposed Keystone XL, which would move tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas.
     The Vermont Natural Resources Council says the pipeline that carries oil from Portland, Maine to Montreal could have its flow reversed and carry Canadian tar sands oil through Vermont, New Hampshire and western Maine. The Portland-Montreal Pipe Line Corp. claims to have no “active plan” to do that. But the ruling quotes its CEO telling Vermont Public Radio that the company has been "aggressively looking at every opportunity to use these excellent assets in a way that will continue to provide for the North American energy infrastructure needs." The ruling says that statement means the possibility of such a pipeline reversal is "not hypothetical."
     Monday's decision cited a July 2010 spill of more than 1 million gallons of tar sands oil from a pipeline near the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Kirsten Sultan, coordinator of the District 7 Environmental Commission, noted that the tar sands oil sank to the river bottom, coating wildlife, rocks, and sediment. “Cleanup from this spill is incomplete, with costs at $800 million and rising," she wrote.

VT LOTTERY: Going Online?

Online lottery sales may be coming to Vermont. The Vermont Lottery Commission is currently looking at ways to expand its base, according to Lottery Commission Chair Martha O’Connor. A recent survey suggests that 45.4 percent of Vermonters play, slightly more women than men, with an average age of 49.
     Lotteries are operated by most US states, and generate major revenues as other sources are decreasing. But they are regressive. In other words, the percentage spent on lottery tickets rises as a person’s income falls. A famous study from Cornell University concluded that people “with lower incomes substitute lottery play for other entertainment.” Sales and poverty are strongly related. The poor appear to see lotteries as “a convenient and otherwise rare opportunity for radically improving their standard of living,” said the study.
     In another study, Duke University researchers found that the more education someone has the less one spends on lottery tickets: dropouts averaged $700 annually, compared to college graduate’s at $178. Those from households with annual incomes below $25,000 spent an average of nearly $600 a year on lottery tickets; those from households earning over $100,000 averaged $289. Blacks spent an average of $998, while whites spent $210.
     In other words, lotteries take the most from those who can least afford it, essentially redistributing wealth from the poor to the batter-heeled.  They escape what is really a disguised taxation simply by not buying tickets. Why not? They’re already “winners.” Retail merchants meanwhile get commissions on a virtually cost-free product -- lottery tickets. And politicians boast that they haven’t raised taxes.
     The recent Vermont survey tested interest playing games online and found that 10.5 percent of the 1,000 people polled — both players and non-players — would more likely play if offered the chance on the Internet. Thirteen percent said they can see themselves using a smart phone to buy tickets.
     Supporters of bringing online lottery sales to Vermont dismiss worries that it would make it even easier for people with gambling problems to lose big.
     Since its creation in 1977, the Vermont Lottery has attempted to balance two competing goals — “produce the maximum amount of net revenue consonant with the dignity of the state and the general welfare of the people.” This tension – between profit and public welfare – will play out next year once the commission makes its official recommendations to the House Ways and Means Committee.
     Jim Condon, a key member of Ways and Means, has already telegraphed support for at least considering online sales. He thinks the lottery is just a form of benign entertainment that produces revenues and helps lower property taxes. The money people drop on tickets is state revenue they are “voluntarily giving up,” he argues.
     However, Ways and Means Chair Janet Ancel and House Speaker Shap Smith are skeptical. “If I had been in the Legislature I wouldn’t have supported Powerball,” Ancel told the Burlington Free Press last week. But she wants to revisit “how much we want to depend on the lottery for essential services.”
     If selling tickets online is needed to keep the lottery alive, Smith claims to be persuadable. But If it’s “a nose under the tent to expanded gambling, I have real concerns.”
*
POSTSCRIPT

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”
- Garcia Marquez

It’s been a week of explosions, first in Boston at the Marathon and then at a fertilizer plant in Texas.  Intense emotions and hot words. Cowardice in the US Senate –and by another maniac or deranged group.
     But that doesn’t explain the music MSNBC has been running under news footage. Kind of a militant dirge, the kind of theme you might hear just before Bruce Willis arrives to bring some villain "to justice.” But somehow I don’t get the sense that the public is in a really forgiving mood at the moment. They’re kind of discontented, even riled up.
     Maybe it’s the music.

DRUG NEWS
VT House Passes Pot Decriminalization

On April 16, in a 92-49 vote, the Vermont House passed a bill decriminalizing possession of limited amounts of marijuana. It now moves to the Senate, where chances of passage are good. At House and Senate hearings Attorney Gen. William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn testified in favor, and Gov. Peter Shumlin has expressed support. It’s one of the upsides of having a one-party state.
     Progressive Chris Pearson introduced H. 200 with a tri-partisan group of 38 co-sponsors. It removes criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replaces them with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket. However, those under age 21 would have to undergo substance abuse screening. Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor with a possible six months jail sentence for the first offense and up to two years for getting caught twice.
     Nearly two-thirds of Vermont voters (63 percent) support removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts and replacing them with a fine, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling.

The Feds vs. the Job Creators

Will Vermont also let farmers grow hemp? And if they do, will the DEA round them all up? Farmers Behind Bars: new reality TV concept. Anyway, that’s the worst case scenario as the Vermont House Agriculture Committee basically announces support for the idea.  In March, a proposal to let Vermont farmers grow the “same” plant that produces marijuana passed the Senate.
     As most people know, it’s not really the same. Plants grown for hemp are raised differently and contain much lower levels of marijuana’s active ingredient. Basically, no buzz.  Yet it’s illegal under federal law, supposedly because it can somehow be diverted for the drug trade.
     ‘I think all we’re up against is that the DEA feels this is a dangerous crop, which we’ve discovered as a committee it just is not,’’ says Rep. Carolyn ­Partridge, Committee chair and supporter of hemp legalization.
     It’s the archetypical multi-purpose crop. Hemp can be used as a heating ­fuel, as fabric for cloth and rope (the Navy used to love it), as construction material, paint, and more. And they say it grows pretty well in Vermont’s tough climate.
     In 2008, Vermont passed a law calling on the Agency of Agriculture (AoA) to begin issuing hemp growing permits to farmers -- as soon as the federal government gets serious about creating jobs and raising revenue.
     After all, hemp growers are J creators. And the J is for jobs. 
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