Chances are you’ve never heard of the “drone caucus” in the US House of Representatives, officially known as the House Unmanned Systems Caucus. Yet they are considered among the most powerful groups on the Hill. And participating in the caucus is a sure way for Congressmen to enrich their campaign coffers.
A story in the San Francisco Chronicle this morning says that members of the group have attracted nearly $8 million in drone-related contributions over the past eight years. Local Reps Darrell Issa and Duncan Hunter have each received more than $200,000 from drone firms. General Atomics, maker of the ever popular Predator drone, was among the top three all-time campaign contributors to California Congressmen Brian Bilbray.
While drones are infamous for their role targeting insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they have also been used as an anti-smuggling tool along the U.S.-Mexico border. And the potential for domestic applications of drone surveillance has their corporate makers more ready than ever to make sure supporters are well financed.
Those companies include BAE Systems (Mantis and Taranis drones); Boeing Co. (Phantom Eye); Honeywell International (RQ-16 T-Hawk); Lockheed Martin (RQ-170 Sentinel); Raytheon Co. (Cobra); and General Atomics (Predator).
As private universities, corporations, police departments and even the celebrity gossip site TMZ have flooded the Federal Aviation Administration with applications seeking permission for domestic use of the unmanned aircraft, civil liberties and safety concerns (drones are notoriously poor at avoiding other aircraft) the industry and its Congressional allies pushed for passage of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, signed into law Feb. 14. The law requires the FAA to fully integrate the unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, into national airspace by September 2015.
A June audit by the Homeland Security inspector general’s office led to a recommendation that Customs and Border Protection stop buying the drones until officials figure out a budget plan for the program and how to get the most use out of the unmanned aircraft, which are frequently grounded by inclement weather.
That hasn’t stopped the Department of Homeland Security from signing a sole source $443 million deal with San Diego based defense contractor General Atomics to purchase 14 additional Predator drones.
A report from defense consultants the Teal Group estimates that drone spending will almost double over the next decade from current level of $6.6 billion annually to $11.4 billion, totaling just over $89 billion in the next ten years.
Stranded Horse Show Performers to Stage Benefit
The soap opera-like saga surrounding the horse and human acrobatic show Valitar, originally slated to run through December at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, took yet another turn this weekend as the stranded performers announced plans for a fundraising show to allow the cast and their equine partners to return to their homes.
It seems as though the elaborate production featuring more than 25 performers and 55 horses, housed inside a gigantic red tent at the fairgrounds, didn’t sell many of the $100+ seats for the shows. Go figure. There was already an even more elaborate and better known horse/fantasy show (Cavailia) scheduled for an even larger tent right next to PETCO in downtown San Diego.
After few days of dismal audiences, organizers Mark and Tatyana Remley of Rancho Santa Fe simply walked away from the production, taking two dozen of their personally owned horses. The remaining show horses and performers were left stranded at the Fairgrounds. There was no feed for the animals, and the performers, who’d come from all over North America, were not paid. Fairgrounds officials have stepped in to help out until transportation can be arraigned.
The show had apparently been troubled for many weeks prior to opening. The original director and much of the staff quit following demands by the Remleys that Tatyana be made star of the show. Ads featuring the suggestively clad Mrs Remley continued to run even after the cancellation.
The performers of Valitar will be having a fundraiser at the Del Mar fairgrounds Equestrian Arena on Dec 7-8 (Fri-Sat). Unfortunately I was unable to track down a link for this event. (h/t Barbarella)
Internet Meme on Threats to President Obama is Old News, But True
Go ahead. Cut and paste those words and Google them. There are gillions of hits, most of them within the past couple of days. There’s apetition on Causes.com, stories in Daily Kos and plenty of personal blogs/tweets/facebook pages all telling the same story.
So, in the interest of truth I decided to track it back to the source, suspecting that I’d find this was, at a minimum, a gross exaggeration. But it turns out that there is a real-life source for this information.
Ex-Secret Service agent Ronald Kessler penned “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect”. In that book he reveals that President Barack Obama is the target of more than 30 potential death threats a day and is being protected by an increasingly over-stretched Secret Service. He is described the most threatened President in history. Since 2008 the rate of threats against the president has increased 400% cent.
In plugging the updated paperback edition at Amazon.com the author adds:
…threats against President Obama have become so disturbing that a secret Presidential Threat Task Force has been created within the FBI to gather, track, and evaluate assassination threats that might be related to domestic or international terrorism.
The task force operates within the FBI’s National Security Branch. It consists of twenty representatives from pertinent agencies, including agents from the FBI and Secret Service and operatives from the CIA, the NSA, and the Defense Department, as well as analysts.
The Back Story on “Innocence of Muslims”
From his jail cell Nakoula Basseley Nakoula has granted the New York Times a series of interviews shedding light on the YouTube trailer that portrayed the prophet Muhammad in an extremely negative light and triggered protests throughout the Arab world.
I’ll let the money quote give you some insight into what a complete loser this guy is:
The making of the film is a bizarre tale of fake personas and wholesale deception. And as with almost everything touched over the years by Mr. Nakoula — a former gas station manager, bong salesman, methamphetamine ingredient supplier and convicted con man — it is almost impossible to separate fact from fabrication.
A few years ago, Mr. Nakoula told some of the crew members he had gathered, supposedly to make “Desert Warriors,” that the project would have to be put off. He had cancer. Treatment was needed, far away, and they would not be able to reach him. His family shared a similar story with church officials.
Mr. Nakoula, it turns out, was not going away for cancer treatment, although the time did overlap with the prison sentence for bank fraud, which the crew knew nothing about. (Mr. Nakoula pleaded guilty this month to violating his supervised release in that case and received a one-year sentence.)
‘Some People Say’ at the UT-San Diego
I love how the journos at UT-San Diego try to justify the news policies at the Daily Fishwrap. I know, I know; they’ve got families to feed nobody wants to admit they’ve picked a losing cause… yada, yada.
So I’ll try to keep a straight face as I report on the front page story today, headline: “Health Overhaul Could Mean Crowds, Some Leaders Say”. Yes, indeed, now that public sentiment is shifting in favor of the Affordable Health Care Act (aka Obamacare), the lords of Lynchesterland have decreed that it’s time to gin up some of those old tea party scare stories.
We’re led to believe that the 300,000 San Diego County residents that may qualify for health care coverage will be gathering to storm physicians’ offices on the first day of 2014.
Obviously there won’t be room for everybody, sez SD County Medical Society naysayer Dr. Ted Mazer. Mazer is a frequent critic of government-related health programs.
A news story from 2008 has him saying that he’ll soon be refusing to treat Medi-Cal patients. Another has him bemoaning the arrival of Doctors’ Express Urgent Care clinics into the San Diego area. And still another item from October 2012 has him once again threatening to cut off Medi-Cal patients as the State’s Health Families program is folded.
It turns out, if you skip to the rest of the news article back on page A11, that ‘other people’ say that the changes in primary care that are likely to result in 2014 may not be so bad. And still ‘others’ are taking a wait and see attitude.
Maybe it’s just me, but the words ‘some people say’ don’t sound very authoritative. And when I see them used with a story in the UT-San Diego I assumed that we’re about to presented with bullshit propaganda.
Another Side to the Walmart Story
It turns out that treating your employees poorly might be a bad business strategy, according to an article in today’s New York Times that profiles Jim Sinegal, the chief executive of Costco Wholesale, the nation’s fifth-largest retailer. Money quote:
Costco’s average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Sam’s Club. And Costco’s health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish. One analyst, Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank, complained last year that at Costco “it’s better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder.”
Mr. Sinegal begs to differ. He rejects Wall Street’s assumption that to succeed in discount retailing, companies must pay poorly and skimp on benefits, or must ratchet up prices to meet Wall Street’s profit demands.
Good wages and benefits are why Costco has extremely low rates of turnover and theft by employees, he said. And Costco’s customers, who are more affluent than other warehouse store shoppers, stay loyal because they like that low prices do not come at the workers’ expense. “This is not altruistic,” he said. “This is good business.”
Costco’s stock price has risen more than 10% last year, while Wal-Mart’s has fallen by 5%. But, as you’ll see if you read the story, the Wall Street types that favor leveraged buyouts distain Costco’s practices. They’d rather have crappy customer service (has anybody been to Staples lately?) and quick profits at the expense of the middle class.
On This Day: In 1942 the motion picture “Casablanca” had its world premiere at the Hollywood Theater in New York City. In 1949 India’s Constituent Assembly adopted the country’s constitution The country became a republic within the British Commonwealth two months later. In 1956 big band leader and trombone soloist Tommy Dorsey died.
On This Day: Eat Fresh! Today’s Farmers’ Markets: Escondido (Welk Resort 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive) 1pm –Sunset
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