Bribing Democracy To Death, a Drone Freakout & Obama’s Oil Regime: Jan. 27, 2015


Damaging Democracy, One Bribe at a Time by Bob Hennelly
The arrest of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on bribery charges would be easy to dismiss as just another local corruption case. Bob Hennelly explains why it’s a much bigger risk to democracy than it appears. 


Obama’s Oil Complex
President Obama, armed with an approval rating over 50% for the first time since 2013, is “all over the map this week—literally” when it comes to oil and the environment. He’s in Saudi Arabia to pay his respects to deceased King Abdullah, meet with his replacement and reassure the Kingdom’s power-players. He also plans on permanently blocking oil and gas development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At the same time, he’ll be removing restrictions on offshore drilling along the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. This “give a little, take a little” approach typifies Obama’s complicated energy legacy. It’s one that has transformed U.S. energy production with a frenzy of fracking while throwing scraps to the often-angered environmentalists in the Democratic Party’s base.

Koch-Backed Network Aims to Spend Nearly $1 Billion on 2016 Elections
If money is speech … the Koch Brothers are about to pick up a huge megaphone. According to the Washington Post, “A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election.” That matches “the $1 billion that each of the two major parties’ presidential nominees are expected to spend in 2016.” This move essentially makes their tax-exempt business lobby, “Freedom Partners,”  a de facto political party.


Secret ‘BADASS’ Intelligence Program Spied on Smartphones
The Intercept details a program found in the latest release of the Snowden documents. They discovered a secret program called BADASS run by Canadian and British spy agencies that “accumulated sensitive data on smartphone users, including location, app preferences, and unique device identifiers, by piggybacking on ubiquitous software from advertising and analytics companies.” The four year-old program gives spy agencies a “convenient way of learning more about surveillance targets, including information about their physical movements and digital activities.”

U.S. Spies on Millions of Cars
Also making news is a Wall Street Journal report on a Justice Department database designed to “track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S.” The heretofore “secret domestic intelligence-gathering program” uses license plate readers to collect data without a warrant. The Drug Enforcement Administration-run program is meant to track drug dealers and to help seize their assets. But “the database’s use has expanded to hunt for vehicles associated with numerous other potential crimes, from kidnappings to killings to rape.”


Why We Need A New Word For Drones
We’ve got a minor—and perhaps ironic—freakout about drones after a little flying robot crashed on the White House lawn. While it has led to Obama calling for more regulation of privately-owned devices and caused more than a little consternation among the profit-minded folks in the “drone lobby,” the real issue may be the imprecise definition of a drone. There is a big difference between the roto- and quad-copters used by hobbyists, delivery services and journalists … and the flying killing machines the U.S. has deployed around the world.

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