Spying Telecoms Receive Billions in Government Contracts

The telecoms who are being sued for their cooperation in the government’s illegal warrantless surveillance program have received billions in government contracts. According to Washington Technology magazine, Verizon received $1.3 billion, Sprint $839 million and AT&T $505 million in federal prime contract revenue for fiscal 2007, for a total of $2.6 billion. While the companies have been government contractors for a long time, it still represents a significant increase in revenue.

Telecom apologists like to suggest that the communications companies’ motivation was not financial. As Judge Walker noted when examining EFF’s allegations of dragnet surveillance: “AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal.” Yet, the prospect of $2.6 billion per year can go a long way to explaining why an industry might cooperate with a program far outside the limitations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), despite the difficulty of believing it was legal.

Note that the numbers represent publicly available information for prime contracting only and do not include subcontracting revenue. Any monies paid for the secret NSA surveillance program would be in addition to the public contracting numbers.

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Brussels wants eID cards to work Europe-wide

The European Commission is running a three-year pilot project to get national identity cards to work in different countries.

The €20m project hopes to make eID cards work in 13 member states. The goal is to find a common set of specifications so different cards will allow access to services in all countries.

The Commission believes there are 30 million eID cards in use across Europe.

Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media, said: “By taking advantage of the development in national eID systems and promoting mutual recognition of electronic identities between Member States, this project moves us a step closer to seamless movement between EU countries that Europeans expect from a borderless Single European Market.”

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Study: Surveillance software revenue to quadruple by 2013

Wi-Fi and other technological advances boosting video surveillance adoption

In a new study that has potentially Orwellian implications, ABI Research projects that revenue for video surveillance software will quadruple over the next five years.

According to ABI Vice President and Research Director Stan Schatt, revenue generated from surveillance software will increase to more than US$900 million in 2013, up from current revenues of US$245 million. Schatt says there are several big drivers for this increase, including increased spending on security systems by the government, on theft prevention systems by retail outlets and on surveillance by market researchers. Additionally, he says that the advent of Wi-Fi has made it possible to place wireless cameras just about anywhere while still sending footage back to a central location.

Looking at the broader picture, Schatt says that technological advances are also increasing the scope and the potential uses of video surveillance. He says that one of the more disturbing uses is the ability of store marketing departments to actually monitor the eyeball movements of customers to figure out what products or displays draw their attention.

“When stores have the ability to observe you as you walk through a store, what I can imagine is that more and more stores will try to basically have a pretty in-depth knowledge of their customers,” he says. “So let’s say for instance the store issues you a discount card that also has a radio frequency ID that identifies who you are. And then let’s say they observe you looking at, but not actually purchasing, movies in the adult video section. Well, the next thing you know you’re getting all these promotional materials for racy movies you’re not even interested in.”

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US paying allies to fight war in Iraq

NEW DELHI: The tale of massive fraud and embezzlement of millions of dollars by the US military in its operations in Iraq continues. Testifying before the US Congress Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on 22 May, Mary Ugone, deputy inspector general of accounts in the Pentagon said that an audit of $8.2 billion spending related to the Iraq war showed that $7.8 billion had been improperly spent.

Over 180,000 payments, mostly since the war started in 2003, were made by the defense department to contractors for everything from bottled water to vehicles to transportation services.

In her testimony, Ugone also revealed that $135 million were given to forces from three countries UK, South Korea and Poland to facilitate their participation in the war. This is the first time that the US has officially admitted paying its allies in the so-called Coalition of the Willing that invaded Iraq in March 2003.

In his opening statement, Henry Waxman, chairman of the committee, said that wounded soldiers are getting notices from the Pentagon to return signing bonuses with interest since they had not completed the full term. “There is something very wrong when our wounded troops have to fill out forms in triplicate for meal money while billions of dollars in cash are handed out in Iraq with no accountability,” he said.

In an earlier report released in November 2007, the Inspector General had concluded that the Defense Department couldn’t properly account for over $5 billion in taxpayer funds spent in support of the Iraq Security Forces. It said that thousands of weapons, including assault rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers were unaccounted for, and millions of dollars had been squandered on construction projects that did not exist.

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UN: 1 Million In Myanmar Not Getting Aid

More than 1 million people still don’t have adequate food, water or shelter a month after a devastating cyclone swept through Myanmar, and the military junta’s policies are hindering relief efforts and driving up the cost of aid operations, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Humanitarian groups say they continue to face hurdles from Myanmar’s military government in sending disaster experts and vital equipment into the country. As a result, only a trickle of aid is reaching the storm’s estimated 2.4 million survivors, leaving many without even basic relief.

Compounding these problems, the junta’s refusal to allow the use of military helicopters from neighboring countries is driving up relief costs, an official from the World Food Program said.

Aid groups are unable to provide 1.1 million survivors with sufficient food and clean water, while trying to prevent a second wave of deaths from malnutrition and disease, the U.N. said in its latest assessment report.

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New agreement lets US strike any country from inside Iraq

Baghdad: A proposed Iraqi-American security agreement will include permanent American bases in the country, and the right for the United States to strike, from within Iraqi territory, any country it considers a threat to its national security, Gulf News has learned.

Senior Iraqi military sources have told Gulf News that the long-term controversial agreement is likely to include three major items.

Under the agreement, Iraqi security institutions such as Defence, Interior and National Security ministries, as well as armament contracts, will be under American supervision for ten years.

The agreement is also likely to give American forces permanent military bases in the country, as well as the right to move against any country considered to be a threat against world stability or acting against Iraqi or American interests.

The military source added, “According to this agreement, the American forces will keep permanent military bases on Iraqi territory, and these will include Al Asad Military base in the Baghdadi area close to the Syrian border, Balad military base in northern Baghdad close to Iran, Habbaniyah base close to the town of Fallujah and the Ali Bin Abi Talib military base in the southern province of Nasiriyah close to the Iranian border.”

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Canada’s parliament votes to grant asylum to US war resisters

Parliament on Tuesday voted to allow US resisters of the Iraq war who fled to Canada to stay in this country, thus avoiding military court-martial in the United States.

The non-binding motion passed 137 to 110, with support from all three opposition parties, which hold a majority of seats in the House.

It urged the government to allow conscientious objectors “who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations” to stay in Canada.

“Canada has always been a place which has welcomed those who seek peace and who seek freedom,” opposition Liberal MP Bob Rae told reporters.

“This country should continue to recognize conscientious objectors, particularly to a war which international law has held to be illegal and which this country chose by an act of deliberate policy, chose not to join,” he said.

“And if they want to choose to become Canadian, Canadian landed immigrants, they should be allowed to do so.”

Canada previously welcomed tens of thousands of American draft dodgers during the Vietnam War era.

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Mow your lawn… or go to jail

Homeowners who don’t mow their grass in the northeast Ohio city of Canton now face stiffer penalties – including possible jail time.

The city council unanimously passed a law Monday that makes a second high-grass violation a fourth-degree misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $250 and as many as 30 days in jail.

The previous law only made the first violation a minor misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $150 but no jail time. The new law is to take effect in 30 days.

“This is the type of action we need to take in order to clean up our neighborhoods and our city,” Mayor William J. Healy II said.

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Comments on U.S. climate change bill

WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush on Monday slammed a bill on combating climate change being debated by the U.S. Senate this week. Here are some comments from Bush and other prominent U.S. politicians on the bill:

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: “Today, the Senate is debating a bill called the Warner-Lieberman bill which would impose roughly $6 trillion of new costs on the American economy. There’s a much better way to address the environment than imposing these costs on the job creators which will ultimately have to be borne by American consumers.

“I urge the Congress to be very careful about running up enormous costs for future generations of Americans. We’ll work with the Congress, but the idea of a huge spending bill fueled by taxes (sic) increases isn’t the right way to proceed.”

SEN. BARBARA BOXER, CALIFORNIA DEMOCRAT AND CHAIR OF ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE: “Just when we finally have a chance to get off of Big Oil and foreign oil, you can count on the Bush administration to fight us every step of the way.

CALIFORNIA’S REPUBLICAN GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: “Last year was one of the warmest on record … Climate change does not pause as Congress deliberates the proper way to address the challenge. I urge you and you and your colleagues in the Senate to work together for passage of a bill that, combined with the leadership of states such as California, can help form a truly national climate change strategy.”

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AND NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE: “… We have the first global warming bill in history that is comprehensive, bipartisan and that enjoys support across the country — from labor and agriculture to the business and the environmental communities. Of course the bill needs to be stronger, but it’s vital that Congress begin to act. While it’s important that people change their light bulbs, it’s even more important that we change the laws.”

BILL KOVACS, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: “What is currently drafted just isn’t realistic. Among the bill’s many flaws, the business community recognizes that the necessary technologies aren’t currently available to meet the demands of the bill. So while we reduce use of fossil fuels, what energy sources do we use to run the economy until we develop and deploy the new technologies?

TOM COCHRAN, U.S. CONFERENCE OF MAYORS: “This is a critical time for our nation as we continue to seek solutions for our growing energy crisis and to confront fully the growing global climate change challenge. This new initiative will not only help transform America’s cities, but is a critical part of any successful national effort to reduce carbon emissions.”

Mon Jun 2, 2008 3:54pm EDT

Source: Reuters

Fine for Failing to Obtain Health Insurance

Nearly 100,000 Massachusetts taxpayers have been fined for failing to obtain health insurance, even as a major survey concludes the effort to create near-universal coverage in the state is meeting key goals.Five percent of taxpayers failed to obtain health coverage last year, and more than half of those — about 97,000 — were forced to forfeit their personal exemption — worth $219 — after it was determined they could have afforded health care.

Two percent of taxpayers — about 62,000 — were found not to earn enough for health care, avoiding fines. Under the landmark law, taxpayers must show they are insured or face penalties. The numbers were based on a review of 86 percent of expected tax filers for 2007.

Gov. Deval Patrick said the fact that 95 percent of filers were insured shows the 2006 law, which mandates health care for nearly all residents, is making progress.

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