Posts Tagged ‘State Department’

Outrageous examples of wasteful government spending from Sen. Coburn’s 2013 ‘Wastebook’

“To force a man to pay for the violation of his own liberty is indeed an addition of insult to injury.”—Benjamin Tucker, 19th century advocate of American individualist anarchism

The State Department wants $400,000 to purchase a fiberglass sculpture of a camel looking at a needle for its new embassy in Pakistan. They’ve already spent their allotted $630,000 to increase the number of “likes” and fans on their Facebook and Twitter pages. The NATO ambassador for the U.S. needs $700,000 for landscaping and gardening, the National Science Foundation would like $700,000 to put on a theatrical production about climate change, and the Senate staffers need $1.9 million for lifestyle coaching. Also, Yale University researchers could really use $384,000 so they can study the odd cork-screw shape of a duck’s penis.

I promise this is no belated April Fools’ joke. These are actual line items paid for by American taxpayers, whose tax dollars continue to be wasted on extravagant, unnecessary items that serve no greater purpose than to fatten the wallets of corporations and feed political graft (such as the $1 million bus stop, complete with heated benches and sidewalks which can only shelter 15 people and provides little protection from rain, snow, or the sun).

Case in point: despite the fact that we have 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food, and at least 900,000 veterans relying on food stamps, enormous sums continue to be doled out for presidential vacations ($16 million for trips to Africa and Hawaii), overtime fraud at the Department of Homeland Security (nearly $9 million in improper overtime claims, and that’s just in six of the DHS’ many offices), and Hollywood movie productions ($10 million was spent by the Army National Guard on Superman movie tie-ins aimed at increasing awareness about the National Guard).

This doesn’t even touch on the astronomical amounts of money spent on dubious wars abroad.

Consider that since 2001, Americans have spent $10.5 million every hour for numerous foreign military occupations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s also the $2.2 million spent every hour on maintaining the United States’ nuclear stockpile, and the $35,000 spent every hour to produce and maintain our collection of Tomahawk missiles. And then there’s the money the government exports to other countries to support their arsenals, at the cost of $1.61 million every hour for the American taxpayers.

Then there’s the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which reinforces a government mindset in which the rights of the wealthy are affirmed by the courts, while the rights of average, working class Americans are routinely dismissed as secondary to corporate and governmental concerns. Under the guise of protecting free speech, a divided 5-4 Court did away with established limits on the number of candidates an individual can support with campaign contributions.

In doing so, the justices expanded on the Court’s landmark 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which not only gave unfettered free speech rights to corporations but paved the way for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money promoting candidates, especially presidential candidates. What this does, of course, is turn the ballot box into an auction block, wherein those who are “elected” to public office are bought and paid for by those who can afford to support their campaigns—namely, lobbyists, corporations and high-dollar donors. (Then again, perhaps it will remain status quo. According to a 2013 study by Trinity University, U.S. Senators do not take into account the opinions and wishes of their lower class constituents. Rather, their voting was aligned with their upper class constituents. This dismissal of lower class opinion held true for both Republican and Democratic Senators, themselves made up of millionaires.)

When all is said and done, what we are witnessing is the emergence of a disconcerting government mindset that interprets the Constitution one way for corporations, government entities and the wealthy, and uses a second measure altogether for average Americans. For example, contrast the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the “free speech” rights of corporations and wealthy donors in McCutcheon and Citizens United with its tendency to deny those same rights to average Americans when government interests abound, such as in its 2012 decision in Reichle v. Howards, where a unanimous Supreme Court allowed immunity protections for Secret Service agents to trump the free speech rights of Americans, and you’ll find a noticeable disparity.

Unfortunately, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this constitutional double standard is coming to bear in all aspects of our lives, not just in the realm of campaign finance law. It allows lobbyists intimate access to our elected officials, while prohibiting Americans from even standing silently in protest near a government building; it grants immunity to police officers who shoot unarmed citizens, while harshly punishing Americans who attempt to defend themselves, mistaking a SWAT team raid for a home invasion; and it gives government agents carte blanche access to Americans’ communications and activities, while allowing the government to operate in secret, with secret hearings, secret budgets and secret agendas.

This is a far cry from how a representative government is supposed to operate. Indeed, it has been a long time since we could claim to be the masters of our own lives. Rather, we are now the subjects of a militarized, corporate empire in which the vast majority of the citizenry work their hands to the bone for the benefit of a privileged few.

Adding injury to the ongoing insult of having our tax dollars misused and our so-called representatives bought and paid for by the moneyed elite, the government then turns around and uses the money we earn with our blood, sweat and tears to target, imprison and entrap us, in the form of militarized police, surveillance cameras, private prisons, license plate readers, drones, and cell phone tracking technology.

All of those nefarious deeds that you read about in the paper every day: those are your tax dollars at work. It’s your money that allows for government agents to spy on your emails, your phone calls, your text messages, and your movements. It’s your money that allows out-of-control police officers to burst into innocent people’s homes, or probe and strip search motorists on the side of the road. And it’s your money that leads to innocent Americans across the country being prosecuted for innocuous activities such as raising chickens at home, growing vegetable gardens, and trying to live off the grid.

Just remember the next time you see a news story that makes your blood boil, whether it’s a police officer arresting someone for filming them in public, or a child being kicked out of school for shooting an imaginary arrow, or a homeowner being threatened with fines for building a pond in his backyard, remember that it is your tax dollars that are paying for these injustices.

So what are you going to do about it?

There was a time in our history when our forebears said “enough is enough” and stopped paying their taxes to what they considered an illegitimate government. They stood their ground and refused to support a system that was slowly choking out any attempts at self-governance, and which refused to be held accountable for its crimes against the people. Their resistance sowed the seeds for the revolution that would follow.

Unfortunately, in the 200-plus years since we established our own government, we’ve let bankers, turncoats and number-crunching bureaucrats muddy the waters and pilfer the accounts to such an extent that we’re back where we started. Once again, we’ve got a despotic regime with an imperial ruler doing as they please. Once again, we’ve got a judicial system insisting we have no rights under a government which demands that the people march in lockstep with its dictates. And once again, we’ve got to decide whether we’ll keep marching or break stride and make a turn toward freedom.

But what if we didn’t just pull out our pocketbooks and pony up to the federal government’s outrageous demands for more money? What if we didn’t just dutifully line up to drop our hard-earned dollars into the collection bucket, no questions asked about how it will be spent? What if, instead of quietly sending in our checks, hoping vainly for some meager return, we did a little calculating of our own and started deducting from our taxes those programs that we refuse to support?

If we don’t have the right to decide what happens to our hard-earned cash, then we don’t have very many rights at all. If they can just take from you what they want, when they want, and then use it however they want, you can’t claim to be anything more than a serf in a land they think of as theirs. This was the case in the colonial era, and it’s the case once again.

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“The war against Bradley Manning is a war against us all.”—Chris Hedges, author and journalist

“I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare.”—Bradley Manning

Time and again, throughout America’s history, individuals with a passion for truth and a commitment to justice have opted to defy the unjust laws and practices of the American government in order to speak up against slavery, segregation, discrimination, and war. Even when their personal safety and freedom were on the line, these individuals spoke up, knowing they would be chastised, ridiculed, arrested, branded traitors and even killed.

Indeed, while brave men and women such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Henry David Thoreau, Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman are lauded as American heroes today, they were once considered enemies of the state.

Thanks to the U.S. government’s growing intolerance for dissidents who insist on transparency and accountability, oppose its endless wars and targeted killings of innocent civilians and terrorists alike, and demand that government officials abide by the rule of law, that list of so-called “enemies of the state” is growing.

One such “enemy of the state” is Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst who has been targeted by the Obama administration for holding up a mirror to the bloated face of American empire. Manning is being prosecuted for leaking classified government documents which, like the Pentagon Papers a generation ago, expose systemic corruption within America’s military and diplomatic apparatus. The embarrassment caused by showing that the emperor has no clothes, as it were, has made Bradley Manning public enemy number one in the eyes of the federal government. 

As Chris Hedges explains:

“Manning provided to the public the most important window into the inner workings of imperial power since the release of the Pentagon Papers. The routine use of torture, the detention of Iraqis who were innocent, the inhuman conditions within our secret detention facilities, the use of State Department officials as spies in the United Nations, the collusion with corporations to keep wages low in developing countries such as Haiti, and specific war crimes such as the missile strike on a house that killed seven children in Afghanistan would have remained hidden without Manning.”

Despite not being convicted of any crime, Manning has been put through a horror trip since the first day of his incarceration in the military brig at Quantico. He has spent 1,000 days in jail without trial, a large portion of which was passed in solitary confinement, imprisoned in a windowless 6 x 12 foot cell containing a bed, a drinking fountain and a toilet. Manning was kept under Suicide and/or Prevention of Injury (POI) watch during his incarceration, largely against the advice of two forensic psychiatrists. Under suicide watch, Manning was confined to his tiny cell for 24 hours a day and stripped of all clothing with the exception of his underwear. His prescription eyeglasses were taken away, leaving him in essential blindness except for those limited times when he was permitted to read or watch television. In a thinly veiled attempt to harass him, guards would check on Manning every five minutes, asking if he was ok.

Once he was finally brought before a military court, Manning pled guilty to ten of the twenty-two charges brought against him, admitting that he leaked the documents because he believed that the public has a right to know about the government’s misdeeds. Manning’s admission guarantees that he will be put into prison for up to twenty years. However, instead of proceeding to sentencing, government prosecutors are insisting on pressing the most serious charges against him, including “aiding the enemy,” in an attempt to imprison him for life.

The government’s aim is clear: to make an example of Manning (what Yale professor Eugene Fidell describes as an attempt to “scare the daylights out of other people”), thereby discouraging anyone else from defying the regime or daring to lay bare the inner workings of a corrupt government.

Indeed, despite promising unprecedented levels of transparency when he ascended to the presidency in 2009, Obama has invoked the WWI-era Espionage Act more times than all his predecessors combined as a means of silencing all internal dissent and criticism. Obama’s administration has also launched an all-out campaign to roust out, prosecute, and imprison government whistleblowers for exposing government corruption, incompetence, and greed. Obama’s other targets include John Kiriakou, a CIA agent who was prosecuted and imprisoned for blowing the whistle on government-sponsored torture, and Peter Van Buren, who exposed the government’s incompetence and failures during the occupation of Iraq.

Thus, Bradley Manning is merely the latest whistleblower to be singled out for punishment. So determined is the government to crucify Manning that government prosecutors plan to make the case that Manning essentially aided and abetted Osama bin Laden. Manning’s trial, which promises to be a government spectacle of manufactured “shock and awe,” will feature testimony from an anonymous Navy Seal who took part in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound. This Seal will reportedly testify that he recovered computer discs in Osama bin Laden’s personal effects containing government material that originated from Manning’s leak.

What the government is attempting to suggest is that if an individual or news organization publishes information that is accessed by terrorists over the internet, for example, then those individuals or news organizations are essentially guilty of collusion.

Stacking the odds in their favor, government prosecutors have refused to allow Manning’s defense team to interview government witnesses or to introduce evidence showing that Manning’s leak of government information did little, if any, harm to U.S. interests other than showing that the Obama administration is no different from its predecessors. In fact, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the publication of the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary had “not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources or methods.” As for the leak of some 250,000 State Department documents, a report by Reuters indicates that the damage caused was “limited,” and was for the most part simply an embarrassment to the Obama administration.

Manning reacted as one would hope any honorable American would react when they witness their government acting in a manner that is corrupt, incompetent, inhumane, immoral and, it must be said, downright evil. Manning was particularly affected by the so-called “Collateral Murder” video in which American Apache helicopter pilots can be see firing on civilians in Iraq, including children and a Reuters journalist. “The people in the van were not a threat but merely ‘good Samaritans,’” observed Manning. “The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemly delightful bloodlust [the American troops] appeared to have.”

To his credit, Manning refused to remain silent. He spoke out, first to his superiors, who turned a deaf ear to his concerns, then to the New York Times and Washington Post. When he still could find no one willing to alert the American people to what their government was really doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, he turned to Wikileaks.

The rest, as they say, is history. — John W. Whitehead