Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When Corrupt DCCC Chair Steve Israel Put Buck McKeon Off Limits This Year, He Also Put Drone Policy Off Limits


Dr. Lee Rogers ran a more robust campaign against Buck McKeon than anyone had ever even tried before. And the results were predictable-- Rogers came closer to defeating McKeon than any Democrat ever had since the 25th CD was first created. But with DCCC Chairman Steve Israel not just ignoring an opportunity to win the Los Angeles area seat-- the last one held by a Republican-- but actively urging donors to not give to Rogers' grassroots campaign and helping to undercut it with the media, there was never a real opportunity for McKeon to lose. Israel wouldn't allow the DCCC to take on any Republican leaders, policy makers or committee chairmen. [Note: the GOP always goes after Democratic leaders and committee chairs and sometimes defeat them. In 2010 they beat several but if you don't try, you never succeed. And some very bad news: Nancy Pelosi just reappointed Israel-- who is completely delusional and has been defining his disastrous performance as a "victory"-- DCCC chair again for 2014, pretty much guaranteeing that the Republicans will keep their House Majority at least until 2016. McKeon is only one of many vulnerable Republicans breathing a deep sign of relief.

McKeon, however, might still go down to defeat in 2014, particularly if Rogers can be persuaded to run against him again. McKeon has a number of corruption cases pending against him and his role in the expansion of domestic drone spying is souring not just Democrats and independents, but even Republicans. McKeon, founder and co-chair (with reactionary Blue Dog and fellow warmonger Henry Cuellar) of the House drone caucus, is swimming in drone industry bribes-- more than any other member of Congress by far. Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle connected the dots between the push to expand the domestic use of drones and the immense sums of money drone makers are paying corrupt Members of Congressmen, particularly McKeon.
Growth in UAS technology and operations is encouraged by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI, which represents drone and systems manufacturers.

AUVSI firms have been far more generous to Republicans than Democrats when it comes to campaign donations. According to CRP analysis, GOP drone caucus members received 74 percent of the group's donations.

In the House, the top recipient was Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Santa Clarita (Los Angeles County), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He received $833,650 in drone-related campaign contributions.

McKeon and Cuellar are co-chairmen of the caucus.

Other California Republicans - Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Vista (San Diego County); Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands (San Bernardino County); Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine (San Diego County); and Ken Calvert, R-Corona (Riverside County)-- each received more than $200,000 from drone firms.

CRP's analysis also showed that companies with drone aircraft currently used by the military, but with potential civilian applications, were among the largest donors to caucus members.

Those firms include BAE Systems, which makes the Mantis and Taranis drones; Boeing Co., maker of the hydrogen-fueled Phantom Eye; Honeywell International, RQ-16 T-Hawk; Lockheed Martin, RQ-170 Sentinel; Raytheon Co., Cobra; and General Atomics, Predator.

Some lawmakers remain skeptical. Along with civil rights advocates, they worry about government eavesdropping, surveillance photography and other potential privacy violations.

"The drones are coming," Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, shouted from the House floor as he warned of encroachment by government into the rights of citizens.

...The Fourth Amendment governs when, where and how the government can gather information on an individual, including whether officials need a search warrant before acting. Courts have given the greatest protection to people when they're in the privacy of their homes. For instance, in a 2001 Supreme Court case, the justices nixed the Interior Department's use of thermal imaging to detect heat patterns coming from the home of someone suspected of growing marijuana indoors using lamps, saying it was an illegal search and required a warrant.

Outside a home's walls, though, privacy rights decrease. Courts blessed an arrest after a flyover by police revealed marijuana growing in someone's back yard.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Tenn., have crafted legislation to put a tight rein on drone use.

Privacy advocates note that not just the police, but individuals and commercial enterprises will be using the devices. TMZ's application for a permit is an illustration. Paparazzi are already using small drones on the Riviera to shoot photos of celebrities in otherwise hard-to-access areas. TMZ "does not have a permit" yet, FAA officials said last week.

Texas' Poe has offered another bill, which would ban private citizens from using drones to spy on other citizens and strictly limit law enforcement use of drones. "The Constitution limits eavesdropping, snooping and spying on American citizens," Poe said.

...Are unmanned aircraft, known to have difficulty avoiding collisions, safe to use in America's crowded airspace? And would their widespread use for surveillance result in unconstitutional invasions of privacy?

Experts say neither question has been answered satisfactorily. Yet the federal government is rushing to open America's skies to tens of thousands of the drones-- pushed to do so by a law championed by manufacturers of the unmanned aircraft.

The drone makers have sought congressional help to speed their entry into a domestic market valued in the billions. The 60-member House of Representatives' "drone caucus"-- officially, the House Unmanned Systems Caucus-- has helped push that agenda. And over the past four years, caucus members have drawn nearly $8 million in drone-related campaign contributions, an investigation by Hearst Newspapers and the Center for Responsive Politics shows.

...An FAA official, who spoke on background, said "one of the main safety issues" with drones is lack of ability to "sense and avoid other aircraft."

A September report by the Government Accountability Office identified the same concern: "Obstacles include the inability ... to sense and avoid other airborne objects in a manner similar to manned aircraft."

In addition, the GAO report said, "Concerns about national security, privacy and interference with Global Positioning System signals have not been resolved."

...House members from California, Texas, Virginia and New York on the bipartisan "drone caucus" received the lion's share of the funds channeled to lawmakers from dozens of firms that are members of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Hearst and CRP found.

Eleven "drone caucus" lawmakers from California, where many aviation firms are located, received more than $2.4 million from manufacturers during the 2012 and 2010 election cycles, according to CRP tabulation of Federal Election Commission reports.

Eight Texas House members in the caucus received more than $746,000. And five caucus members from New York got more than $400,000 from companies connected to the business of unmanned vehicles. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said drone manufacturers contribute just as other interest groups do.

"We get contributions from media PACs, from teachers, from doctors and from a whole lot of companies that produce drones," Cuellar said.
And a whole lot more from companies that produce drones than from teachers and doctors. Two things you can count on for 2014: Blue America will be helping Rogers beat McKeon in the midterms and Steve Israel will not. And if a progressive Democrat wants to take on Steve Israel in a primary...

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