Monthly Archives: February 2013

Department of Homeland Security: Bloated, Ill-defined Boondoggle

By Mattea Kramer, Chris Hellman at TomDispatch / AlterNet, February 28, 2013

After ten years, no one can define it or explain where all those billions of dollars went.

Imagine a labyrinthine government department so bloated that few have any clear idea of just what its countless pieces do. Imagine that tens of billions of tax dollars are disappearing into it annually, black hole-style, since it can’t pass a congressionally mandated audit.

Now, imagine that there are two such departments, both gigantic, and you’re beginning to grasp the new, twenty-first century American security paradigm.

For decades, the Department of Defense has met this definition to a T. Since 2003, however, it hasn’t been alone. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which celebrates its 10th birthday this March, has grown into a miniature Pentagon. It’s supposed to be the actual “defense” department — since the Pentagon is essentially a Department of Offense — and it’s rife with all the same issues and defects that critics of the military-industrial complex have decried for decades. In other words, “homeland security” has become another obese boondoggle.

But here’s the strange thing: unlike the Pentagon, this monstrosity draws no attention whatsoever — even though, by our calculations, this country has spent a jaw-dropping $791 billion on “homeland security” since 9/11. To give you a sense of just how big that is, Washington spent an inflation-adjusted $500 billion on the entire New Deal….

continue reading at AlterNet

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Filed under Economy, Labor, Tax, Peace, Security, Terrorism, War

‘Imagine the Worst’: Why a Guantanamo Prosecutor Withdrew From the Case

By Jess Bravin, The Atlantic, 11 February 13

Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch truly believed Mohamedou Ould Slahi was guilty. He also believed that Slahi’s interrogators had broken the law – tormenting him physically and sexually, and threatening the gang-rape of his mother.

Stuart Couch had been waiting nearly two years to start this job. He had been waiting since September 11, 2001.

Couch, a lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps, was a military prosecutor. When President George W. Bush decreed that the 9/11 perpetrators would face trial by military commission, a form of martial justice last used against German and Japanese war criminals following World War II, Couch had volunteered for the mission.

Arriving at Guantanamo in October 2003…

[fast-forwarding to the end of the article]
…Couch sent Swann a memorandum. “Due to legal, ethical, and moral issues arising from past interrogations of this detainee, I refuse to be associated with any further prosecution efforts against him,” it said. “As a legal matter, I am of the opinion these techniques violate provisions of the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and any statements produced by them should be excluded as evidence against this detainee pursuant to Article 15 of the Convention. If these techniques are deemed to be ‘torture’ under the Convention, then they would also constitute criminal violations of the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S. C. §2441.”

In other words, the interrogators should be prosecuted. Couch continued:

“As an ethical matter, I opine that the interrogation techniques utilized with this detainee are discoverable by defense counsel, as they relate to the credibility of any statements given by him. As discoverable material, I have an ethical duty to disclose such material to the defense.

“As a practical matter, I am morally opposed to the interrogation techniques employed with this detainee and for that reason alone, refuse to participate in his prosecution in any manner.”

Read the full article at The Atlantic

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Vouchers hurt public schools

by Patrick Elliott, Wisconsin State Journal, 1/31/13

With voucher advocates trumpeting “National School Choice Week,” it is a fitting time to examine the proposed expansion of private school vouchers in Wisconsin. Some politicians are intent on slowly doing away with our public education system in favor of privatized education paid for with taxpayer money.

Voucher money largely flows to religious schools. In the newly expanded “choice” of schools in Racine, 10 out of the 11 schools are parochial schools. Based on a review of Department of Public Instruction data on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, more than 21,000 of nearly 25,000 enrolled students at the beginning of this school year attended readily identifiable religious schools.

This amounts to more than $133 million in taxpayer money going to religious institutions in Milwaukee this school year alone.

Funding private and religious schools through vouchers is an end run around our constitutionally created public education system. The Wisconsin Constitution requires the Legislature to “provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge … and no sectarian instruction shall be allowed therein.”

Proposals to continue to chip away at public education and expand vouchers by increasing the geographic area, income limits and funding are contrary to our long-valued public education system.

Schools do not exist just to benefit parents. They serve to educate the next generation to create an educated citizenry and to ensure the vitality of the state. This is a public good supported by all, including those who do not have school-aged children. This social value is recognized by our constitutionally created public schools and our compulsory education laws.

While parents pick the school of their choice in using vouchers, taxpayers pay the bills. And taxpayers have no means of holding voucher schools accountable. Low performing voucher schools, which have little state oversight, can do as they please. Voucher schools are not governed by publicly elected school boards that have to answer to constituents.

Some of the Milwaukee choice schools are not holding up their duty to provide a comprehensive education. Take, for instance, the Clara Mohammed School. According to its IRS filings, the school’s purpose is to engage in “a Qur’an-guided journey toward active global citizenship.” It is funded almost exclusively through vouchers. In 2011, only 0.8 percent of its students (1 out of 123) tested proficient in math and 5.7 percent tested proficient in reading on state exams.

Other Milwaukee choice schools are using unscientific and outdated curriculum from fundamentalist Christian textbook publishers such as A Beka Books. Carter’s Christian Academy in Milwaukee describes the A Beka materials, covering normal school subjects, as being “presented from God’s point of view.” Of the 69 Carter’s Christian students tested in 2011, none tested proficient in reading by state standards and only three tested proficient in math….

continue reading at Wisconsin State Journal

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Filed under Education and schools links, Religions