Category Archives: Slavery

Cops nab 5-Year-Old for wearing wrong color shoes to kindergarten

cop car
Wearing the wrong shoes can get kids thrown into one of these in Mississippi. (Photo: Mitch Kezar)

Cops Nab 5-Year-Old for Wearing Wrong Color Shoes to School

In Mississippi, if kindergarteners violate the dress code or act out in class, they may end up in the back of a police car.

takepart.com | Jan 18, 2013

By Suzi Parker

A story about one five-year-old particularly stands out. The little boy was required to wear black shoes to school. Because he didn’t have black shoes, his mom used a marker to cover up his white and red sneakers. A bit of red and white were still noticeable, so the child was taken home by the cops.

The child was escorted out of school so he and his mother would be taught a lesson.

Ridiculous? Perhaps. But incidents such as this are happening across Mississippi. A new report, “Handcuffs on Success: The Extreme School Discipline Crisis in Mississippi Public Schools,” exposes just how bad it’s become.

Released on January 17, the report is a joint project between state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Mississippi Coalition for the Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse and the Advancement Project.

The report examined more than 100 school districts and claimed that black students are affected by harsh disciplinary actions at a much greater rate than their white peers. It notes that “for every one white student who is given an out-of-school suspension, three black students are suspended, even though black students comprise just half of the student population.”

Carlos McCray, an associate professor at Fordham University Graduate School of Education in the Education Leadership Administration Program, says, “Research has shown that students who are subjected to multiple suspensions and expulsions are more likely to drop out of school. And we all know where this leads.”

More: In Mississippi, Dress Code Violations and Back-Talk Send Students Straight to Jail

This isn’t something new in Mississippi. Last October, the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against officials in Meridian, Miss., for operating a school-to-prison pipeline.

“The needless criminalization of Mississippi’s most valuable asset—its children—must be dealt with immediately by school leaders and the communities they serve,” said Nancy Kintigh, the ACLU of Mississippi’s program director, in a statement.

“Zero-tolerance policies were originally designed to protect students from individuals who pose a threat on school grounds. Instead, they are being used to send children home for trivial things that should be solved in the principal’s office.”

Mississippi has long struggled with its education system.

It ranks sixth lowest among the 50 states in graduation rates. On a recent Science and Engineering Readiness Index, the state ranked 50th for high school students on their performance in physics and calculus. It came in last on the National Assessment of Educational Progress survey in 2012.

More out-of-school suspensions result in a school’s lower academic success, Thursday’s report noted. Some Mississippi schools have out-of-school suspension rates that are more than nine times higher than the national average.

Judith Browne Dianis, codirector of Advancement Project and longtime advocate for an end to extreme school discipline policies, said Thursday in a press release that “Implementing a graduated approach to discipline, and using non-punitive measures focused on preventing misbehavior by providing supportive interventions, have been proven to reduce suspensions and expulsions while creating safe, effective learning environments for our youth.”

The report cited several examples of unfair disciplinary measures, including the story of the child with the “black” shoes. Other incidents include:

• Students on a school bus were throwing peanuts at one another. Because one of the peanuts hit the female bus driver, five black male high school students were arrested on felony assault charges.

• A student was sent to a juvenile detention center for wearing the wrong color socks. It was considered to be a probation violation from a previous fight.

Kelly Welch, an associate professor in sociology and criminal justice at Villanova University, said that zero-tolerance policies are often harsher in schools with large minority student populations.

“Since we know that the effects of exclusionary punishments, such as suspension and expulsion, are so detrimental for student learning as well as future involvement in criminal justice, it is imperative that these policies be examined to ensure that they are only used when absolutely necessary and that they are not racially discriminatory,” Welch said.

The Treasury Has Already Minted Two Trillion Dollar Coins

What the advocates of the $1 trillion coin are, therefore, proposing is to tax us in a hidden way.  This is not just taxation without representation.  It’s also taxation with misrepresentation.

While inflation, let alone hyperinflation, has not yet occurred, everything is in place for this outcome. 

forbes.com | Jan 19, 2013

by Laurence Kotlikoff

No doubt, you’ve heard about the latest irresponsible fiscal/monetary proposal to be floated by members of Congress and the erstwhile economist, Paul Krugman, whose lunch was just eaten by Jon Stewart.  

It entails having the Treasury avoid the federal debt limit by handing the Federal Reserve a single $1 trillion platinum coin.  The Fed would then credit the Treasury’s bank account with $1 trillion, which the Fed could spend on the President’s lunch, a $200 toilet seat, a new aircraft carrier, more Medicare spending – anything it wants.

Is there anything special about platinum? Well, yes.  The coin doesn’t have to contain $1 trillion worth of platinum.  It can be microscopic for all the Fed cares as long as they can use a electron microscope to read the $1 trillion In God We Trust inscription.   But it has to be made out of platinum.  No other metal or substance, like a piece of pizza, will do.  The reason is that the Treasury has the right, by an obscure law, to mint platinum coins, but only platinum coins.  Otherwise, making money by making money is the Fed’s domain.

Countries that pay for what they spend by printing money or, these days, creating it electronically, are usually broke.  That certainly fits our bill.

Our country is completely, entirely, and thoroughly broke.  In fact, we’re in worst fiscal shape than any developed country, including Greece.   We have fantastically large expenditures coming due in the form of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments to the baby boom generations – I.O.U.s, which we’ve conveniently kept off the books.

When the boomers are fully retired, Uncle Sam will need to cough up $3 trillion (in today’s dollars) per year to pay us (I’m one of us.) these benefits.   To put $3 trillion in perspective, it’s 1.5 times Russia’s GDP.

These benefits are called entitlements because, presumably, we feel we are entitled to hit up our children to cover their costs.  Borrowing from them and letting them tax themselves and their kids to pay themselves back is a good trick, but it’s running afoul of the debt ceiling.  Taxing them more and promising to the pay them benefits they’ll never receive is an old trick that’s run its course.  So we’re now onto printing money that will, we hope, raise prices only after we have protected our assets against inflation.

And we’re printing lots and lots of money.  Indeed, over the past five years, the Treasury has, in effect, done its $1 trillion coin trick twice.

Come again?

Well, substitute a $2 trillion piece of paper called a Treasury bond for the platinum coin.  Suppose the Treasury prints up such a piece of paper and hands it to the Fed and the Fed puts $2 trillion into its account.  No difference right, except for the lack of platinum.

Next suppose the Treasury doesn’t hand the $2 trillion bond to the Fed directly, but hands it to John Q. Public who gives the Treasury $2 trillion and then hands the bond to the Fed in exchange for $2 trillion.  What’s the result?  It’s the same.  The Treasury has $2 trillion to spend.  John Q. Public has his original $2 trillion.  And the Fed is holding the piece of paper labeled U.S. Treasury bond.

Finally, suppose the Treasury does this operation in smaller steps and over five years, specifically between 2007 and today.  It sells, i.e., hands to John Q. in exchange for money, smaller denomination bonds, which Johns Q. sells to the Fed, i.e., hands to the Fed in exchange for money.   Further, suppose the sum total of all these bond sales to the public and Fed purchases of the bonds from the public equals $2 trillion.  Voila, you’ve got U.S. monetary policy since 2007.

In 2007, the monetary base – the amount of money our government printed in its entire 231 years of existence totaled $800 billion.  Today it totals $2.8 trillion.  And it increased by this amount via the process just described – the Treasury’s effective minting out of thin air two $1 trillion platinum coins.

Now what happens when the Treasury spends its freebee money?  It raises prices of the goods and services we buy or keeps them from falling as much as would otherwise be the case.  Either way, the money we have in our pockets or in the bank or coming to us over time as, for example, interest plus principal on bonds we’ve bought in the past – all this money loses purchasing power.  So we are effectively taxed $2 trillion.

What the advocates of the $1 trillion coin are, therefore, proposing is to tax us in a hidden way.  This is not just taxation without representation.  It’s also taxation with misrepresentation.   The fact that a Nobel Laureate in economics would propose this without making clear this fact raises the question of whether his prize should be revoked.  Lance Armstrong, after all, is losing his medals for discrediting his profession.  Perhaps the Nobel committee should consider taking back Krugman’s.

This is no innocent omission.  Every PhD economist is taught about seigniorage.  It’s a term that was coined (excuse the pun) in the 15th century and stems from the right of feudal lords – seignurs – to coin money, use it to buy, say, chickens and debase the purchasing power of the coins they had given their serfs in the past for, say, wild boar.

Today, 12 cents out of ever dollar being spent by our government is being printed.  As indicated, the money supply has more than tripled.  While inflation, let alone hyperinflation, has not yet occurred, everything is in place for this outcome.  If you want to see what things will look like, check out Zimbabwe, which has surely been reading Krugman’s articles.

TSA Targeting Attractive Women For Aggressive Pat-Down Searches

The TSA has a thing for female passengers, a fact that any employee would be hard-pressed to deny. Agents have a disturbingly extensive vocabulary to describe beautiful passengers, including words like “Alfalfa,” “Code Red” and “Hotel Bravo” (get it — Hot Babe?).

Why The TSA Targets Women And 5 Ways To Cope

huffingtonpost.com | Jan 17, 2013

by Christopher Elliott

On her last four trips through U.S. airport security, Anita Nagelis says she’s been pulled aside and subjected to a more thorough search by TSA agents, including an aggressive pat-down.

Nagelis, who works for a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., doesn’t know why. She never set off a metal detector, isn’t on a no-fly list and no suspicious items are ever discovered in her luggage.

“It’s so odd,” she says. “I don’t fit the profile.”

Or does she?

Even though the TSA and other organizations that handle transportation-related security claim they don’t engage in profiling, they are known to single out certain passengers, a vast majority of which pose zero security threat.

One of their favorite targets are womenattractive women.

The most famous incident happened in April 2011, when former Miss USA Suzie Castillo was subjected to what she described as an invasive pat-down by TSA agents that reduced the beauty queen to tears.

The issue gained prominence last month when another female passenger, Hyunjoo Kim, struck back at a TSA agent after experiencing an “enhanced” pat-down in Orlando. The South Korean woman reportedly was upset about the manual screening and allegedly slapped an agent. She was arrested and charged with two counts of battery on transit agents.

If you think these air travelers were overreacting, think again. The TSA has a thing for female passengers, a fact that any employee would be hard-pressed to deny. Agents have a disturbingly extensive vocabulary to describe beautiful passengers, including words like “Alfalfa,” “Code Red” and “Hotel Bravo” (get it — Hot Babe?).

TSA agents apparently don’t flirt with attractive females, they “engage.” And when they talk about an “X-ray” they aren’t necessarily referring to a controversial full-body scanner; “X-ray” is screener-speak for, you guessed it, an attractive female passenger.

It’s a troubling contradiction, one of many TSA oddities I deal with every week on my consumer advocacy site. Agents are supposedly trained not to profile passengers — to treat each one in exactly the same way — yet they also do profile passengers because of the TSA’s institutional locker-room culture.

This problem probably can’t be undone by an act of Congress or a few protests. But you have the power to stop it. Here’s what you should consider doing if you’re part of the 51 percent who, like Nagelis, is vulnerable to being profiled in this unfortunate way.

Take a few sartorial precautions. I asked my better half, who is a woman, how to avoid getting ogled at the screening area. Watch what you wear, she advised. Far be it from me to tell anyone how to dress. But loose-fitting clothes and shoes tend to be more comfortable on a plane, and they generally draw less attention from the blueshirts, at least according to my well-traveled partner.

Avoid private screenings. There’s no telling what goes on behind closed doors. It’s better to have the whole world watching your “enhanced” pat-down. At least you’ll have witnesses if something goes wrong.

Know your rights. You do have rights when you’re being screened by the TSA (even if they’re not always respected). The most important one to remember is: You have the right to be screened by someone of your sex. Here are a few other frequently-asked questions about the process.

Say something now. If your pat-down is making you uncomfortable, then step away and ask for a supervisor. Sometimes, the best solution is for another screener to finish the pat-down.

Report it. The TSA benefits from the fact that it operates primarily at airports, and the passengers it screens usually just want to make it to their flight without delay. Screening incidents often get swept under the rug. Don’t let that happen. Here’s where to file your complaint.

Like many TSA critics, I believe the agency should stop pretending it doesn’t profile passengers. Instead, it should focus on the air travelers who are likeliest to present a threat to flight safety and leave the rest alone. Actually, most of the screening work should be done long before anyone arrives at the airport, but that’s a concept that the reactive, slow-to-change, institutionally sexist TSA can’t seem to get its latex blue gloves around.

At least not yet.

For Spaniards, Having a Job No Longer Guarantees a Paycheck

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Working but Waiting: The Times’s Suzanne Daley reports on struggling Spanish workers who have avoided losing their jobs but often face weeks or months without paychecks.

nytimes.com | Dec 16, 2012

By SUZANNE DALEY

VALENCIA, Spain — Over the past two years, Ana María Molina Cuevas, 36, has worked five shifts a week in a ceramics factory on the outskirts of this city, hand-rolling paint onto tiles. But at the end of the month, she often went unpaid.

 Still, she kept showing up, trying to keep her frustration under control. If she quit, she reasoned, she might never get her money. And besides, where was she going to find another job? Last month, she was down to about $130 in her bank account with a mortgage payment due.

“On the days you get paid,” she said at home with her disabled husband and young daughter, “it is like the sun has risen three times. It is a day of joy.”

Mrs. Molina, who is owed about $13,000 by the factory, is hardly alone. Being paid for the work you do is no longer something that can be counted on in Spain, as this country struggles through its fourth year of an economic crisis.

With the regional and municipal governments deeply in debt, even workers like bus drivers and health care attendants, dependent on government financing for their salaries, are not always paid.

But few workers in this situation believe they have any choice but to stick it out, and none wanted to name their employers, to protect both the companies and their jobs. They try to manage their lives with occasional checks and partial payments on random dates — never sure whether they will get what they are owed in the end. Spain’s unemployment rate is the highest in the euro zone at more than 25 percent, and despite the government’s labor reforms, the rate has continued to rise month after month.

“Before the crisis, a worker might let one month go by, and then move on to another job,” said José Francisco Perez, a lawyer who represents unpaid workers in the Valencia area. “Now that just isn’t an option. People now have nowhere to go, and they are scared. They are afraid even to complain.”

No one is keeping track of workers like Mrs. Molina. But one indication of their number can be seen in the courts, which have become jammed with people trying to get back pay from a government insurance fund, aimed at giving workers something when a company does not pay them.

In Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, the unemployment rate is 28.1 percent and the courts are so overwhelmed that processing claims, which used to take three to six months, now takes three to four years.

Since the start of the crisis in 2008, the insurance fund has paid nearly a million workers nationally back pay or severance. In 2007, it paid 70,000 workers. It is on track to pay more than 250,000 this year, and experts say the figures would be much higher if not for the logjam in the courts.

Often the unpaid workers, like Mrs. Molina, whose company is now in bankruptcy proceedings, hope their labor will keep a struggling operation afloat over the long run. Unemployment benefits last only two years, they point out, and they wonder what they would do after that. But in the meantime, they cannot even claim unemployment benefits. And no amount of budgeting can cover no payment at all.

Beatriz Morales García, 31, said she could not remember the last time she went shopping for herself. A few years ago, she and her husband, Daniel Chiva, 34, thought that they had settled into a comfortable life, he as a bus driver and she as a therapist in a rehabilitation center for people with mental disabilities. His job is financed by the City of Valencia, and hers by the regional government of Valencia.

They never expected any big money. But it seemed reasonable to expect a reliable salary, to take on a mortgage and think about children. In the past year, however, both of them have had trouble being paid. She is owed 6,000 euros, nearly $8,000. They have cut back on everything they can think of. They have given up their landline and their Internet connection. They no long park their car in a garage or pay for extra health insurance coverage. Mr. Chiva even forgoes the coffee he used to drink in a cafe before his night shifts. Still, the anxiety is constant.

“There are nights when we cannot sleep,” he said. “Moments when you talk out loud to yourself in the street. It has been terrible, terrible.”

Mrs. Morales said it was particularly hard to watch other mothers in the park with their children while she must leave her own toddler to go to work, unsure she will ever get paid.

“We are working eight hours, and we’re suffering more than people who are not working,” she said.

The couple’s pay has been so irregular that they are having a hard time even keeping track of how much they are owed, because small payments show up sporadically in their account.

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Census: U.S. Poverty Rate Spikes, Nearly 50 Million Americans Struggling to Survive

More than 16 percent of the population, are struggling to survive. 20 percent of American children continue to live in poverty.

CBS | Nov 15, 2012

WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) – As President Barack Obama is set to begin his second term, new statistics on America’s poverty rate indicate that nearly 50 million Americans, more than 16 percent of the population, are struggling to survive.

New figures released by the Census Bureau this week found a spike in poverty numbers last year, going from 49 million in 2010 to 49.7 million last year. The numbers may come as a surprise to Congress, which estimated in September that the poverty rate would drop to 46.2 million. One of the most startling findings showed that almost 20 percent of American children continue to live in poverty.

The Associated Press reports that the new figures are based on an updated formula devised by the Census Bureau to help give the government a better understanding for how to use safety-net programs.

The numbers found that Hispanics and people living in urban areas had a higher chance of struggling to make it financially. Poverty among full-time and part-time workers also saw a jump from its 2010 numbers.

Based on the formula implemented by the Census Bureau, California tops the list as the sate most likely to bring about poverty. The top five is rounded out by the District of Columbia, Arizona, Florida and Georgia.

“We’re seeing a very slow recovery, with increases in poverty among workers due to more new jobs which are low-wage,” Timothy Smeeding, a University of Wisconsin-Madison economist who specializes in poverty, told The Associated Press. “As a whole, the safety net is holding many people up, while California is struggling more because it’s relatively harder there to qualify for food stamps and other benefits.”

Adults in the age groups of 18 to 64 and 65 and older saw spikes in their poverty rates. Hispanics and Asians saw greater spikes than white people, according to the statistics. Black people saw a slight decrease in poverty, but still have a rate of 25.7 percent.

7 Technologies That Will Make It Easier for the Next President to Hunt and Kill You

wired | Nov 6, 2012

by Noah Shachtman

Robotic assassination campaigns directed from the Oval Office. Cyber espionage programs launched at the president’s behest. Surveillance on an industrial scale. The White House already has an incredible amount of power to monitor and take out individuals around the globe. But a new wave of technologies, just coming online, could give those powers a substantial upgrade. No matter who wins the election on Tuesday, the next president could have an unprecedented ability to monitor and end lives from the Oval Office.

The current crop of sensors, munitions, control algorithms, and data storage facilities have helped make the targeted killing of American adversaries an almost routine affair. Nearly 3,000 people have been slain in the past decade by American drones, for instance. The process will only get easier, as these tools of war become more compact, more powerful, and more precise. And they will: Moore’s Law applies in the military and intelligence realms almost as much as it does in the commercial sphere.

For decades, political scientists have wrung their hands about an “Imperial Presidency,” an executive branch with powers far beyond its original, Constitutional limits. This new hardware and software could make the old concerns look more outdated than horses and bayonets, to coin a phrase. Here are seven examples.

Photo: François Proulx/Flickr

Patuxent River, MARYLAND - JULY 31:. Umanned Aircraft Systems Media Day Tuesday Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Maryland. (Photo by Jared Soares For Wired.com)

Drone Autonomy

There’s a standard response to skeptics of the killer flying robots known as drones that goes something like this: Every time a drone fires its weapon, a human being within a chain of command (of other human beings) made that call. The robot never decides for itself who lives and who dies. All of that is true. It’s just that some technical advances, both current and on the horizon, are going to make it less true.

On one end of the spectrum is the Switchblade, AeroVironment’s mashup of drone and missile. Weighing under 6 pounds and transportable in a soldier’s backpack, the drone carries a function whereby an operator can pre-program its trajectory using GPS; When it reaches the target, it explodes, without its operator commanding it to. On the other end is the Navy’s experimental UCLASS, which by 2019 ought to yield an armed drone with a 62-foot wingspan that can take off and land from an aircraft carrier at the click of a mouse, its flight path selected earlier while Naval aviators go get a snack. The Navy has no plans to let the UCLASS release its weapons except at a human’s direction, but its autonomy goes beyond anything the military currently possesses.

All of this stands to change drone warfare — ironically, by changing human behavior. As humans get used to incremental expansions in drone autonomy, they’ll expect more functionality to come pre-baked. That might erode the currently-rigid edict that people must conduct the strikes; at a minimum, it will free human operators to focus more of their attention on conducting attacks. The first phase of that challenge has arrived: the Army confirmed this week that a unit in eastern Afghanistan is now using the Switchblade.

— Spencer Ackerman

Photo: Jared Soares/Wired

argus

‘City-Sized’ Surveillance

Predator-class drones are today’s spy tools of choice; the military and CIA have hundreds of them keeping watch over Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Mexico, and elsewhere. But the Predators and the larger Reapers are imperfect eyes in the sky. They rely on cameras that offer, as the military cliche goes, a “soda straw” view of the battlefield — maybe a square kilometer, depending on how high the drone flies.

Tomorrow’s sensors, on the other hand, will be able to monitor an area 10 times larger with twice the resolution. The Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System (“Argus, for short) is a collection of 92 five-megapixel cameras. In a single day, it collects six petabytes of video — the equivalent of 79.8 years’ worth of HD video.

Argus and other “Wide Area Airborne Surveillance” systems have their limitations. Right now, the military doesn’t have the bandwidth to pull all that video off a drone in real time. Nor it does it have the analysts to watch all the footage; they’re barely keeping up with the soda straws. Plus, the camera bundles have had some problems sharing data with some of the military’s other spy systems.

But interest in the Wide Area Airborne Surveillance systems is growing — and not just among those looking to spy overseas. The Department of Homeland Security recently put out a call for a camera array that could keep tabs on 10 square kilometers at once, and tested out another WAAS sensor along the border. Meanwhile, Sierra Nevada Corporation, a well-traveled intelligence contractor, is marketing its so-called “Vigilant Stare” sensor (.pdf), which it says will watch “city-sized fields of regard” for domestic “counter-narcotics” and “civil unrest” missions. Keep your eyes peeled.

— Noah Shachtman

Photo: Darpa

equinix

Massive Data Storage

The idea of the government watching your every move is frightening. But not as frightening as the government recording your every move in digital database that never gets full.

This nightmare data storage scenario is closer than you think. A study from the Brookings Institute says that it will soon be within the reach of the government — and other organizations — to keep a digital record everything that everyone in the country says or does, and the NSA is clearly on the cutting edge of large-scale data storage.

The agency is building a massive $2 billion data center in Utah — due to go live in September of next year — and taking a cue from Google, agency engineers have built a massive database platform specifically designed to juggle massive amounts of information.

According to a senior intelligence official cited in Wired’s recent feature story on the Utah data center, it will play an important role in new efforts within the agency to break the encryption used by governments, businesses, and individuals to mask their communications.

“This is more than just a data center,” said the official, who once worked on the Utah project. Another official cited in the story said that several years ago, the agency made an enormous breakthrough in its ability to crack modern encryption methods.

But equally important is the agency’s ability to rapidly process all the information collected in this and other data centers. In recent years, Google has developed new ways of overseeing petabytes of data — aka millions of gigabytes — using tens of thousands of ordinary computer servers. A platform called BigTable, for instance, underpins the index that lets you instantly search the entire web, which now more than 644 million active sites. WIth Accumulo, the NSA has mimicked BigTable’s ability to instantly make sense of such enormous amounts of data. The good news is that the NSA’s platform is also designed to provide separate security controls from each individual piece of data, but those controls aren’t in your hands. They’re in the hands of the NSA.

— Cade Metz

Photo: Peter McCollough/Wired.com

small-munition

Tiny Bombs and Missiles

Unless you’re super strong or don’t mind back pain, you can’t carry a Hellfire missile. The weapon of choice for drone attacks weighs over 100 pounds, and that’s why it takes a 27-foot-long Predator to pack one. But that’s all about to change. Raytheon’s experimental Small Tactical Munition weighs nearly a tenth of a Hellfire. In May, rival Textron debuted a weapon that loiters in mid-air, BattleHawk, that weighs a mere 5 pounds.

Normally, a smaller bomb or missile just means a smaller smoking crater. But as the weapons get smaller, the number of robots that can carry them increases. The U.S. military has under 200 armed Predators and Reapers. It has thousands of smaller, unarmed spy drones like Pumas and Ravens. Those smaller drones get used by smaller units down on the military’s food chain, like battalions and companies; if they get armed, then drone strikes can become as routine as artillery barrages. That’s heavy.

— Spencer Ackerman

Photo: Raytheon

lockheed-martin

‘Tagging and Tracking’ Tech

Right before the Taliban executed him for allegedly spying for the Americans in April 2009, 19-year-old Pakistani Habibur Rehman said in a videotaped “confession” that he had been paid to plant tracking devices wrapped in cigarette paper inside Taliban and Al-Qaida safehouses. The devices emitted barely detectable radio signals that allegedly guided U.S. drone strikes.

The CIA has never copped to using such trackers, but U.S. Special Operations Command openly touts its relationship with manufacturers of “tagging, tracking and locating devices.” One of these firms, Herndon, Virginia-based Blackbird Technologies, has supplied tens of thousands of these trackers as part of a $450 million contract. The company’s 2-inch-wide devices hop between satellite, radio frequencies, CDMA and GSM cellular networks to report the locations of whatever they’re attached to.

If SOCOM has its way, these trackers will only be the start. The command has spent millions developing networks of tiny “unattended ground sensors” that can be scattered across a battlefield and spot targets for decades, if its makers are to be believed. SOCOM is also on the hunt for tiny, plantable audio and video recorders and optical and chemical “taggants” that can mark a person without him knowing it. The idea is for spies like Rehman (if that’s what he was) to more accurately track militants … and get away with it.

— David Axe and Noah Shachtman

Photo: Lockheed Martin

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Global Strike

Take the military’s current inventory of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can scream toward their targets at speeds of more than 500 miles per hour. Not too shabby. But also positively slow compared to a new generation of experimental hypersonic weapons that may soon travel many times that speed — and which the Pentagon and the Obama administration dreams about one day lobbing at their enemies anywhere on the globe in less than an hour. And don’t count on the current president, or perhaps even the next one, on abandoning the project any time soon.

It’s called “Prompt Global Strike,” and the Defense Department has worked for a decade on how to field such radical weapons with a mix of trial and error. Among them include the shorter-range X-51A Waverider, a scramjet-powered cruise missile hurtled at up to six times the speed of sound. Even more radical is Darpa’s pizza-shaped glider named the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, and the Army’s pointy-shaped Advanced Hypersonic Weapon — designed to travel at Mach 20 and Mach 8, respectively. If any of these weapons or a variant is ever fielded, they could be used to assassinate a terrorist while on the move or blast a nuclear silo in the opening minutes of a war. Or inadvertently start World War III.

While the Waverider is launched from a plane and resembles a cruise missile (albeit one traveling intensely fast), the HTV-2 is launched using an intercontinental ballistic missile before separating and crashing back down to Earth. But as far as Russian and Chinese radars are concerned, the HTV-2 could very well be an ICBM potentially armed with a nuke and headed for Beijing or Moscow. The Pentagon has apparently considered this doomsday scenario, and has walked back the non-nuke ICBM plan — sort of — while touting a potential future strike weapon launched at the intermediate range from a submarine. But there’s also still plenty of testing to do, and a spotty record of failures for the Waverider and the HTV-2. Meanwhile, the Russians are freaked out enough to have started work on a hypersonic weapon of their own.

— Robert Beckhusen

Photo: Air Force

blue-devil

Sensor Fusion

The military can listen in on your phone calls, and can watch you from above. But it doesn’t have one thing — one intelligence-collection platform, as the jargon goes — that can do both at once. Instead, the various “ints” are collected and processed separately — and only brought together at the final moment by a team of analysts. It’s a gangly, bureaucratic process that often allows prey to slip through the nets of military hunters.

The exception to this is the Blue Devil program. It outfits a single Beechcraft King Air A90 turboprop plane with a wide area sensor, a traditional camera, and eavesdropping gear — all passing information from one to the other. The electronic ear might pick up a phone call, and tell the camera where to point. Or the wide area sensor might see a truck moving, and ask the eavesdropper to take a listen. Flying in Afghanistan since late 2010, the system has been “instrumental in identifying a number of high-value individuals and improvised explosive device emplacements,” according to the Air Force, which just handed out another $85 million contract to operate and upgrade the fleet of four Blue Devil planes.

There’s a second, more ambitious phase of the Blue Devil program, one that involved putting a lot more sensors onto an airship the size of a football field. But that mega-blimp upgrade never made it to the flight-testing phase, owing to a series of bureaucratic, financial and technical hurdles. But the idea of sensor fusion is not going anywhere. And, let’s be honest: If one of these surveillance arrays catches you in their web, neither are you.

Photo: David Axe

Jobless worked unpaid at queen’s jubilee and slept under London Bridge


Queen Elizabeth II leaves Westminster Hall after a Diamond Jubilee Luncheon given for The Queen by The Livery Companies of The City of London on June 5, 2012 in London, England. For only the second time in its history the UK celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of a monarch. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrates the 60th anniversary of her ascension to the throne  with a carriage procession and a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral. Getty Images

msnbc.com | Jun 6, 2012

By Ian Johnston

A group of unemployed people were brought to London to do unpaid work at the queen’s jubilee celebrations and told to sleep under a city bridge, a British newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The Guardian newspaper reported that long-term jobless from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth in western England were taken by bus to the capital city for “work experience” as crowd-control staff lining the route of the river pageant and other events, and the chance to get paid employment at the London Olympics.

The security company that ran the security operation said while the unemployed people were not paid, they did receive boots and clothing worth more than $180 and a security industry license costing about $390. It added that the bridge incident “should never have happened.”

‘Raining and freezing’

One of the group told The Guardian that they arrived in London at 3 a.m. local time Sunday after a four-hour bus drive from Bristol.

“We all got off the coach and we were stranded on the side of the road for 20 minutes until they came back and told us all to follow them,” the woman told The Guardian. “We followed them under London Bridge and that’s where they told us to camp out for the night … it was raining and freezing.”

She and another jobless person — the paper said both did not want to be named for fear they would lose their welfare payments — said they had to change into security clothes in public and had no access to toilets for 24 hours. After a 14-hour shift Sunday, they went to sleep in a tent on the outskirts of the city.

They claimed they had initially been told they would be paid and only learned they would not as they got onto the bus Saturday night.

The jobless group was working for Close Protection UK, a private firm that won a contract to provide stewards to help control the crowds during the jubilee celebrations and will also provide stewards for the Olympics.

“The London Bridge incident should never have happened but was to some extent outside our control,” Molly Prince, managing director of Close Protection UK, said in an emailed statement.

‘Not for the faint hearted’
“The nature of Festival & Event work is such that we often travel sleeping on coaches through the night with an early morning pre-event start,” she added. “It is the nature of the business and there is no misconception about this, it’s hard work and not for the faint hearted.”

However she said the bus drivers had “insisted on leaving” after they arrived in London at 3 a.m. Sunday.

“For this we sincerely apologize,” the statement added. “… The Drivers said their work was done even though they were there 2 hours ahead of schedule.”

She said the firm would not be using the bus company again.

Prince wrote that most of the people who worked at the pageant were “happy, fed and looked after as best [as] possible under the circumstances.”

“We are not in the business of exploiting anyone,” she added.

Prince said in another email to msnbc.com that the Guardian article and media spin “could jeopardize my entire business.”

She added the “20 or so volunteers” had been taken “off the job” Tuesday.

The jobless people were placed with Close Protection UK by a charity, called Tomorrow’s People.

Abi Levitt, the charity’s director of development services, told msnbc.com that the drivers’ departure was a  “very unfortunate incident.”

She stressed taking the unpaid work was “absolutely voluntary for a day at the jubilee.”