McKeon Wants To Take Money From Essential Government Services To Feed His Campaign Donors DC Pork
As we've discussed before, Buck McKeon takes more bribes from armaments makers than any other Member of Congress. Even more than senators take. The picture of him and the members of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the drone industry’s primary lobbying group, is of him taking his orders in return for the big bucks the drone makers have been giving his reelection campaign. Here's the most recent chart of "contributions" from war-related industries to members of both houses of Congress. Notice that it takes the next 3 Members combined-- two U.S. Senators plus a candidate for president-- to top the wealth of bribes flowing into McKeon's campaign from weapons makers and war contractors:
And that's, in part, what inspired the folks at TheBuckStopsNow.org to come up with this ad that calls McKeon out on his bribery compulsion. (McKeon is now under official investigation by the House Ethics Committee for taking bribes from Countrywide in relation to the mortgage meltdown.)
McKeon is the founder and chairman of the Congressional Drone Caucus-- actual name: the Unmanned Systems Caucus. He also takes more bribes from companies that make drones than anyone else in Congress. And in return, he authored and pushed through legislation that will allow tens of thousands of drones all over U.S. skies-- yes, here... in America. So even if you think it's acceptable that American drones are hunting corporate America's foes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, causing unthinkable amounts of collateral damage-- people's sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, dreams... you want them spying on you here at home? The Tampa police has already ordered some. In February the Center for Democracy & Technology sent out this statement to the press. Did you hear anything about it on TV or radio... read it anywhere?
Congress is demanding drones in the air over the United States-- without considering the civil liberties issues. Within the span of three days last week, the House and then the Senate passed a law-- H.R. 658-- requiring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to speed up, within 90 days, its current licensing process for government use of drones domestically and to open the national airspace to drone aircraft for commercial and private use by October 2015. While the law requires the FAA to develop guidance on drone safety, the law says absolutely nothing about the privacy or transparency implications of filling the sky with flying robots.
As CDT and others have pointed out, drones are powerful surveillance devices capable of being outfitted with facial recognition cameras, license plate scanners, thermal imaging cameras, open WiFi sniffers, and other sensors. Drones' unique ability to hover hundreds or thousands of feet in the air-- undetected, for many hours-- enables constant, pervasive monitoring over a wide area. Without clear privacy rules, public and private use of drones can usher in an era of unparalleled physical surveillance. Without transparency requirements, citizens will not even have the basic right to know who owns the drone watching them from above. Congress, the FAA, industry bodies, and the American people all should play a role in ensuring that drones are used responsibly.
Congress missed a major opportunity to build civil liberties protections into H.R. 658. Instead, Congress fast-tracked the bill, ordering the FAA to unleash drones without even requesting a study or holding a hearing on the civil liberties implications of domestic drone deployment. Perhaps indignant hearings are inevitable, however, once hours of embarrassing drone footage hits YouTube. Ideally, privacy rules for civilian and government use of drones would be an explicit part of the baseline privacy legislation, though Congress should consider giving the FAA authority to build privacy into the drone licensure process.
...The drone industry has a big image problem. A glance through the comments section of any online news article on drones reveals an outpouring of strong opinions that alternate between alarm, fatalism, and-- very often-- fantasies of shooting drones out of the sky as a means to protect privacy. To counter this widespread negative sentiment, the drone industry has announced a major public relations effort to make Americans more comfortable with drones. (I sincerely hope this PR push will include drones dropping ice cream sandwiches and confetti on you on your birthday.) To be sure, drones can do many positive things and can spark broad technological innovation. However, the industry's goodwill gesture will not mask continued use of unmanned aircraft to watch over political rallies, monitor traffic, or levy taxes. The industry needs to do something a lot more substantial than PR.
The drone industry has a strong interest in supporting-- at minimum-- transparency requirements for drone licenses. Secret use of drones magnifies the perception of privacy invasion, sensationalizes the industry, and provides cover for those who would use drones for unethical or harmful purposes. The transparency requirements CDT proposes would subject the industry to almost no extra burden while providing the public with an awareness that could foster greater comfort with the technology. The drone industry should think seriously about a set of best practices for drone operators that include not identifying individuals over space and time without permission. CDT made similar arguments with regard to facial recognition.
The FAA is widely expected to propose rules for domestic drones this coming spring, at which time the FAA will solicit public comments. All Americans can submit their concerns to the FAA and demand, at a minimum, that all drone licenses be made publicly available. There is a lot at stake here. The fact that Congress, the FAA, and the drone industry appear to be ignoring the issue portends a big mess on the horizon. But by the time they get around to establishing the needed civil liberties protections, the horizon may already be filled with softly whirring black dots.
McKeon got this bill passed. Only 12 Republicans had the guts to stand up to him and Boehner-- and they were swamped by 24 Blue Dogs, New Dems and other corporate whores eager for drone makers' bribes. So, get ready: McKeon has delivered on his promise to the drone makers: 30,000 of them over American skies within 3 years.
And this is this is the kind of crap he wants to gut Medicare for-- fire teachers, police and firemen, drown the government in a bathtub... Lee Rogers, the Democrat running against McKeon this year, says McKeon is wasting taxpayer money. "At a time when American households are making budget decisions based on needs and wants, McKeon fills his defense budget with special projects that the Pentagon doesn’t need nor want, which will ultimately benefit his campaign contributors. The 2013 NDAA wastes money on weapons systems that don’t match our threats. Congressman McKeon’s defense budget is indefensible.” As Zaid Jilani pointed out yesterday at Republic Reports, there are some Republicans as concerned about this as normal Americans are.
One Member of Congress who is trying to limit the government’s ability to use surveillance drones on Americans is Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Along with Rep. Austin Scott (R) of Georgia, Paul introduced legislation recently that would disallow the use of drones without a warrant except in the most extreme circumstances.
In an interview recorded last week with The Jerry Doyle Show, Paul explained that right before he went on national television to talk about his legislation, he received a phone call from lobbyists for drone manufacturers. He explained that Congress should be wary of this lobby because it is making money from the product it is telling lawmakers to vote in favor of:
PAUL: Interesting thing is, I went on CNN to announce this [drone legislation] the other day even before I went on CNN and I think even before I went on CNN-- we didn’t think we’d announced it anywhere-- we got a call before we went on to CNN from a lobbyist for the people who sell drones wanting to have a talk with us, somehow the word got out pretty quickly that we were going to be saying something about limiting what drones could do. People do make money selling stuff like this, you have to be aware that the advice they’re giving to congressmen is not particularly dispassionate, that it has something to do making money selling this drone technology. And so we do have to be worried about it.
"Somehow," it turns out was a Buck McKeon staffer who alerted the drone makers about Rand Paul's intentions. McKeon, hires lobbyists from arms manufacturers to work for the House Armed Services Committee. You want to guess were their loyalty lies. (Hint, one senior lobbyist from Northrop Grumman was given a $500,000 bon voyage present when he left for duty with McKeon.)
So to hear McKeon whining (below) about how those mean old Democrats are trying to enforce an agreement he supported to either cut the budget in a bipartisan way or to face automatic cuts that include the Pentagon, is pretty precious. The video is putrid, of course, but listen to the sad, plaintive music Boehner's propagandist put behind McKeon's deceptive yammering and lies. I can't believe they didn't include a tiny violin.