Ringside Seat: USA Patriot Capitalists

If you read the 2012 annual report from Booz Allen Hamilton, the company that used to employ Edward Snowden, now the world's most famous leaker, you'll see that good news abounds. The company made $240 million in profits on a healthy $5.86 billion in revenue last year. Though "[t]he United States federal government is in a period of significant uncertainty, characterized by funding challenges and budget cuts," rest assured, investors, because "demand remains high for Booz Allen's capabilities and expertise across our diverse portfolio of clients." Granted, "diverse" may be a bit of an overstatement, since a reported 98 percent of the company's revenue comes from federal-government contracts.

Booz Allen is just part of a huge and enormously profitable industry that has grown up in the last decade or so, a period that saw the passage of the USA Patriot Act, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the expansion of the National Security Agency's powers, and a move to outsourcing all kinds of core government functions to private companies. Despite being a 29-year-old IT guy with a GED, Snowden says, "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the President, if I had a personal e-mail." Who knows how many others had that same access.

Booz Allen's specialty is secrets—obtaining them, managing them, using them, and, they hope, not spilling them to the press. They note proudly that 76 percent of their 25,000 employees hold government security clearances, and half of those are Top Secret or higher. Mike McConnell, the former Director of National Intelligence, is the company's vice-chairman, and the man who currently holds that job in the Obama administration, James Clapper, is a former Booz Allen executive as well.

We can debate whether Edward Snowden is a hero or a villain, whether his revelations really harm national security, and whether that outweighs the value to the public in knowing what is being done in its name. But what is undeniable is that we have created a vast and extraordinarily powerful surveillance industrial complex, one that makes billions of dollars in profits off the fear of terrorism. And it isn't going anywhere now.

So They Say

"I've been in so many gangs around here I think I need to get some tattoos!"

 Senator Dick Durbin

Daily Meme: Time to Act on Equal Pay

  • Today is the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. When he signed it, President John F. Kennedy saw it as a "first step."
  • "The excitement at the time when he signed the bill was so thrilling," as Nancy Pelosi said last week. "But, never could we suspect that at that time, that it would take—50 years later, we would still be fighting the fight."
  • Today, women still make roughly 77 cents to the dollar men make.
  • It's even worse for women of color. Black women made 69 cents to the dollar made by men in 2011. Hispanic women made just 60 cents.
  • And ... the gender wage gap isn't getting any better. 
  • Or as President Obama summed up the situation today, "What it does mean is that when more women are bringing home the bacon, they shouldn’t just be getting alittle bit of bacon."
  • (Easter Egg: The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first piece of legislation Obama signed as president.)
  • Representative Rosa DeLauro has introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act—a bill designed to close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act—16 times. It hasn't passed yet.
  • Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a sponsor of the bill in the Senate, says it's an economic issue, not just one of gender fairness: "If you're not paying a woman dollar for dollar for the exact same work, you're not really tapping the full potential of the economy. And why wouldn't you tap the full potential of 52 percent of the resources of the women of this country? If you paid women dollar for dollar, you could raise the GDP by up to 9 percent."

What We're Writing

  • Election reformers have set their sites on passing a public-financing bill in New York. But with two weeks to go in the legislative session, it's languishing—and only Governor Andrew Cuomo can save it. The question, as Abby Rapoport reports, is whether he will.
  • Hundreds of immigrants die each year trying to cross from Mexico into the United States. Their bodies are often left to waste away and, as Brendan Borrell writes, too many are never identified.

What We're Reading

  • There's one policy area where Samantha Power is a bit of an unknown: climate change.
  • Hillary Clinton—"Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner"—has finally joined Twitter.
  • A heartbreaking story of a family minus one in Newtown, suffering in the lonely quiet now that the gun-control policy discussions have waned and the public mourning has dissipated.
  • The NSA news reminds John Judis of the '60s, when the FBI was keeping an eye on him, although he wasn't up to anything worth watching.
  • Edward Snowden going to Hong Kong   ... maybe not the best idea.
  • The Wall Street Journal takes a look at ammonium nitrate usage in the U.S.
  • Our biggest states need a lot of help updating old water infrastructure.

Poll of the Day

The Benghazi controversy appears to have taken a minor toll on Hillary Clinton’'s favorability numbers, according to a recently released Gallup poll. Overall, the number is down to 58 percent from 64 percent in April, giving Clinton her first sub-60 percent rating since 2008. While her favorability slipped, Clinton’s unfavorable rating spiked from 31 to 39 percent over the same time frame.

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