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When: Thursday, May 23, at 11:00 am-2pm
Where: Outside of the National Defense University at 2nd and Q Streets SW.
As President Obama hosts a press conference at the National Defense University CODEPINK and other activists will vigiling outside. President Obama will be speaking at the National Defense University on the topic of two of the most egregious crimes committed by this administration: drone strikes and Guantanamo Bay. CODEPINK and allies will rally outside the premises calling for an end to targeted assassinations and indefinite detention. Visuals include people in Guantanamo jumpsuits, life-sized Obama renditions, and a large model drone.
"We are anxious to hear what President Obama has to say, and hope he will announce measures to close Guantanamo and stop the drones wars," said CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin. "But if President Obama continues to rely on killing by remote control and locking people up indefinitely, we will be constantly creating new enemies and jeopardizing our national security. Respecting human rights, international law and the guarantees provided in our Constitution is the best way to keep our nation secure."
CODEPINK has launched an urgent call to save the lives of the prisoners on hunger strike in Guantanamo and has been staging actions across DC for the last several weeks. Over 1,200 people from around the world have joined a rolling hunger strike. Diane Wilson, a CODEPINK activists from Texas, has been on a water-only hunger strike since May 1st. CODEPINK is also organizing a delegation to Yemen in June to meet with drone victims and families of Guantanamo prisoners.
Benjamin, Wilson and other activists are available for interviews. Call Alli McCracken from the CODEPINK to schedule them: 860 575 5692.
"If there is no positive response from the government, today is a first step, and there will be a second step," said one union leader.
The streets of France filled with outraged workers on Thursday as rail employees, teachers, and others walked off the job to protest President Emmanuel Macron's deeply unpopular plan to overhaul the nation's pension system by raising the official retirement age from 62 to 64.
The union-led demonstrations—which ground significant portions of the country, including many schools and transportation systems, to a halt—come as Macron is attempting to steamroll far-reaching opposition to his pension overhaul, declaring that "we must work longer."
Macron's government formally presented its draft law last week, the first step in the process of enacting a reform that would force French citizens to work longer to qualify for a full pension.
(Photo: Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images)
Philippe Martinez, the head of France's General Confederation of Labor union, told reporters that Thursday's strikes are just the beginning of widespread worker unrest if Macron doesn't abandon his attempt to hike the retirement age by 2030.
"If there is no positive response from the government, today is a first step, and there will be a second step," Martinez declared ahead of a march in Paris.
Eric Sellini, the union's coordinator for the French petroleum company TotalEnergies, echoed that sentiment.
"For the moment, we're sticking to our schedule," Sellini said. "Depending on how the situation in the country evolves, and if employees don't want to stop the strike, there could be an extension."
Reutersreported Thursday that the mass protests "led to a substantial fall in electricity output and halted deliveries from refineries operated by TotalEnergies and Esso."
"The CGT union expects that at least 70% of its refinery sector employees at TotalEnergies' four refining sites have joined the strike in opposition to the government plan to raise the retirement age," the outlet noted.
French unions also estimated that around 70% of the country's primary schoolteachers were on strike Thursday.
(Photo: Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images)
A survey conducted earlier this month by the polling firm Elabe found that roughly three-fifths of the French public opposes Macron's proposed pension overhaul, the latest iteration of a plan that the president has repeatedly put forth and subsequently delayed due to furious opposition.
"When he sought reelection last year amid an emboldened far right, Macron sent mixed messages on the issue," The Washington Postreported. "After first announcing that he wanted to raise the minimum retirement age even higher than planned, from 62 to 65, he later backtracked and said that '65 years is not a dogma.'"
(Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)
Opponents of the pension attack—including the leftist leader of the France Unbowed party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon—are pushing Macron to drop the proposal for good as mass protests signal sustained opposition from workers.
"It is time for Macron to withdraw his reform," Mélenchon said Thursday.
The program "presents a threat to the integrity of traditional Medicare, and an opportunity for corporations to take money from taxpayers while denying care to beneficiaries," said Physicians for a National Health Program.
A national physician group this week called for the complete termination of a Medicare privatization scheme that the Biden White House inherited from the Trump administration and later rebranded—while keeping intact its most dangerous components.
Now known as the Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health (ACO REACH) Model, the experiment inserts a for-profit entity between traditional Medicare beneficiaries and healthcare providers. The federal government pays the ACO REACH middlemen to cover patients' care while allowing them to pocket a significant chunk of the fee as profit.
The rebranded pilot program, which was launched without congressional approval and is set to run through at least 2026, officially began this month, and progressive healthcare advocates fear the experiment could be allowed to engulf traditional Medicare.
In a Tuesday letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) argued that ACO REACH "presents a threat to the integrity of traditional Medicare, and an opportunity for corporations to take money from taxpayers while denying care to beneficiaries."
The group, which advocates for a single-payer healthcare system, voiced alarm over the Biden administration's decision to let companies with records of fraud and other abuses take part in the ACO REACH pilot, which automatically assigns traditional Medicare patients to private entities without their consent.
CMS said in a press release Tuesday that "the ACO REACH Model has 132 ACOs with 131,772 healthcare providers and organizations providing care to an estimated 2.1 million beneficiaries" for 2023.
"As we have stated, PNHP believes that the REACH program threatens the integrity of traditional Medicare and should be permanently ended," Dr. Philip Verhoef, the physician group's president, wrote in the new letter. "Whether or not one agrees with this statement, we should all be able to agree that companies found to have violated the rules have no place managing the care of our Medicare beneficiaries."
Among the concerning examples PNHP cited was Clover Health, which has operated so-called Direct Contracting Entities (DCEs)—the name of private middlemen under the Trump-era version of the Medicare pilot—in more than a dozen states, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and New York.
PNHP noted that in 2016, CMS fined Clover—a large Medicare Advantage provider—for "using 'marketing and advertising materials that contained inaccurate statements' about coverage for out-of-network providers, after a high volume of complaints from patients who were denied coverage by its MA plan. Clover had failed to correct the materials after repeated requests by CMS."
Humana, another large insurer with its teeth in the Medicare privatization pilot, "improperly collected almost $200 million from Medicare by overstating the sickness of patients," PNHP observed, citing a recent federal audit.
"It appears that in its selection process [for ACO REACH], CMS did not prevent the inclusion of companies with histories of such behavior," Verhoef wrote. "Given these findings, we are concerned that CMS is inappropriately allowing these DCEs to continue unimpeded into ACO REACH in 2023."
\u201cOur full letter to the @HHSGov secretary and @CMSGov administration highlighting troubling trends in Direct Contracting and REACH, and asking them to cancel this failed experiment: https://t.co/fnAT18CAtr\u201d— Physicians for a National Health Program (@Physicians for a National Health Program) 1674090685
While the Medicare pilot garnered little attention from lawmakers when the Trump administration first launched it during its final months in power, progressive members of Congress have recently ramped up scrutiny of the program.
Last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) led a group of lawmakers in warning that ACO REACH "provides an opportunity for healthcare insurers with a history of defrauding and abusing Medicare and ripping off taxpayers to further encroach on the Medicare system."
"We have long been concerned about ensuring this model does not give corporate profiteers yet another opportunity to take a chunk out of traditional Medicare," the lawmakers wrote, echoing PNHP's concerns. "The continued participation of corporate actors with a history of fraud and abuse threatens the integrity of the program."
"Ordinary people's private financial records are being siphoned indiscriminately into a massive database, with access given to virtually any cop who wants it," said the ACLU's Nathan Freed Wessler.
"These records paint a damning portrait of government overreach."
That's how Nathan Freed Wessler, deputy director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, and Fikayo Walter-Johnson, a former paralegal with the project, introduced over 200 documents obtained via public records request and released Wednesday on the civil liberties group's website.
The national ACLU and its Arizona arm sought the records after U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) revealed last year that "Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a law enforcement component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was operating an indiscriminate and bulk surveillance program that swept up millions of financial records about Americans."
Following a February 2022 briefing with senior HSI personnel, Wyden wrote a March letter urging DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to launch a probe into the Transaction Record Analysis Center (TRAC)—a nonprofit created as a result of a settlement between the Arizona attorney general's office and Western Union, a financial services company that fought in state court against the AG's attempt to obtain money transfer records.
\u201cThis broad collection of our personal data raised privacy concerns, so we submitted a public records request to learn more.\n\nWhat we found is extremely alarming.\u201d— ACLU (@ACLU) 1674045961
As the ACLU released records about TRAC, Wyden on Wednesday shared a new letter requesting that "the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigate the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) relationship" with the Arizona-based clearinghouse.
"My oversight activities over the past year have uncovered troubling information, revealing that the scale of this government surveillance program is far greater than was previously reported," Wyden wrote to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
"Between October and December of 2022, my office received information from three other money transfer companies—Euronet (RIA Envia), MoneyGram, and Viamericas—which confirmed that they also delivered customer data in bulk to TRAC, in response to legal demands from HSI and other governmental agencies," the senator divulged.
Some customs summonses—a form of subpoena—applied to transfers of $500 or more between any U.S. state and 22 other countries and one U.S. territory. Those summonses were withdrawn "just 10 days after HSI had briefed my staff" in February, Wyden noted, adding that HSI has not yet scheduled his requested follow-up briefing.
\u201c"Hundreds of federal, state and local U.S. law-enforcement agencies have access without court oversight to a database of more than 150M money transfers"\n\nWyden: TRAC is "an all-you-can-eat buffet of Americans\u2019 personal financial data"\n\nhttps://t.co/Z84CnUfnIp\u201d— Alex Gladstein \ud83c\udf0b \u26a1 (@Alex Gladstein \ud83c\udf0b \u26a1) 1674064852
Summarizing the documents acquired by the ACLU, Freed Wessler and Walter-Johnson wrote:
From 2014 to 2021, Arizona attorneys general issued at least 140 administrative subpoenas to money transfer companies, each requesting that the company periodically provide customer transaction records for the next year. Those subpoenas were issued under the same state statute that the Arizona Court of Appeals held in 2006 could not be used for these kinds of indiscriminate requests for money transfer records. This means the Arizona attorney general's office knowingly issued 140 illegal subpoenas to build an invasive data repository.
The documents we obtained reveal the enormous scale of this surveillance program. According to the minutes of TRAC board meetings we obtained, the database of people's money transfer records grew from 75 million records from 14 money service businesses in 2017 to 145 million records from 28 different companies in 2021. By 2021, 12,000 individuals from 600 law enforcement agencies had been provided with direct log-in access to the database. By May 2022, over 700 law enforcement entities had or still have access to the TRAC database, ranging from a sheriff's office in a small Idaho county, to the Los Angeles and New York police departments, to federal law enforcement agencies and military police units.
As Freed Wessler told The Wall Street Journal, which exclusively reported on the materials, "Ordinary people's private financial records are being siphoned indiscriminately into a massive database, with access given to virtually any cop who wants it."
The Journal also spoke with TRAC director Rich Lebel, who "said the program has directly resulted in hundreds of leads and busts involving drug cartels and other criminals seeking to launder money," and "because money services companies don't have the same know-your-customer rules as banks, bulk data needs to be captured to discern patterns of fraud and money laundering."
According to the newspaper:
Mr. Lebel said TRAC has never identified a case in which a law enforcement official has accessed data improperly or the database has been breached by outsiders. The program has seen an increase in use in recent years because of the surging opioid crisis in the U.S., he said.
Law-enforcement agencies use TRAC's data to establish patterns in the flow of funds suspected of being linked to criminal activity, Mr. Lebel said, and the more comprehensive the data, the better the analysis. TRAC manages data that law enforcement provides, he said, and what it is receiving and storing is often in flux.
While declining to discuss TRAC's funding, Mr. Lebel said the nonprofit was originally stood up with money from the Western Union settlement that has since been exhausted. Mr. Wyden and others have said TRAC is federally funded.
Wyden wrote in his letter to Horowitz that "this unorthodox arrangement between state law enforcement, DHS, and DOJ agencies to collect bulk money transfer data raises a number of concerns about surveillance disproportionately affecting low-income, minority, and immigrant communities."
"Members of these communities are more likely to use money transfer services because they are more likely to be unbanked, and therefore unable to send money using electronic checking or international bank wire transfers, which are often cheaper," he explained. "Moreover, money transfer businesses are not subject to the same protections as bank-based transactions under the Right to Financial Privacy Act."
The senator's office said Wednesday that he "is working on legislation to close legal loopholes and ensure people who use money transfer services have the same privacy as those who use banks or money transfer apps."
Freed Wessler and Walter-Johnson also highlighted that "because members of marginalized communities rely heavily on these services rather than traditional banks, the burden of this government surveillance falls disproportionately on those already most vulnerable to law enforcement overreach."
"The government should not be allowed to abuse subpoenas and sweep up millions of records on a huge number of people without any basis for suspicion," the pair argued. "This financial surveillance program is built on repeated violations of the law and must be shut down."