Given that Tax Day is right around the corner, the Internal Revenue Service's "Where's My Refund?" page predictably lands at the top of the list of sites with the most current visitors. Next is the National Weather Service's forecast by region page.
But one entry on the top 10 list doesn't fit in with Americans' interest in taxes and weather: A petition calling for the removal of Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla that's posted on the White House's We the People site. Its appearance on the list is a testament both to its popularity and just how few people hang out on federal websites.
Whether the Obama Administration could actually remove García Padilla is a complicated question. As a commonwealth, the island and its 4 million residents (most of whom are US citizens) has its own constitution, which includes a provision for impeachment. But the federal government could also theoretically remove the governor under a provision in the US Constitution that says that Congress has the power to "dispose of" laws in US territories.
It's not clear what percentage of the visitors to the anti-García Padilla petition page live in Puerto Rico.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon can't say what happened to more than $500 million worth of gear—including "small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies"—it had given to the Yemeni government. The news comes as Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed groups vie to control the country following the collapse of the country's US-backed regime in January. The Post noted that the Pentagon has stopped further shipments of aid, but the damage has been done. "We have to assume it's completely compromised and gone," an anonymous legislative aide said.
This isn't the first time US military aid to allies has gone AWOL or wound up in the wrong hands. A few notable examples:
Libya: In late 2012, the New York Times reported that weapons from a US-approved deal had eventually gone to Islamic militants in Libya. The deal, which involved European weapons sent to Qatar as well as US weapons originally supplied to the United Arab Emirates, had been managed from the sidelines by the Obama administration.
Syria: More than once, American arms intended to help bolster the fight against ISIS in Syria and northern Iraq have ended up in the group's control. Last October, an airdrop of small arms was blown off target by the wind, according to the Guardian. ISIS quickly posted a video of its fighters going through crates of weapons attached to a parachute.
Iraq: American weapons supplied to the Iraqi army have also found their way ISIS via theft and capture. And weapons meant for the Iraqi army have also gone to Shiite militias backed by Iran. This isn't a new problem: As much as 30 percent of the weapons the United States distributed to Iraqi forces between 2004 and early 2007 could not be accounted for.
An F-35 Lightning II at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida
Originally slated to cost $233 billion, the Pentagon's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program could end up being costing more than $1.5 trillion. Which might not be so bad if the super-sophisticated next-generation jet fighter lives up to its hype. A recent report from the Defense Department's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation paints a pretty damning picture of the plane's already well documented problems. The report makes for some pretty dense reading, but the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group that's long criticized the F-35 program, has boiled down the major issues.
Here are a few:
Teaching to the test: The blizzard of testing required on the plane's equipment and parts isn't exactly going well, so the program's administrators are moving the goal posts. Test scores are improving because the stats are being "massaged" with tricks like not recounting repeated failures. Some required testing is being consolidated, eliminated, or postponed. "As a result," POGO writes, "the squadron will be flying with an uncertified avionics system."
Unsafe at any airspeed? The high-tech stuff that was supposed to make the F-35 among the most advanced war machines ever built pose serious safety risks. For example: The fuel tank system "is at significant risk of catastrophic fire and explosion in combat," according to POGO. The plane isn't adequately protected against lightning strikes (in the air or on the ground); it's currently prohibited from flying within 25 miles of thunderstorms. That's a major problem for a plane training program based in the Florida panhandle.
Flying blind: The F-35's fancy helmet-mounted display system, which is supposed to show pilots an almost 360-degree view that includes panel controls and threat information, has "high false alarm rates and false target tracks." Its unreliability, combined with the plane's design, make it impossible for pilots to see anything behind or below the cockpit.
Wing drop: The DOD report points out an ongoing problem with "wing drop": When maneuvering at high speeds, the F-35 may drop and roll to one side. This issue has been known to designers for years, and they've tried designing add-on parts to address the problem. The fixes, unfortunately, will "further decreas[e] maneuverability, acceleration, and range," according to POGO.
Engine trouble: For years the F-35s engines have suffered design and performance problems, and these problems have never been fully solved. Last summer these problems resulted in one engine ripping itself apart and destroying one of the planes. At the time, officials said this was a one-time occurrence, but a permanent fix has yet to be determined and the plane may not be airworthy, according to Department of Defense regulations.
Software bugs: The plane's software includes more than 30 million lines of code. Problems with the code are causing navigation system inaccuracies, false alarms from sensors, and false target tracks. The operating system is so cumbersome that it requires the "design and development of a whole new set of…computers."The software glitches also affect the plane's ability to "find targets, detect and survive enemy defenses, deliver weapons accurately, and avoid fratricide."
More cost overruns: Due to all the testing delays, design problems, and maintenance issues, taxpayers could be on the hook for an additional $67 billion to deploy the F-35. That's a lot of money. Even for the US military.
UPDATE, March 12, 10:54 a.m.: In a press conference early Thursday morning, Chief Jon Belmar briefed the media about the conditions of the two wounded officers. Watch below:
Two police officers were shot near a protest outside the Ferguson Police Department on Wednesday night, according to St. Louis police officials. In a press briefing just before 2 a.m. local time Thursday morning, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar confirmed that one officer was wounded in the shoulder, and another officer was shot in the face. Who fired the shots remains unclear. A spokesperson for the St. Louis County Police said the two officers sustained "very serious," but non-life-threatening injuries.
The protests came after Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III announced earlier on Wednesday that Police Chief Thomas Jackson would resign with one year's salary and health insurance.
Jackson resigned a week after the US Department of Justice issued a scathing report about systemic race-based problems within the Ferguson, Missouri, police department and court system. This comes the day after City Manager John Shaw resigned. Both will receive a year's salary as severance ($96,000 for Jackson, $120,000 for Shaw), and a year's worth of health insurance—a fact that was met with outrage both in Ferguson and on social media.
Chief Jackson gets a year of severance pay? Who gets a year of severance when resigning in disgrace? Even CEOs don't manage that? WTF?
Municipal Judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer also resigned in the wake of the DOJ's report, which accused the city administration of using police ticketing and court fines, imposed on the city's largely African American population, as a means to raise money for the city budget. That context set the stage for violent police crackdowns in the city last August as people protested in the wake of Officer Darren Wilson shooting and killing Michael Brown. Wilson wasn't indicted by a local grand jury, and the DOJ announced last week that it wouldn't bring federal civil rights charges against him either. Many in the city want others to resign as well, including Knowles and the city council.
The DOJ's report highlighted the glaringly disproportionate police ticketing of the city's black population, and highlighted several racist emails sent by city and police administration officials. Two officers involved with the emails resigned last week, and the city's top court clerk was fired.
The Department of Justice issued a statement shortly after Jackson's press conference saying that it will continue working for a court-enforceable agreement to reform the city and police department's "unconstitutional practices in a comprehensive manner."
Protesters gathered at the city's police department headquarters Wednesday night after the announcement, with police arresting at least one man and some accusing the police of provoking confrontations.
Police in riot gear on Nov. 29, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri.
The US Department of Justice may have passed on filing federal charges against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after he shot and killed Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb last summer, but the department isn't letting the city's police force totally off the hook. According to the New York Times, the DOJ is about to release a report that accuses the Ferguson Police Department—and the city itself—of systemically mistreating the community's African American population with discriminatory traffic stops; disproportionate ticketing, arrests, and court fines; and physical abuse at the hands of police officers.
According to the Times' Matt Apuzzo, the DOJ will recommend a series of changes at the department. If the city doesn't agree, the DOJ could sue to force reforms. The DOJ has court-backed agreements with nearly two dozen police departments around the country (including the island-wide force in Puerto Rico), and is fighting four other departments in court over proposed changes.
If the Times is right, the report will bolster and likely add to information that has been documented in the past by activists, advocates, and at least one state-level agency in Missouri. As Mother Jones reported in September 2014, fines and court fees are Ferguson's second-larges revenue source, and warrants were issued in 2013 at a rate of three per household (25,000 in a city of 21,000 people).
Another Mother Jones report—based off findings from the Missouri Attorney General's office—noted that in 2013 in Ferguson, 86 percent of traffic stops and 92 percent of searches of individuals involved African American. That's in a city that's around 60% black (and one that had, at the time of Brown's death, just three black police officers). Despite the cops' focus on Ferguson's black residents, just one in five black people police searched were found to be carrying contraband. For white people, that number was one in three.