Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Jamie Dimon, Billionaire

The ancient Athenian philosopher Anacharsis is said to have once noted that laws are no different than a spider's web in that "They'll restrain anyone weak and insignificant who gets caught in them, but they'll be torn to shreds by people with power and wealth." It would be difficult to provide a stronger example proving Anacharsis' thesis regarding the dynamic between law and wealth than the example of JPMorgan and its CEO, Jamie Dimon. Such an example is particularly worth noting now that Mr. Dimon has reportedly breached the great elite wealth barrier of our time and become a billionaire. 

Under Dimon's leadership - he was and is chairman, president and CEO - JPMorgan Chase went on one of the most successful corporate crime sprees in the history of American business raking in billions of revenue from clients and US taxpayers alike. The amount of wealth snatched by Dimon's JPMorgan was almost as impressive as the firm's ability to evade substantive legal recourse from the Department of Justice over and over again.

The litany of known offenses committed under the reign of Jamie Dimon is simply breathtaking. In many cases JPMorgan went so far as to pay large fines but did not outright admit wrongdoing:
  • JPMorgan paid out a $13 billion settlement for fraudulent activities in the mortgage securities market that led to the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis and resulting recession hollowed out the wealth of the American middle class and threw millions out of work.
  • $500 million settlement for role JPMorgan-acquired Bear Stearns played in the mortgage market.
  • The bank paid out over $600 million to settle charges of manipulating currency markets in collusion with other banks and made a mostly symbolic criminal guilty plea. 
  • Not only did JPMorgan cause the housing crisis, it fraudulently foreclosed on homeowners with faulty paperwork during the crisis and paid $50 million to settle those charges.
  • While JPMorgan lobbyists flooded Washington DC to stop regulations that would attempt to prevent reckless trading - a trader in JPMorgan's London office known as the "London Whale" was busy recklessly trading and violating securities laws charges for which JPMorgan paid over $900 million to settle.
  • A cartel of banks including JPMorgan were involved in rigging an international interest rate known as the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) which has already led to JPMorgan paying over $100 million in fines.
It was a hell of a run and is far from over as JPMorgan could be facing charges related to political corruption in China where the megabank is suspected of hiring children of the Chinese Communist Party elite in order to curry favor with the Chinese government. Bribery almost seems quaint compared to the other crimes JPMorgan has been engaging in on Jamie Dimon's watch.

The fines, settlements, and guilty plea have been mostly irrelevant to JPMorgan's bottom line. In fact, once a settlement is announced JPMorgan's stock has generally gone up as investors are usually pleased with how much loot JPMorgan was able to ultimately keep from its criminal activities.

Not surprisingly, Dimon's JPMorgan had many enablers including former lead officials at the Justice Department - Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer - that were knee-deep in conflicts of interest related to the housing crisis. Breuer, the head of the Department of Justice's Criminal Division during part of JPMorgan's crime spree, essentially admitted in an interview with Frontline that he was more concerned with the economic consequences of bringing criminal prosecutions against the Wall Street banks than trying to deter the banks from committing future crimes.

The light touch policy at the Justice Department corresponded with unprecedented subsidies and support going to JPMorgan and other banks from Congress in the form of bailout funds known as the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) as well as loans - overt and secret - from the Federal Reserve. Dimon's JPMorgan was apparently both Too Big To Fail and Too Big To Jail which makes his new status as a billionaire seem practically inevitable upon reflection. How could Jamie Dimon not become a billionaire under such conditions? Couldn't anyone?

Anacharsis' comparison of the law with spider webs reportedly came during a discussion with another Athenian philosopher and jurist, Solon. It was Solon who said "Wealth I desire to have; but wrongfully to get it, I do not wish. Justice, even if slow, is sure." Decide which assessment of how law and wealth work you agree with after pondering the fortunes of Jamie Dimon, billionaire.

Monday, May 11, 2015

DNI Clapper's Lawyer Claiming Clapper Lied To Congress Because He 'Forgot' About NSA Program

From the Department of you can't be serious. The top lawyer for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is making a novel argument as to why Clapper did not technically commit perjury despite saying something he knew to be untrue while testifying under oath before Congress - Clapper somehow "forgot" about a massive and highly controversial secret spying program he oversees. 

Yes, you read that right. The general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Robert Litt, is trying to get his boss out of trouble by claiming that the DNI had some kind of epic brain fart while testifying before Congress. Litt's explanation is that Clapper "mistakenly" thought he was not running a global dragnet program that was vacuuming up private data from American citizens without a warrant when asked by Senator Wyden in a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee if he was doing just that.

Seriously, this is the current explanation.
Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper wasn’t lying when he wrongly told Congress in 2013 that the government does not “wittingly” collect information about millions of Americans, according to his top lawyer. He just forgot. 
“This was not an untruth or a falsehood. This was just a mistake on his part,” Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said during a panel discussion hosted by the Advisory Committee on Transparency on Friday. “We all make mistakes.”
Slow clap for Clapper and his intrepid legal team. But just when you thought it could not get any more absurd you remember that Clapper had a completely different explanation for why he lied to Congress just after the Snowden leaks came out. Clapper's first explanation for lying was not that he made a mistake but that he had strategically looked for the "least untruthful" answer to give without damaging intelligence operations.

So did he forget or did he lie to Congress under oath for what he believed was a good cause?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Obama And Clinton Endorse USA Freedom Act After Court Ruling

In the aftermath of yesterday's court ruling and the looming June 1st deadline to reauthorize the section of the PATRIOT Act the court ruled illegal, the Democratic Party establishment appears to have shifted somewhat on domestic spying. President Barack Obama, through a White House spokesman, has said he supports the USA Freedom Act - which would reform the phone collection program.

Hillary Clinton also endorsed the NSA reform bill tweeting: "Congress should move ahead now with the USA Freedom Act—a good step forward in ongoing efforts to protect our security & civil liberties."

One of the USA Freedom Act's biggest promoters is Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner who helped author the PATRIOT Act. Sensenbrenner has been adamant post-Snowden that the NSA was never given the powers it was using under the bill he helped write. After the court decision Sensenbrenner reaffirmed his view saying that Congress never intended Section 215 to authorize bulk collection of phone records and that "This program is illegal and based on a blatant misinterpretation of the law. It's time for Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act in order to protect both civil liberties and national security with legally authorized surveillance."

But the USA Freedom Act is by no means fundamental reform. While the bill would reform NSA's bulk collection practices domestically it would leave in place the massive spying apparatus along with the unrestricted information warfare overseas that will inevitably lead to the agency vacuuming up US citizen's data.

The truth likely is that as long as the US maintains its national security state mentality and massively funds permanent agencies of war like the NSA there will always be these kind of abuses. Ultimately, the greatest impact from the Snowden disclosures may be the public being more vigilant with their private information and more skeptical of the state's claims regarding power.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bernie Sanders Hits Obama For Promoting TPP At Nike Headquarters

Independent US Senator and Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took President Obama to task for shilling for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the headquarters of Nike, Inc and told him to cancel his trip as a sign that Obama genuinely cares about workers. Senator Sanders noted in a letter he sent to the president that Nike has outsourced production of its shoes to countries like Vietnam and paid workers 56 cents an hour to produce goods sold in the United States for hundreds of dollars.

The letter also highlights the need for manufacturing jobs like the ones Nike has shipped to Asia to be located in the US with Sanders writing "While manufacturing may not be the most glamorous job, I'm sure that there are workers across America, from Baltimore to Los Angeles to Vermont to Ferguson, who would be more than happy to be paid $15-$20 an hour to manufacture the Nike products they buy."

The tactics used by the Obama Administration to sell TPP to Congress and the American people mirror those used by the Clinton Administration to sell NAFTA - a trade deal that cost jobs and did nothing to improve labor and environmental standards. In the final analysis, NAFTA was a net negative for the country despite all the promises.

Now the Obama Administration and corporate lobbyists are trying to sell NAFTA on steroids as some kind of job and economic stimulus package despite economists detailing that TPP is unlikely to create much growth, if any. The deal has been literally written by transnational corporations for transnational corporations who have zero loyalty to the US, workers, or the environment.

While this deal may be popular with President Obama's former employer, Business International, it is a complete loser for the average American who will not only not see gains from this "trade" deal. In fact, this deal not only offers the 99% nothing but more job losses, it removes sovereign power from the United States and hands it to corporate tribunals. Power that - as Hillary Clinton once noted - is used by corporations like Phillip Morris to subvert public health laws.

So far, Senator Sanders remains the only person running in the Democratic presidential primary to openly oppose TPP.

NSA Metadata Program Revealed By Edward Snowden Ruled Illegal

The Second District US Court of Appeals has ruled that the NSA's bulk collection phone records program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized.” The appellate court decision overturns a lower court ruling that upheld the bulk collection program as necessary and legal. The ruling leaves it up to Congress to decide a new "landscape" for the law and noted the likelihood that the Supreme Court would have to weigh in on the constitutionality of the program.

The bulk collection phone records program was revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and is authorized - according to the government - under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. The court ruled on statutory not constitutional grounds leaving the more fundamental question over Fourth Amendment concerns ultimately to the Supreme Court.

Congress is set to debate reauthorizing Section 215 later this month as its authority expires on June 1st.
The bulk collection of Americans' phone records by the government exceeds what Congress has allowed, a federal appeals court said Thursday as it asked Congress to step in and decide how best to protect national security and privacy interests. A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan permitted the National Security Agency program to continue temporarily as it exists, and all but pleaded for Congress to better define where the boundaries exist. 
"In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape," the opinion written by Circuit Judge Gerald Lynch said."If Congress decides to authorize the collection of the data desired by the government under conditions identical to those now in place, the program will continue in the future under that authorization," the ruling said. "If Congress decides to institute a substantially modified program, the constitutional issues will certainly differ considerably from those currently raised."
Many members of Congress who voted for the PATRIOT Act claimed ignorance after the Snowden revelations, that they never knew Section 215 would be/was being used in such an expansive way. Now the court has called their bluff and demanded Congress - fully informed thanks to Snowden - decide how far they want state surveillance powers to legally go.

The ruling also sets the stage for the Supreme Court to make a major ruling on domestic spying powers which is far from easy to predict given the variety of views both liberal and conservative justices have shown on Fourth Amendment issues.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fed Chair Yellen Met With Firm Involved In Fed Leak Case

The Department of Justice has now opened a criminal investigation into the leaking of information about a Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMA) meeting. Details of the meeting were disclosed without authorization by a financial consulting firm, Medley Global Advisors, and have led to questions about whether members of the Fed may have made unauthorized disclosures.

Federal Chairwoman Janet Yellen wrote a letter to two members of Congress acknowledging the investigation and noted she had a meeting with Medley Global Advisors. Yellen said that meeting was not relevant to the leak investigation as it occurred during a different time and period and she would never divulge confidential information.

The information contained within a FOMC can be very lucrative for traders given that the decisions made at FOMC meetings undeniably move markets. Knowing about that confidential inside information before it is announced could lead to millions if not tens of millions of dollars in gains for Wall Street speculators.
Ms. Yellen said her own name was among those on the list of Fed officials who had contact with Medley Global Advisors, a firm that sells analysis and reporting to investors. Medley issued a report in October 2012 containing detailed information about the prior meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, or F.O.M.C., in September. Ms. Yellen said, however, that her meeting took place in June. 
“Nothing Medley Global Advisors reported in October about the events of the September 2012 F.O.M.C. meeting could have been conveyed in June, and let me assure you that, in any case, I did not convey any confidential information,” she wrote in the letter, which was posted on the Fed’s website Monday evening.
Of course, if Yellen did not convey any confidential information - what was the point of the meeting? Medley can read public statements just fine, the firm makes its money by providing its clients with information they can not get elsewhere.

The Fed FOMC leak case comes just a short time after the New York Federal Reserve was involved in the leaking of confidential information to Goldman Sachs. The head of the New York Fed, William Dudley, is the former Chief Economist of Goldman Sachs. The incestuous nature of Wall Street and its "regulators" has proven to be problematic again and again - it will be interesting to see how far DOJ takes this case.

#BlackLivesMatter: Ethiopian Jews Take To Streets In Israel To Protest Discrimination, Police Brutality

Israel continues to be rocked by protests by Ethiopian Israelis claiming to be facing discrimination in the country due to being black. Protesters and police clashed as protesters blocked roadways and surrounded government buildings leading to multiple arrests and injuries. The protests have drawn international attention to an issue long bubbling beneath the surface of Israeli society.

Ethiopian Israelis, though Jewish, encounter widespread discrimination and police harassment and brutality in Israel due to their racial background according to the protesters. The protests appear to have been influenced by the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and come on the heels of the Baltimore riots.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried the "lawlessness" of the protesters other figures from serving in Israel's national government conceded demonstrators had a valid point even if they disagreed with the confrontational tactics.
Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said on Sunday evening that the police will bring to justice anyone who hurt civilians and policemen, adding that the rally "was not a legitimate protest in a democratic state" and blaming a handful of agitators for harming the Israeli Ethiopians' struggle. He added that "most of the claims made by Ethiopian Israelis are not police-related at all. There is a deeper problem here of their assimilation. I do take responsibility and I think we have a problem with some of the cases mentioned, and we will handle it." 
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitz said that "some of the complaints against the police were justified. There were events that need to be examined, and the police also has to check itself. All government and municipal offices need to provide a comprehensive solution."
Organizers of the protest, while expressing solidarity with black protesters in the United States, claim the disorder and violence that resulted from the protest was completely the result of the police with one protester telling Haaretz "The police documented every moment of the demonstration and I want to see the documentation, whether we really started the violence as the police claim. We marched in the streets and they fired stun grenades at us."

Whether the protests will lead to any immediate change is difficult to say, but the issue can no longer be ignored.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Secrecy Around TPP Causing Problems For Obama In Congress

The Most Transparent Administration In History is running into problems in Congress promoting fast track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) thanks, in part, to the secrecy around the trade deal. Member of Congress are reportedly uneasy about the lack of transparency and discussion around a trade agreement that will have a major impact on the American economy and government.

Given what has already been leaked about the deal, it is becoming increasingly obvious why President Obama needs fast-track authority - the deal will include all sorts of terrible provisions and he will want to force members of Congress to vote on the entire bill up or down without amendments.

Members of Congress will undoubtedly face a lobbying campaign both by President Obama and multinational corporate interests to vote yes when the time comes - there will be no substantive "debate" on the bill just loud cries about trade in aggregate being important.
If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you’ve got to be a member of Congress, and you’ve got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door. If you’re a member who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving. And no matter what, you can’t discuss the details of what you’ve read. 
“It’s like being in kindergarten,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who’s become the leader of the opposition to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda. “You give back the toys at the end.”
One of the most important agreements in recent years and member of Congress can not even discuss it with the public? Since when does the White House get to classify a trade agreement anyway? This is not a matter of national security, people won't get killed.

In truth, TPP is exactly the kind of legally binding deal that needs to be publicly scrutinized before Congress throws away its power to make amendments. And if the deal is so good why won't Obama let the public see it?

ISIS Claims Responsibility For Shooting In Texas

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a shooting that occurred in Garland, Texas on Sunday outside a Prophet Mohammad Cartoon contest. Two shooters, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, opened fire on a security guard at the event and were both killed by police.

The claim of responsibility includes a warning from that there will be more attacks "We say to the defenders of the cross, the U.S., that future attacks are going to be harsher and worse. The Islamic State soldiers will inflict harm on you with the grace of God. The future is just around the corner." ISIS also referred to Simpson and Soofi as "Al Khilafa" or ISIS soldiers.

How connected to ISIS Simpson and Soofi were remains unclear. While the pair may have seen themselves as part of ISIS there is reportedly little evidence they were directly connected to the group and ISIS may have seen an opportunity after the fact.

One of the shooters, Elton Simpson, had already been under government surveillance for years starting in 2006. Simpson was even convicted in 2011 of lying to the FBI about discussions he had with an FBI informant about traveling to Somalia to wage jihad. Like the Tsarnaev brothers, the government was completely aware of the threat without the need for a surveillance dragnet.

The event the shooting took place at an event organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization led by Pamela Gellar. Drawing pictures of Mohammad is offensive to many Muslims and Gellar has continuously campaigned against what she believes is the "Islamization" of America.

Monday, May 4, 2015

FEC Chairwoman: FEC Unable To Regulate Money In Politics

It's official, the FEC is a failed government agency. That view, long held by observers of American elections, has now been openly confirmed by the leader of the agency itself. FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel told the New York Times that the FEC is unable to substantively enforce election laws which means the agency is effectively worthless.

This situation is mostly be design, the FEC is split 3-3 between Republicans and Democrats and neither side has an interest in regulating money in politics generally, nor their particular constituencies especially. Throw in new court rulings such as Citizens United and it becomes less clear what the laws the FEC is charged with enforcing even mean.

That dynamic ensures regulatory failure, something the current FEC chairwoman appears to know all too well.
"The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim,” Ann M. Ravel, the chairwoman, said in an interview. “I never want to give up, but I’m not under any illusions. People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.” Her unusually frank assessment reflects a worsening stalemate among the agency’s six commissioners. They are perpetually locked in 3-to-3 ties along party lines on key votes because of a fundamental disagreement over the mandate of the commission, which was created 40 years ago in response to the political corruption of Watergate... 
The F.E.C.’s paralysis comes at a particularly critical time because of the sea change brought about by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2010 in the Citizens United case, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds in support of political candidates. Billionaire donors and “super PACs” are already gaining an outsize role in the 2016 campaign, and the lines have become increasingly stretched and blurred over what presidential candidates and political groups are allowed to do..."The few rules that are left, people feel free to ignore,” said Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democratic commissioner.
So here we are, a country with no real restrictions on money in politics. America has solved its bribery problem by legalizing bribery. Perhaps this is why bringing corruption charges is left to the FBI and the minute charges are dropped people scream politics and cite numerous examples of the same behavior by other public officials who aren't being charged with anything.

In any case, having a political system driven first and foremost by money predestines a plutocracy. It would actually be odd if academics studying American politics and government came to some other conclusion. The republic has fallen, now we vote as increasingly minor shareholders for who will serve on America's board of directors and manage state assets on behalf of the 1%. Good times.

Saudi Arabia Committing War Crimes In Yemen With US Weapons

A new report by Human Rights Watch published on Sunday claims that Saudi Arabia has been using near-universally banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States in airstrikes in Yemen. Cluster bombs are notoriously dangerous to civilians and 116 countries signed a treaty in 2008 banning them from use on the battlefield - Saudi Arabia and the United States are not signatories to the agreement.

Just as problematic is the Saudis nonchalant use of US cluster and other munitions on civilian targets such as hospitals leading to the civilian death toll already exceeding 500 including over 115 children. The Saudis blatant disregard for civilian casualties has been met with silence from the Obama Administration even as the killings are carried out with US made and supplied weapons.

While the Saudis are carrying out their killings with US weapons such as cluster bombs to target the Houthis rebels in Yemen the Obama Administration is busy condemning the use of barrel bombs on rebels in civilian areas in Syria - what exactly is the standard again?
Photographs, video, and other evidence have emerged since mid-April 2015 indicating that cluster munitions have been used during recent weeks in coalition airstrikes in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate, the traditional Houthi stronghold bordering Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch has established through analysis of satellite imagery that the weapons appeared to land on a cultivated plateau, within 600 meters of several dozen buildings in four to six village clusters. 
“Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members – and the supplier, the US – are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians.
The US has its own troubling history using barrel bombs, perhaps most notably in the Vietnam war. US forces use barrel bombs to try and start fires in the jungles of Vietnam and used cluster munitions in covert wars in Laos and Cambodia - munitions still endangering civilians to this day.

Given the course of events and the contradictory public positions the reality appears to be that the US only has a problem with war crimes if the country is not allied with the US. That's not a revelation by any measure but seeing how obvious that truth is becoming perhaps its time for the White House to dial down the "humanitarian" rhetoric. It just looks silly.

Friday, May 1, 2015

FBI's Demand For Backdoors Met With Skepticism In Congress

On Wednesday an FBI official testified before the House Committee On Government Oversight in favor of its proposal to force technology companies to create backdoors for law enforcement to enter computer systems. But the hearing, if anything, proved how unfeasible the proposal was with security experts and members of Congress highlighting that there was no way to create back doors that only the FBI could go through - once a backdoor is created anyone can enter it including bad actors.

Experts testified that the only way to do what the FBI was requesting was to weaken security infrastructure which would make Americans more vulnerable to cyberattacks and make the US tech industry less competitive around the world as fewer countries would want to import products designed to be easily broken into.

Perhaps least impressed with the FBI's argument was Congressman Ted Lieu who slammed the proposal saying: “I do agree with law enforcement that we live in a dangerous world. That’s why our founders put the Fourth Amendment in the Constitution of the United States - because they understood that an Orwellian, overreaching federal government is one of the most dangerous things in the world." Lieu noted that Apple and Google were increasing encryption and security due to privacy concerns by the public in reaction to "government overreach," and that all the government had to do was "follow the damn Constitution."

Lieu echoed a sentiment by other members of Congress and experts on the panel that public distrust of law enforcement was a result of NSA actions that violated the public's rights and even suggested the FBI blame the NSA for the lack of positive reception to its proposal.

No one who testified, not even the FBI witness, believed it was possible to create a backdoor that only law enforcement could access which means the trade off is really between weak cybersecurity that the law enforcement and criminals can easily break through and strong cybersecurity where neither can with ease.

Report: American Psychological Association Secretly Worked With Bush Administration On Torture Program

A new report from progressive psychologists cites the American Psychological Association (APA) as secretly helping the George W. Bush Administration to continue its torture program often referred to officially by the government as its program for "enhanced interrogation." Officials at the APA reportedly even worked with the CIA directly and were kept in the loop on work CIA contractors were doing regarding the torture program.

Members of the APA met with Bush Administration officials in the summer of 2004 after which the APA continue to hold that it was acceptable for its members to be involved in the torture program. The APA is the largest professional organization for psychologists in the United States, if the APA had ruled it was unacceptable for its members to participate in the torture program the Bush Administration would have had a difficult time finding psychologists to help interrogators torture prisoners.

The willingness of the APA to collaborate may be the reason psychologists were often given contract work to monitor interrogations over psychiatrists or other health workers.
To emphasize their argument that the association grew too close to the interrogation program, the critics’ new report cites a 2003 email from a senior psychologist at the C.I.A. to a senior official at the psychological association. In the email, the C.I.A. psychologist appears to be confiding in the association official about the work of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the private contractors who developed and helped run the enhanced interrogation program at the C.I.A.’s secret prisons around the world. 
In the email, written years before the involvement of the two contractors in the interrogation program was made public, the C.I.A. psychologist explains to the association official that the contractors “are doing special things to special people in special places.”
But progressive psychologists are not the only ones looking into the behavior of the APA's involvement with the torture program. Last fall the APA's own board ordered a review of the association's collaboration with the program which is currently ongoing.

Regardless of what the APA review finds it appears unlikely that anyone will be sanctioned for their conduct. The only good that could come out of the review is to implement more specific and binding guidelines for future involvement in torture. Then again, the cognitive dissonance already displayed by the APA might make any rules moot.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Former Christie Official and Ally Set To Plead Guilty For Role In Bridgegate

The first shoe is set to drop in the Bridgegate saga as former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein will reportedly plead guilty in court today for his role in orchestrating illegal lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. Wildstein has known New Jersey Governor Chris Christie since childhood and they attended the same high school. Wildstein also played a crucial role in Christie's rise to power and left his position leading one of New Jersey's political blogs to work for the Christie Administration.

The timing of Wildstein's guilty plea is raising eyebrows as rumors of further indictments have circulated throughout Trenton and beyond. Wildstein's agreement to plead guilty likely indicates a collaboration withe the US Attorney's office - something Wildstein was angling for early one in the process.

Which raises an important question - who did Wildstein give up to get his deal?

Though Governor Christie has said he does not think the case has much to do with him, prosecutors may disagree. Wildstein previously, through his attorney, claimed to have evidence that linked Christie to the illegal lane closures. Whatever Wildstein had has likely been turned over to the US Attorney's office as part of any deal.

There are also other figures involved in the Bridgegate affair that may be of interest to prosecutors vis a vis public corruption charges. Both former New Jersey Attorney General David Samson and former State Senator Bill Baroni resigned from the Port Authority in the aftermath of the scandal.

Former Port Authority Deputy Director Baroni falsely testified before a state assembly committee that the lane closures were part of a "traffic study," that was latter proved to have never existed. Former Port Authority Chairman David Samson was revealed to have been using his office to advance the interests of his law firm Wolff Samson and receiving special flights from United Airlines during consideration of the airline's proposal that required Port Authority resources.

Wildstein has given every appearance that he was willing to do anything to avoid prison time which may mean the better question is who didn't he give up?

Bernie Sanders Announces He Is Running For President In Democratic Primary

Independent US Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders has formally announced that he is running for president in the Democratic Party primary. The issues Sanders plans to run on should surprise no one - fixing an economic and political system rigged for and by plutocrats. Those are issues Senator Sanders has spent his entire career trying to ameliorate.

Though an independent, Senator Sanders caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate and has a voting record that is likely to sit well with many Democratic Party voters. Though Sanders says he has never run a negative ad and has no plans to in the 2016 race, he was willing to note to the Associated Press the clear distinctions between himself and Hillary Clinton.

While Hillary Clinton backed imperialism in the Senate and as Secretary of State, Senator Sanders opposed military adventurism in the Middle East. And while Clinton is sucking up to multinational corporations, Sanders is offering sincere opposition to money in politics.
The 73-year-old Sanders starts his campaign as an undisputed underdog against Clinton. Sanders said he has known the former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state for more than two decades. "I respect her and like her," he said. He noted he has "never run a negative ad in my life," but still drew a distinction with Clinton in the interview, promising to talk "very strongly about the need not to get involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East." "I voted against the war in Iraq," he said. "Secretary Clinton voted for it when she was in the Senate." 
Clinton is hosting a series of fundraisers this week, starting what could be an effort that raises more than $1 billion. Sanders said he will make money and politics a central theme of his campaign, including a call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which he blames for unleashing a torrent of money from wealthy donors into politics."What you're looking at here is a real disgrace," he said. "It is an undermining of American democracy.
Despite a solid voting record on progressive issues Senator Sanders will have a hard climb to the nomination. Hillary Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination even with recent scandals.  The silver lining some offer is that Sanders may drive Clinton to the left - don't bet on it.

Clinton is no mystery and though there may be opportunities through social movements to scare a President Hillary Clinton into making concessions, her heart belongs to Wall Street and the corporate technocrats of DC and Davos.

So on the plus side, no surprises if she is elected - a widening wealth gap and the encroaching police state necessary to protect it. Are you Ready for Hillary?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Clinton Foundation Took Money From Firms Lobbying Hillary Clinton State Department, Paying Bill Clinton

Last Sunday the acting CEO of the Clinton Foundation, Maura Pally, posted a statement on the Clinton Foundation's blog that the organization was "committed to transparency," and was planning on refiling tax forms "for some years," after recent reports showed they were inaccurate. Unfortunately for Pally, more stories have come out since Sunday of how the Clinton Foundation operated - none of which paint a pretty picture.

More problematic than non-disclosure of donors is what those that donated received or may have been looking to receive in return. One estimate notes that at least 181 companies, individuals, and foreign governments gave money to the Clinton Foundation while lobbying the State Department when Hillary Clinton was in charge. Not all of which were disclosed despite an agreement between Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration to disclose them.

Perhaps more troubling is that Hillary Clinton's State Department reportedly gave out roughly $40 million in government contracts to firms that were lobbying her and paying money to former President Bill Clinton.
Under US corruption laws there has to be a clear quid pro quo which Hillary Clinton appears to have gotten awful close to.
Many of the companies that paid Bill Clinton for these speeches -- a roster of global giants that includes Microsoft, Oracle and Dell -- engaged him within the same three-month period in which they were also lobbying the State Department in pursuit of their policy aims, federal disclosure documents show. Several companies received millions of dollars in State Department contracts while Hillary Clinton led the institution. 
The disclosure that President Clinton received personal payments for speeches from the same corporate interests that were actively seeking to secure favorable policies from a federal department overseen by his wife underscores the vexing issue now confronting her presidential aspirations: The Clinton family is at the center of public suspicions over the extent of insider dealing in Washington, emblematic of concerns that corporate interests are able to influence government action by creatively funneling money to people in power.
You can say that again. In fact, that is surely one of the reasons these stories have caught on - they confirm something true about the Clintons even if they have not provided - as of yet - a smoking gun. The stories confirm the fear many have that a second Clinton Administration will be much like the first - an executive branch run by an incestuous elite of government and corporate bureaucrats that focuses entirely on their own interests while in power.

The experiment has been run and it gave us the crash of 2008 and record inequality and dampening opportunities. Should we do the same thing again and expect different results?

Obama Laments Poverty In Baltimore, Pushes TPP

In a surreal moment at Tuesday's joint-press conference, President Barack Obama addressed the unrest in Baltimore by lamenting the effects of poverty in America's inner cities which was then immediately followed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pronouncing his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement destined to exacerbate poverty in America.

President Obama noted that the problem of poverty had to be an integral part of any discussion about the situation in Baltimore and that creating economic opportunities was part of the solution. Obama even went on to cite the destruction of America's manufacturing base as one of the culprits for stagnation and despair.

All this while pushing TPP:
And without making any excuses for criminal activities that take place in these communities, what we also know is that if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty; they’ve got parents — often because of substance-abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education themselves — can’t do right by their kids; if it’s more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead, than they go to college. 
In communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men; communities where there’s no investment, and manufacturing has been stripped away; and drugs have flooded the community, and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a whole lot of folks — in those environments, if we think that we’re just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not going to solve this problem. And we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets, and everybody will feign concern until it goes away, and then we go about our business as usual.
All solid points which make the TPP support even more unusual given that economists have said it will do little to nothing to create new jobs while allowing corporations greater power to outsource existing jobs later. TPP will lead to the NAFTA scenario of companies shifting manufacturing to countries out of the country, what one prophetic commentator once called a "giant sucking sound."

President Obama's lamentations on poverty might be taken more seriously if he was not actively working to impoverish more Americans. Obama has defended TPP as "the most progressive trade deal in history" and, much like the White House's "most transparent administration in history" claim, it sets a low bar and fails to meet it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Japan And US Strike Major Military Agreement

In the decades after World War II the nation of Japan has maintained a small military and abided by laws designed to restrain militarism. Though that restraint was initially imposed by the US in the aftermath of World War II the people of Japan seemed to be at ease with no longer being a military power or being involved militarily in events around the world.

But an agreement signed on Monday will change all that.

Under the new agreement with the United States, Japan will no longer be restrained from taking a role in military operations around the world, in fact, the country will be encouraged to as it partners with the US in military research and training. Japan will also, per the agreement, strengthen its intelligence relationship with the US.
Japan will be able to defend regional allies that come under attack, a change that means Japanese missile defense systems could be used to intercept any weapons launched toward the United States — notable, given its close proximity to North Korea, which the official later described as a "growing threat" to regional stability. In addition, expect to see increased Japanese presence around the globe on peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, and potentially also on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations. 
The guidelines will also lead to the establishment of a standing "alliance coordination mechanism," made up of Japanese and US officials from the defense and foreign relations sides. That body will provide a streamlined way of organizing and controlling US-Japan operations, something that has hindered the military relationship in the past.
Though North Korea is the nation highlighted as part of the impetus for the agreement, a country just as much (if not more so) on the mind of those crafting the agreement is China. Japan and China have already been feuding over disputed islands and China's rise in East Asia is making US imperial officials nervous

China will almost certainly view the new military agreement between the US and Japan as a threat and a further attempt to restrain its own rise. The "pivot to Asia" strategy the US is pursuing is coming increasingly into focus with the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) seeking to limit China's economic opportunities along with this new military agreement with Japan to strengthen US military ties in the region.

Baltimore Burns After Funeral For Freddie Gray

Pent up anger over police conduct boiled over once again in Baltimore on Monday leading to riots across the city. The triggering event appears to be the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who died in police custody after his spine was severed. Gray was never charged with a crime and is believed to have died as a result of being abused by the Baltimore police who still have not offered an explanation for how Gray sustained his fatal injuries.

What started off as peaceful protests against police brutality and the death of Freddie Gray escalated into violent clashes with police and attacks on storefronts which included looting, smashing windows, and setting fires.

The riots shut down the city and led to police injuries and multiple arrests:
Fifteen police officers were injured in a clash with school-age children that began around 3 p.m., and two remain hospitalized, police Col. Darryl DeSousa said in a press conference Monday night. Earlier, police spokesman Capt. Eric Kowalczyk said one officer was unresponsive and others suffered broken bones. Police arrested 27 people, DeSousa said.  
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declared a curfew across the city starting Tuesday and for the next week, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for adults and 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. for children aged 14 and younger. She drew a distinction between peaceful protesters and “thugs” she said engaged in rioting Monday intend on “destroying our city.”
Ultimately, the national guard was called in to police the city. This may have partly occurred to get the Baltimore police out of the way as officers had become the target and have little trust in the community they reportedly serve.

School is closed today and with the curfew in place the mayor is hoping for a more quiet night. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Loretta Lynch Sworn In As Attorney General

Loretta Lynch has sworn in today as the first female African-American Attorney General. Lynch has now officially replaced problematic Attorney General Eric Holder who failed to make one serious criminal case against the Wall Street banks that brought the American economy to its knees in 2008. Holder not only had compelling documentary evidence of criminal fraud but an eye witness whistleblower willing to testify.

Lynch has had her own problems with enforcing the law on Wall Street. Lynch's decision not to prosecute HSBC for laundering money for drug cartels became an issue in her confirmation hearing. Lynch admitted she made the decision without hearing from important regulators and did not know about HSBC's tax evasion schemes.

But Lynch's nomination for Attorney General was not held up because she let a serial offender on Wall Street avoid prosecution, rather her confirmation stalled due to partisan bickering in the Senate. The bickering included dragging in a human trafficking bill vote related to abortion and turning Lynch's conclusion that President Obama's executive orders on immigration were legal into a litmus test for whether she was qualified for office.

Months later, after the issues were resolved, her nomination passed the Senate 56-43 and today she was sworn into office.

What never became a real issue during Lynch's confirmation battle is one that she will face almost immediately upon assuming office - Wall Street. In February then-Attorney General Eric Holder gave Department of Justice prosecutors a 90-day deadline to decide whether to bring cases against those responsible for the 2008 financial crisis. The deadline represents what will likely be the last bite at the apple for justice by the DOJ before the statute of limitations kicks in and Wall Street gets away with some of the greatest financial crimes in recent memory.

If Attorney General Lynch truly wants to leave her mark on history, she should do what her predecessor didn't and bring Wall Street to justice.

News Networks Stay On Journalist Gala Instead Of Covering Unrest In Baltimore

The annual White House Correspondents' Dinner is always an obnoxious event that provides further visual evidence of an out of touch and aloof mainstream media compromising its integrity for access to power, but this year was particularly gross. While so-called journalists were toasting champagne and laughing at inside Beltway jokes a unrest raged in Baltimore over the killing of 25 year-old Freddie Gray who died in police custody. The police responded to the unrest, in part, by locking in 40,000 people watching a baseball game at Camden Yards.

The news networks decided to stay on the dinner and left it to social media to report on the news. One of CNN's talking heads apparently even suggested it was acceptable to not cover the Freddie Gray protests as the public could learn about the event on Twitter. Instead the "news" network would cover a self-congratulatory dinner for people who spend their days rewriting government press releases and endlessly searching for any information fragment about a missing plane.

The failure of the mainstream media to comprehend what is and is not news was so epic and breathtaking that some are wondering aloud whether Saturday's White House Correspondents' Dinner actually marked the end of The News?
To call what happened on Saturday night a slow-motion train wreck would be to attribute too much momentum to the thing -- it was more like a guy slowly walking 500 paces into a brick wall and breaking his nose. It was clear that TV planning for the big event, the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, featuring President Obama, had been in the work for months. Once upon a time, this WHCA dinner (which annually also stars a comedian; last night it was Cecily Strong of SNL) was an okay idea -- schlubby journalists and the officials they cover getting dressed up for one night, drinking a lot of wine, sharing some bawdy jokes and raising a few dollars for scholarships... 
CNN and their rival networks have been known to cut away from regular programming to show planes with stuck landing gear circling a runway, or random police chases of random suspects in a random city. But now a city telling 40,000 people not to leave a baseball game because of social unrest, albeit briefly, wasn't news? Are you kidding me? More important was the broader stakes, that the citizens of a great American city, stripped of its factories and caught between high crime and appalling levels of police brutality, were trying to make a statement, that their lives mattered. But to the Beltway revelers...they just didn't.
Do we really need the mainstream media anyway? It has long been argued that it does more harm than good, but it increasingly seems like it does no good at all.

Perhaps it would be better to let the media conglomerates out of their agreements to provide news programming, then at least people will not be under the false impression that they have been informed about the most important stories of a given day. People might learn there is not any real information in infotainment and understand that if they want to be informed they are going to have to do some thinking and researching for themselves.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Koch Brothers Political Network Expanding To New States, Upgrading Technology

The influence of the Koch Brothers is set to expand even further than the pages of Mother Jones. According to a story in Politico, the political network setup by Charles and David Koch to serve their interests is increasing its reach and technical proficiency. 

The expansion plan is laid out in a memo reviewed by reporter Ken Vogel that details where the network is focusing on and how it plans to be more effective by better utilizing its already impressive data management system. The principal vessel for augmenting the Koch Brothers influence will be Americans For Prosperity (AFP) which will set up new chapters in Alabama, Idaho, North Dakota and Utah.

AFP played a central role in the rise of the so-called "Tea Party" movement and continues to campaign against government regulation of the businesses like Koch Industries.
The plan comes with a $125 million 2015 budget for Americans for Prosperity, the most robust arm in the network of small-government advocacy groups helmed by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. That’s the most the group has ever spent in a non-election year and the documents call the plan “beyond the biggest, boldest, broadest effort AFP has ever undertaken.”... 
The briefing document, which is called a “Partner Prospectus” is glossy, bound and marked “confidential” and “privileged” on its cover. “Please do not disclose, discuss, or disseminate the contents herewith.” Sent to major donors and prospects last month, it includes previously unknown statistics about AFP’s staffing (539 field staffers in key states in 2014), advertising spending ($60 million on TV, radio and online ads in 2014) and canvassing (2.4 million doors knocked and 7.5 million calls made). It outlines the development and testing of a “closed-loop data system,” online predictive dialing system and mobile canvassing app “that integrates household data, GPS mapping, and survey software.”
The fundraising and organizing network will reportedly steer clear of the Republican presidential primary unless a candidate enters the race they find unacceptable like Lindsey Graham. Much of the what the network focuses on is the boring but essential work of organizing in off-year elections and funding conservative infrastructure.

A report in the Washington Post put the total figure the Koch Brothers network was looking to spend in the 2016 elections at $889 million. If that's true, they are just getting started.

Clinton Foundation Dealings Become Headache For Hillary Clinton Campaign

Hillary Clinton's campaign for president had already gotten off to a rough start with the deleted email controversy, now the Clinton Foundation is back in the news after it was revealed that the non-profit took even more money from entities Hillary Clinton helped when she served as Secretary of State.

Foreign governments and businesses giving money to a foundation run by the family of the Secretary of State is, not surprisingly, a problem. Taking money from people, organizations, and governments makes it harder to treat them objectively. The Obama White House told Hillary Clinton to at least disclose the donations her family's organizations were receiving - an order she did not always follow.

The conflicts are beginning to add up, the Clinton Foundation had a financial relationship with:
And there is likely more to come as soon to be released book called "Clinton Cash" about the Clinton Foundation's dealings will be featured extensively in the New York Times and Fox News. 

The Clinton organizations will reportedly refile their taxes after the latest series of revelations, but that does not mean the Clinton's are planning a full disclosure any time soon. The perpetual calculators may still think it is worth the risk to withhold. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

TPP Fight Dividing Democratic Party

The fight over allowing President Obama to have fast-track authority to negotiate the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has divided the Democratic Party in Washington. The proposed agreement has long been at the center of concerns by various members of the Democratic coalition that are worried about another NAFTA style trade deal that will kill jobs and further degrade the environment.

 A series of confidential documents posted by Wikileaks also showed that the supposed trade deal included expansion of intellectual property rights regimes, financial deregulation, and the creation of transnational corporate tribunals. The Wikileaks revelations combined with NAFTA angst have led labor, environmental, and civil liberties groups to oppose TPP bringing elected members of the Democratic Party along with them.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who is an independent but caucuses with the Democrats, highlighted his opposition to TPP by delayed a Senate Finance Committee markup of the bill and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has said "Hell no," to Obama having fast-track authority. But the biggest critique of TPP and President Obama is coming from Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Warren took to MSNBC to say the deal was "rigged" and that if President Obama believes TPP is such a good deal for progressives he should show the public what is in the deal.
“They’re asking us to vote now to grease the skids,” Warren replied, “so there won’t be any chance to amend or block it, won’t be any chance to slow it down.” She claimed that the administration is saying, “Give all that up, and you’ll get a chance to see the deal on the other side,” and she doesn’t think that’s acceptable. 
Moreover, the only thing that the American public has been able to learn about the deal is who was negotiating it — corporate lobbyists. “My views is,” she stated, “when the process is rigged, the outcome’s likely to be rigged too.”
Senator Warren also noted that the agreement was primarily written by corporations and that the fast-track authority would let future presidents also jam through new parts of TPP agreements calling it a "blank check."

The salient point of the critique is worth repeating - if President Obama believes this is such a great deal, let the people see it.

CISPA Redux: New Cybersurveillance Bill Passes House

On Wednesday the House passed the Protecting Cyber Networks Act (PCNA) by a vote of 307-116. The PCNA is the new version of CISPA and had been floundering in Congress due to privacy concerns before the high profile hacks of Target and Sony Entertainment provided sufficient momentum to push the bill through. PCNA and its Senate counterpart known as CISA will remove legal barriers stopping the sharing of information between private corporations and the federal government.

If enacted the law would allow customer information from private companies to be shared with the government with minor to nonexistent restraints. Another bill making its way through the House - the National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act (NCPA) - will setup the Department of Homeland Security as the federal agency coordinating the information sharing.

Not surprisingly, privacy and cybersecurity advocates are calling the bill a disaster and warning that it will do more harm than good. Before the passage of the bill a letter signed by 55 civil society organizations, security experts and academics, called on House members to vote no on PCNA citing major concerns that the bill would:
· Authorize companies to significantly expand monitoring of their users’ online activities, and permit sharing of vaguely defined “cyber threat indicators” without adequate privacy protections prior to sharing: This could result in the unnecessary scrutiny of innocent Internet users online activities, and sharing of their personal information, and information about that Internet use, including content of their online communications. 
· Require federal entities to automatically disseminate to the NSA all cyber threat indicators they receive, including personal information about individuals: This requirement fails to effectively cement civilian control of domestic cybersecurity information sharing and could vastly and unnecessarily increase the NSA’s access to innocent users’ information. 
· Authorize overbroad law enforcement uses that go far outside the scope of cybersecurity: Law enforcement would be allowed to use cyber threat indicators to investigate crimes and activities that have nothing to do with cybersecurity, such as robbery, arson, carjacking, or any threat of serious bodily injury or death, regardless of whether the harm is imminent. The use authorizations included in this bill undermine traditional due process protections, and turn PCNA into a cyber-surveillance bill rather than a cybersecurity bill; and 
· Authorize companies to deploy invasive countermeasures, euphemistically called “defensive measures”: The authorization for deploying defensive measures is narrower than in other bills, however PCNA still authorizes an entity to deploy a defensive measure that gains unauthorized access to computer systems of innocent third parties who did not perpetrate the threat, an action that would otherwise violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It may also authorize defensive measures that unintentionally harm innocent third parties.
Much like the retroactive immunity for the telcom companies participating in President Bush's unconstitutional domestic spying program, this bill will legalize some activity that is likely already happened. But with the legal barriers/liability gone it will be open season on internet users' private information.

In one sense this bill deregulates the data market, now everyone is for sale.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

#EarthDay: Mother Jones Validates Koch Industries Connected Outlet

Despite a longstanding criticism of the Koch Brothers for their largely successful attempts to thwart policies to deal with climate change, progressive magazine Mother Jones validated a publication closely tied to the brothers and their business interests - the Washington Free Beacon.

In an article written by Nick Baumann labeling the outlet "kind of good," Mother Jones informs readers that the Free Beacon is a journalistically credible ideologically driven news outlet that was formed to offer opposition to liberal partisan outlets such as Talking Points Memo and Think Progress.

The origin story of the Free Beacon told in the article is an interesting though thoroughly incomplete one. Left out of the story is that the Free Beacon was setup as the communications arm of the Center for American Freedom (CAF) not solely to tell conservative stories but serve clients of Orion Strategies where Free Beacon publisher Michael Goldfarb was a partner at the time.

Goldfarb, quoted largely uncritically in the piece, has been a professional lobbyist for some years and has served foreign governments as well as major corporations. According to Politico, Charles and David Koch are among the list of clients of Orion Strategies and though a spokesman for the Kochs tried to distance the the fossil fuel oligarchs from CAF, the connections would only deepen with the passage of time.

One of the most effective Koch Brothers-backed ventures is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Until recently the group was both stunningly influential and exceedingly well hidden. In some cases ALEC would offer "model legislation" on behalf of businesses such as Koch Industries that would be copied word for word and passed into law in state legislatures around the country.

But once exposed to the sunshine ALEC and the affiliated companies started suffering a backlash particularly when it became clear that the Koch-backed organization was trying to undermine efforts to combat climate change.

So in 2012 ALEC hired the Edelman public relations firm to push back against ALEC critics. One of the outlets Edelman used to attack ALEC critics was the Free Beacon which became a platform for Edelman to launder attacks against its client's opponents. Of course, given Orion Strategies and Michael Goldfarb's preexisting relationship with Koch Industries it's unlikely they needed much convincing to serve as such a platform. Edelman's CEO still claims the firm does not promote climate denialism.

Then again, the US Supreme Court has now ruled via Citizen's United that money is speech and corporations are people so maybe there is nothing especially problematic with laundering corporate talking points through a purported news organization. It is certainly a good PR tactic though whether it constitutes what many would define as "journalism" is harder to say.

Moving away from the flawed origin story, the overall gist of the Mother Jones piece is that the Free Beacon has diligent researchers and writers - was this ever in dispute?

Since when did conservatives not know how to do opposition research and communications? Karl Rove, Lee Atwarer, Charles Colson - these names ring any bells? Though one might be tempted to align Goldfarb more with Donald Segretti given some of the mysterious travails reporters have faced after exposing Goldfarb's dealings.

Shortly after reporter Lee Fang exposed Goldfarb laundering his lobbying work through the Free Beacon on behalf of the government of Taiwan Fang was apparently electronically hacked. In a write up on the Free Beacon and Goldfarb by a more skeptical New York Times in 2013, Goldfarb was painted more as a seasoned Republican operative than someone concerned with journalism. The Times piece notes that the Free Beacon published a photo of Fang that was kept in a password protected file and that Fang filed a police report after it was published over concerns he was hacked.

Still kind of good?

So what's the moral of the story, why did Mother Jones do something wrong? The Free Beacon is not the only outlet pumping our material in line with the interests of Koch Industries or even just Big Business generally. Hell, Chevron cut out the middleman entirely and just started its own newspaper.

What Mother Jones did wrong was to provide something the Free Beacon can acquire much less easily than corporate cash - third party validation. Even the liberal Mother Jones recognizes the Free Beacon as a credible news organization. That's highly valuable to PR and lobbying firms looking to use the Free Beacon as a platform; something Goldfarb and friends will surely capitalize on in order to more effectively pound the Koch Brothers' environmental critics.

It is hard to believe that is the business Mother Jones wants to be in.

Head Of DEA To Resign After Series Of Scandals

DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has announced she will resign next month. Leonhart's resignation comes after a series of scandals at the agency with most notable perhaps being the revelation that DEA agents were having sex parties with prostitutes connected to Colombian drug cartels. That scandal led to an intensely embarrassing hearing before Congress where Leonhart was forced to admit that the agents involved were barely punished even when one was caught abusing one of the prostitutes.

Administrator Leonhart was also forced to deal with the fallout from the revelation that the DEA had been engaging in a long running secret program to track billions of American's international calls a decade before 9/11. The program was terminated after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed a similar program being conducted by the NSA.

Leonhart also publicly opposed President Obama's position on reducing penalties on marijuana use and allowing states such as Colorado and Washington.
The Obama administration’s top drug enforcement official will step down next month, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced on Tuesday, after her agency was tarnished by a scandal over sex parties with prostitutes and she broke with President Obama on drug policy. Michele M. Leonhart, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told Mr. Holder that she intended to retire, ending a 35-year tenure at the agency...  
Even as Mr. Obama expressed guarded support for allowing states to experiment with legalizing marijuana, Ms. Leonhart has remained a staunch opponent. She refused during a 2012 hearing on Capitol Hill to say whether she believed that marijuana was less dangerous than crack cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin, saying that “all illegal drugs are bad.” Still, Mr. Holder praised her long service at the D.E.A., where she was the first woman to hold the rank of special agent in charge.
Whether Leonhart is a true hardliner or just toeing the agency line on marijuana's health risk is hard to say, what is much easier to note is that during her tenure - just as in the tenure of all her predecessors - illegal drugs were readily available in every town and city in America.

Now that Leonhart has announced she is stepping down the race is afoot to find a replacement that can get through confirmation. Maybe it is time to think about even having a DEA or at least revisiting the efficacy of the War on Drugs.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

FBI Admits To Two Decades Of Flawed Forensic Testimony

In a stunning revelation the FBI has admitted that it provided flawed forensic testimony on hundreds of cases in the two decades prior to the year 2000. The FBI forensic experts falsely stated forensic matches that favored prosecutors 95% of the time in the over 200 cases reviewed so-far.

In 14 of the cases the FBI experts offered that flawed testimony in the defendants have either died in prison or been executed. Four previous defendants have been exonerated so far thanks to new reviews of FBI forensic testimony.

The problematic evidence presented typically was hair and bite-mark comparisons which, upon further scrutiny, were often overstated. Hair match analysis in particular is cited as being much less reliable than FBI examiners testified to in court.
The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000. Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence... 
Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, commended the FBI and department for the collaboration but said, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.” 
Before 2012 the FBI did not have written standards for how hair forensic analysts should and should not present evidence in court leading to many experts making false and misleading testimony. 2,500 cases have been targeted for review as to whether testimony in the cases did not meet scientific standards.

The use of forensics has become a staple of criminal cases and sparked considerable cultural interest in forensic science in television shows like CSI. But rather than being the smoking gun much of forensic science is clouded in subjective evaluation and bias. Given the results so far the extensive review may prove justice may have been better served without the FBI forensic experts testifying at any trials.

US Moves Warships To Yemen As Warning To Iran As Report Notes Iran Not Behind Rebels

While US bombs and military equipment via Saudi hands attack forces within the country of Yemen, US warships have now sailed to positions off Yemen's coast as the White House continues to claim it is not involved in the war. The naval maneuvers are a clear warning to Iran and the US flotilla would stop any ships that would supply the Shiite Houthis rebels in Yemen.

The White House claimed, with no sense of irony, that Iranian weapons were "destabilizing" Yemen and that Iran had continued to “supply arms to one party to that dispute so that the violence can continue.”

Beyond the brazen hypocrisy of accusing Iran of destabilizing Yemen by providing weapons is a report that US officials believe Iran warned the Houthis against launching an insurrection last year. While Saudi Arabia and the US have justified the brutal air campaign killing civilians in Yemen as a proxy war between themselves and Iran, the evidence indicates that the Houthis have their own agency.

Evidence offered by US government officials no less.
Iranian representatives discouraged Houthi rebels from taking the Yemeni capital of Sanaa last year, according to American officials familiar with intelligence around the insurgent takeover.The seizure of the capital in September came as a surprise to the international community, as Houthi rebels demonstrating outside Sanaa realized the city was abandoned and effectively unguarded. Despite Iran's advice, the Houthis walked into the city and claimed it... 
U.S. lawmakers and Gulf state leaders who are skeptical of the nuclear negotiations with Iran have pointed to the Houthis' rise to power in Yemen as more evidence of Iran's unhelpful expansionary objectives in the region. But the news that Iran actually opposed the takeover paints a more complicated picture. As the regime in Tehran has signaled, the Iranians are not unhappy to see their Gulf rivals embroiled in conflict in their neighborhood, but their advice against seizing Sanaa suggests that controlling Yemen is at best a secondary priority for Iran, far behind relief from sanctions that could come with a successful nuclear pact.
So what does the White House actually believe? And if the genuine view is that Iran did not instigate the Houthis rebellion then what is the point of sending warships to Yemen's coast?

One possible explanation is that the US is trying to assuage wounded Saudi pride. The Saudis have been continually whining in private and public about the US dealing with Iran and not supporting the Saudi position on Syria of overthrowing the Assad government. Now, with a nuclear deal with Iran within sight, the Obama Administration may have decided to facilitate the Saudis venting their frustrations with US policy by bombing the hell out of the people in Yemen.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Murder Of Journalist In Ukraine Comes Amid Wave Of Mysterious Opposition Deaths

It is April 20th which means today is the day the US government begins training neo-Nazi militias in Ukraine. The training comes at a frightening time in Ukraine as journalists and opposition politicians are being killed in the streets while the government in Kiev continues to claim it wants to be part of Western society.

The killing of journalist Oles Buzyna from a drive-by shooting is just the latest in a series of sudden deaths among those opposing the regime in Kiev. Oleg Kalashnikov, a former ally of President Yanukovich, was also gunned down this month. Sadly, those killings are becoming unexceptional in post-coup Ukraine where numerous officials and supporters of the overthrown government have ended up dead.

As Justin Raimondo of points out, the killings of Buzyna and Kalshinikov come after a wave of mysterious and gruesome deaths of those opposing the current government in Kiev. A trend that started out as questionable "suicides" appears to have degenerated to outright thuggish street killings:
* January 26 – Nikolai Sergienko, former deputy chief of Ukrainian Railways and a supporter of Viktor Yanukoych’s Party of Regions, reportedly shot himself with a hunting rifle. The windows were all locked from inside, and no note was found.
* January 29 – Aleksey Kolesnik, the former chairman of the Kharkov regional government and a prominent supporter of the now-banned Party of Regions, supposedly hung himself. There was no suicide note
* February 24 – Stanislav Melnik, another former Party of Regions member of parliament, was found dead in his bathroom: he is said to have shot himself with a hunting rifle. We are told he left a suicide note of “apologies,” but what he was apologizing for has never been revealed, since the note has not been released.
* February 25 – Sergey Valter, former Party of Regions activist and Mayor of Melitopol, was found hanged hours before his trial on charges of “abuse of office” was set to begin. Whoever was responsible neglected to leave a “suicide” note.
* February 26 – Aleksandr Bordyuga, Valter’s lawyer and former deputy chief of Melitopol police, was found in his garage, dead, another “suicide.
* February 26 – Oleksandr Peklushenko, a former Party of Regions member of parliament and chairman of Zaporozhye Regional State Administration, was found dead in the street with a gun wound to his neck. Officially declared a “suicide.”
* February 28 – Mikhail Chechetov, a professor of economics and engineering, former member of parliament from the Party of Regions, and former head of the privatization board, supposedly jumped from the seventeenth floor window of his Kiev apartment. Another “suicide”!
* March 14 – Sergey Melnichuk, a prosecutor and Party of Regions loyalist, “fell” from the ninth floor window of an apartment building in Odessa. Or was he pushed?
Add in Buzyna and Kalshinikov and one could be forgiven for seeing a pattern.

The US response to Ukraine's collapsing civil society is typical for the Obama Administration -  double down on propaganda. Rather than criticize the US' supposed allies in Ukraine for exterminating their political critics Team Obama and friends want to turn their attention to losing an "information war" with Russia. In these alternate universe the US - inventor of public relations - is unable to muster a communications strategy.

The source of this complaint? US government communications. Hope and change at the most transparent administration in history™.

Menendez Pressured State Department To Help Donor's Mistresses Enter Country

Coverage surrounding the indictment against New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez had previously focused on his use of power to help a major donor Dr. Salomon Melgen with business deals and Medicare payments, but thanks to a report in the New York Post some of Senator Menendez's other efforts make take center stage.

The report reveals the women listed in the indictment as "Girlfriends" 1, 2, and 3. All three were mistresses of Melgen and were assisted in entering the United States by Senator Menendez and his staff. "Girlfriend 1" was a Brazilian actress, "Girlfriend 2" encapsulates two sisters from the Dominican Republic, and "Girlfriend 3" being a Ukrainian model.

Menendez and his staff worked to allow all the women, believed to be mistresses of Melgen who is married, into the country despite initial objections from State Department personnel. The Brazilian actress received a student visa, the Ukrainian model received a visa to visit for plastic surgery (though appears to still be in the country), and two Dominican sisters were granted a travel visa even after being initially denied out of concern that they would not return home.
Menendez passed on the request to Lopes, his senior foreign-policy adviser whose actual duties included representing Menendez on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The staffers drafted a letter from Menendez to the consul general and asked that the sisters’ applications be given “all due consideration.” The senator told Lopes to not only send the letter but to call “if necessary.” But after their interview, an embassy employee denied the visas for the sisters, saying that neither was working and that they had “no solvency of their own.”... 
An unnamed high-ranking State Department official wrote to Menendez that he agreed with the rejection, saying the sisters had not been convincing about their eventual return to their home country. But a few weeks later, the State Department decided to re-interview the women, and they were granted visas.When the approval finally came, Lopes wrote in an e-mail to a colleague that it was “ONLY DUE to the fact that RM intervened.”
Melgen donated over hundreds of thousands of dollars to Menendez and related campaign interests as well as gifts such as free flights on his private jet. Though Menendez has claimed that he did these favors for Melgen as a "friend" they first met at a campaign fundraising event and had an extensive financial relationship. Melgen did not live in New Jersey at the time and therefore was not a constituent.

In charges related to the indictment, Salomon Melgen has been arrested and charged with Medicare fraud.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Wall Street Is Cool With Hillary Clinton Pretending To Be A Populist

At this stage of the game you have to be exceedingly dim or incredibly delusional to think that Hillary Clinton is a progressive. Her record of supporting cuts to programs helping children in poverty, voting for reckless wars overseas, applauding domestic surveillance, and standing with corporate power in Congress speaks for itself.

But in order to win an election in a country with a population increasingly skeptical of trickle-down economics Hillary Clinton is going to have pretend to be a populist. The risk is that her rhetoric could scare away her corporate base especially her strongest supporters working in finance.

Fortunately for Clinton those supporters understand the pretense of modern electoral politics and, according to Politico, aren't holding the charade against her. Wall Street understands they are unpopular after bringing the US economy to its knees with their greed and criminality. They know Clinton has to criticize them in public even after taking their money in private.
Hillary Clinton sounded like a woman on a mission after her long drive into the heartland: “There’s something wrong,” she told Iowans on Tuesday, when “hedge fund managers pay lower taxes than nurses or the truckers I saw on I-80 when I was driving here over the last two days.” But back in Manhattan, the hedge fund managers who’ve long been part of her political and fundraising networks aren’t sweating the putdown and aren’t worrying about their take-home pay just yet. It’s “just politics,” said one major Democratic donor on Wall Street, explaining that some of Clinton’s Wall Street supporters doubt she would push hard for closing the carried-interest loophole as president, a policy she promoted when she last ran in 2008...  
The only surprise, even to those who are apparently the targets of the remarks, was that Clinton’s denunciation on the trail in Iowa and in a fundraising email — widely read as a nod to the wing of the Democratic Party that prefers Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to Clinton — came so soon. Far from creating genuine waves on Wall Street, Clinton’s comments were met with a resounding “meh.”
The banksters understand the game all too well. Clinton will try to position herself as a populist during the primary, maybe somewhat less during the general, then come home to Wall Street after she takes the oath of office. She had the opportunity to see her husband do it firsthand and, if a mirror was around, herself do it while serving as Senator.

The most pathetic part of the primary process may end up being progressives trying to contort their brains into seeing her as a progressive - she isn't one. She is from the corporate wing of the party and now would be a good time to accept that reality.