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.

TPP Fast-track Deal Reached In Congress

Senators Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden along with House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan agreed on Thursday to give President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. TPP has vigorous opposition within the Democratic Party and Obama will need to rely on Republican support to move the deal forward. 

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden's support was key and reportedly contingent on there being a provision in the deal that would make the final agreement open to public comment and a delayed Congressional vote. But given the power of Big Business in Washington the Wyden provisions appear more to be in the realm of face-saving than anything else. Wyden stated in a press release that he believed his state of Oregon would benefit from a new trade deal with Asia.

But whether Wyden's capitulation to corporate interests will be the norm remains to be seen.
Even with the concessions, many Democrats sound determined to oppose the president. Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, condemned the bill as “a major step backward.”  
The A.F.L.-C.I.O. and virtually every major union — convinced that trade promotion authority will ease passage of trade deals that will cost jobs and depress already stagnant wages — have vowed a fierce fight. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. announced a “massive” six-figure advertising campaign to pressure 16 selected senators and 36 House members to oppose fast-track authority. “We can’t afford to pass fast track, which would lead to more lost jobs and lower wages,” said Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “We want Congress to keep its leverage over trade negotiations — not rubber-stamp a deal that delivers profits for global corporations, but not good jobs for working people.”
TPP has already been exposed as being an attack on American sovereignty with little to nothing for workers. After NAFTA and other trade deals have destroyed American manufacturing and failed to produce jobs there is little reason for unions or workers to play the fool.

TPP may also become an issue in the 2016 with Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio already calling on Hillary Clinton to offer her position on the the agreement.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Israel Supreme Court Upholds Law Making It Illegal To Call For Boycott Of Israel

The only democracy in the Middle East strikes again. A law passed by the Israeli parliament in 2011 that bans calling for a boycott of Israel has just been upheld by the Israel's Supreme Court. The ruling means that anyone expressing support for boycotting Israel or Israeli settlements can be legitimately sued in Israeli courts of law.

Not surprisingly, even many in Israel are calling the law political censorship incompatible with a democracy. Boycotting is a voluntary nonviolent activity used in every open society to protest people and organizations those doing the boycotting oppose. Banning the practice suppresses speech and dissent.

The only substantive rollback the court made on the initial law passed in 2011 was to limit compensation for plaintiffs to damages they could establish.
The High Court of Justice on Wednesday upheld the so-called Anti-Boycott Law, which allows for damage suits to be filed against any person or entity that calls for an economic, cultural or academic boycott of Israel or “areas under its control,” a reference to the West Bank settlements. By a vote of 5-4, the court rejected petitions arguing that the law, which is aimed at facilitating civil suits against anyone calling for a boycott of products produced in the settlements or for an end to economic ties with Israel, unreasonably limits freedom of political expression by establishing a tort liability for encouraging a boycott... 
The petitioners, who argued that the law would have a chilling effect that would deter people from expressing a political position by calling for a boycott, objected to the ruling, saying it was silencing what a minority opinion called “one side of the political map” — namely, the left.
Beyond the antidemocratic nature of the law are the problems caused by including Israeli settlements which are illegal under international law. Due to the settlements being illegal, a great many people refuse to do business with companies based there, some may encourage others not to as well - are they all liable now? Defendants could run in the millions.

Given the results of the last election it seems a majority of the people of Israel find an Apartheid state acceptable. Now those of a dissenting view have been weakened from having the chance to persuade their fellow citizens to change their minds.

Ben Bernanke Joins Hedge Fund Specializing In Derivatives

Time to ring the cash register. Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke is set to begin working for the hedge fund Citadel Investment Group as a senior adviser. Bernanke will meet with potential investors and work with traders to leverage his relationships and experience from serving as chairman of the Fed.

As Fed chairman Bernanke undertook a massive, global, and in many cases secret program to counter the a financial crisis largely created by the Federal Reserve itself through promotion of deregulation and low interest rates. While part of the bank bailouts came in the form of direct money from taxpayers to Wall Street firms under TARP, the Federal Reserve embarked on a secret loan program totaling $1.2 trillion that was only revealed after a lawsuit by Bloomberg News. 

Thanks to the secret nature of the loans the Wall Street banks were able to keep $13 billion of profits secret which, along with the program itself, the Fed never told Congress about. Some members of Congress admitted they would have thought differently about how to respond to the crisis if they knew about the Fed's secret program, possibly voting to break up banks that were in reality much more problematic than they knew at the time.

Citadel Investment Group is a hedge fund that specializes in derivatives and, like many firms, had considerable difficulty during the 2008 financial crisis. Presumably part of the reason the firm hired Bernanke was to help it avoid future problems by relying on his expertise and connections. Citadel reportedly has $24 billion under management.
In an interview, Mr. Bernanke said he was sensitive to the public’s anxieties about the “revolving door” between Wall Street and Washington and chose to go to Citadel, in part, because it “is not regulated by the Federal Reserve and I won’t be doing lobbying of any sort.” He added that he had been recruited by banks but declined their offers. “I wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest,” he said. “I ruled out any firm that was regulated by the Federal Reserve.”... 
While Mr. Bernanke will remain a full-time fellow at the Brookings Institution, the new role represents his first somewhat regular job in the private sector since stepping down as Fed chairman in January 2014
And the incestuous Washington-Wall Street circle is complete. From secret loans to help Wall Street to consulting for Wall Street and advocating on their behalf at a neoliberal think tank. All is well that ends well.

Fortunately there is no danger that these political and financial connections could corrupt policy and lead to a crisis, right?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

DEA Faces Criticism From Congress Over Drug Cartel-Backed Sex Parties

The DEA has been caught up in so many scandals lately it is hard to keep track but the one the embattled agency faced yesterday in a hearing before Congress was particularly embarrassing. Members of Congress grilled DEA officials over a report that showed that DEA agents had sex parties with prostitutes connected to Colombian drug cartels. 

Representatives from both parties told DEA officials that the conduct was unacceptable as was the lack of serious punishment for said conduct. DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart responded to the criticism over punishment by saying that rules made it difficult to fire employees or interfere in disciplinary processes.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz highlighted one incident where a DEA agent assaulted a prostitute over payment for sex and received two weeks leave:
Leonhart responded that government employee protections make it hard for her to fire anyone. While the FBI is exempt from some civil service protections, the DEA director and other federal directors "are not allowed to invoke ourselves in the disciplinary process," she said. 
Chaffetz, however, was incredulous that Leonhart couldn't take more action. He cited a July 2009 incident in which a DEA agent in Bogota, Colombia was accused of physically assaulting a prostitute over a payment dispute. A security guard witnessed this agent throwing a glass and hitting the woman, though the agent claimed the woman harmed herself after having a seizure."And you know what the punishment for this person was?" Chaffetz said. "Fourteen days unpaid leave. Go on vacation for two weeks. This person was imposing a national security risk."
The DEA is estimated to have had 15 to 20 sex parties in Colombia during the time under review along with agents using prostitutes on an individual basis. Many of the prostitutes used by the DEA agents were connected to Colombian drug cartels putting the agents in a ripe position to be blackmailed or extorted.

The DEA has also been facing serious criticism for its involvement in a wide ranging phone surveillance program that operated prior to 9/11 as well as questionable cooperation with the NSA and other agencies.

Google Charged With Antitrust Violation By European Union

Search monopoly Google has now been formally charged by the European Union's antitrust chief for anti-competitive practices related to its search dominance and the way its Android mobile software unfairly obligates the use of the company's own products and services. The charges could lead to fines as well as force Google to change the way it conducts business in Europe.

Google has long been accused of anti-competitive practices both by its competitors and firms that need to use Google search and other software technology as part of their businesses. The charges were instigated partly due to complaints by firms that said Google was abusing its market dominance in search and operating systems.

Google is a strong first in both internet search and the operating system used on mobile devices.
The abuse charge focused on accusations that Google diverts traffic from its rivals to favor its own products and services, particularly websites for shopping. That led the European Commission to issue a set of formal charges, known as a statement of objections. A large number of online operators have complained about Google in areas like mapping and travel.  
The commission also said it was stepping up a separate investigation into whether phone makers that agree to use Android — and that also want Google applications like YouTube — face contractual requirements to place those applications and other Google-branded applications in prominent positions on a mobile device...Google’s Android software, which is used by large cellphone makers like Samsung, is the world’s largest operating system with roughly an 81 percent market share, according to the technology research company Gartner. Apple holds a 15 percent stake, while Microsoft has a less than 3 percent share.
An issue not at the forefront but surely in the background is Google's collaboration with US intelligence services such as the NSA in foreign spying operations. With the exception of the UK, all of  the countries in the European Union are outside the Five Eyes intelligence alliance  and are subject to electronic espionage conducted by the NSA in partnership with Google.

Google's relationship to US power has been well documented perhaps most prominently by Julian Assange of Wikileaks who claims "Google’s geopolitical aspirations are firmly enmeshed within the foreign-policy agenda of the world’s largest superpower." Making Google's monopoly power and abusive practices to maintain that power all the more troubling.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Video Shows Chevron Unable To Find Clean Soil Samples In Ecuador

A video published by Amazon Watch shows that Chevron found polluted soil samples while running "pre-inspections" in Ecuador prior to official ones, providing further evidence that Chevron knew about environmental degradation caused by the company's involvement in extracting oil from the country.

The video shows Chevron employees and consultants desperately searching for areas to test the soil that would show the site was not contaminated ahead of a legal inquiry that ultimately produced a judgement against the firm. Despite desperately searching for uncontaminated areas Chevron personnel kept coming up with problematic soil samples.

Chevron confirmed the authenticity of the video when it demanded it be returned:
The videos are a true treasure trove of Chevron misdeeds and corporate malfeasance. And, ironically, Chevron itself proved their authenticity. Amazon Watch turned over the tapes to the legal team representing the affected indigenous and farmer communities. When the plaintiffs' lawyers tried to use the videos in court to cross-examine a Chevron "scientist", the company objected.  
A letter sent by Chevron's legal firm Gibson Dunn to counsel for the communities states, "These videos are Chevron's property, and are confidential documents and/or protected litigation work product. Chevron demands that you provide detailed information about how your firm acquired these videos and your actions with respect to them... In addition to providing this information, Chevron demands that you promptly return the improperly obtained videos and all copies of them by sending them to my attention at the above address."
The video also includes interviews with local residents in the parts of Ecuador effected by the pollution. Though the company was likely looking for witnesses who would testify on its behalf, it interviewed numerous people who provided eye witness accounts of deleterious health effects related to soil and water contamination.

Chevron has been fighting for a decade to get out from under accusations and a later $9.5 billion legal judgement against the company related to improper conduct by Texaco in Ecuador - a company Chevron acquired in 2001. The judgement, made in Ecuador, came under scrutiny in a US court where accusations of fraud and bribery were made against a lawyer involved in the case, Steven Donziger. 

It seems unlikely Chevron will agree to abide by the Ecuadorian court's decision anytime soon if ever which means the people in Ecuador will have to find some other way to clean up the damage from Texaco.

Marco Rubio Announces Run For President To Build 'A New American Century'

Yesterday Republican Senator Marco Rubio announced he was running for president. In a speech in his home state of Florida Senator Rubio emphasized his working class and Hispanic background and claimed it was time for the Republican Party to make a "generational choice."

Rubio appeared to be attacking both his Republican rival for the nomination, Jeb Bush, as well as Hillary Clinton with lines such as "yesterday is over, and we are never going back." Rubio continued saying America had always been about the future and moving forward but "We can’t do that by going back to the leaders and ideas of the past. We must change the decisions we are making by changing the people who are making them."

Senator Rubio's working class themed speech was immediately followed, ironically, by a full public embrace of billionaire sugar magnate Jose Fanjul. The Fanjul family is the epitome of wealth and privilege relying on government subsidies and labor exemptions. Recently they promoted an astroturf campaign to oppose preservation in the everglades.

But Rubio's biggest problem may be his record of jumping out in front of issues only to abandon them when the pressure comes. His stance on immigration has been all over the place and his initial position cost him support among the Republican "Tea Party" base while his subsequent flip angered everyone else.

Despite his rough start as a national figure Senator Rubio could be a force to be reckoned with in the Republican primary, especially among Republicans looking for a newer face from a key swing state that can appeal to Hispanic voters. Most Republicans should realize by now that if they fail to expand their electorate outside of older white voters they will be unable to win national elections.

Monday, April 13, 2015

CISPA Is Back With A Vengeance

First introduced in the House of Representatives in 2011, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is once again back in play and is being considered for legislative action this month. Much of the same concerns that accompanied its introduction in 2011 remain specifically that it is a blank check for cybersurveillance dressed up as a bill to promote cybersecurity.

The earlier version of both SOPA and CISPA were defeated due in part to staunch opposition from numerous corners of the internet. CISPA initially contained language that included intellectual property issues as falling under the act making it essentially SOPA-light.

CISPA and its Senate equivalent the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) are being reintroduced in hopes of capitalizing on public anxiety related to recent high profile hacks such as those of Target and Sony. The bills claim to only promote information sharing between companies and the government but in reality will expand government and private surveillance power over the public.

The Open Technology Institute notes six problems with the current CISA bill now under consideration:
  1. CISA would authorize excessive information sharing, including unnecessary sharing of personal information.
  2. CISA Would Require DHS to automatically and indiscriminately disseminate to the NSA all indicators it receives.
  3. Law enforcement agencies are authorized to use CISA-derived information to investigate a wide array of garden-variety crimes.
  4. CISA authorizes companies to monitor all of their users’ activities and communications.
  5. CISA’s liability protections leave customers no recourse if they are wrongly harmed by information sharing and monitoring.
  6. CISA authorizes companies to deploy potentially dangerous defensive measures that could harm the computers of innocent people, and contains worrisome language regarding military cyber operations.
As often happens with abuses of power and corruption in America, Congress wants to legalize the behavior. If the bill passes domestic spying will not be a scandal but a codified status quo.

And as for defensive measures, well don't worry, the US military is already gearing up for "offensive operations in cyberspace." The world is a battlefield and now so is in the internet. Are you the enemy?

Hillary Clinton Announces Run For President As Clinton Foundation Faces Further Scrutiny

On  Sunday Hillary Clinton officially announced that she was running for president. The announcement surprised few as Clinton has been positioning herself to run for president for quite some time. In the video announcing Clinton's candidacy Clinton said she was going to be a champion for "everyday Americans." t What that will actually entail has yet to be disclosed.

In previous months Hillary Clinton has been dealing with questions about controversial donations to her foundation as well as a scandal surrounding her using a private email server for government communications outside federal rules. Whether or not the stories postponed her announcement for a presidential run is unknown.

Just days previous to her announcement, news broke that when Clinton was Secretary of State she supported a controversial trade deal that helped a major donor and board member of the Clinton Foundation. Though as a presidential candidate in 2008 Clinton had refused to support a free trade deal with Columbia due in part to human and labor rights concerns, when Secretary of State Clinton changed her views and endorsed the agreement. During that same time the Clinton family forged ties with business interests that benefited from Clinton's policy shift.
At the same time that Clinton's State Department was lauding Colombia’s human rights record, her family was forging a financial relationship with Pacific Rubiales, the sprawling Canadian petroleum company at the center of Colombia’s labor strife. The Clintons were also developing commercial ties with the oil giant’s founder, Canadian financier Frank Giustra, who now occupies a seat on the board of the Clinton Foundation, the family’s global philanthropic empire. 
The details of these financial dealings remain murky, but this much is clear: After millions of dollars were pledged by the oil company to the Clinton Foundation -- supplemented by millions more from Giustra himself -- Secretary Clinton abruptly changed her position on the controversial U.S.-Colombia trade pact. Having opposed the deal as a bad one for labor rights back when she was a presidential candidate in 2008, she now promoted it, calling it “strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States.” The change of heart by Clinton and other Democratic leaders enabled congressional passage of a Colombia trade deal that experts say delivered big benefits to foreign investors like Giustra.
Ready for shillary? Workers are used to getting sold out by the Clintons (see NAFTA for details) the question is whether labor unions and activists will delude themselves into thinking they are being strategic by laying down in the primary and letting the Clinton Machine roll them over.

The real issue comes down to trust. Why should progressives trust Hillary Clinton to side with the people over moneyed interests?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Dodd-Frank: Wall Street Won The Lobbying War

Though you may hear Wall Street's puppets in Washington howl about how terrible Dodd-Frank is, the reality is the banksters ultimately won in the struggle to rein them in according to a report by ReutersThe report affirms what almost everyone said at the time - kicking the rules for Dodd-Frank from Congress to regulators meant Wall Street would dilute and thwart most of the substantive regulations.

Despite the calls for more oversight of Wall Street lobbyists have reportedly worked effectively behind the scenes to allow the very financial instruments that brought about the 2008 financial crisis to remain unregulated and out of sight.

In some cases Wall Street lawyers such as Keith Higgins have literally help write the rules by being appointed to SEC committees. The result requires little speculation.
“What’s playing out is exactly what we were worried about,” said Sheila Bair, former chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. “Most everything is going into these private markets where regulations require little visibility of what’s happening.” 
With their access to off-balance-sheet entities largely preserved, the banks continue to hold vast sums of securitized loans offshore and off their books. Together, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp, Citigroup, Wells Fargo & Co, Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley hold nearly $3.3 trillion of securitized loans in off-balance-sheet entities.
Residential mortgage-backed securities offered on the private market increased to 78 percent of all new offerings last year from 46 percent in 2013 according to Reuters. In other words, here we go again.

The fundamental problem in all of this is really - surprise, surprise - a political system dominated by money. Congress did not kick the rule-making to regulators by accident, it was what the big contributors of both political parties wanted them to do. While the pressure was on politicians to be tough on Wall Street in the spot lights of public hearings the ability to toss the decisions over how or whether to restrain Wall Street to regulators let them please their donors without obviously betraying their constituents.

The response from progressives has been to try and create transparency, but that is easily out maneuvered in a city run by game players. The real challenge is to prevent the special interest bribes in the first place.

Report: War On Terror May Have Killed Two Million People

A report issued by the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) claims that US military operations launched after 9/11 known as "The War On Terror" have led to the deaths of as many as two million people. The report includes data from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as information related to drone strikes and other actions in Pakistan.

PSR calculated the number of dead by aggregating data and statistics compiled and presented by the UN, governments and NGOs. The numbers for Afghanistan and Pakistan are murkier than the numbers for Iraq which has had multiple reviews conducted.

PSR arrives at a firm number of 1.3 million killed directly or indirectly by US combat operations but suggests that based on their research the actual number could surpass two million:
This investigation comes to the conclusion that the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, i.e. a total of around 1.3 million. Not included in this figure are further war zones such as Yemen. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs. And this is only a conservative estimate.  
The total number of deaths in the three countries named above could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.
Adding to the horror of these figures is the understanding that the vast majority of those killed were civilians who had nothing to do with terrorism - they were just in the way.

OK. So we've killed roughly two million people, is the bloodlust from 9/11 now satiated? Al Qaeda left Afghanistan in the first six months of the war and Iraq had nothing to do with the attack yet their populations have drowned in blood for a decade thanks in part to our efforts - feeling better?

How many random innocent people have to die before we say enough and start getting back to rational policymaking?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ukraine's Formal Security Strategy Now Includes NATO Membership

The government in Ukraine has presented its official security strategy which includes membership in the NATO alliance. Such a declaration will undoubtedly agitate Moscow which objects to US influence in the region and blames Washington for the violent overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych. If Ukraine were let in to NATO the world's two leading nuclear powers could be forced into war.

The US has already increased its involvement in the Ukraine crisis by agreeing to send in troops later this month to train, among others, neo-Nazi militias. One commentator noted that the day the US military is planning on training the Azov Battalion is April 20th, Adolf Hitler's birthday.

The Pentagon might want to work on that PR situation.
Ukraine, locked in conflict with Russian-backed separatists in its east, on Thursday drew up a new security doctrine denouncing Russia's "aggression" and setting its sights on joining the U.S.-led NATO military alliance. Oleksander Turchynov, head of the national security council, told a session of the body that Ukraine saw Russian aggression as a "long-standing factor" and viewed NATO membership as "the only reliable external guarantee" of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.  
Turchynov's comments and the move to draft a new security strategy were certain to raise hackles in Russia, which annexed the Crimean peninsula in March 2014 after a pro-Western leadership took power in Kiev in the wake of an uprising that ousted a Moscow-backed president.
The government in Kiev has been continually agitating for the US to enter the conflict on their side and, not surprisingly, found allies among neocons and nostalgic cold warriors along with their arms industry underwriters. But entering a dangerous conflict so clearly outside the US national interest has split the foreign policy establishment including the traditionally imperialistic Brookings Institution. 

In the final analysis, the US has nothing to gain and everything to lose by starting a war with Russia which is what allowing Ukraine to join NATO would in essence do. Then again, the neocons in DC are so out of touch with reality it is prudent to wonder if they even understand the stakes in allowing Ukraine to enter a mutual defense alliance.

John Hopkins University Sued By Guatemalans Deliberately Infected With STDs

A lawsuit has been filed in Baltimore alleging that John Hopkins University is responsible in part for a series of experiments in Guatemala that deliberately infected unknowing medical patients with sexually transmitted diseases. The 774 plaintiff strong suit has been brought by victims of the experiments and their descendants.

The suit claims that Johns Hopkins University and the Rockefeller Foundation were part of a study conduct in Guatemala from 1945 to 1956 that was done to test the effectiveness of STD medication. Guatemalans participating in the study did not know they were being infected with STDs nor that they were receiving experimental treatment. Some of the participants died from the STDs and/or unknowingly passed their diseases onto their children.
Orphans, inmates, psychiatric patients and prostitutes were deliberately infected with sexually transmitted diseases to determine what drugs, including penicillin, worked best in stopping the diseases, the lawsuit says. The subjects of the experiments weren't told they'd been infected, the lawsuit says, causing some to die and others to pass the disease to their spouses, sexual partners and children...  
The lawsuit says prostitutes were infected to intentionally spread the disease and that syphilis spirochetes were injected into the spinal fluid of subjects. A woman in a psychiatric hospital had gonorrhea pus from a male subject injected into both her eyes, the suit says.
Both Johns Hopkins University and the Rockfeller Foundation claim they should not be held liable but have not denied that the study took place. The lawsuit claims the experiments were performed by doctors overseen by John Hopkins University with the funding for the experiments coming from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Parallels have already been drawn between the experiments in Guatemala and the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiment in the 1930s where poor African-American test subjects were deliberately infected with syphilis and never told about it. The study was conducted by the US government with an official apology by President Bill Clinton coming in 1997.

The Guatemalan STD experiments had remained generally unknown until 2011 when the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues revealed the details of the study.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Navy Sets Goal For 'Offensive Operations In Cyberspace'

As the White House claims that to have been hacked by Russia, the US Navy is going full speed ahead on its own cyberwarfare program. Unlike the typical public relations posturing around cyberwarfare the Navy is admitting that part of its program will be offensive.

The new cyberstrategy will focus on five key goals one of which is to "conduct offensive operations in cyberspace." Usually defense and intelligence officials shade their operations in defensive terms and concepts, the Navy is bluntly letting everyone know they are building first strike weapons as per public statements by Kevin Cooley, executive director and command information officer for Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet.
The third goal is conducting offensive operations in cyberspace – a subject that defense officials traditionally have avoided discussing much.  
"You don't win a knife fight without swinging a knife," Cooley said. "We're spending time making sure we're ready to execute should those options be considered appropriate by national command authority to do that. This is a warfare domain, so just like in other warfare domains we have the capability to be tactically offensive and tactically defensive [and] strategically offensive and strategically defensive…being open about that capability is an important part of transparency that we acknowledge in any other form of warfare."
And as luck would have it the national command authority led by President Obama just changed the rules for cyberwarfare.

On Apirl 1st President Obama signed an executive order titled "Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities" and put out a corresponding explanation for the order and his cyberwarfare position on the site Medium in which Obama focused on "stealing the trade secrets of American companies" and violating intellectual property as forms of cyberwarfare.

So violating intellectual property rights is now an act of war? If so, then is the Navy setting itself up to be Hollywood's muscle? Making cyberspace a full on war zone will be great for cyberweapon makers and their financiers but count on plenty of collateral damage. The days of a free internet may be numbered.