Published: Sunday 30 December 2012
The Occupy movement changed Democratic political rhetoric, which changed poll numbers aand arguably changed the election results.

Our nation was gripped by so many fallacies and delusions in 2012 that the whole Mayan calendar end-of-the-world thing didn’t even make the list.

Even those apocalyptic prophecies were more plausible than the idea that cutting Social Security will help the deficit, that government spending cuts will jump-start the economy, there were no crimes on Wall Street, or that we live in a “divided nation” whose “center” wants more business as usual in Washington.

Here then, without further ado, are our Top 12 Political Fallacies for 2012.

1. Austerity works.

Last year we 

Published: Tuesday 27 November 2012
The collateral consequences of rising deportation numbers – the American citizen children and spouses who are forced to choose between living in exile or living apart from their loved ones – are not yet fully understood.

Rodrigo Ortega, 35, lives in Rosarito, Mexico with his American wife and two American-citizen children. A little over a year ago, Ortega was deported. Since then, his wife and kids have relocated to Mexico in order to be with him. 

He wishes that his kids, now 3 and 7 years old, could attend school in the U.S. He wanted to continue providing them with the kind of life they were accustomed to in California, complete with hot showers and the occasional hamburger.

“We’re living day to day now,” Ortega explained in a recent interview. “I want to give my kids a better life than this. I can’t even buy them a Whopper because it’s kind of expensive and I can’t afford it.”

Today, he works as a security guard in a Mexican shopping center occupied by American companies like Walmart and Applebee’s, earning roughly $100 for a 72 hour work-week. That breaks down to less than $1.50 per hour. 

In the United States, Ortega earned $600 to $700 per week doing agricultural work in California’s San Joaquin valley. 

The Ortega family is one of a growing number of American families who are forced to abandon their lives in the U.S. to stay together. ICE reports that 45,000 parents of American citizen children were deported in the first half of 2012. Human Rights Watch estimates that 1.6 million people in the United States were separated from a deported spouse or parent between 1997 and 2007.

The decision to move wasn’t easy. But after Ortega was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for the crime of illegally re-entering the United States, the family decided it wasn’t worth it to remain in the United States. 

Rodrigo’s wife had never been to Mexico, but he faced a long prison sentence if caught trying to illegally re-enter again. “It’s better for me to be with my kids than to go back to prison,” he said.

Immigration ...

Published: Tuesday 27 November 2012
Once those children are in the juvenile justice system, they are denied basic constitutional rights.

 

In Meridian, Miss., it is school officials – not police – who determine who should be arrested. Schools seeking to discipline students call the police, and police policy is to arrest all children referred to the agency, according to a Department of Justice lawsuit. The result is a perverse system that funnels children as young as ten who merely misbehave in class into juvenile detention centers without basic constitutional procedures. The lawsuit, which follows unsuccessful attempts to negotiate with the county, challenges the constitutionality of punishing children “so arbitrarily and severely as to shock the conscience” and alleging that the city’s police department acts as a de facto “taxi service” in shuttling students from school to juvenile detention centers. Colorlines explains:

Once those children are in the juvenile justice system, they ...

Published: Saturday 17 November 2012
“Barack Obama campaigned for president pledging to respect state marijuana laws and his Justice Department in 2009 issued a memo reiterating that promise. But by 2011, the same Justice Department countermanded that directive and authorized a federal crackdown.”

 

What's next? Amid all the munchie-themed jokes from reporters, political elites and late-night comedians, this remains the overarching question after Coloradans voted overwhelmingly to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in the same way alcohol is already legalized, regulated and taxed. Since those anti-Drug-War principles are now enshrined in Colorado's constitution, only the feds can stop this Rocky Mountain state — if they so choose. But will they? And should they even be able to?

The answer to the former is maybe. Barack Obama campaigned for president pledging to respect state marijuana laws and his Justice Department in 2009 issued a memo reiterating that promise. But by 2011, the same Justice Department countermanded that directive and authorized a federal crackdown. Now, with the results of the 2012 election, Colorado's Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has been forced into the awkward position of fighting off the feds in defense of a state constitutional amendment he tried to defeat.

Because of Hickenlooper's cynical contradictions — the beer mogul opposed pot legalization after making millions selling the more hazardous drug called alcohol — he is not trusted by those pushing for a more rational narcotics policy. That distrust only intensified after the election. Instead of acknowledging the seriousness of a Drug War that is unduly arresting thousands and that often disproportionately targets minorities, Hickenlooper reacted to the ballot measure's passage with his own infantile attempt at comedy.

"Don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly," he snickered.

Not surprisingly, proponents of the pot initiative, which passed with more votes than either Obama or Hickenlooper have ever received in Colorado, weren't laughing with the governor. They suspect Hickenlooper's recent consultations with ...

Published: Saturday 17 November 2012
“Holding corporations criminally liable reinforces the same fallacy that gave us Citizen’s United v. the Federal Election Commission, in which five justices decided corporations are people under the First Amendment and therefore can spend unlimited amounts on an election.”

 

Justice Department just entered into the largest criminal settlement in U.S. history with the giant oil company BP. BP plead guilty to 14 criminal counts, including manslaughter, and agreed to pay $4 billion over the next five years.

This is loony.

Mind you, I’m appalled by the carelessness and indifference of the BP executives responsible for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that killed eleven people on April 20, 2010, and unleashed the worst oil spill in American history.

But it defies logic to make BP itself the criminal. Corporations aren’t people. They can’t know right from wrong. They’re incapable of criminal intent. They have no brains. They’re legal fictions — pieces of paper filed away in a vault in some bank.

Holding corporations criminally liable reinforces the same fallacy that gave us Citizen’s United v. the Federal Election Commission, in which five justices decided corporations are people under the First Amendment and therefore can spend unlimited amounts on an election. Even if 49 percent of their shareholders are foreign citizens, corporations now have a constitutional right to affect the outcome of American elections.

We don’t know exactly how much corporate money was spent on the last election but it’s a fair guess that were it not for Citizen’s United, the House of Representatives might now be under control of Democrats, and Senate Democrats might have a filibuster-proof majority.

The perfidious notion that corporations are people can lead to even more bizarre results. If corporations are people and they’re headquartered in the United States, then presumably corporations are citizens. That means they have a right to vote as well.

I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.

Can we ...

Published: Friday 2 November 2012
“Prop 37 is not just about our health and our environment, and the future of our food supply.”

As a historic vote with profound implications for the future of our food system nears, the question becomes whether a campaign with limitless resources and a disdain for the truth can defeat an overwhelmingly popular idea supported by a grassroots army, and over 3000 public interest organizations: the right to know what's in the food we eat and feed our families.

Poll after poll showed 90% of Americans (and Californians) favored labeling foods that have been genetically engineered (GMOs) and nearly a million signatures were gathered by California volunteers in just 10 weeks - easily qualifying Prop 37 for the ballot. And as of the first week of October, the Yes on 37 campaign enjoyed a 2 to 1 lead in the polls.

This broad statewide (and national) support - across party lines - made perfect sense. Prop 37 posits a simple question: Do we have the right to know what's in the food we eat and feed our children, or is that a decision better left to the pesticide and junk food companies bankrolling the opposition campaign?

Prop 37 isn't a referendum on genetically modified foods. It's not a ban, or a warning, it's a label. 

The debate over the efficacy of genetically engineered foods should and will continue. In the meantime, Californians have a right to know, and for good reason.

A growing body of research links GMO foods to potential health risks, increased pesticide use,biodiversity loss, the emergence of super ...

Published: Wednesday 31 October 2012
Published: Tuesday 30 October 2012
Has integration really ever been attempted?

 

A few months after Congress passed a landmark law directing the federal government to dismantle segregation in the nation's housing, President Nixon's housing chief began plotting a stealth campaign.

The plan, George Romney wrote in a confidential memo to aides, was to use his power as secretary of Housing and Urban Development to remake America's housing patterns, which he described as a “high-income white noose” around the black inner city.

 

The 1968 Fair Housing Act, passed months earlier in the tumultuous aftermath of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, directed the government to “affirmatively further” fair housing. Romney believed those words gave him the authority to pressure predominantly white communities to build more affordable housing and end discriminatory zoning practices.

Romney ordered HUD officials to reject applications for water, sewer and highway projects from cities and states where local policies fostered segregated housing.

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Published: Thursday 25 October 2012
Published: Tuesday 23 October 2012
Banks trump citizens, and absent severe reconstruction of the banking system, the cycle will absolutely, unequivocally continue.

 

Before the campaign contributors lavished billions of dollars on their favorite candidate; and long after they toast their winner or drink to forget their loser, Wall Street was already primed to continue its reign over the economy.

For, after three debates (well, four), when it comes to banking, finance, and the ongoing subsidization of Wall Street, both presidential candidates and their parties’ attitudes toward the banking sector is similar  – i.e. it must be preserved – as is – at all costs, rhetoric to the contrary, aside.

Obama hasn’t brought ‘sweeping reform’ upon the Establishment Banks, nor does Romney need to exude deregulatory babble, because nothing structurally substantive has been done to harness the biggest banks of the financial sector, enabled, as they are, by entities from the SEC to the Fed to the Treasury Department to the White House.

In addition, though much is made of each candidates' tax plans, and the related math that doesn’t add up (for both presidential candidates), the bottom line is, Obama hasn’t explained exactly WHY there’s $5 trillion more in debt during his presidency, nor has Romney explained HOW to get a ...

Published: Friday 5 October 2012
“A jury in 2007 convicted Citgo of criminal violations of the Clean Air Act, concluding that the company’s Corpus Christi refinery allowed toxic chemicals to drift from two large, uncovered storage tanks into a nearby neighborhood for a decade.”

 

Fifteen residents of Corpus Christi, Texas — so sickened by pollution they have been deemed crime victims — are asking a federal judge to force Citgo Petroleum Corp. to set up multimillion-dollar trust funds to cover medical and relocation costs, in a case with national ramifications.

A jury in 2007 convicted Citgo of criminal violations of the Clean Air Act, concluding that the company’s Corpus Christi refinery allowed toxic chemicals to drift from two large, uncovered storage tanks into a nearby neighborhood for a decade.

The company was to have been sentenced last month; the Department of Justice has proposed a fine of slightly more than $2 million. Lawyers for the 15 residents, however, asked U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey to grant the residents crime-victim status so they could testify at the sentencing hearing and, perhaps, win compensation from Citgo. Rainey granted that status on Sept. 14 and postponed the hearing.

In a court filing Wednesday, lawyers for the 15 residents are seeking $80,000 from Citgo for medical screening.

They also want Citgo to establish an $11 million trust fund for treatment of cancer or other illnesses suffered by the more than 300 people who have submitted victim impact statements to the court. A court-appointed special master would decide whose expenses should be covered.

And the lawyers are asking that Citgo set aside $15 million to relocate those who want to leave the area known as Refinery Row. “Because of Citgo’s crimes, many of the community victims no longer live in a thriving neighborhood, they live in fear that they will be exposed to more chemicals ...

Published: Thursday 4 October 2012
Cash spent to watch televisions and report on suspicious bass fishing in Mexico.

 

An alarming report published by the Department of Homeland Security in March 2010 called attention to the theft of dozens of pounds of dangerous explosives from an airport storage bunker in Washington state.

Like many such warnings, it drew on information gathered by one of the department’s “fusion centers” created to exchange data among state, local and federal officials, all at a cost to the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars.

There was just one problem with that report, and many others like it: the theft had occurred seven months earlier, and it had been highlighted within five days in a press release by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which was seeking citizen assistance in tracking down the culprits.

The DHS report’s tardiness and its duplication of work by others has been a commonplace failing of work performed by fusion centers nationwide, according to a new investigation of the DHS-funded centers by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

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Published: Friday 21 September 2012
“The waste – the byproduct of oil and gas drilling – was described in regulatory documents as a benign mixture of salt and water.”

 

On a cold, overcast afternoon in January 2003, two tanker trucks backed up to an injection well site in a pasture outside Rosharon, Texas. There, under a steel shed, they began to unload thousands of gallons of wastewater for burial deep beneath the earth.

The waste – the byproduct of oil and gas drilling – was described in regulatory documents as a benign mixture of salt and water. But as the liquid rushed from the trucks, it released a billowing vapor of far more volatile materials, including benzene and other flammable hydrocarbons.

The truck engines, left to idle by their drivers, sucked the fumes from the air, revving into a high-pitched whine. Before anyone could react, one of the trucks backfired, releasing a spark that ignited the invisible cloud.

Fifteen-foot-high flames enveloped the steel shed and tankers. Two workers died, and four were rushed to the hospital with burns over much of their bodies. A third worker died six weeks later.

What happened that day at Rosharon was the result of a significant breakdown in the nation’s efforts to regulate the handling of toxic waste, a ProPublica investigation shows.

The site at Rosharon is what is known as a “Class 2” well. Such wells are subject to looser rules and less scrutiny than others designed for hazardous materials. Had the chemicals the workers were disposing of that day come from a factory or a refinery, it would have been illegal to pour them into that well. But regulatory concessions won by the energy industry over the last three decades made it legal to dump similar substances into the Rosharon site – as long as they came from drilling.

Published: Wednesday 19 September 2012
“While the candidates themselves occasionally talk about these issues, there’s a number of critical concerns that get no attention, including some of the worst problems (in terms of the harm they cause to people’s lives) in the United States and the world.”

The media focus on political minutiae in the presidential campaign can often crowd out the substantive issues that the winner will have to deal with once taking office. And while the candidates themselves occasionally talk about these issues, there’s a number of critical concerns that get no attention, including some of the worst problems (in terms of the harm they cause to people’s lives) in the United States and the world. To address this lamentable state of affairs, ThinkProgress has compiled a list of eight of the most significant problems being severely underserved by the campaign and American political discourse more broadly. In no particular order:

MASS INCARCERATION AND THE DRUG WAR

Writing in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik termed “mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history…perhaps the fundamental fact [of American society], as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850.” Indeed, as Gopnik notes, there are more black men are in prison today than were enslaved then and more total people in prison than there were in Stalin’s gulags at their largest. The result of this wave of imprisonment was structural inequality so severe that it was called “the new Jim Crow” by a famous book of the same title, as the strict limitations placed on convicted felons have rendered millions black Americans second-class citizens. One of the principal causes of the rise of mass incarceration is the War on Drugs, which has failed abysmally at limiting the use of dangerous drugs but ...

Published: Tuesday 18 September 2012
The Memphis area is one of several embroiled in controversies over school discipline

 

Meridian is not alone under the Justice Department magnifying glass. In a somewhat similar case in Tennessee,  DOJ says the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County has failed both to inform children of the charges against them and to make sure they understand what their legal rights are ahead of questioning. Like Meridian, the juvenile court is also accused of failing to hold timely hearings.

Worries about a school-to-prison pipeline have grown in recent years, but there are different ways to define the issue, said Jim Freeman, senior attorney at Advancement Project, a nonprofit legal action group that fights racial injustice.

“How I like to define it,” Freeman said, “is the use of policies and practices that increase the likelihood that young people become incarcerated.”

That includes at-school arrests for minor behavioral incidents, as well as what he calls more indirect actions, like suspensions, expulsions or references to juvenile court or alternative schools.

Such practices have grown in the last 10 to 15 years, he said. ...

Published: Monday 17 September 2012
“He had recently stopped taking his medication, and his family said they called the police and his case manager the previous week saying he needed to be hospitalized, but were ignored.”

 

A 60-year-old man who had long suffered from bipolar disorder died in a jail cell Friday evening, hours after police tased him and placed him in isolation. Bill Williams was arrested for shoplifting at a gas station in Snohomish County, Washington. He had recently stopped taking his medication, and his family said they called the police and his case manager the previous week saying he needed to be hospitalized, but were ignored. KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reports:

“His life was so difficult. Anyway for it to end like this, and die alone in his cell, is just incomprehensible,” said Williams’ daughter, Trina Blau. “There’s a hospital right there where they could have shot him up with a sedative to figure it out. Instead, they shot him with a Taser and he’s dead.”

Surveillance video from the convenience store showed Williams jumping over the counter to grab cigarettes, and then come back for a six-pack of beer. . . .

Williams’ family said he was off his medication, and Blau called 911 Thursday trying to get him taken to the mental hospital.

“They talked to him for 15 seconds. If they would have talked to him 10 seconds longer, they would have seen he wasn’t lucid,” said Blau. “I firmly believe my dad would be alive if they would have just taken the time to listen.”

If the county medical examiner’s office determines that the Taser was the cause of death, it will add to the list of recent deaths linked to Tasers and police violence in the Puget Sound region of Washington state. In July, another mentally ill man who suffered from bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders was

Published: Sunday 16 September 2012
Following Birkenfeld’s release last month, on Tuesday the IRS vindicated his actions with the largest amount ever awarded under its whistleblower program.

The IRS has announced a record $104 million reward to a whistleblower who exposed the largest tax evasion scheme in U.S. history. Former UBS AG banker Brad Birkenfeld first reported in 2007 that he and his colleagues had encouraged rich Americans to store more than $20 billion in offshore Swiss bank accounts and cheat the IRS. But after coming forward, Birkenfeld was prosecuted and convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to prison. Following Birkenfeld’s release last month, on Tuesday the IRS vindicated his actions with the largest amount ever awarded under its whistleblower program. We’re joined by Stephen Kohn, an attorney for Birkenfeld and executive director of the National Whistleblowers ...

Published: Friday 14 September 2012
“Administration officials regularly celebrate the drone war’s apparent successes— often avoiding details or staying anonymous, but claiming tacit credit for the U.S.”

 

Drones have become the go-to weapon of the U.S.’s counter-terrorism strategy, with strikes in Yemen in particular increasing steadily. U.S. drones reportedly killed twenty-nine people in Yemen recently, including perhaps ten civilians.

Administration officials regularly celebrate the drone war’s apparent successes— often avoiding details or staying anonymous, but claiming tacit credit for the U.S.  

In June, a day after Abu Yahya Al-Libi was killed in Pakistan, White House spokesman Jay Carney trumpeted the death of “Al Qaeda’s Number-Two.”  Unnamed officials confirmed the strike in at least ten media outlets. Similarly, the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by a CIA drone last September was confirmed in many news outlets by anonymous officials. President Obama called Awlaki’s death “a tribute to our intelligence community."  

Just last week President Obama spoke about drone warfare on CNN, saying the decision to target individuals for killing rather than capture involves “an extensive process with a lot of checks.”  

But when it comes to details of that process, the administration clams up.

The government

Published: Thursday 13 September 2012
What do you call a Justice Department that would rather do the defense’s job than its own?

 

If a recent report is true, the Justice Department will need a new name – and some of us will have to step up and admit we were wrong.

It was clear that the foreclosure fraud settlement which the Administration and most states reached with major U.S. banks was a great deal for the big banks – and a lousy deal for the public. But some of us found reason to hope against hope that the settlement would be accompanied by real investigation of crooked bankers, after years of flim-flammery and disgraceful inaction by the Justice Department.

Not that we were entirely naïve. The administration's track record was poor. and even had a slight resonance of bad faith. when it came to prosecuting Wall Street criminality. So, speaking only for myself, that cautious support came with renewed pressure on the Administration to back its words with action.

Some of us knew that, pace Pete Townshend, we very well might get fooled again.

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Published: Wednesday 12 September 2012
“Reports indicate that officials will be conducting tests to verify whether this petroleum debris stems from BP’s 2010 Macondo well disaster.”

Tar ball and mats of old oil have washed ashore in the wake of Hurricane Isaac. The State of Louisiana closed a 12-mile stretch of shoreline in the Grand Isle area along with an area stretching from the shore to roughly one mile into the Gulf’s waters. Further, pelicans and other wildlife have been reported found covered with oil. Reports indicate that officials will be conducting tests to verify whether this petroleum debris stems from BP’s 2010 Macondo well disaster.

 

“There are reports of residual Macondo oil along the shorelines near Fouchon [sic] Beach and Grand Isle,” Arturo Silva, a spokesperson for BP, told The Louisiana Weekly via email. “These are areas that were in active response prior to Isaac, so it was expected… that these could be areas where highly weathered residual oil might be exposed.” Silva went on to point out “that there have been 90 reports of oil releases from other sources since the storm, and it is imperative that the parties responsible for that oil act in the same manner as BP and respond quickly in following Coast Guard directions.”

 

A New York Times report dated Sept. 6th confirmed that the oil washing ashore did originate with the Macondo well. Silva told The Louisiana Weekly that BP was conducting its own tests to verify these results. Deputy Director of the Gulf Restoration Network, Aaron Viles, offered a pointed critique. “Isaac’s aftermath shows that BP’s oil is still in the Gulf, and that the Coast Guard should never have allowed BP to stand-down cleanup efforts along Louisiana’s hard-hit coast.”

 

At the same time that Isaac was churning up an oily wake, the Department of Justice was addressing the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill, which dumped roughly 5 million barrels (205.8 million gallons) of oil into the ...

Published: Thursday 6 September 2012
The investigation, which initially began with the examination of 101 prisoner cases, was reduced to that of only two already dead prisoners.

 

Startling new evidence of the torture, unlawful rendition, and other abuse of Libyan anti-Gaddafi rebels in U.S. detention facilities during the George W. Bush administration was revealed Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The groundbreaking report, “Delivered into Enemy Hands: U.S.-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi’s Libya”, was made public one week after Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department’s decision to cease investigations of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials who may have been responsible for the deaths of two prisoners.

The investigation, which initially began with the examination of 101 prisoner cases, was reduced to that of only two already dead prisoners. Additionally, the investigation only encompassed the abuses which were unauthorised by Bush.

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Published: Wednesday 5 September 2012
Published: Friday 31 August 2012
“States also have the option to seek a favorable judgment from the federal court in Washington, D.C. — a costlier, longer and, therefore rarer, route to take.”

 

 

A single provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been playing a key role on the election front this year. Section 5 has blocked photo voter-ID laws, prohibited reduced early-voting periods in parts of Florida and just Tuesday barred new redistricting maps in Texas.

It's the reason South Carolina is in federal court this week to try to convince a three-judge panel its photo voter-ID law will not disenfranchise minorities. It's the reason that Texas went to trial on the same issue last month — and on Thursday, lost.

Not surprisingly, then, Section 5 is increasingly the target of attack by those who say it is outdated, discriminatory against Southern states and unconstitutional.

Under the provision, certain states and localities with a history of anti-minority election practices must obtain federal approval or "pre clearance" before making changes to voting laws. In present day, that requirement is burdensome, "needlessly aggressive" and based on outdated coverage criteria,

Published: Wednesday 29 August 2012
“A 2011 New York Times analysis of enforcement actions during the last 15 years found at least 51 cases in which 19 Wall Street firms had broken anti fraud laws they had agreed never to breach.”

Almost daily we read about another apparently stiff financial penalty meted out for corporate malfeasance. This year corporations are on track to pay as much as $8 billion to resolve charges of defrauding the government, a record sum, according to the Department of Justice. Last year big business paid the Securities and Exchange Commission $2.8 billion to settle disputes.

Sounds like an awful lot of money. And it is, for you and me. But is it a lot of money for corporate lawbreakers? The best way to determine that is to see whether the penalties have deterred them from further wrongdoing.

The empirical evidence argues they don’t. A 2011 New York Times analysis of enforcement actions during the last 15 years found at least 51 cases in which 19 Wall Street firms had broken anti fraud laws they had agreed never to breach.

Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, among others, have settled fraud cases by stipulating they would never again violate an anti fraud law, only to do so again and again and again. Bank of America’s securities unit has agreed four times since 2005 not to violate a major anti fraud statute, and another four times not to violate a separate law. Merrill Lynch, which Bank of America acquired in 2008, has separately agreed not to violate the same two statutes seven times since 1999.

Outside the financial sector the story is similar. Erika Kelton at Forbes reports that Pfizer paid $152 million in 2008; $49 million a few months later; a record-setting $2.3 billion in 2009 and $14.5 million last year. Each time ...

Published: Saturday 25 August 2012
“Caramadre portrays himself as a modern-day Robin Hood.”

 

Joseph Caramadre has spent a lifetime scouring the fine print. He's hardwired to seek the angle, an overlooked clause in a contract that allows him to transform a company's carelessness into a personal windfall. He calls these insights his "creations," and he numbers them. There have been about 19 in his lifetime, he says. For example, there was number four, which involved an office superstore coupon he parlayed into enough nearly free office furniture to fill a three-car garage. Number three consisted of a sure-fire but short-lived system for winning money at the local dog track. But the one that landed him on the evening news as a suspect in a criminal conspiracy was number 18, which promised investors a unique arrangement: You can keep your winnings and have someone else cover your losses.

Caramadre portrays himself as a modern-day Robin Hood. He's an Italian kid from Providence, R.I., who grew up modestly, became a certified public accountant and then put himself through night school to get a law degree. He has given millions to charities and the Catholic Church. As he tells his life story, his native ability helps him outsmart a phalanx of high-priced lawyers, actuaries and corporate suits. Number 18 came to fruition, he says, when a sizable segment of the life insurance industry ignored centuries of experience and commonsense in a heated competition for market share.

Federal prosecutors in Rhode Island and insurance companies paint a very different picture of Caramadre: They say he's an unscrupulous con artist who engaged in identity theft, conspiracy and two different kinds of fraud. Prosecutors contend he deceived the terminally ill to make millions for himself and his clients. For them, Caramadre's can't-miss investment strategy was an illusion ...

Published: Tuesday 14 August 2012
“First, in spite of all the name-calling about President Obama being a Kenyan socialist, he has pushed an agenda that most Republicans would have been comfortable with 20 years ago.”

In principle the country faces a choice this fall between a moderate conservative, President Obama, and Governor Romney, an extreme conservative who wants to privatize Social Security and Medicare and eliminate most of the services that the public expects from the federal government. The reason why this choice only exists in principle is that the media have worked hard to conceal Representative Ryan’s extreme positions from the public. Now that Governor Romney has implicitly embraced these positions by selecting Representative Ryan as his vice-presidential nominee, it remains to be seen whether the media will does it job.

First, in spite of all the name-calling about President Obama being a Kenyan socialist, he has pushed an agenda that most Republicans would have been comfortable with 20 years ago. His health care plan was put forward by the conservative Heritage Foundation in 1992, before Governor Romney put it in place in Massachusetts. His Wall Street reform leaves the too-big-to-fail banks bigger than ever, even after they helped to inflate a housing bubble, the collapse of which brought the economy to its knees.

And, running large deficits in a downturn was a practice that Obama could tie to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and both Bushes. It would be difficult to find a policy pushed by our Kenyan socialist president that would make a Nixon Republican unhappy.  

By contrast, Representative Ryan has an extreme right-wing agenda that predates both Great Society and the New Deal. He has put forward plans that ...

Published: Saturday 11 August 2012
“Holder was on the defensive yesterday, a sign that the mounting criticism of his inaction is getting his attention.”

 

Yesterday the Justice Department announced that once again it's not going to pursue evidence of Wall Street crimes which has been sent its way. It has already failed to act on information sent to it by sources whose investigators are apparently more dogged than its own, including several other government agencies and the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. Now the bipartisan committee which was led by Senators Carl Levin and Tom Coburn can be added to the list of sources whose leads weren't pursued by Attorney General Eric Holder and his staff.

Holder was on the defensive yesterday, a sign that the mounting criticism of his inaction is getting his attention. He was also scornful of that criticism, saying that it's belied by "a troublesome little thing called facts."

There's something troublesome here, all right, but it isn't the facts.

A Justice Department press release announced that there will be no prosecutions based on the Levin/Coburn report:

“After a careful review of the information provided in the report and more than a year of thorough investigation, the Department of Justice ... the FBI and the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (and other agencies) have determined that, based on the law and evidence as they exist at this time, there is not a viable basis to bring a criminal prosecution with respect to Goldman Sachs or its employees in regard to the allegations set forth in the report."

The press release goes on to say that "the department and its investigative partners conducted an exhaustive review of the report and its exhibits, independently gathered and scrutinized a large volume of other documents, and tenaciously pursued potential evidentiary leads, including conducting numerous witness interviews."

The DoJ also boasts that "Since FY 2011, the Department of Justice’s ...

Published: Friday 10 August 2012
In a statement Thursday, Goldman said: “We are pleased that this matter is behind us.”

After a year-long investigation into Goldman Sachs, the bank singled out by a Senate investigative committee for its abusive mortgage practices in the run-up to the financial crisis, the Justice Department announced Friday that it would not press charges against the bank. Goldman Sachs became of the face of widespread mortgage fraud and abuse that led to the subprime mortgage crisis when evidence that it had made trades described by its own bankers as “shitty deals” came to light during a Senate investigation in 2011.

The Department of Justice, however, concluded that it did to meet the “burden of proof” required for charges, the Wall Street Journal reports:

“Based on the law and evidence as they exist at this time, there is not a viable basis to bring a criminal prosecution with respect to Goldman Sachs or its employees in regard to the allegations set forth in the report,” the statement read. [...]

In a statement Thursday, Goldman said: “We are pleased that this matter is behind us.”

DOJ’s investigation began after an April 2011 report from the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations revealed that Goldman Sachs had pushed its clients to make trades on risky mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps even as the bank was betting the same securities would lose value. Though Goldman Sachs was “doing God’s work,” according to chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, other bankers described pushing “shitty deals” on customers. In March of this year, a ...

Published: Thursday 9 August 2012
The agency said it would undertake the study in response to articles published by ProPublica and The Washington Post in December that found white applicants were nearly four times as likely to be pardoned as minorities.

 

The U.S. Department of Justice has issued a request for proposals for its first-ever in-depth study of presidential pardons, providing fresh details on what it envisions the review will entail.

The agency said it would undertake the study in response to articles published by ProPublica and The Washington Post in December that found white applicants were nearly four times as likely to be pardoned as minorities. African American applicants fared the worst: Just 7 of 189 people pardoned by President George W. Bush were African American. So far, President Obama has pardoned 22 people, including 2 minorities.

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Published: Sunday 5 August 2012
Published: Monday 30 July 2012
“We know a lot less about Anaheim and the killing of Manuel Angel Diaz, shot in the back and in the head by that city’s police just a few short hours after the awful Aurora murders.”

 

 

Welcome to the abattoir -- a nation where a man can walk into a store and buy an assault rifle, a shotgun, a couple of Glocks; where in the comfort of his darkened living room, windows blocked from the sunlight, he can rig a series of bombs unperturbed and buy thousands of rounds of ammo on the Internet; where a movie theater can turn into a killing floor at the midnight hour.

We know about all of this. We know because the weekend of July 20th became all-Aurora-all-the-time, a round-the-clock engorgement of TV news reports, replete with massacre theme music, an endless loop of victims, their loved ones, eyewitness accounts, cell-phone video, police briefings, informal memorials, and “healing,” all washed down with a presidential visit and hour upon hour of anchor and “expert” speculation. We know this because within a few days a Google search for “Aurora movie shootings” produced over 200 million hits referencing the massacre that left 70-plus casualties, including 12 fatalities.

We know a lot less about Anaheim and the killing of Manuel Angel Diaz, shot in the back and in the head by that city’s police just a few short hours after the awful Aurora murders.

But to the people living near La Palma Avenue and North Anna Drive, the shooting of Manuel Diaz was all too familiar: it was the sixth, seventh, or eighth police shooting in Anaheim, California, since the beginning of 2012. (No one seems quite sure of the exact count, though the Orange County District Attorney’s office claims six shootings, five fatalities.)

Diaz, 25, and as far as police are concerned, a “documented gang member,” was unarmed. He was apparently running when he ...

Published: Wednesday 25 July 2012
“There are plenty of ways to reign in political spending that don’t run afoul of the Supreme Court…it is just virtually impossible under current conditions to pass a law with teeth, and then make it stick.”

The FEC (Federal Election Commission) is currently a corpse – lifeless, ineffective, and useless. Elections financed by a tiny sliver of the population threaten the health of our democracy. The current murmur to reform and strengthen the agency should be a roar given the enormous effect doing so would have on restoring a government by, for, and of the people.

Currently, amending the Constitution is the most widely embraced solution for ending the systemic corruption fueled by money in politics. However, an amendment will take many years to implement, and as other reformers have correctly argued, steps should be taken in the interim. Unlike other short-term fixes however, reforming the FEC has the unique potential to actually eliminate the need to amend the Constitution.

Let’s back up a little. There are two primary arguments for a constitutional amendment. The first is well known –an amendment bypasses the Supreme Court, which has taken the idea of non-person personhood to ridiculous extremes.

The second is that any law put in place using the normal legislative process can be easily undone later. While not as well known, it is this second reason many in the reform community believe an amendment to be the most viable solution.

There are plenty of ways to reign in political spending that don’t run afoul of the Supreme Court…it is just virtually impossible under current conditions to pass a law with teeth, and then make it stick. Reforming the FEC is the exception; and one which could help facilitate additional reforms.

Here’s how a remade FEC would work:

First, decouple its budgeting from Congress so it couldn’t be starved of necessary funds (a huge conflict of interest). Have the agency instead submit a budget to the CBO for review and approval. Whatever the price tag, it pales in ...

Published: Tuesday 24 July 2012
“In these so-called ‘non-strict photo ID states’ — Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Idaho, South Dakota and Hawaii — individuals are requested to show photo ID but can still vote if they don’t have one.”

Voter IDs laws have become a political flashpoint in what's gearing up to be another close election year. Supporters say the laws — which 30 states have now enacted in some form — are needed to combat voter fraud, while critics see them as a tactic to disenfranchise voters.

 

We've taken ...

Published: Thursday 19 July 2012
Obama Administration looking to reform the presidential pardon.

The Obama administration has asked for a fresh review of an Alabama federal inmate's commutation request and directed the Justice Department to conduct its first ever in-depth analysis of recommendations for presidential pardons, according to several officials and individuals involved.

The Office of Pardon Attorney has been at the center of growing controversy since December, when stories published by ProPublica and The Washington Post revealed a racial disparity in pardons. White applicants were four times more likely to receive presidential mercy than minorities. African Americans had the least chance of success.

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Published: Tuesday 17 July 2012
“Some of the methods Sheldon Adelson used in Macau to save his company and help build a personal fortune estimated at $25 billion have come under expanding scrutiny by federal and Nevada investigators.”

This story was co-published with PBS' "Frontline."

A decade ago gambling magnate and leading Republican donor Sheldon Adelson looked at a desolate spit of land in Macau and imagined a glittering strip of casinos, hotels and malls.

Where competitors saw obstacles, including Macau's hostility to outsiders and historic links to Chinese organized crime, Adelson envisaged a chance to make billions.

Adelson pushed his chips to the center of the table, keeping his nerve even as his company teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in late 2008.

The Macau bet paid off, propelling Adelson into the ranks of the mega-rich and underwriting his role as the largest Republican donor in the 2012 campaign, providing tens of millions of dollars to Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and other GOP causes.

Published: Friday 13 July 2012
Published: Friday 13 July 2012
“DOJ found that Wells Fargo’s discriminatory lending practices resulted in African-American and Hispanic borrowers paying higher rates for loans solely because of the color of their skin.”

 

Yesterday, the Justice Department announced an agreement by Wells Fargo to pay $175 million in order to settle claims that its independent brokers discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers. The Wells Fargo settlement, if approved, will be the second largest residential fair-lending settlement in DOJ’s history.

DOJ found that Wells Fargo’s discriminatory lending practices resulted in African-American and Hispanic borrowers paying higher rates for loans solely because of the color of their skin. Minority borrowers were both steered into sub-prime loans and charged higher fees.

An investigation by the department’s civil rights division found that mortgage brokers working with Wells Fargo had charged higher fees and rates to more than 30,000 minority borrowers across the country than they had to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk, according to a complaint filed on Thursday along with the proposed settlement.

Wells Fargo brokers also steered more than 4,000 minority borrowers into costlier subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit risk profiles had received regular loans, a Justice Department complaint found. The deal covers the subprime bubble years of 2004 to 2009.

Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said the practices amounted to a “racial surtax,” adding: “All ...

Published: Friday 13 July 2012
Our largest (and, lest we forget, taxpayer-rescued) banks have already paid tens of billions of dollars to settle civil and criminal charges - and now there’s LIBOR.

If only. If only Brian Moynihan designed fashionable shoes, Jamie Dimon pitched a mean slider, and Lloyd Blankfein had written the song "Boyfriend" for Justin Bieber. Then they'd prosecute bank fraud.

The Justice Department used as many people to investigate one baseball player as it's doing to pursuing Wall Street housing fraud. It has coordinated fifteen Federal agencies to seize counterfeit goods worth $178 million, yet all but ignored a bankers' crime wave which cost the global economy trillions.

Our largest (and, lest we forget, taxpayer-rescued) banks have already paid tens of billions of dollars to settle civil and criminal charges - and now there's LIBOR. Yet there have been no arrests for a well-documented litany of charges which includes bribery, perjury, forgery, investor fraud, consumer fraud, and money-laundering for Mexican drug cartels.

Let's do the numbers. Number of seizures to recover counterfeit goods worth $178 million: 24,792. Number of arrests for crimes worth tens of billions in settlements and trillions in losses: Zero.

Low and Inside

Earlier today I took part in a press call with the Campaign for a Fair Settlement in which its Campaign Director, Brian Kettenring, noted that the Department of Justice assigned 93 agents to investigate ballplayer Roger Clemens and "about 100 to investigate misconduct responsible for millions of underwater homeowners and $800 bllion in underwater equity."

They weren't investigating Clemens for his pitching technique (although I think there's more to be learned about his split-finger fastball), but for something even less consequential: his alleged steroid use. Kettenring's right to contrast the government's Clemens probe with its response to the well-documented Wall Street crimes which triggered a worldwide financial crisis.

Published: Wednesday 11 July 2012
“Confidential sources say that the President’s much-touted Mortgage Fraud Task Force is being starved for vital resources by the Holder Justice Department.”

More and more Washington insiders are asking a question that was considered off-limits in the nation's capital just a few months ago: Who, exactly, is Attorney General Eric Holder representing? As scandal after scandal erupts on Wall Street, involving everything from global lending manipulation to cocaine and prostitution, more and more people are worrying about Holder's seeming inaction - or worse - in the face of mounting evidence.

Confidential sources say that the President's much-touted Mortgage Fraud Task Force is being starved for vital resources by the Holder Justice Department. Political insiders are fearful that this obstruction will threaten Democrats' chances at the polls. Investigators and prosecutors from other agencies are expressing their frustration as the ever-rowing list of documented crimes by individual Wall Street bankers continues to be ignored.

Meanwhile the scandals and revelations go on. The new LIBOR rate-fixing scandal led the bank-friendly and conservative magazine The Economist to run a cover about "Banksters" and to publish a piece entitled "The rotten heart of finance." People like Robert Reich are saying this could be the story that finally brings down the banks.

Where are the indictments?

But there have already been stories - lots of stories, terrible ones - about corruption, bribery, perjury, forgery, and a dozen different kinds of fraud. There have been stories about laundering money for the Mexican drug cartels, including a new lead that surfaced this week. There's already ample evidence that Wall Street bankers have defrauded cities, deceived investors, and cheated their own clients.

Published: Monday 9 July 2012
The DOJ blocked Texas’ voter ID law in March, saying it will disenfranchise at least 600,000 voters -- a disproportionate number of which are Latinos and other minority groups.

The Justice Department and the Texas Legislature are squaring off in court today over the state's controversial voter ID law. The law requires voters to show photo identification at the polls, and Texas hopes to implement it before the November election. The DOJ blocked Texas' voter ID law in March, saying it will disenfranchise at least 600,000 voters -- a disproportionate number of which are Latinos and other minority groups. Currently, 16 states have passed restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election, including vital swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania. We speak with Robert Notzon, the Legal Redress Chair for the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and co-counsel in a lawsuit challenging Texas' voter ID law; and Ari Berman, who covers voting rights for The Nation and Rolling Stone magazines. "Not only is Texas such a large state but it has probably the strictest voter ID law on the books right now," Berman says. "You can vote with a handgun permit but not a student ID. Hispanics are anywhere from 46% to 120% more likely to not have an ID than white voters. In some ways it really is 'As goes Texas, so goes the nation' in terms of demographic change and the Republican response."

Published: Sunday 8 July 2012
“Suppose the bankers are manipulating the interest rate so they can place bets with the money you lend or repay them – bets that will pay off big for them because they have inside information on what the market is really predicting, which they’re not sharing with you.”

Just when you thought Wall Street couldn’t sink any lower – when its myriad abuses of public trust have already spread a miasma of cynicism over the entire economic system, giving birth to Tea Partiers and Occupiers and all manner of conspiracy theories; when its excesses have already wrought havoc with the lives of millions of Americans, causing taxpayers to shell out billions (of which only a portion has been repaid) even as its top executives are back to making more money than ever; when its vast political power (via campaign contributions) has already eviscerated much of the Dodd-Frank law that was supposed to rein it in, including the so-called “Volker” Rule that was sold as a milder version of the old Glass-Steagall Act that used to separate investment from commercial banking – yes, just when you thought the Street had hit bottom, an even deeper level of public-be-damned greed and corruption is revealed. 

Sit down and hold on to your chair.

What’s the most basic service banks provide? Borrow money and lend it out. You put your savings in a bank to hold in trust, and the bank agrees to pay you interest on it. Or you borrow money from the bank and you agree to pay the bank interest.

How is this interest rate determined? We trust that the banking system is setting today’s rate based on its best guess about the future worth of the money. And we assume that guess is based, in turn, on the cumulative market predictions of countless lenders and borrowers all over the world about the future supply and demand for the dough.

But suppose our assumption is wrong. Suppose the bankers are manipulating the interest rate so they can place bets with the money you lend or repay them – bets that will pay off big for them because they have inside information on what the market is really predicting, which they’re not sharing with you.

Published: Sunday 8 July 2012
“The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also named six current and former members of Congress who received discount loans, but all of their names had surfaced previously.”

The former Countrywide Financial Corp., whose subprime loans helped start the nation's foreclosure crisis, made hundreds of discount loans to buy influence with members of Congress, congressional staff, top government officials and executives of troubled mortgage giant Fannie Mae, according to a House report.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press, said that the discounts — from January 1996 to June 2008, were not only aimed at gaining influence for the company but to help mortgage giant Fannie Mae. Countrywide's business depended largely on Fannie, which at the time was trying to fend off more government regulation but eventually had to come under government control.

Fannie was responsible for purchasing a large volume of Countrywide's subprime mortgages. Countrywide was taken over by Bank of America in January 2008, relieving the financial services industry and regulators from the messy task of cleaning up the bankruptcy of a company that was servicing 9 million U.S. home loans worth $1.5 trillion at a time when the nation faced a widening credit crisis, massive foreclosures and an economic downturn.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also named six current and former members of Congress who received discount loans, but all of their names had surfaced previously. Other previously mentioned names included former top executive branch officials and three chief executives of Fannie Mae.

"Documents and testimony obtained by the committee show the VIP loan program was a tool used by Countrywide to build goodwill with lawmakers and other individuals positioned to benefit the company," the report said. "In the years that led up to the 2007 housing market decline, Countrywide VIPs were positioned to affect dozens of pieces of legislation that would have reformed Fannie" and its rival Freddie Mac, the committee said.

Some ...

Published: Friday 6 July 2012
“This case is a clear example of how the illegal export of sensitive technology reduces the advantages our military currently possesses.”

 

The Canadian arm of the aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney closed a six-year U.S. government probe last week by admitting that the lure of up to $2 billion in helicopter sales to China had caused it to export computer software illegally that helped China create its first modern attack helicopter.

“This case is a clear example of how the illegal export of sensitive technology reduces the advantages our military currently possesses,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said in a statement released on June 28. That’s when the government disclosed that Pratt & Whitney and two related companies agreed to pay a total of $75 million in fines for multiple violations of export rules policed by the State Department.

The software probe and the heavy financial sanction appear to have had no punishing impact on Pratt & Whitney’s extensive and continuing contract work for the Defense Department, however. That’s the same department that in an ironic twist announced this spring that it was reorienting its forces to deal with what its officials regard as a rising Chinese military threat against U.S. allies in the region.

The events are once again raising questions about the circumstances under which major defense contractors might be barred from government work. Independent watchdogs have long complained that few such firms have been barred or suspended, even for egregious lawbreaking, such as supplying armaments or related equipment to a potential adversary. Nothing in the settlement agreement directly threatens Pratt's existing or future government contracting.

Since July 2006, when United Technologies — the parent company of Pratt and another firm, Hamilton Sundstrand, which also admitted wrongdoing — filed statements about the software exports with the government that it now ...

Published: Friday 6 July 2012
Most of today’s Glaxo shareholders bought into the company after the illegal profits were already built into the prices they paid for their shares.

 

Earlier this week the Justice Department announced a $3 billion settlement of criminal and civil charges against pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline — the largest pharmaceutical settlement in history — for improper marketing prescription drugs in the late 1990s to the mid-2000s.

The charges are deadly serious. Among other things, Glaxo was charged with promoting to kids under 18 an antidepressant approved only for adults; pushing two other antidepressants for unapproved purposes, including remedying sexual dysfunction;and, to further boost sales of prescription drugs, showering doctors with gifts, consulting contracts, speaking fees, even tickets to sporting events.

$3 billion may sound like a lot of money, but during these years Glaxo made $27.5 billion on these three antidepressants alone, according to IMS Health, a data research firm — so the penalty could almost be considered a cost of doing business. 

Besides, to the extent the penalty affects Glaxo’s profits and its share price, the wrong people will be feeling the financial pain. Most of today’s Glaxo shareholders bought into the company after the illegal profits were already built into the prices they paid for their shares.

Not a single executive has been charged — even though some charges against the company are criminal. Glaxo’s current CEO came on board after all this happened. Glaxo has agreed to reclaim the bonuses of any executives who engaged in or supervised illegal behavior, but the company hasn’t officially admitted to any wrongdoing – and without legal charges against any of executive it’s impossible to know whether Glaxo will follow through.

The Glaxo case is the latest and biggest in a series of Justice Department prosecutions of Big Pharma for illegal marketing prescription drugs. In May, Abbott Laboratories settled ...

Published: Thursday 5 July 2012
“The company was rocked anew last week when the news agency disclosed a series of email exchanges in which McClendon and other Chesapeake executives appeared to collude with officials at EnCana Corp., Canada’s largest natural gas company, to suppress the price of land leases in Michigan.”

The last four months have been rather bumpy for Chesapeake Energy Corp., the nation’s second-largest natural gas company behind Exxon Mobil.

Starting in April, Reuters took aim at the company’s flamboyant chief executive, Aubrey McClendon, in a series of articles, prompting his ouster as company chairman (he remains CEO) last month at the behest of disgruntled shareholders. The revelations also triggered an SEC probe.

 

The company was ...

Published: Tuesday 3 July 2012
“Here’s what we know about leak investigations underway, the legality of leaks, and why leak prosecutions have been so rare.”

Recent scoops on national security have drawn the ire of Republican lawmakers, who have accused the Obama White House of leaking stories that burnish its image.

Obama responded that he has “zero tolerance” for leaks. He also said: “the writers of these articles have all stated unequivocally that they didn’t come from this White House. And that’s not how we operate.”

Published: Thursday 28 June 2012
“This year there is a great deal of chaos and confusion regarding what is happening with the unprecedented wave of restrictive voting laws that has swept the nation since 2010.”

With the 2012 election just a few months away, organizers and voters are working in earnest to support ballot issues, community concerns, and political campaigns. 

This year there is a great deal of chaos and confusion regarding what is happening with the unprecedented wave of restrictive voting laws that has swept the nation since 2010. Understanding which laws are in effect and what it will mean for the November 2012 election is crucial.

One category of restrictive voting law that is especially important to navigate is voter ID requirements.

Since 2010, 10 states passed voter ID laws (Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin). Although each law is restrictive they are each unique. They have varying enactment dates, some are waiting for pre-clearance under  READ FULL POST 5 COMMENTS

Published: Thursday 28 June 2012
“For someone whose qualifications as a constitutional authority are nil, Rove's comments displayed an impressive degree of contempt for his listeners that is not seen every day, not even on Fox.”

Forever incapable of embarrassment, let alone sober reflection, Karl Rove is very well suited to his current roles as Fox News commentator and Crossroads Super PAC smear sponsor. But he achieved a moment of near-perfection last Thursday when, appearing on a Fox morning news broadcast, he spoke up about President Obama's invocation of executive privilege against a House committee subpoena of Justice Department documents.

“It's one thing to exert executive privilege over the actions of the president, and his aides, and the White House,” he said. “It's another thing to exercise executive privilege with regard to a Cabinet official, seemingly in a matter that — according to the president up until now — had no connections with, no contact with, no communications with the White House ... .”

Rove went on to complain that the president's privilege claim over the “Operation Fast and Furious” documents demanded by Rep. Darrell Issa's oversight committee “is a very long reach. I mean basically, if the president is allowed to take the privilege that goes to the Executive Office of the President and extend it to a Cabinet department, then he can extend it to any branch of the government for any matter, even if there was no presidential or White House involvement. And I'm not certain that that's what the Founders thought about when they talked about executive privilege.”

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Published: Wednesday 27 June 2012
The Court also provisionally allowed the so-called “show me your papers” section to go into effect

Fox News attacked the Justice Department for setting up a hotline for Arizonans to report civil rights violations by Arizona authorities enforcing the "show me your papers" provision of the state's immigration law. But commentators from across the political spectrum have acknowledged that Arizona's immigration law could lead to civil rights violations such as racial profiling.

 

Supreme Court Allows AZ "Show Me Your Papers" Legislation To Go Into Effect To See How It Will Be Enforced

Supreme Court Strikes Down Much Of AZ Law, But Allows Show Me Your Papers Section To Go Into Effect For The Time Being. On June 25, the Supreme Court struck down three sections of Arizona's controversial immigration law. The Court also provisionally allowed the so-called "show me your papers" section to go into effect. The Supreme Court experts at SCOTUSblog explained:
The Court didn't rule on the health care cases today, but it still issued a blockbuster:  its decision in Arizona v. United States, the federal government's challenge to Arizona's controversial immigration law.  And although Arizona prevailed last year at the Court in a case involving a different effort to regulate immigration (in that case, by punishing businesses that hire illegal immigrants), it did not fare as well this year.  Instead, the decision was largely (but not entirely) a victory for the federal government:  the Court held that three of the four provisions of the law at issue in the case cannot not go into effect at all because they are "preempted," or trumped, by federal immigration ...
Published: Monday 25 June 2012
Published: Monday 25 June 2012
“Society and government are supposed to discourage people from from acting on their worst impulses, and when it comes to the corporate class they - and we - have failed.”

 

Remember the "superpredators"? They were the supposedly super-violent youngsters of dark complexion that conservatives kept screaming about in the 1990s. We were told they were about to unleash an unprecedented wave of vicious crime any day now.

Those superpredators don't exist, and never did. But the myth of the "superpredator" offers us a new (and, admittedly, partially ironic) lens through which to view today's corporate executives, a class of people which is apparently remorseless about the harm it causes in the pursuit of self-enrichment.

Let's be clear: No group of human beings is uniquely predisposed toward evil. But society and government are supposed to discourage people from from acting on their worst impulses, and when it comes to the corporate class they - and we - have failed.

Now the rise of the Corporate Superpredator Class could culminate in the election of one of its own to the highest office in the land.


Fear of Children

The myth of the juvenile "superpredator" was promoted by conservatives in the 1990s and 2000s. As Fairness and Accuracy in Media reported in 1998, politicized professors and mainstream commentators were terrifying the public with stories about the "remorseless brutality" we can expect to see from the "teenaged time bomb" that TIME Magazine's scare piece described as follows: "They are just four, five and six years old now, but already they are making criminologists nervous."

But those superpredator children never existed. In fact, juvenile crime rates have declined "significantly" since the early 1990s, according to FBI statistics. But the fear engendered by ...

Published: Friday 22 June 2012
Holder says that his office already released thousands of documents, and that the others that Issa wants are internal communications protected by executive privilege

 

Yesterday, the Obama administration invoked executive privilege to prevent the release of certain documents to Congress related to Operation Fast and Furious, the arms-trafficking sting gone awry that came to light last year. (As we've detailed, federal agents lost track of hundreds of guns they sold to suspected gun smugglers, many of which later turned up at crime scenes in Mexico).

The fall-out from the failed operation has been an ongoing battle between Attorney General Eric Holder and congressional Republicans, in particular Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Issa wants documents related to the Department of Justice's investigation of the operation.

The committee voted yesterday to recommend that Holder be held in contempt of Congress for not turning over some documents. Holder says that his office already released thousands of documents, and that the others that Issa wants are internal communications protected by executive privilege.

In the midst of all this back-and-forth, we lay out exactly what the executive privilege is, and what it means in this case.

So what is executive privilege?

The president can invoke executive privilege in order to withhold some internal executive branch communications from the other branches of government. The privilege is based on the separation of powers between the branches.

Executive privilege has been invoked ...

Published: Friday 22 June 2012
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide very soon whether to strike down SB 1070, but few observers expect that it will choose to do so based on the Department of Justice arguments.

Shortly after the 2010 passage of SB 1070, Arizona’s notorious immigration bill, 20,000 people gathered in Phoenix for a May Day march to protest the new law. Instead of ending with speakers or a formal program, as political marches often do, organizers broke the crowd into small groups and asked them two questions:

How will the new law impact you and your neighbors? What can you do about it?

And with that, a new phase of the migrant rights movement, based on an age-old model of community organizing, was born.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide very soon whether to strike down SB 1070, but few observers expect that it will choose to do so based on the Department of Justice arguments. That’s one reason local capacity development methods, such as Barrio Defense Committees, are crucial, organizers say. “We went to Congress for reform and were treated like a political football,” says Carlos Garcia, an organizer with the grassroots group Puente Arizona. “We asked the president for relief and instead got record deportations. Now even the courts may give SB 1070 the green light. It's time we realize we have only each other and start organizing deeper in our own community."

In the weeks and months after those small group discussions, communities across Arizona formed Barrio Defense Committees, neighborhood-based groups focused on resolving local problems, building resilience in the face of attack, and building organic leadership for broader social movements.

The committees are based on neighbor-to-neighbor relations where people commit to support each other to mitigate the negative impacts of deportations. Families sign power of ...

Published: Thursday 21 June 2012
“Angry Republicans (and their media enablers at Fox News, et al.) insist that the White House must have leaked information about the president's terrorist ‘kill list,’ the success of drone strikes and the killing of Osama bin Laden to improve the president’s martial image and re-election prospects.”

 

This week, Republicans on Capitol Hill opened yet another front in their continuous sniping against the Obama administration, the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder. Having demanded a federal investigation of intelligence leaks, they now claim to be outraged because Holder has asked two United States attorneys to conduct that probe — and one of the two happens to be a Democrat.

Angry Republicans (and their media enablers at Fox News, et al.) insist that the White House must have leaked information about the president's terrorist "kill list," the success of drone strikes and the killing of Osama bin Laden to improve the president's martial image and re-election prospects. Never mind that they fawned over the Bush White House, regardless of its leaks and even its unlawful disclosure of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity. That was then, of course — and now the alleged leaks of national security material from a Democratic administration enrage them.

Whether those stories emanated from the Obama White House or not, someone must have tipped off The New York Times, which first reported the "kill list," among other things. So consistent with President Obama's evident obsession about stanching leaks, Holder appointed Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, to oversee an investigation and potential prosecution of the leakers.

Published: Wednesday 20 June 2012
The House committee where Dimon is appearing today has its own ties to the bank.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is on Capitol Hill again today, this time to talk to the House Financial Services committee about the bank's recent multibillion-dollar trading loss. According to his prepared testimony, Dimon plans to deliver basically the same remarks he gave the Senate banking committee last week, apologizing but giving few details.

His Senate hearing was hardly a grilling; senators mostly praised him for his "emphasis on continuous quality improvement," in the words of Senator Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

As we charted last week, JPMorgan happens to have plenty of connections to the Senate committee. The House committee where Dimon is appearing today has its own ties to the bank. Congressmen and staff from the committee have gone to JPMorgan and its lobbying firms. Members have also gotten hefty campaign contributions from the bank's PACs and employees.

The House Connections

JPMorgan has two in-house lobbyists with connections to the House Financial Services committee.

Published: Tuesday 19 June 2012
“The warrantless search initiative has drawn accusations of being unconstitutional, while mostly targeting people of color, overwhelmingly black and Latino men.”

Thousands of people held a silent march in New York City on Sunday to protest the New York City Police Department’s controversial "stop-and-frisk" policies. The warrantless search initiative has drawn accusations of being unconstitutional, while mostly targeting people of color, overwhelmingly black and Latino men. We hear from several voices at the march: Reverend Al Sharpton, Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP, and New York City residents who have endured dozens of stop-and-frisk searches.

Transcript:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Thousands of people took to the streets Sunday to protest the New York City Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policies. Organized by the NAACP, the protest marked only the second time the organization has held a silent march. The last time was in 1917 to protest lynching. Last year, the New York police officers stopped ...

Published: Saturday 16 June 2012
Florida has compiled a list of potential non-citizen registered voters using data provided by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

 

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Florida over its voter purge program aimed at removing non-citizens from voter rolls. We’ve taken a closer look at the controversy surrounding the program and why the federal government has gotten involved:

So what is Florida doing and why is it so controversial?

Florida has compiled a list of potential non-citizen registered voters using data provided by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. It has sent the list to county election supervisors and requested that the supervisors contact flagged voters to verify their citizenship.

In its suit, the Justice department has claimed the data is “outdated and inaccurate” and may mistakenly identify registered voters who are U.S. citizens, depriving them of their right to vote. In response, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has reiterated his support for the initiative, which he says is necessary to preserve the integrity of voting rolls.

Isn’t it important to perform such voter roll purges to make sure voter lists are up-to-date?

Yes, every state must go through its voter rolls in order to account for death, relocation out of state, or change in eligibility due to a criminal conviction or mental incapacitation. (Read more about purge practices in this 2008 report).

And of course, only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote in this country.

Florida is not the first state to flag the issue of non-citizen voting: both New Mexico and Colorado have 

Published: Saturday 16 June 2012
I was asked for details about how the organization operated, its membership, its meetings, and about the people who attended them.

 

In the late 1980s, Vietnam veteran Brian Willson sued the U.S. government after being maimed by a Navy munitions train during a protest against U.S. wars in Central America. During trial preparations, the U.S. attorney subpoenaed and deposed several of us who had been at the demonstration or were involved in local organizing. Thus began an 18-month ordeal focused on what we viewed as improper government information-gathering, which came to a close only after Willson reached a settlement in his case.

In my sworn deposition I willingly shared my experience of that horrendous day. But when the interview turned to questions about the internal operations of the organization I worked for at the time — The Pledge of Resistance — I respectfully refused to answer. I was asked for details about how the organization operated, its membership, its meetings, and about the people who attended them. Supported by two lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, I declined to respond. I felt that sharing this information would potentially have a chilling effect on our community and our campaign — would people come to meetings if they knew that data about them might end up in a government file? The trust and solidarity that nurtures so much organizing could be jeopardized.

Even more significantly, I felt that the government wasn’t entitled to this information. The Pledge had a long history of nonviolence training and nonviolent action. There was no basis, so far as the legal case was concerned, to gather this kind of material. We feared that it could be used, then or in the future, for political purposes. Surveillance of the Central America peace movement was not uncommon — 60 movement offices were reportedly broken into during those years — and we had concerns that the information ...

Published: Friday 15 June 2012
The so-called “Papers, Please” provision, which requires Arizona police to ask for people’s immigration status during routine stops, was temporarily blocked by a federal judge.

Carmen Lopez doesn’t want to turn on the TV these days. With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to rule on Arizona’s immigration law any day now, she says watching the news just makes her more worried.


Lopez has been supporting her three children by herself since February, when her husband was deported to Mexico days after Phoenix police pulled him over for speeding and asked for his papers.



The so-called “Papers, Please” provision, which requires Arizona police to ask for people’s immigration status during routine stops, was temporarily blocked by a federal judge. But police still ask individuals for their papers at their own discretion, as happened in the case of Lopez’s husband. 

 

Published: Friday 8 June 2012
On Jan. 22 (two days after Obama’s inauguration) Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducted a raid on a South Lake Tahoe, Calif., cannabis dispensary run by a wheelchair-bound entrepreneur named Ken Estes.

 

 
A heart in love will decipher every squiggle in the letter as a kiss. In the final days of the 2008 campaign and in the opening ones of his administration, President Obama and his top legal aides seemed to the eager ears of marijuana legalizers on the West Coast to be opening the door to a new, sensible era.

 

Here was the basic line as dispensed by Attorney General Eric Holder on March 18, 2009: "The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law. To the extent that people do that and try to use medical marijuana laws (such as California's Prop 215) as a shield for activity that is not designed to comport with what the intention was of the state law, those are the organizations, the people, that we will target. And that is consistent with what the president said during the campaign."

The next day drug activists exulted in a big win.

On Jan. 22 (two days after Obama's inauguration) Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducted a raid on a South Lake Tahoe, Calif., cannabis dispensary run by a wheelchair-bound entrepreneur named Ken Estes. They seized about five pounds of herbal medicine and a few thousand dollars. No arrests were made. "It was a typical rip-and-run," Estes said.

What the love-lost Obamians forgot is how to read political declarations with a close and cynical eye and to bear in mind the eternal power struggles between federal prosecutors and enforcers — e.g., the DEA and equivalent state bodies.

The feds wanted to make it completely clear that, whatever Obama might hint at, they weren't going to be hog-tied by wussy state laws. Bust a guy in a wheelchair; bust a dispensary; make your point: I'm the man.

Bruce Anderson, editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, describes the realities: "In just the last week, raids were conducted on two homes, one in Eureka, one in Redwood Valley, where better than ...

Published: Friday 1 June 2012
“When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises—but his family is with him—it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.”

So now we have Rambo Obama, a steely warrior who, according to a lengthy leaked insider account in The New York Times, hurls death-dealing drones at anyone who threatens the good old USA. Including children. Those children are presumed guilty by virtue of proximity, and the Times plays along, not even modifying a targeted terrorist with the word “alleged,” as once had been the paper’s convention: “When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises—but his family is with him—it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.”

Obama as the cool triggerman is an image useful to White House operatives as they buff the president’s persona for the coming election. But what it reveals is the mindset of a political cynic whose seductive words cloak the moral indifference of a methodical executioner. Forget Harry Truman, who obliterated the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or Lyndon Johnson, who carpet-bombed millions in Vietnam. The Democrats have got themselves another killer, one whose techniques are as devastatingly effective, but brilliantly refined.

The story obviously was planted in The New York Times to benefit the Obama political campaign. Otherwise, why would the president’s former chief of staff, William Daley, and three dozen current and past intelligence insiders provide the newspaper with the most sensitive details of national security decision-making?

Pfc. Bradley Manning was held for many months in solitary confinement for allegedly disclosing information of far lower security classification. The difference is that the top secrets in the news article are ones the president wants leaked in the expectation they will burnish his “tough on terrorism” credentials. This is clearly not the Obama whom many voted for in the hope that he would stick by his word, including the pledge he made on his second day in office to ...

Published: Thursday 31 May 2012
“African-American churches, historically at the forefront of the nation's civil and voting rights efforts, are grappling this election year with how to navigate through the wave of new voting-access laws approved in many Republican-controlled states, laws that many African-Americans believe were implemented to suppress the votes of minorities and others.”

Attorney General Eric Holder spoke to attendees at a summit of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Conference of National Black Churches about the importance of voting as well as the significance of new voter ID laws, which disproportionately affect minorities. The summit was designed, in part, to help black leaders learn about the new laws -- yet Rush Limbaugh and a Fox News contributor attacked Holder's appearance as “reprehensible” and “unseemly.”

C-SPAN: “Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers The Keynote Address At A Meeting Of The Congressional Black Caucus And The Conference Of National Black Churches.” From C-SPAN.org:

Attorney General Eric Holder delivered the keynote address at a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Conference of National Black Churches.

The day also features panels on the state of voting rights, protecting a church's non-profit status, and energizing constituents and congregants to vote.

The Attorney General has announced that he will vigorously defend the Voting Rights Act of 1965, including the Section 5 provision that Southern states or those that have historically disenfranchised black voters must clear any changes to voting law or electoral systems with the Justice Department. [C-SPAN.org, 5/30/12]

McClatchy: Summit Was Planned To “Discuss The New Laws, Their Potential Impact On African-American Voters And How Churches Can Educate Parishioners.” From McClatchy:

African-American churches, historically at the forefront of the nation's civil and voting rights efforts, are grappling this election year with how to navigate through the wave of new voting-access laws approved in ...

Published: Thursday 24 May 2012
Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., wrote to Obama on Tuesday, urging him to revisit the case of Clarence Aaron.

 

The ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee has called on President Barack Obama to order an investigation into the case of Clarence Aaron, a federal prison inmate whose quest for a presidential commutation was the subject of a ProPublica investigation.

The investigation, co-published May 13 with the Washington Post, showed that Pardon Attorney Ronald L. Rodgers, who works for the Justice Department, withheld key information from the White House in 2008 regarding Aaron’s application. Aaron was convicted in 1993, at the age of 24, for his role in an Alabama drug conspiracy –his first criminal offense – and sentenced to three life terms without parole.

Documents obtained by ProPublica show that Rodgers did not tell Bush White House officials that Aaron’s petition had won the support of the sentencing ...

Published: Monday 14 May 2012
“House rules passed after the Jack Abramoff scandal prohibit members from taking trips arranged by lobbyists.”

Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., said today that he will personally reimburse a Taiwan university for the $22,132 trip he took to the island with his wife in December.

The announcement comes after ProPublica co-published a story Thursday evening with Politico detailing how lobbyists for Taiwan from the New York firm Park Strategies invited Owens and organized the four-day trip. House rules passed after the Jack Abramoff scandal prohibit members from taking trips arranged by lobbyists.

 

“In an abundance of caution, and to avoid any question about the purpose of the travel, which was to bring jobs to New York, or about whether it was appropriate for the sponsor to pay for its costs, I am reimbursing the sponsor personally for the full value of the trip,” Owens said in a prepared statement.

Owens said he does not believe the trip, paid for by the Chinese Culture University, broke House rules:

We closely followed the (House) Ethics Committee's process to seek advance approval for the trip, which we obtained. Because the sponsor, the Chinese Culture University, did not employ or retain lobbyists or foreign agents, and because no lobbyist or foreign agent was traveling with me or paying for the trip, we did not understand that our contacts with an agent for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office could affect the trip's permissibility. We made every effort to comply with the standards of conduct and continue to believe that no rules were violated.

The ethics committee has not offered comment in response to calls and emails. As we reported Thursday, Owens mandatory pre-travel filings with the ethics committee did not mention the role of Park Strategies lobbyists organizing the trip.

House rules 

Published: Thursday 3 May 2012
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) tramples on the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which are the very amendments that were demanded by some of the Founding Fathers before they would accept the Constitution.

Last Fall conservative Senate members slipped into a budget bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), several sections that threaten to destroy the very freedoms we have been fighting for. With the idea that the United States itself is part of the battlefield of terrorism, the NDAA makes is possible for a president to direct the military to police our nation and to arrest and hold suspects in indefinite detention!



The NDAA passed the Congress and the President quietly signed it into law on New Year’s eve 2011. The dangerous sections were opposed by the Department of Justice and the military as confusing to the antiterrorism efforts of the FBI’s Terrorism Task Force and the Department of Homeland Security, while giving the military an assignment for which it is not trained and does not want.

 

The  NDAA tramples on the ...

Published: Tuesday 1 May 2012
More than a decade later, as schools struggle for funding amid widespread budget cuts, there is growing evidence that the program’s crucial low-price requirement has been widely neglected by federal regulators and at least one telecom giant.

At the dawn of the Internet era, Congress set out to avert a digital divide between rich and poor students. In a landmark bill, lawmakers required the nation’s phone companies to provide bargain voice and data rates to schools and to subsidize the cost of equipment and services, with the biggest subsidies going to the schools with the most disadvantaged children.

More than a decade later, as schools struggle for funding amid widespread budget cuts, there is growing evidence that the program’s crucial low-price requirement has been widely neglected by federal regulators and at least one telecom giant.

A decade after the program started, AT&T was still not training its employees about the mandatory low rates, which are supposed to be set at the lowest price offered to comparable customers. Lawsuits and other legal actions in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York have turned up evidence that AT&T and Verizon charged local school districts much higher rates than it gave to similar customers or more than what the program allowed.

AT&T has charged some schools up to 325 percent more than it charged others in the same region for essentially the same services. Verizon charged a New York school district more than twice as much as it charged government and other school customers in that state.

The companies say they comply with the rules of the program, known as E-Rate.

Meanwhile, the federal government has made scant effort to enforce the requirement that companies give the preferential rate to schools. The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the program, has yet to bring an enforcement action against any carrier for violating the low-price rule, according to interviews and documents, some obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. And the FCC, acting through the private company that administers the program, has provided little if any guidance to companies on how to apply the best-price rule. ...

Published: Friday 27 April 2012
Whether it’s JPMorgan Chase settling bribery charges in Alabama, Wells Fargo settling charges of laundering drug-cartel money in Mexico, or the nation’s five largest banks buying their way out of widespread foreclosure fraud and tax evasion, never in history has so much evidence led to so little action.

Forgery. Perjury. Investor fraud. Bribery. Money laundering. The body of evidence against individuals at the nation’s biggest banks is overwhelming. Nothing speaks louder about the banks’ guilt than this evidence - nothing, that is, except the billions they’ve paid to settle the charges.

The Administration reacted indignantly this week to suggestions it’s still slow-walking its investigation. And then, despite all this evidence, the Treasury Secretary of the United States proclaimed that no laws had been broken. And the White House wonders why its word is no longer enough?

A source in the office of a key figure in the investigation has denied a new story that they’re ruled out criminal prosecutions. But the burden of proof has shifted. Nothing will convince the public now except action.

Straw Men

 

Whether it’s JPMorgan Chase settling bribery charges in Alabama, Wells Fargo settling charges of laundering drug-cartel money in Mexico, or the nation’s five largest banks buying their way out of widespread foreclosure fraud and tax evasion, never in history has so much evidence led to so little action. Investigators pinpointed the fraudulent activity of individual accountants in GE Capital’s settlement with the SEC, only to be dumbfounded to discover that no criminal indictments were handed down.

So it was nothing short of astonishing to hear the Secretary of the Treasury assert yesterday that no crimes were committed by America’s banks, saying that “most financial crises are caused by a mix of stupidity and greed and recklessness and risk-taking and hope” and adding “you can't legislate away stupidity and risk-taking and greed and recklessness.”

That’s a ...

Published: Thursday 26 April 2012
“The Justice Department went big game hunting and bagged a teeny-weeny scapegoat. More like a scape-kid, really.”

Today, Justice arrested former BP engineer Kurt Mix for destroying evidence in the Deepwater Horizon blow-out.

 

I once ran a Justice Department racketeering case and damned if I would have 'cuffed some poor schmuck like Mix––especially when there's hot, smoking guns showing greater crimes by BP higher ups.

Last week, I released evidence we uncovered that BP top executives concealed evidence of a prior blow-out. Had they not covered up the 2008 blow-out in then Caspian Sea, then the Deepwater Horizon probably would not have blown out two years later in 2010. [Watch the film and read the stories.]

I urge you to read the affidavit of FBI agent Barbara O'Donnell which the government filed in arresting Mix. His crime is deleting texts from his phone indicating that the blown-out Macondo well was gushing over 15,000 barrels of oil a day, not 5,000 as BP told the public and government. If true, it's a crime, destruction of evidence. But Mix is a minnow. What about the sharks? The texts were obviously sent to someone (named only "SUPERVISOR" by the FBI). If "Supervisor" knew, then undoubtedly so did BP managers higher up. Presumably, even CEO Tony Hayward would have gotten the message on his racing yacht.

Destruction of evidence is not nice, but concealment of evidence and fraud by corporate bigs, is the bigger crime. I hope, I assume, I demand that we find out what Supervisor's supervisors knew and when they knew it––and didn't tell us.

And far, far, far more important: when is the Justice Department going to go after the greater wrongdoing? Let's ...

Published: Wednesday 25 April 2012
“The Justice Department has charged former BP engineer Kurt Mix with destroying evidence on BP’s internal response to the disaster.”

On the heels of the second anniversary of the Deep-water Horizon disaster, federal prosecutors have issued the first arrest related to the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.  The Justice Department has charged former BP engineer Kurt Mix with destroying evidence on BP’s internal response to the disaster.

Mix, who worked on estimating the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf, allegedly deleted hundreds of text messages with a BP supervisor.  This includes one that read “Too much flow rate —- over 15,000,” barrels of oil per day, which was three-times higher than BP’s public estimate of barrels of oil per day at the time.

Attorney General Eric Holder issued the statement [emphasis added]:

“The department has filed initial charges in its investigation into the Deep-water Horizon disaster against an individual for allegedly deleting records relating to the amount of oil flowing from the Macondo well after the explosion that led to the devastating tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Attorney General Holder.  “The Deep-water Horizon Task Force is continuing its investigation into the explosion and will hold accountable those who violated the law in connection with the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.”

As the criminal investigations continue, Congress has still not yet passed legislation responding to a disaster that continues to have devastating effects on fish, beaches, and wetlands.

Published: Tuesday 24 April 2012
“Walmart announced in September 2011 that Castro-Wright would retire this July.”

In a 7,000-word blockbuster Sunday, The New York Times reported that Walmart allegedly engaged in a vast campaign of bribery to expand the company's Mexico business in the early 2000s, potentially violating U.S. law. The scheme was allegedly overseen by a Walmart executive, Eduardo Castro-Wright, described by The Times as "the driving force behind years of bribery" totaling millions of dollars.

 

Three years ago, Castro-Wright himself gave an interview to The Times in which he offered a somewhat different picture of his leadership style.

 

Castro-Wright sat for an interview in 2009 as part of The Times' "Corner Office" series in which top executives talk "about leadership and management." The Times asked Castro-Wright: "What message would you convey in a commencement speech?" He responded:

 

"Here in the United States, and any of the developed countries, I would tend to provide a speech along the lines of what I said before about what makes great leaders — the fact that there's no leader who can be called one if they don't have personal integrity, or if they don't deliver results, or if they don't care about the people they lead, or if they don't have a passion for winning."

 

Asked about the “most important leadership lesson” he’d learned in his career, Castro-Wright emphasized trust:

 

"There's nothing that destroys credibility more than not being able to look someone in the eye and have them know that they can trust you. Leadership is about trust. It's about being able to get people to go to places they never thought they could go. They can't do that if they don't trust you."

 

The Times interview ran under the headline "In a Word, He Wants Simplicity" about five years after the period in which Castro-Wright had ...

Published: Tuesday 24 April 2012
“The Obama Administration’s complicity with the private prison industry must not go unnoticed today or this November.”

During his State of the Union Address in January President Obama claimed that he “will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products.”

 

What if “anywhere in the world” means inside U.S. prisons?

 

With widespread spending cuts already scheduled for public assistance programs like Medicare and Medicaid and yet another deficit anticipated in FY 2013, President Obama has managed to request a 4.2% increase in allocations to the Federal Bureau of Prisons operating budget, one of the largest of any federal agency, which would bring its total operating resources to more than $6.9 billion.  Oddly enough, the President’s budget is being submitted despite a national decrease in incarceration rates for the first time since 1972.

 

Moreover, the Obama administration has for the third consecutive year set a record in the number of undocumented immigrants detained and deported—nearly 400,000—from the U.S. during FY 2012. Nearly half of detainees are housed in privately owned or operated detention centers. Just two companies—the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO)—account for 70% of the “private detention” market.

 

 In total, more than one-million undocumented immigrants have been deported since President Obama assumed the presidency. These record-breaking detention and deportation figures come at a time when “illegal immigration” rates have dropped precipitously and violent crime rates are at their ...

Published: Saturday 21 April 2012
“To win the broader battle for the right of every eligible American to vote, we need more than a good defense against bad laws.”

Since the start of 2011, a wave of restrictive voting laws has swept the country. This attack on voting rights is unprecedented, unjustifiable, and discriminatory in its effects. 

Over the last few weeks, the Department of Justice and the courts have stepped in, blocking some of the laws that most clearly violate protected rights. But none of these victories is final. To win the broader battle for the right of every eligible American to vote, we need more than a good defense against bad laws. We need positive bipartisan reform to bring our outdated electoral system into the twenty-first century.

Playing defense

Let’s start with the restrictive voting laws, and where they stand. Since the beginning of 2011, 14 states have passed, or are on the verge of passing, restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election. The states—Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia—represent 192 electoral votes, or 70 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency. The new restrictions range from eliminating Sunday early voting (when Blacks and Latinos tend to vote in greater numbers) to imposing new burdens and potential penalties on groups that sign up voters.  Most common of all are laws that require voters to produce specific kinds of government-issued photo ID before their votes can be counted.  

Such laws have been justified under the theory that they will prevent “voter fraud,” even though a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter impersonation fraud—and even though 11 percent of voting-age Americans lack the kinds of ID these states will now require. That percentage is significantly ...

Published: Thursday 19 April 2012
“Big questions! Causes: well, two big causes. The crisis started with subprime loans, or loans made to risky borrowers.”

What caused the foreclosure crisis and what can be done to fix this problem? — erkapathy

Big questions! Causes: well, two big causes. The crisis started with subprime loans, or loans made to risky borrowers, like the one I write about in my new e-book. Starting in 2007, housing prices turn downward. That meant people with loans they couldn't afford couldn't sell to get out of it any more.

And there were lots of really crappy loans out there, loans that really were never affordable for people to start with. Those loans got made because ...unscrupulous mortgage brokers were pushing them, and yes, because borrowers were willing to take them on. Fraud was really common — brokers just making up income numbers. Some of the loans didn't even require proof of income or assets.

So the first big cause was bad, mostly subprime lending.

The second big cause was that the economy tanked, and there was a spike in unemployment. Mortgage servicers handling these loans made matters worse. They had a financial incentive to just push people toward foreclosure, to be understaffed, etc.

For years, the government mainly took a carrot approach. They tried to provide subsidies to convince banks to competently handle modifications and foreclosures. It didn't work. So now there's more of a stick approach. If there are real consequences, it might work, but it's sure taken a long time for the approach to change.

I should mention that I discuss one

Published: Wednesday 18 April 2012
“Matt Apuzzo, co-author of the Associated Press series that revealed the New York City Police Department has extensively spied on Muslim-Americans not only in the tri-city area, but throughout the eastern United States.”

We speak with Matt Apuzzo, co-author of the Associated Press series that revealed the New York City Police Department has extensively spied on Muslim Americans not only in the tri-city area, but throughout the eastern United States. The series won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. Beginning last August, the AP detailed how the NYPD established a vast operation to monitor Muslim neighborhoods after the 9/11 attacks. Hundreds of mosques, businesses and Muslim student groups were investigated, monitored and, in many cases, infiltrated. Police observed and cataloged daily life in Muslim communities, from where people ate and shopped to where they worked and prayed. Police used informants, known as "mosque crawlers," to monitor sermons, even without any evidence of wrongdoing. Also falling under NYPD’s scrutiny were imams, cab drivers and food cart vendors. According to the AP, many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans. In the process, theNYPD READ FULL POST 10 COMMENTS

Published: Tuesday 17 April 2012
“The whole thing is a game. It’s not serious law enforcement. It is political posturing.”

Tarek Mehanna, a U.S. citizen, was sentenced Thursday in Worcester, Mass., to 17½ years in prison. It was another of the tawdry show trials held against Muslim activists since 9/11 as a result of the government’s criminalization of what people say and believe. These trials, where secrecy rules permit federal lawyers to prosecute people on “evidence” the defendants are not allowed to examine, are the harbinger of a corporate totalitarian state in which any form of dissent can be declared illegal. What the government did to Mehanna, and what it has done to hundreds of other innocent Muslims in this country over the last decade, it will eventually do to the rest of us.

Mehanna, a teacher at Alhuda Academy in Worcester, was convicted after an eight-week jury trial of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq and providing material support to al-Qaida, as well as making false statements to officials investigating terrorism. His real “crime,” however, seems to be viewing and translating jihadi videos online, speaking out against U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and refusing to become a government informant.

Stephen F. Downs, a lawyer in Albany, N.Y., a founder of Project Salam and the author of “Victims of America’s Dirty War,” a booklet posted on the website, has defended Muslim activists since 2006. He has methodically documented the mendacious charges used to incarcerate many Muslim activists as terrorists. Because of “terrorism enhancement” provisions, any sentence can be quadrupled—even minor charges can leave prisoners incarcerated for years.

“People who have committed no crime are taken into custody, isolated without adequate recourse to legal advice, railroaded with fake or contrived charges, and ...

Published: Saturday 14 April 2012
“The SEC has the power to shut Goldman Sachs down for what it did, and the offenses it describes are felonies. But they just gave out another slap on the wrist - no, make that a pat on the wrist - with today's announcement.”

The sweetheart deals just keep coming. Lawbreakers at one bank after another are let off the hook as their shareholders write a check. And then they go out and repeat the illegal behavior they promised not to do in the last settlement.

It shouldn't be surprising that this keeps happening over at the SEC - especially as long as Robert Khuzami continues to serve as Director of the Commission's Division of Enforcement.

But while each of these deals has been shameful, destructive, and outrageous, the $22 million agreement with Goldman Sachs which the SEC announced today - another one in which the guilty party "neither confirms nor denies wrongdoing" - looks like the worst one yet.

The SEC has the power to shut Goldman Sachs down for what it did, and the offenses it describes are felonies. But they just gave out another slap on the wrist - no, make that a pat on the wrist - with today's announcement.

The Worst Thing

It's not just the fact that the SEC continues to ignore the public's outrage by letting bankers off scott-free. And it's not just that this kind of irresponsible behavior ensures that the law breaking will continue. Its not just that crooked bank executives are allowed to "neither admit nor deny wrongdoing."

It's not even the fact that this time around the SEC has worded its announcement in a clumsy attempt to obscure the criminal behavior of Goldman's employees - although that's one of this agreement's worst features.

No, what makes this deal the worst we've seen in a long while is the timing. Most of the other recent sweetheart deals dealt with crimes that led up to - and created - the 2008 financial crisis. But this time Goldman Sachs is walking away from crimes its bankers committed as recently as last year.

That's been the SEC's pattern under both the last ...

Published: Monday 9 April 2012
“I was on the spot to see it all happen, leading two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in rural Iraq while taking part up close and personal in what the U.S. government was doing to, not for, Iraqis.”

People ask the question in various ways, sometimes hesitantly, often via a long digression, but my answer is always the same: no regrets.

In some 24 years of government service, I experienced my share of dissonance when it came to what was said in public and what the government did behind the public’s back. In most cases, the gap was filled with scared little men and women, and what was left unsaid just hid the mistakes and flaws of those anonymous functionaries.

What I saw while serving the State Department at a forward operating base in Iraq was, however, different. There, the space between what we were doing (the eye-watering waste and mismanagement), and what we were saying (the endless of success and progress), was filled with numb soldiers and devastated Iraqis, not scaredy-cat bureaucrats.

That was too much for even a well-seasoned cubicle warrior like me to ignore and so I wrote a book about it, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. I was on the spot to see it all happen, leading two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in rural Iraq while taking part up close and personal in what the U.S. government was doing to, not for, Iraqis. Originally, I imagined that my book’s subtitle would be “Lessons for Afghanistan,” since I was hoping the same mistakes would not be endlessly repeated there. Sometimes being right doesn’t solve a damn thing.

By the time I arrived in Iraq in 2009, I hardly expected to be welcomed as a liberator or greeted -- as the officials who launched the invasion of that country expected back in 2003 -- with a parade and flowers. But I never imagined Iraq for quite the American disaster it was either. Nor did I expect to be welcomed back by my employer, the State Department, as a hero in return for my book of loony stories and poignant ...

Published: Tuesday 3 April 2012
“This Act makes all Americans, in the eyes of our expanding homeland security apparatus, potential terrorists. It does not differentiate.”

The security and surveillance state does not deal in nuance or ambiguity. Its millions of agents, intelligence gatherers, spies, clandestine operatives, analysts and armed paramilitary units live in a binary world of opposites, of good and evil, black and white, opponent and ally. There is nothing between. You are for us or against us. You are a patriot or an enemy of freedom. You either embrace the crusade to physically eradicate evildoers from the face of the Earth or you are an Islamic terrorist, a collaborator or an unwitting tool of terrorists. And now that we have created this monster it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to free ourselves from it. Our 16 national intelligence agencies and army of private contractors feed on paranoia, rumor, rampant careerism, demonization of critical free speech and often invented narratives. They justify their existence, and their consuming of vast governmental resources, by turning even the banal and the mundane into a potential threat. And by the time they finish, the nation will be a gulag.

This is why the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was contested by me and three other plaintiffs before Judge Katherine B. Forrest in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Thursday, is so dangerous. This act, signed into law by President Barack Obama last Dec. 31, puts into the hands of people with no discernible understanding of legitimate dissent the power to use the military to deny due process to all deemed to be terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers, and hold them indefinitely in military detention. The deliberate obtuseness of the NDAA’s language, which defines “covered persons” as those who “substantially supported” ...

Published: Tuesday 3 April 2012
America’s capital market was already a giant casino. Why now turn the rest of America into one?

Anyone who says you can get rich through gambling is a fool or a knave. Multiply the size of the prize by your chance of winning it and you’ll always get a number far lower than what you put into the pot. The only sure winners are the organizers – casino owners, state lotteries, and con artists of all kinds.

Organized gambling is a scam. And it particularly preys upon people with lower incomes – who assume they can’t make it big any other way, who often find it hardest to assess the odds, and whose families can least afford to lose the money.

Yet America is now opening the floodgates.

In December, the Department of Justice announced it was reversing its position that all Internet gambling was illegal. That decision is about to create a boom in online gambling. Expect high-stakes poker to be available on every work desk and mobile phone.

Meanwhile, states are increasingly dependent on revenues from casinos, lotteries, and the “Mega Millions” game (in which 42 states pool their grand prize) to partly refill state coffers.

Given who plays, this is one of the most regressive taxes in the nation. In the most recent Mega Millions game – whose winning tickets were drawn last week and whose jackpot rose to $640 million – lottery ticket buyers shelled out some $1.5 billion, most of which went to state governments.

And then there’s the “Jumpstart Our Business Startups” or “JOBS” Act, which President Obama is expected to sign into law Thursday. It allows so-called “crowd funding” by which people whose net worth is less than $100,000 can gamble away (invest) up to 5 percent of their annual incomes in any get-rich-quick scam (start-up) that any huckster (entrepreneur) may sell them.

Forget the usual investor disclosures or other protections. In the interest of “streamlining,” Congress has streamlined the way to fraud. Although ...

Published: Saturday 31 March 2012
The Department of Justice prosecution is one piece of a larger federal crackdown targeting dumping on the high seas, a form of pollution that taints global waterways and is drawing increased scrutiny.

When a U.S. Coast Guard inspector boarded the M/T Chem Faros, a 21,145-gross-ton cargo ship that pulled into port in Morehead City, N.C., an oiler with the engine crew quietly handed him a note.

"GOOD MORNING SIR, I WOULD LIKE TO LET YOU KNOW THIS SHIP DISCHARGING BILGE ILEGALLY USING BY MAGIC PIPE,” the note said. “IF YOU WANT TO KNOW ILLEGAL PIPE THERE IN WORKSHOP FIVE METERS LONG WITH RUBBER.”

The crewman’s hand-scrawled note, passed that March day two years ago, triggered an inquiry that unmasked a wave of high-seas pollution and phony recordkeeping as the ship ferried cargo in Asia and the U.S. The crew had used the so-called magic pipe to divert oily waste overboard at least 10 times in six months. Eleven days before the inspection, the chief engineer ordered 13,200 gallons of oil-contaminated waste dumped into the ocean.

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Published: Wednesday 28 March 2012
Published: Wednesday 28 March 2012
What can be done to stop needless violence like the killing of Trayvon Martin?

For far too long, violence targeting young people of color has been tolerated, even condoned, in the United States. The killing of Trayvon Martin is part of a horrific history—one that can only be stopped if all of us, of all colors, take a stand. That means standing up to individual acts of violence, but also to systematic efforts to make our laws friendly to big corporations that profit from guns and violence.

Slavery was where it all started, of course. But Reconstruction, when former slaves were promised opportunities for education, full citizenship, and livelihoods, gave way quickly to a backlash that returned many former slaves to miserable conditions and forced labor. Michelle Alexander, in her book, The New Jim Crow, recounts how variably enforced laws—vagrancy, for instance—were used to lock up large numbers of African Americans for nothing more than walking while black. Convicts were often forced into labor not unlike that of slaves, leased out to plantations, railroads, lumber camps, and corporations.

African Americans who found fault with this system—or who committed such infractions as daring to succeed in business or failing to yield to a white person on a sidewalk—could find themselves dead, victims of domestic terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

Fast forward to February 26, 2012, when Trayvon Martin, age 17, returning to his father’s fiancée’s home in Sanford, Fla., after buying a bag of candy and an iced tea, was followed ...

Published: Friday 23 March 2012
Published: Thursday 15 March 2012
“Under the Senate bill, the five states would divide 35 percent of the money equally, 60 percent would be directed to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and 5 percent would go to a new Gulf science and fisheries program.”

The Senate approved a highway bill Wednesday that includes a long-sought provision for the Gulf Coast: A guarantee that 80 percent of the fines collected from the April 2010 BP oil spill — an amount that could reach $20 billion — would be distributed for coastal restoration to the five states along the Gulf of Mexico: Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Texas and Alabama.

While the bill faces an uncertain outlook in the House of Representatives, Gulf state lawmakers are anxious for Congress to adopt the amendment on the so-called RESTORE Act before a settlement is reached with the Department of Justice and BP.

"I am hopeful that the Senate's overwhelming support for helping Gulf Coast states address long-term environmental and economic damages will be fairly considered by the House of Representatives," said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. "The nation needs an extended highway bill, and Gulf Coast states need assurance that Congress will allow them to have resources to recover from the oil spill."

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said, "As we approach the two-year anniversary of the Gulf oil spill, I am glad to have helped pass a bill to direct funds to coastal communities that were impacted."

Under the Senate bill, the five states would divide 35 percent of the money equally, 60 percent would be directed to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and 5 percent would go to a new Gulf science and fisheries program. The House-passed version of the amendment doesn't specify how the money would be distributed. If Congress doesn't act, the fines collected would go to the Treasury.

"I join with our senators in celebrating the fact that a majority on both sides of the Capitol have now committed to bringing most of the Clean Water Act fines back to the states affected by this tragedy," Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., said in a statement.

"These BP fine monies are vital in ...

Published: Wednesday 7 March 2012
“Corporate Whistleblowers Get the Silent Treatment from Washington”

What’s worse: to be persecuted and indicted for trying to expose an act of wrongdoing -- or to be ignored for doing so?

Whistleblowers have been under intense scrutiny in Washington lately, at least when it comes to the national security state. In recent years, the Obama administration has set a record by accusing no fewer than six government employees, who allegedly leaked classified information to reporters, of violating the Espionage Act, a draconian law dating back to 1917. Yet when it comes to workers who have risked their careers to expose misconduct in the corporate and financial arena, a different pattern has long prevailed. Here, the problem hasn’t been an excess of attention from government officials eager to chill dissent, but a dearth of attention that has often left whistleblowers feeling no less isolated and discouraged.

Consider the case of Leyla Wydler, a broker who, back in 2003, sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) about her former employer, the Stanford Financial Group. A year earlier, it had fired her for refusing to sell certificates of deposit that she rightly suspected were being misleadingly advertised to investors. The company, Wydler warned in her letter, “is the subject of a lingering corporate fraud scandal perpetrated as a ‘massive Ponzi scheme’ that will destroy the life savings of many, damage the reputation of all associated parties, ridicule securities and banking authorities, and shame the United States of America.”

It was a letter that should have woken the dead and, as it happened, couldn’t have been more on target. Wydler didn’t stop with the SEC either. She also sent copies to the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), the trade group responsible for enforcing regulations throughout the ...

Published: Monday 13 February 2012
“The money banks will have to pay is meaningless, if that's all they ever pay.”

Two thousand bucks for having your home illegally foreclosed on is an insult. But two billion dollars' worth of lawyers suing bankers on behalf of wronged homeowners could change everything. And a real investigation into bank crime could make a real difference.

Will we get those things? Maybe - but only if we fight for them.

There are still opportunities to take action. (There's even a loophole in the deal that could still leave banks on the hook for robo-signing crimes.) So rather than attacking one another - something progressives are very good at - why don't we build pressure for the best outcome we can get?

Yesterday I was asked if I woukld appear on KPFK radio this morning discuss the foreclosure fraud settlement. This morning they told me they'd added David Dayen of Firedoglake, whose reporting on this deal continues to be the best anywhere, "to get a different perspective." It was a great discussion, but if they were looking for disgreement I'm afraid we disappointed them. (audio 

Published: Friday 10 February 2012
“Housing experts doubted, however, that the settlement the president described as a ‘landmark’ will have a broader impact on the struggling housing sector.”

State and federal regulators announced on Thursday a settlement worth at least $25 billion with Bank of America and four other large banks, ending several years of litigation over alleged foreclosure abuses. The deal offers some help to struggling homeowners, but experts view it more as a moral victory with limited impact on the broader housing market.

The announcement capped months of intense negotiations that involved federal regulators, state attorneys general, consumer advocacy groups and big players on Wall Street and in finance. It was the largest government-industry settlement involving states since the $200 billion-plus tobacco industry settlement in 1998.

The settlement effectively punishes the banks for alleged abuses in the foreclosure process, including robo-signing, which involves providing fraudulent documents in court proceedings when trying to take back properties from homeowners who are delinquent on their mortgages.

"Under the terms of this settlement, America's biggest banks, banks that were rescued by taxpayer dollars, will be required to right these wrongs. And that means more than just paying a fee," President Barack Obama said in a statement Thursday before the cameras.

The banks are required to dedicate $20 billion in relief to homeowners, including $10 billion toward reducing principal for struggling borrowers. The banks also must provide $5 billion in cash to federal and state governments to assist their foreclosure relief programs.

About 1 million households at risk of foreclosure should be able to reduce their loans. Another 750,000 Americans who lost their homes to foreclosures will receive about $2,000 each. The banks have three years to distribute the assistance, and the deal will be monitored for compliance.

The five banks that agreed to settle federal and state probes are Bank of America, which is on the hook for the biggest payout, as well as JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells ...

Published: Monday 30 January 2012
“Some of the states with the highest marks for reform with rank in the bottom half on their performance, such as Missouri, California and Arizona.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization that has been leading recent coordinated attempts to move state laws rightward, has some busy minions in the New Hampshire state legislature. In the past week they introduced seven pieces of ALEC’s model legislation.

These include bills that are plainly counter-productive, such as the “Eliminating Support Services for Newborn Children” Act. According to Granite Progress “This legislation would eliminate support services for newborn children whose parents are utilizing TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families).” How that will break the cycle of the poverty or give the disadvantaged children of poor people a more fair shot at becoming productive citizens is unclear.

Some of the other proposals are just doctrinaire right wing ideology, such as ...

Published: Tuesday 24 January 2012
“The report and experts say the shortcomings could be addressed in part by a national forensic science agency that could rigorously test forensic science techniques to see if they actually worked.”

Three years ago, the influential National Academy of Sciences released a scathing report broadly condemning the work of criminal labs in the U.S. Too often, the report found, forensic labs do subpar work and rely on unproven techniques such as analyzing bite marks or examining the markings on a bullet. As the report noted, sloppy forensic work has played a part in many wrongful convictions. (We've detailed other forensic failures in our ongoing series on the country's death ...

Published: Friday 20 January 2012
“The president’s allies should join his critics in encouraging him to abandon the Jay Gatsbys of Wall Street to sail with, rather than against, the currents of history.”

"Investigate the Banks!" Today a coalition of progressive groups handed in a petition with more than 360,000 signatures that demanded exactly that. It calls on the Obama administration to stop pushing a cushy fraud settlement for bankers, to pursue a fair deal for shafted homeowners, and to let criminal investigations against Wall Street crooks proceed.

Yet White House officials are still aggressively pushing the very same cushy deal on foreclosure fraud that inspired the petition. And just this week the Justice Department declined to prosecute fraudulent bankers once again as it worked to settle another bank fraud case.

Thinking about this relentless pursuit of Wall Street settlements, suddenly the last line of The Great Gatsby —the one about "boats against the current"—came to mind. Bankers are today's Jay Gatsbys. They're shady figures who have adopted a veneer of respectability, yet remain relentlessly, ruthlessly, and sometimes illegally self-interested.

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Published: Sunday 8 January 2012
New contenders are entering the field to fight against SOPA after widespread online opposition failed to sway legislators away from bipartisan support of the bill.

The Stop Online Piracy Act is proposed legislation which threatens to restrict and regulate streaming video, music, and other copyrighted content on the internet. It would potentially make some common online activities, such as video streaming of copyrighted content, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. It would also allow the Department of Justice and copyright holders themselves to seek out court orders to take down or censor websites and other online content providers who they accused of acting in violation of the new measures. Industry lobbies that support the bill argue that it will provide much needed improvements over law enforcement’s existing ability to enforce the law on the internet and will bolster intellectual property protections in the entertainment industry.

Online activism against the Stop Online Piracy Act has been widespread since it was introduced as legislation in October. Opponents argue that SOPA would constitute internet censorship and would be in violation of first amendment free speech guarantees. Groups of internet users have come together to boycott pro-SOPA corporations like GoDaddy.com - who supported SOPA and simultaneously ensured itself exemptions from the law. So far Congress seems set to pass the legislation quietly despite the public outcry against it.

Grassroots opposition to SOPA has not been fruitless, and has been joined in protest by some big corporate allies. Markham Erickson, the head of the NetCoalition trade association, confirmed that tech industry giants like ...

Published: Thursday 5 January 2012
“Neither the Constitution nor the courts have specified how long the Senate must be in recess for a president to make a recess appointment.”

Right-wing media have called President Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) during a Senate recess of fewer than three days an "open declaration of war on constitutional principles" and an "unprecedented power grab." However, neither the Constitution nor the courts have specified how long the Senate must be in recess for a president to make a recess appointment; past presidents have made recess appointments during recesses of three days or fewer; and congressional Republicans are engaged in unprecedented obstructionism that is preventing hundreds of Obama nominees from being confirmed.

"Unprecedented Power Grab": Conservative Media Attack Cordray Appointment

Big Government: Cordray Appointment "Would Be An Open Declaration Of War On Constitutional Principles And Completely Undermine Our System Of Checks And Balances."From a January 3 post on Andrew Breitbart's Big Government website, headlined "Red Alert: New Unconstitutional Presidential Power Grab May Be Imminent":

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Published: Monday 26 December 2011
“DOJ blocked a South Carolina law requiring voters to present photo identification, because the law would disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters.”

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) took an important step in combating the epidemic of Republican vote suppression efforts on Friday. DOJ blocked a South Carolina law requiring voters to present photo identification, because the law would disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters. South Carolina is one of the states that under the Voting Rights Act (VRA), due to a history of discriminatory practices, must obtain pre-clearance from DOJ for new voting requirements. The DOJ must certify that such laws are not discriminatory in their impact, not just in their intent. 

According to South Carolina, 240,000 registered voters lack the requisite identification. That alone should be a cause for concern. But the legal problem for South Carolina arises from the fact that those without photo identification are more likely to be African-American than white. (They also tend to be younger, poorer and thus more Democratic-leaning.)

Voting rights experts say DOJ did the right thing. Unfortunately, in states that aren’t subject to pre-clearance, DOJ doesn’t have the same power to protect voting rights. “The Department of Justice came to the only conclusion it could have – that South Carolina’s ID law, like others passed around the country, may disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters and is racially discriminatory in its impact,” says Tova Andrea Wang, an election reform expert at Demos, “The decision is legally correct,” says Daniel Tokaji, an election law professor at Ohio State University. “If the effect is to make it more difficult for minorities to vote than was the case before, then the law presumptively violates the VRA. Given that blacks are more likely to lack the required ID, it was hard for South Carolina seriously to argue that the law complies with the VRA.”

Wisconsin and Indiana, which ...

Published: Sunday 11 December 2011
In an in-depth investigation of the presidential pardons process, published this week, it was found that white applicants were nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities, even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence were considered.

If the government wants to correct racial disparity in presidential pardons, it will require a hard look at the standards used to judge applicants and whether there is implicit bias in the way decisions are made, a wide range of experts told ProPublica.

Some suggested that race should become an explicit consideration in assessing pardon applicants, although others said that could open the door to mere scorekeeping.

In an  READ FULL POST DISCUSS

Published: Saturday 10 December 2011
“Doolittle was one of several lawmakers caught up the turbulent wake of Jack Abramoff, the Republican uber-lobbyist who was released recently after serving three and a half years in prison on mail fraud and conspiracy charges.”

Meet John Doolittle, working stiff.

Sacramento, Calif.,-area residents once called him Republican state senator, then congressman. Federal prosecutors once called him, ominously, Representative 5. Now, starting over at the age of 61, he unashamedly calls himself a lobbyist.

"It's funny," Doolittle said. "That's such a negative term, but if people ask, that's what I say I am."

He laughed. He laughs easily, which is saying something, given all that's transpired.

"I know," said his former colleague Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., "that he and his wife went through a great deal."

Doolittle was one of several lawmakers caught up the turbulent wake of Jack Abramoff, the Republican uber-lobbyist who was released recently after serving three and a half years in prison on mail fraud and conspiracy charges. More than a dozen other individuals were convicted or pleaded guilty to assorted charges, though no charges were ever brought against Doolittle or his wife, Julie, who did event planning for Abramoff's firm.

John and Doolittle estimate that they shelled out more than $400,000 for attorneys' fees during a long-running corruption investigation that left them poorer but in the clear. Doctors' bills have tallied hundreds of thousands of dollars more, covering the exotic medical travails of Julie Doolittle.

They suffered the essentially involuntary end of John Doolittle's 28-year career in elective office. They saw his former legislative director sob as he was sentenced to four years in federal prison. They have, whatever one might say about Doolittle's politics, endured.

"It was painful to leave" Congress, Doolittle acknowledged, but "I'm going forward. Honestly, I don't look back."

Doolittle represented portions of the Sacramento area in the state Senate from 1981 through 1990. From 1991 through his 2008 retirement, he ...

Published: Thursday 8 December 2011
The Justice Department has decided that holding top Wall Street executives criminally accountable is too difficult a task.

It’s an issue we and others have noted again and again: Years after the financial crisis, there have still been no prosecutions of top executives at the major players in the financial crisis.

Why’s that? Well, according to a now-departed Justice Department official who used to be in charge of investigating such matters, the Justice Department has decided that holding top Wall Street executives criminally accountable is too difficult a task.

David Cardona, who recently left the FBI for a job at the Securities and Exchange Commission, told the Wall Street Journal that bringing financial wrongdoing to account is “better left to regulators,” who can bring civil cases. Civil cases, of course, can produce penalties from the banks -- as well as promises to be on better behavior -- but don’t put any executives behind bars. Here’s the Journal:

While at the FBI, Mr. Cardona oversaw dozens of criminal probes of large financial firms. The FBI's probes haven't led to any successful prosecutions of high-profile executives in relation to the financial crisis, despite demands from some lawmakers and angry Americans. In contrast, the SEC has filed crisis-related civil-fraud cases against 81 firms and individuals, and it has ...

Published: Friday 25 November 2011
“OEHHA shall report the state of its existing data and its present risk assessment, if any, of the short- and long-term health effects of pepper spray to the Department of Justice and the Legislature.”

The widespread police use of pepper spray, dramatically portrayed at UC Davis on November 18, has continued for over a decade without the health risk assessment required by state law, according to the acting director of the California agency charged with evaluating such health hazards.

“We never completed a risk assessment,” said George Alexeeff, acting director of the California EPA’s Office of Health Hazard Assessment, in an email.

The pepper spraying of eleven UC Davis students is a startling visual revelation of a pattern repeated over two decades: the widespread use of a potent chemical compound to subdue political protesters, prison inmates and inner city youths, in spite of numerous warnings by health officials of potentially life-threatening effects. The Davis episode shows that pepper spray has become a weapon of choice even for University of California police.

Perhaps the globally televised spectacle of UC Davis students being sprayed while sitting in a peaceful protest will open a window to the similar treatment of thousands of others rarely mentioned by mainstream media.

In 1992, the California Attorney General’s office supported law enforcement and manufacturer lobbyists in obtaining a three-year trial of Oleoresin Capsicum, or pepper-spray, provided that studies confirmed a lack of significant health impacts. Shortly after, the Attorney General authorized the sale of pepper spray for personal protection, also before health studies were completed.

When I left the California state legislature in 2001, the studies still had not been completed. The AG at the time was Dan Lungren, now a Republican member of the California Congressional delegation. The chief advocate for the personal purchase of pepper spray was then-Assemblyperson Jackie Speier, who also went to Congress, and who fought for the right of women to be armed with pepper spray.

Fifteen years after they were required, the health ...

Published: Sunday 20 November 2011
“The National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee and the Partnership for Civil Justice today filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).”

With Congress no longer performing its sworn role of defending the US Constitution, the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee and the Partnership for Civil Justice today filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) asking the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA and the National Parks Service to release "all their information on the planning of the coordinated law enforcement crackdown on Occupy protest encampments in multiple cities over the course of recent days and weeks."

According to a statement by the NLG, each of the FOIA requests states, "This request specifically encompasses disclosure of any documents or information pertaining to federal coordination of, or advice or consultation regarding, the police response to the Occupy movement, protests or encampments."

National Lawyers Guild leaders, including Executive Director Heidi Beghosian and NLG Mass Defense Committee co-chair and PCJ Executive Director Mara Veheyden-Hilliard both told TCBH! earlier this week that the rapid-fire assaults on occupation encampments in cities from Oakland to New York and Portland, Seattle and Atlanta, all within days of each other, the similar approach taken by police, which included overwhelming force in night-time attacks, mass arrests, use of such weaponry as pepper spray, sound cannons, tear gas, clubs and in some cases "non-lethal" projectiles like bean bags and rubber bullets, the removal and even arrest of reporters and camera-persons, and ...

Published: Saturday 12 November 2011
The latest debate among Republicans was a tame one, but still needed factual corrections.

The latest debate among Republican candidates for president was a tame affair that produced few factual claims needing correction. Candidates stuck mostly to promises and expressions of their conservative faith in free markets, and their disdain for government.

The debate was held Nov. 9 at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., and included eight candidates: Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

We won’t go into the audience booing when Cain was asked about the sexual-harassment issue that has dogged him for the past week, or Perry experiencing a brain freeze when trying to remember the third federal agency he intended to eliminate upon becoming president. (He later remembered that it was the Department of Energy, which is responsible for the nation’s nuclear arsenal, among other things.) Our job is to look for false or misleading factual claims. And this time we found only minor quibbles. Here’s the sort of thing we mean:

Cain: $430 Billion Compliance Costs

Cain said Americans ...

Published: Saturday 5 November 2011
“The institutions that originated the great majority of the riskiest mortgages, as economist Robert Gordon showed conclusively, weren't even covered by CRA.”

Americans listen when Michael Bloomberg speaks, not only because he is the mayor of New York City, but because he is a self-made billionaire and a smart guy. People think Bloomberg knows a lot about business and investment, which he surely does. But he nevertheless sounds terribly misinformed sometimes, as he did the other day — when he complained that "Occupy Wall Street" is unfairly blaming the nation's big bankers for the crash and recession, when the real culprits are Congress and the government-sponsored housing ...

Published: Tuesday 1 November 2011
“The executive order is the latest in a series of measures that the president has championed in the past week, including easing repayment terms for student loans, incentives to encourage jobs for veterans and help for mortgage holders who owe more than their homes are now worth.”

Declaring that Republicans in Congress will block almost every initiative that has his name on it, President Barack Obama is going around them.

Under the banner of "We Can't Wait," the president on Monday rolled out his latest solo act: directing the Food and Drug Administration to beef up efforts to prevent prescription drug shortages, an issue that lawmakers have been debating but haven't resolved.

"It is the belief of this administration ... that we can't wait for action on the Hill," Obama said from the Oval Office as he signed an executive order that calls on the FDA to work with the Justice Department to determine whether there's been price gouging or stockpiling of medication. "We've got to go ahead and move forward."

The executive order is the latest in a series of measures that the president has championed in the past week, including easing repayment terms for student loans, incentives to encourage jobs for veterans and help for mortgage holders who owe more than their homes are now worth.

Administration officials say they expect more: Obama himself told a crowd last week at the University of Colorado in Denver that his administration will "look every single day to figure out what we can do, without Congress.

"We can't wait for Congress to ...

Published: Saturday 29 October 2011
Published: Tuesday 25 October 2011
“The existing security procedures were so lax they would have allowed any researcher, aide or temporary worker to walk out of the Army bio weapons lab with a few drops of anthrax.”

The Army laboratory identified by prosecutors as the source of the anthrax that killed five people in the fall of 2001 was rife with such security gaps that the deadly spores could have easily been smuggled out of the facility, outside investigators found.

The existing security procedures -- described in two long-secret reports -- were so lax they would have allowed any researcher, aide or temporary worker to walk out of the Army bio-weapons lab at Fort Detrick, Md., with a few drops of anthrax -- starter germs that could grow the trillions of spores used to fill anthrax-laced letters sent to Congress and the media.

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Published: Saturday 22 October 2011
Republican Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Marco Rubio of Florida wants BP to compensate victims of the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

Republican Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Marco Rubio of Florida, unhappy with the handling of the $20 billion fund set up by BP to compensate victims of the 2010 Gulf oil spill, won Senate approval Friday for an independent audit of the organization.

The move amounts to a slap at Kenneth Feinberg, the administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, who has been criticized for the lack of transparency in the distribution of funds and the way the calculations of the payments are made.

Feinberg became a national figure and earned kudos for his administration of the 9/11 victims' fund. But the BP fund has been a much stickier proposition.

The Republican action came as an amendment to an appropriations bill, which is likely to pass and be enacted into law. The House of Representatives has passed a similar amendment.

"Mississippians who submitted claims to the GCCF deserve to know how their claims payments were determined," said Wicker. "This amendment will bring needed transparency to the claims process, and I am glad to have worked with Senator Rubio and other Gulf Coast members to help advance it."

Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, also supports the effort. "Sen. Cochran has consistently supported efficiency and transparency in the BP claims process," said Chris Gallegos, Cochran's spokesman. "This amendment is another means of assuring claimants of that."

Feinberg said in a statement: "I have said all along, we welcome an independent audit and have been working with the Department of Justice." The amendment orders the Justice Department to find an independent auditor. According to Feinberg spokeswoman Amy Weiss, about $5.4 billion of the $20 billion fund has been dispersed.

Congress has ratcheted up its criticism of Feinberg and his management of the fund, and the House Natural Resources ...

Published: Tuesday 11 October 2011
The Constitution is persnickety about due process, the right to a trial and so on.

Who the hell is David Barron?

Wikipedia says that name may refer to a British film producer, a soccer player, an actor or a sportswriter. Google says he could be a hairstylist in Atlanta. None of these, though, is the David Barron I have in mind. The one I want is the one who signed off on the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a very bad guy but, still, an American citizen. Barron was a U.S. government lawyer.

Never heard of him? Me neither. But according to published reports, he was one of two lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel — the other was Martin Lederman — who in 2010 composed an approximately 50-page memo saying it was legally permissible to kill Awlaki even though he was a U.S. citizen and had not been convicted of so much as a traffic violation. Using plain common sense, they apparently argued that Awlaki — born in the United States or not — was an enemy combatant and could be treated as such. On Sept. 30, he was killed in a drone attack in Yemen.

A little “yippee” emitted from me when I heard the news. Awlaki was a traitor to his country and its values. He was allegedly a senior recruiter for al-Qaeda and was linked to the Fort Hood shooting suspect Nidal Malik Hasan as well as other attempted terror acts. Awlaki was not shy about his activities, and so they, not to mention his allegiance, were not in question.

There was a question, though, about what to do with him. The Constitution is persnickety about due process, ...

Published: Tuesday 4 October 2011
Fai’s tale of rags to riches to arrest this summer is a lesson in how easy it is to win influence in Washington.

The night should have been a coup for Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai. Once a poor villager from halfway around the world, Fai had become the go-to man in Washington, D.C., for his cause, Kashmir, the Himalayan region long caught in a tug of war between Pakistan and India.

And there he was on March 4, 2010, hosting a fundraiser for Rep. Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican who had been the chief supporter in Congress of Fai's Kashmiri American Council for 20 years. In some ways, the event inside Fai's home in Fairfax, Va., symbolized everything that Fai had become, featuring speeches in the living room and kebabs and curries in the basement.

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Published: Sunday 2 October 2011
While Perry inveighed against overpriced muffins, Washington was embroiled in its own game of fiscal Trivial Pursuit, once again getting to the verge of a government shutdown in a dispute over $1.6 billion.

About that $16 muffin — it didn’t actually cost that much.

You may have heard about the muffin, how conference planners at the Justice Department blithely forked over that inflated sum — your taxpayer dollars — to a Washington hotel for a training conference on immigration law. It seemed a classic tale of government waste, up there with the iconic $600 Pentagon toilet seat.

Except, as it turns out, the receipt on which the Justice Department’s inspector general based that assessment was written in a kind of catering short-hand. The muffin billing actually included: free meeting space, complimentary coffee, fresh fruit, assorted baked goods, taxes and tip. In short, a decent price for a continental breakfast.

Is there wasteful spending in government? Of course — and some of it was detailed in the inspector general’s report. It should be investigated and eliminated, not least because it does damage far in excess of the amounts involved, eroding public confidence in government’s ability to spend its money wisely.

Worse, though, episodes such as the tale of the $16 muffin give ...

Published: Saturday 17 September 2011
Proposed changes, outlined by the Chamber in 2010, include making provisions for companies with “compliance programs”, a requirement that intentions to bribe be “willful”, further specifications about the definition of “foreign official”, and elimination of civil liability for corporate subsidiary companies.

Changes to a key anti-bribery law that applies to international commerce, proposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, could have disastrous consequences, hurting multinational firms, human rights, and the U.S.'s place of respect as an early adopter of the legislation, opponents to the changes argued here Friday.
 

According to a report published by the Open Society Foundation's (OSF) Open Society Policy Center, proposed changes to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), corporate anti-bribery legislation passed in 1977, could create loopholes in the legislation so large as to make the FCPA largely useless. 
 

Anti-corruption advocacy organizations including Global Financial IntegrityTransparency International, and the Project on Government Oversight have written letters in support of keeping the FCPA, which applies to U.S. businesses and any businesses trading on the U.S. Stock Exchange and makes it a crime to trade favors for business advantages in countries where multinational companies do business, in its current form. 
 

They say changing the FCPA now could also reduce the strength of a law, in force for more than 30 years, which OSF says is good for governance, good for human rights, and good for democracy. OSF pointed out that corruption has been linked to higher infant and maternal mortality rates in the countries that rank high on corruption indexes. 
 

In several high-profile FCPA cases in 2009, the ...

Published: Monday 5 September 2011
The state has warned nearly 3,300 California state workers this year that their positions may disappear as the government grinds through a slow-motion layoff process that aims to shrink government over the next few years

The state has warned nearly 3,300 California state workers this year that their positions may disappear as the government grinds through a slow-motion layoff process that aims to shrink government over the next few years.

The notices, overwhelmingly concentrated in the Sacramento area so far, represent the initial wave of warnings that eventually will lead to several thousand state jobs lost.

Of the State Restriction of Appointment notices issued, 2,024 went to employees working in Sacramento County. Los Angeles County accounted for the next-highest number of potential layoffs with 800 notices going to workers there.

More are coming. Many departments haven't finished their civil service layoff plans. Departments staffed exclusively with appointed employees will simply vanish, since those workers have no civil service protections.

"We're probably about in the middle" of issuing layoff warnings, said Lynelle Jolley, spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration.

California is succumbing to the same budget pressures hammering public payrolls around the country. State and local governments lost 17,000 jobs last month, according to federal statistics, despite 22,000 Minnesota employees who came off the unemployment rolls in August after that state's government shutdown ended.

"California has to pay less per employee, have fewer employees or find more money to pay for what it has," said Pepperdine University political scientist Michael Shires.

Unions aren't willing to make more concessions, lawmakers didn't reach a tax deal "and there's no sign that there's more money coming any time soon," Shires said. "That leaves layoffs."

Historically, about one-third of state employees who receive a layoff warning letter actually lose their jobs. The state issues the excess notices hoping that the potentially affected workers will move on their own ...

Published: Tuesday 16 August 2011
The FBI investigated fraud cases that resulted in convictions of low-level Ameriquest workers, but didn’t press cases higher up the corporate chain.

In a new report , the Federal Bureau of Investigation pats itself on the back for using “sophisticated investigative techniques” to target mortgage fraudsters. The FBI’s 2010 “Year in Review” mortgage fraud report says the agency has used wiretaps, undercover operatives and “tactical analysis coupled with advanced statistical correlations and computer technologies.”

Not everyone is impressed.

Consumer advocates say the FBI is missing the big picture, focusing its investigative muscle on small-time crooks and turning a blind eye to misconduct by big banks.

While millions of homeowners have been put at risk by dishonest tactics used by the mortgage industry, these advocates say, the FBI has targeted low-level lender employees and street-level fraudsters.

Richard Eskow, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive think tank, calls the new report the latest example of the “pseudo-investigatory approach” of the FBI, the Justice Department and the Obama administration in the aftermath of the mortgage meltdown.

“The only thing worse than doing nothing is to do what they've done―try to hoodwink the public into thinking they're doing something,” Eskow told iWatch News.

The Obama administration, Eskow claims, has taken the view that the nation’s largest banks are too important to the economy to be threatened by criminal investigations and indictments. “Too Big to Fail,” he says, also means “Too Big to Jail.”

A telephone call to the White House press office Monday afternoon wasn’t immediately returned.

The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment from iWatch, but said in its report that it has “continued to dedicate significant resources” to the threat of mortgage fraud.

“The FBI continues to enhance liaison partnerships within the mortgage ...

Published: Monday 1 August 2011
Protesters face trial on one-year anniversary of Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant law

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the enactment of parts of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law, known as SB 1070. A trial is beginning in Phoenix for those arrested last year while protesting the bill by blocking the entrance of the Maricopa County jail. Among those facing misdemeanor civil disobedience charges is Rev. Peter Morales, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Rev. Morales was elected the first Latino president of the Unitarian Universalist Association in 2009. He joins us from Phoenix to talk about why he was arrested and his outspoken criticism of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s sweeping raids of Latino neighborhoods. “I participated in this not as a political act, but as an act of religious witness. My own faith is founded on a principle of the inherent worth and dignity of all people, of compassion and equity and democracy,” Morales says.

Transcript:

JUAN GONZALEZ: In more immigration news, today marks the one-year anniversary of when parts of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law, known as Senate Bill 1070, went into effect. In Phoenix, a trial will start today for those arrested last year while protesting the bill.

The president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Reverend Peter Morales, is among those who face misdemeanor civil disobedience charges. He and more than 80 others were arrested for blocking the entrance of the Maricopa County Jail in downtown Phoenix.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Morales was elected the first Latino president of the Unitarian Universalist Association in 2009, an outspoken critic of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe ...

Published: Monday 1 August 2011
"Robert Stevens was the first person in U.S. history known to have died from an anthrax attack."

Justice Department lawyers, defending a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of the first victim of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, won a judge's approval Friday to withdraw a court filing that seemed to undermine the FBI’s assertion that an Army researcher was the killer.

U.S. District Judge David Hurley of West Palm Beach, Fla., accepted a government attorney’s declaration that the FBI and federal prosecutors didn’t alert the government defense team to 10 errors in a statement of facts until after it had been filed in court on July 15.

 

The  initial filing asserted flatly that the U.S. bioweapons facility that employed researcher Bruce Ivins, whom the FBI accused of manufacturing the anthrax, did not have “specialized equipment” needed to produce the deadly powder in the secure biocontainment lab where Ivins had a workspace.

 

The  revised filing said that Ivins had access to a refrigerator-sized machine known as a lyophilizer, which can be used to dry solutions such as anthrax, at the facility in a less secure lab. In addition, it said that Ivins also had a smaller “speed-vac” that could be used for drying substances in his containment lab.

 

Ivins committed suicide on July 29, 2008, not long after federal prosecutors advised his attorney that they were on the verge of seeking his indictment on five capital murder counts.

 

Early last year, the Justice Department closed its eight-year, $100 million investigation into the case and officially declared that the career anthrax researcher had mailed the letters shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The letters were addressed to three media outlets and Democratic U.S. ...

Published: Tuesday 26 July 2011
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