Later On

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Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Weakening security to give NSA more power

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NSA’s work to make cryptographic systems insecure is well-known—NIST specifically recommends against one encryption method that NSA weakened. And now the intelligence community (NSA) wants to weaken security social media, instant messaging, and chat services so that they are easier to wiretap. In our efforts to become more secure, we are becoming less secure.

Ellen Nakashima writes in the Washington Post:

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies want to be able to wiretap social media, instant message and chat services. But building in ways to wiretap these kinds of communication can lead to less secure systems, say technical experts, including former National Security Agency officials.

Some security experts suggest hacking as an alternative, but other experts – including FBI officials — say that method poses serious risks.

Right now, only phone companies, broadband providers and some Internet phone services are required by law to build in intercept capabilities, but the government wants to extend that requirement to online communication providers.

“From a purely technical perspective, when you add this sort of law enforcement access feature to a system, you weaken it,” said Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University. “First, it creates an access point that previously didn’t exist. Second, you’ve added complexity to the system … and most security problems are due to buggy code.”

In 1994, the government passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which mandated that phone companies make their systems wiretap-ready.

Richard “Dickie” George, a former NSA technical director until he retired in September 2011, recalled how in the mid-1990s, “in the early days of CALEA,” the NSA tested several commercial phone systems with intercept capabilities and “we found problems in every one.” Making the systems hack-proof, he said, “is really, really hard.”

He said, however, that over the years, “We’ve come a long way.”

Susan Landau, a faculty member in the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Department of Social Science and Policy Studies in Massachusetts, said that phone services are more complicated now — and so the switches are, too. “It’s highly doubtful,” she said, “that the new switches are secure.”

The United States, she said, “has a lot more to lose by building ways into communications networks than it has to gain, because those ways last for a very long time, and we enable others who couldn’t afford to build [backdoors] in themselves with ways to get into our communications systems.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 9:29 pm

What is learned from a careful reading and discussion of the Declaration of Independence

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Gordon Wood writes at the NY Review of Books:

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality
by Danielle Allen
Liveright, 315 pp., $27.95

This is a strange and remarkable book. There must be dozens of books on the Declaration of Independence written from every conceivable point of view—historical, political, theoretical, philosophical, and textual—but no one has ever written a book on the Declaration quite like this one. If we read the Declaration of Independence slowly and carefully, Danielle Allen believes, then the document can become a basic primer for our democracy. It can be something that all of us—not just scholars and educated elites but common ordinary people—can participate in, and should participate in if we want to be good democratic citizens.

Allen, who is a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, came to this extraordinary conclusion when she was teaching for a decade at the University of Chicago. But it was not the young bright-eyed undergraduates whom she taught by day who inspired her. Instead, it was the much older, life-tested adults whom she taught by night who created “the single most transformative experience” of her teaching career.

As she slowly worked her way through the 1,337 words of the Declaration of Independence with her night students, many of whom had no job or were working two jobs or were stuck in dead-end part-time jobs, Allen discovered that the document had meaning for them and that it was accessible to any reader or hearer of its words. By teaching the document to these adult students in the way that she did, she experienced “a personal metamorphosis.” For the first time in her life she came to realize that the Declaration makes a coherent philosophical argument about equality, an argument that could be made comprehensible to ordinary people who had no special training.

By reading and analyzing the words of the Declaration deliberately and with care, her night students

found themselves suddenly as political beings, with a consciousness that had previously eluded them. They built a foundation from which to assess the state of their political world. They gained a vocabulary and rhetorical techniques for arguing about it.

The entire experience with her students “re-gifted to me a text that should have been mine all along. They gave me again the Declaration’s ideals—equality and freedom—and the power of its language.”

Allen is most interested in the idea of equality, and rightly so. Equality has always been the most radical and potent idea in American history. Once released by the American Revolution, it has torn through American society and culture with awesome power. It became what Herman Melville in Moby-Dick labeled “the great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy!” This “Spirit of Equality,” said Melville, did not merely cull the “selectest champions from the kingly commons,” but it spread “one royal mantle of humanity” over all Americans and brought “democratic dignity” to even “the arm that wields a pick and drives a spike.”

Allen doesn’t cite Melville and doesn’t accept his emphasis on the overwhelming power of equality in American culture. In fact, she thinks that we Americans have tended to neglect the idea of equality. Between liberty and equality, “equality,” she says, “has always been the more frail twin,” and “it has now become particularly vulnerable.” She assumes that “libertarianism currently dominates our political imaginations.” Indeed, she contends that for the past half-century we Americans have emphasized liberty at the expense of equality. Are these judgments correct? Aren’t the movements for civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights all about equality? With politicians everywhere now talking about inequality, and President Obama even claiming that inequality is “the defining issue of our time,” ideas about equality seem alive and well.

But Allen’s book is not about equality in this conventional sense. She is not really interested in equalities of income or social status. Instead, she wants to focus on what she calls “equal political empowerment.” This involves an

egalitarianism of co-creation and co-ownership of a shared world, an expectation for inclusive participation that fosters in each citizen the self-understanding that she, too, he, too, helps to make, and is responsible for, this world in which we live together.

Allen assumes that there are five facets of her conception of equality embedded in the Declaration and that a slow and deliberate reading of it can bring them to the fore. First, the colonists asserted that their new states were equal to the other powers on the earth. Second, by declaring that “all men are created equal,” the Declaration affirms that each person is the judge of his or her own happiness. Third, the Declaration assumes that each person, however common, contributes to the collective knowledge of the community. Fourth is

the importance of reciprocity or mutual responsiveness to achieving the conditions of freedom. Securing conditions in which no one dominates anyone else requires a form of conversational interaction that rests on and embodies equality in the relationships among the participants.

Finally, the document contends that all of us have . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 12:14 pm

How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota

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A very interesting (and somewhat lengthy) article on the turbulent changes in North Dakota from the boom.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 10:39 am

George Tenet desperate to censor report on CIA torture program

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George Tenet, one-time director of the CIA who famously declared it was a “slam dunk” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (meaning actual weapons of mass destruction, not merely hand grenades), is now furiously at work to keep details of the US torture program from coming out. This NY Times article by Mark Mazzetti describes some of his machinations. From the article:

The April meeting at C.I.A. headquarters highlighted how much of the agency is still seeded with officers who participated in the detention and interrogation program, which Mr. Obama officially ended during his first week in office in 2009.

At one point during the meeting, the current head of the counterterrorism center, an officer with the first name Mike, told Mr. Brennan that roughly 200 people under his leadership had at some point participated in the interrogation program. They wanted to know, he said, how Mr. Brennan planned to defend them in public against accusations that the C.I.A. engaged in systematic torture and lied about its efficacy.

Mr. Tenet flashed his anger at these accusations in 2007, when he was asked about the interrogation program during an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes.”

Wagging a finger at the correspondent, Scott Pelley, Mr. Tenet said over and over, “We don’t torture people.”

“No, listen to me. No, listen to me. I want you to listen to me,” he went on. “Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: The palpable fear that we felt on the basis of that fact that there was so much we did not know. I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots.”

First, of course, it is well known that the CIA did indeed torture people, sometimes to death. That is documented. (The CIA destroyed all videotaped evidence, of course, but word was already out.)

Second, Mr. Tenet simply denies that the CIA tortured people, but then in his rebuttal explains why the CIA tortured people: denial, and then justification.

It’s a lawyer’s defense. “We didn’t do it—and the reasons we did do it are very good.”

Contemptible—and Obama apparently is fine with Tenet riding herd on the investigation and its report. But that helps clarify the degree to which intelligence services control the White House and the government.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 9:21 am

The NSA’s New Partner in Spying: Saudi Arabia’s Brutal State Police

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It’s almost as if there’s a trans-governmental coalition of intelligence/security services, linking arms to leverage their intelligence (and control)—a new governmental emerging from within the existing government. I look forward to the outcome of the CIA transgressions.

Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussein write at The Intercept:

The National Security Agency last year significantly expanded its cooperative relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Interior, one of the world’s most repressive and abusive government agencies. An April 2013 top secret memo provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden details the agency’s plans “to provide direct analytic and technical support” to the Saudis on “internal security” matters.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior—referred to in the document as MOI— has been condemned for years as one of the most brutal human rights violators in the world. In 2013, the U.S. State Department reported that “Ministry of Interior officials sometimes subjected prisoners and detainees to torture and other physical abuse,” specifically mentioning a 2011 episode in which MOI agents allegedly “poured an antiseptic cleaning liquid down [the] throat” of one human rights activist. The report also notes the MOI’s use of invasive surveillance targeted at political and religious dissidents.

But as the State Department publicly catalogued those very abuses, the NSA worked to provide increased surveillance assistance to the ministry that perpetrated them. The move is part of the Obama Administration’s increasingly close ties with the Saudi regime; beyond the new cooperation with the MOI, the memo describes “a period of rejuvenation” for the NSA’s relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Defense.

In general, U.S. support for the Saudi regime is long-standing. One secret 2007 NSA memo lists Saudi Arabia as one of four countries where . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 7:06 pm

CIA gets secret whistleblower email, Congress worries about more spying

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Man, the gloves are off. The CIA feels powerful enough that it can reveal that it’s reading confidential Congressional email, which is illegal on any number of counts, beginning with: the CIA is not to mount operations in the US. But that’s obviously long gone, and the CIA is not only operating within the US but also spying on their overseers. In no way is that appropriate. Or legal. But the CIA at this point doesn’t care, which speaks volumes. And Obama faces now a choice: own it (the CIA is part of the Executive Branch, which he presumably heads), or repudiate it. Big decision that will let us know which way things are going.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 6:35 pm

A tale of two experiments: Tax adjustments in Kansas and California

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Kansas cut taxes drastically. The reasons offered are probably not the real reason (the real reason to allow the wealthy to keep more of their wealth), but the claim was that cutting taxes would boost their economy. And California raised taxes (and went all-in on Obamacare, which Kansas has fended off as best it can: no Medicare expansion, for example). Paul Krugman notes:

The states, Justice Brandeis famously pointed out, are the laboratories of democracy. And it’s still true. For example, one reason we knew or should have known that Obamacare was workable was the post-2006 success of Romneycare in Massachusetts. More recently, Kansas went all-in on supply-side economics, slashing taxes on the affluent in the belief that this would spark a huge boom; the boom didn’t happen, but the budget deficit exploded, offering an object lesson to those willing to learn from experience.

And there’s an even bigger if less drastic experiment under way in the opposite direction. California has long suffered from political paralysis, with budget rules that allowed an increasingly extreme Republican minority to hamstring a Democratic majority; when the state’s housing bubble burst, it plunged into fiscal crisis. In 2012, however, Democratic dominance finally became strong enough to overcome the paralysis, and Gov. Jerry Brown was able to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage. California also moved enthusiastically to implement Obamacare.

I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Needless to say, conservatives predicted doom. A representative reaction: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.” Meanwhile, Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute and Forbes claimed that California residents were about to face a “rate shock” that would more than double health insurance premiums.

What has actually happened? . . .

Continue reading.

Experiments work best, of course, if you actually learn from them. The GOP seems unable to do the “learning” thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 11:39 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Most would-be US terrorists wouldn’t have committed a crime without FBI entrapment

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Data are a two-edged sword: One wants to collect metrics to determine quality of performance, but as soon as metrics are defined they distort performance, which takes as a new goal to drive up good metrics (measures of success). For example, if you are fighting terrorism, it’s good to know how many terrorist plots are disrupted, but once you start counting, those in the agency start pushing for the number to go higher, and soon it’s found that not enough terrorist plots are disrupted to make the numbers look good. So the FBI starts promoting terrorist plots (in an undercover fashion, of course), contributing plans, contacts, helping to arrange for supplies, and then step in and arrest everyone and chalk up another big win for the FBI. (Cf. the stop-and-frisk quotas in Bloomberg’s NYPD.) For example:

In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, who were accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base, a judge said the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”

That’s from this Juan Cole’s post at Informed Comment:

The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity, Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute said in a report released today. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very communities that can help prevent terrorist crimes.

The 214-page report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,” examines 27 federal terrorism cases from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement. It documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as overly aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.

“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”

Many prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks, the groups found. But many others have targeted people who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them. And many of the cases involve due process violations and abusive conditions of confinement that have resulted in excessively long prison sentences.

The report is based on more than 215 interviews with people charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, members of their families and their communities, criminal defense attorneys, judges, current and former federal prosecutors, government officials, academics, and other experts.

In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act. . .

Continue reading. And watch this:

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 5:21 pm

More from the Obama Administration’s “Watchlist Guidance”

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I blogged this article earlier, and in case you didn’t read it—it’s long—let me post a few paragraphs about what sort of things the US government checks for if you happen to be on the Watchlist or have the same name as someone on the Watchlist:

In addition to data like fingerprints, travel itineraries, identification documents and gun licenses, the rules encourage screeners to acquire health insurance information, drug prescriptions, “any cards with an electronic strip on it (hotel cards, grocery cards, gift cards, frequent flyer cards),” cellphones, email addresses, binoculars, peroxide, bank account numbers, pay stubs, academic transcripts, parking and speeding tickets, and want ads. The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE database.

Screeners are also instructed to collect data on any “pocket litter,” scuba gear, EZ Passes, library cards, and the titles of any books, along with information about their condition—”e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened.” Business cards and conference materials are also targeted, as well as “anything with an account number” and information about any gold or jewelry worn by the watchlisted individual. Even “animal information”—details about pets from veterinarians or tracking chips—is requested. The rulebook also encourages the collection of biometric or biographical data about the travel partners of watchlisted individuals.

The list of government entities that collect this data includes the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is neither an intelligence nor law-enforcement agency. As the rulebook notes, USAID funds foreign aid programs that promote environmentalism, health care, and education. USAID, which presents itself as committed to fighting global poverty, nonetheless appears to serve as a conduit for sensitive intelligence about foreigners. According to the guidelines, “When USAID receives an application seeking financial assistance, prior to granting, these applications are subject to vetting by USAID intelligence analysts at the TSC.” The guidelines do not disclose the volume of names provided by USAID, the type of information it provides, or the number and duties of the “USAID intelligence analysts.”

We are more and more living under a government that believes it has the right to build a dossier on any citizen. More controls (over citizens) is coming, if this plays out according to history.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 5:04 pm

The stock markets are rigged, part MMDCCCLXIV: Half of Futures Trades in Chicago Are Illegal Wash Trades

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Read and ponder. The regulations and laws and watchdog agencies are failing.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 4:55 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Preventable patient harm is the third-leading cause of death in America

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And we do little to prevent it: like many American failures, it is simply accepted as part of “having the best healthcare system in the world.” Marshall Allen reports in Pacific Standard:

The health care community is not doing enough to track and prevent widespread harm to patients, and preventable deaths and injuries in hospitals and other settings will continue unless Congress takes action, medical experts said last week on Capitol Hill.

“Our collective action in patient safety pales in comparison to the magnitude of the problem,” said Dr. Peter Pronovost, senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “We need to say that harm is preventable and not tolerable.”

Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, said patients are no better protected now than they were 15 years ago, when a landmark Institute of Medicine report set off alarms about deaths due to medical errors and prompted calls for reform.

“We can’t continue to have unsafe medical care be a regular part of the way we do business in health care,” Jha said.

One of the biggest problems, the experts told the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, is that providers and public health agencies still are not accurately measuring the harm.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), the panel’s chairman, said afterward that most patients probably don’t know that preventable patient harm is the third-leading cause of death in America. He said the problem hasn’t received the attention it deserves in the public arena or from lawmakers.

Jha said it is crucial to develop better metrics to produce credible data about harm that is valid and credible. Without data, providers don’t know how they’re doing or if quality improvement efforts are working, he said.

Pronovost and Jha called for requiring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which already collects data about hospital-acquired infections, to begin tracking other patient harms.

Dr. Tejal Gandhi, president of the National Patient Safety Foundation, said studies show that medication errors, adverse drug events, and injuries due to drugs occur in up to 25 percent of patients within 30 days of being prescribed a drug.

Missed and delayed diagnosis is also a problem, and a primary cause of malpractice lawsuits in the outpatient setting, she said. Systems need to be put in place to monitor patient care instead of simply relying on doctors to get it right, Gandhi said.

“We cannot just tell clinicians to try harder and think better,” Gandhi said.

The title of the hearing, “More Than 1,000 Preventable Deaths a Day Is Too Many: The Need to Improve Patient Safety,” was inspired by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 4:48 pm

FDA can continue to ignore the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

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The FDA isn’t doing its job because it’s almost totally in thrall to the businesses that it is supposed to regulate and seems mostly to do their bidding. And, given the GOP pressures, I imagine funding has been cut. But still, for a Federal judge to explicitly rule that the FDA doesn’t have to do its job to protect the public makes one throw up his hands.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 3:38 pm

Obama Administration makes it easier to designate someone as a “terrorist”

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And, of course, once someone is so designated, the US Patriot Act allows them to be imprisoned indefinitely and in secret.  Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux explain at The Intercept:

The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept.

The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, spells out the government’s secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings. The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place “entire categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted.

Over the years, the Obama and Bush Administrations have fiercely resisted disclosing the criteria for placing names on the databases—though the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder even invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent watchlisting guidelines from being disclosed in litigation launched by an American who was on the no fly list. In an affidavit, Holder called them a “clear roadmap” to the government’s terrorist-tracking apparatus, adding: “The Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed … could cause significant harm to national security.”

The rulebook, which The Intercept is publishing in full, was developed behind closed doors by representatives of the nation’s intelligence, military, and law-enforcement establishment, including the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI. Emblazoned with the crests of 19 agencies, it offers the most complete and revealing look into the secret history of the government’s terror list policies to date. It reveals a confounding and convoluted system filled with exceptions to its own rules, and it relies on the elastic concept of “reasonable suspicion” as a standard for determining whether someone is a possible threat. Because the government tracks “suspected terrorists” as well as “known terrorists,” individuals can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being a suspected terrorist, or if they are suspected of associating with people who are suspected of terrorism activity.

“Instead of a watchlist limited to actual, known terrorists, the government has built a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future,” says Hina Shamsi, the head of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “On that dangerous theory, the government is secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists and giving them the impossible task of proving themselves innocent of a threat they haven’t carried out.” Shamsi, who reviewed the document, added, “These criteria should never have been kept secret.”

The document’s definition of “terrorist” activity includes actions that fall far short of bombing or hijacking. In addition to expected crimes, such as assassination or hostage-taking, the guidelines also define destruction of government property and damaging computers used by financial institutions as activities meriting placement on a list. They also define as terrorism any act that is “dangerous” to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.

This combination—a broad definition of what constitutes terrorism and a low threshold for designating someone a terrorist—opens the way to ensnaring innocent people in secret government dragnets. It can also be counterproductive. When resources are devoted to tracking people who are not genuine risks to national security, the actual threats get fewer resources—and might go unnoticed.

“If reasonable suspicion is the only standard you need to label somebody, then it’s a slippery slope we’re sliding down here, because then you can label anybody anything,” says David Gomez, a former senior FBI special agent with experience running high-profile terrorism investigations. “Because you appear on a telephone list of somebody doesn’t make you a terrorist. That’s the kind of information that gets put in there.”

The fallout is personal too. There are severe consequences for people unfairly labeled a terrorist by the U.S. government, which shares its watchlist data with local law enforcement, foreign governments, and “private entities.” Once the U.S. government secretly labels you a terrorist or terrorist suspect, other institutions tend to treat you as one. It can become difficult to get a job (or simply to stay out of jail). It can become burdensome—or impossible—to travel. And routine encounters with law enforcement can turn into ordeals. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 12:52 pm

US Sentencing Commission votes to make drug sentencing change retroactive

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This is good news, though the DoJ seems to be digging in its heels: too much work, they say.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 8:32 am

Feds seek to air consumer finance complaints

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Jeff Horowitz reports at The Big Story:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has heard from hundreds of thousands of consumers who feel wronged by banks and finance companies. Now the agency wants the public to hear from those consumers too.

On Wednesday, the bureau proposed allowing consumers to publish online the details of their complaints against lenders and financial service providers. Those narratives would augment the bureau’s consumer complaint database, which lists complaints about checking accounts, credit cards, student loans and other financial products. If consumers choose to make their complaints public, the companies involved would then be given a chance to write a public response.

“By proposing to share people’s stories, we are giving consumers an opportunity to be heard by the entire world and not simply by a government agency and its officials,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in remarks prepared for a Thursday event in El Paso, Texas.

The consumer bureau’s current database simply lists the company being complained about, a general subject matter like “deposits and withdrawals,” and whether the complaint has been resolved. By adding the narratives, the bureau believes it will help consumers determine where to take their business and identify systemic problems. A similar complaint reporting system is already in place at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which seeks to identify dangerous products from appliances to toys.

Consumer groups were elated by the bureau’s proposal, which Ruth Susswein, a deputy director at Consumer Action, called “essential for consumers to protect themselves.” Banks have complained bitterly about . . .

Continue reading.

This is excellent news—indeed, the complaints from the banks show how good it is. And as we saw in the previous article, making Federal databases open to the public whenever possible can help mitigate fraud and bad practice.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 10:13 am

Why Are Obstetricians Among the Top Billers for Group Psychotherapy in Illinois?

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The simple answer is that Medicare was not reviewing its billing data and seemed to have little interest in stopping fraud.  Charles Ornstein reports in ProPublica:

A few years ago, Illinois’ Medicaid program for the poor noticed some odd trends in its billings for group psychotherapy sessions.

Nursing home residents were being taken several times a week to off-site locations, and Medicaid was picking up the tab for both the services and the transportation.

And then there was this: The sessions were often being performed by obstetrician/gynecologists, oncologists and urologists — “people who didn’t have any training really in psychiatry,” Medicaid director Theresa Eagleson recalled.

So Medicaid began cracking down, and spending plummeted after new rules were implemented. In July 2012 the program stopped paying for group psychotherapy altogether for residents of nursing homes.

Yet Illinois doctors are still billing the federal Medicare program for large numbers of the same services, a ProPublica analysis of federal data shows.

Medicare paid Illinois providers for more than 290,000 group psychotherapy sessions in 2012 — more than twice as many sessions as were reimbursed to providers in New York, the state with the second-highest total.

Among the highest billers for group psychotherapy in Illinois were three ob/gyns and a thoracic surgeon. The four combined for 37,864 sessions that year, more than the total for all providers in the state of California. They were reimbursed more than $730,000 by Medicare in 2012 just for psychotherapy sessions, according to an analysis of a separate Medicare data set released in April.

“That’s not good,” Eagleson said when told of the Medicare numbers.

Medicare’s recent data release has led to a string of analyses showing how waste and fraud is inflating the nation’s bill for health care. This work has echoed the findings of ProPublica’s investigation last year into Medicare’s prescription drug program known as Part D, which had fewer barriers to waste and fraud than other government health care programs – and was making less effective use of its own data.

Of the Illinois ob/gyns billing for group psychotherapy, . . .

Continue reading.

Some of these physicians should face criminal charges for fraud and also lose their license to practice medicine.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 10:09 am

Glaser, Cuomo, and the Refusals That Made the Story

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I blogged earlier on Andrew Cuomo, who increasingly seems to be corrupt, and his relationship with Howard Glaser. Nicole Bronzan has a brief article in ProPublica—and there’s a podcast at the link:

Justin Elliott (@JustinElliott) was doing his poking around a year ago when he uncovered a story he hadn’t even known existed, he tells Assistant Managing Editor Eric Umansky (@ericuman) in this week’s podcast.

Looking into the relationship between Howard Glaser, a mortgage industry lobbyist, and Andrew Cuomo, now New York’s governor, he filed a Freedom of Information request for Glaser’s emails in that capacity. The state denied the request, citing Glaser’s role as a consultant in Cuomo’s investigation into the mortgage industry during his time as attorney general — a previously unreported fact.

It was a surprising twist on the revolving door between government and industry, Elliott says: “Howard Glaser was on both sides of that door at the same time, and not only that, at least two of the companies that Andrew Cuomo was investigating as attorney general were actually acknowledged clients of Glaser.”

Umansky takes a moment to “savor the deliciousness” of that turn of events. “In the course of objecting to and fighting our open records request,” he says, “their argument for that actually turned out to be revealing another story to us.”

In the end, one of Glaser’s clients ended up getting immunity, Elliott says, which may have made sense for the investigation, but it’s never been reported that Cuomo ever used any information obtained as part of the deal with the due diligence firm Clayton. “It’s not clear why this deal was made,” he says.

Meanwhile, Glaser had a prominent role in news reports about Cuomo’s investigations, including the story that broke the news of the 2007 deal with Clayton, Elliott says– but without mention of his role consulting for the attorney general’s office. “If you read the New York Times story, which we link to in our story, who’s quoted in it? None other than Howard Glaser, as a mortgage consultant,” he says. “Story doesn’t mention the fact that Glaser had worked for both Clayton and Cuomo.”

Asked for answers about all this, Glaser instead began a Twitter campaign against ProPublica and its founding funder weeks before the article was published, Elliott says.

That “prebuttal” of the story actually worked against him in the end, Umansky says, calling it one of the “great moments in PR management.” In response to Glaser’s tweets, “a number of reporters started tweeting about their interest in seeing what the story was.”

By publishing time, ProPublica’s publicity team already had a head start, thanks to Glaser.

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

D.C. man exonerated in 1982 rape and murder; DNA reveals FBI error in conviction

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This was an FBI “elite” unit. God knows what their regular units do. Keith Alexander and Spencer Hsu report for the Washington Post:

A D.C. Superior Court judge concluded Monday that DNA evidence exonerates a man who spent 26 years in prison for the 1982 rape and murder of a Washington woman.

Kevin Martin’s case marks the fifth time in as many years that federal prosecutors in D.C. acknowledged that errors by an elite FBI forensic unit have led to a wrongful conviction.

U.S. attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. joined defense calls to vacate Martin’s conviction and declare him innocent of the rape and murder of Ursula C. Brown. Machen cited DNA evidence that contradicts a previous finding by forensic experts linking Martin to a hair collected at the scene.

Martin, who had long professed innocence in the killing, left the D.C. courthouse with his name cleared. He was paroled in 2009 and lives in San Francisco.

“I am free at last. I am humbled. I never gave up,” Martin said, hugging and high-fiving his attorneys. Martin’s younger sister, his fiancée, his 6-year-old niece and other family members gathered around.

“I just want to live,” said Martin, 50,

The hearing came as Machen’s office nears the end of a 2-1 / 2 year review of all local convictions involving FBI hair matches that was launched in 2012 after demands by the D.C. Public Defender Service. The service has worked to exonerate four men convicted by such matches since 2009. And the troubling problems exposed in the FBI lab’s methods have led the FBI and Justice Department to undertake a nationwide review of more than 2,100 convictions in the 1980s and 1990s.

Martin’s is the first exoneration uncovered by District prosecutors, who also say it is the only one found by the local review. PDS praised the effort to clear Martin’s name but criticized the U.S. Attorney’s Office review as secretive and the disclosure of results as incomplete and overdue. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 11:29 am

What happens if the internet’s not open and free: Government propaganda dept.

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Julia Ioffe writes in The New Republic:

id you know Malaysia Air Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently reinsured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH17 for Putin’s presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?

Did you know that the crash of MH17 was all part of an American conspiracy to provoke a big war with Russia?

Well, it’s all true—at least if you live in Russia, because this is the Malaysia Airlines crash story that you’d be seeing.

As the crisis surrounding the plane crash deepens and as calls for Vladimir Putin to act grow louder, it’s worth noting that they’re not really getting through to Putin’s subjects. The picture of the catastrophe that the Russian people are seeing on their television screens is very different from that on screens in much of the rest of the world, and the discrepancy does not bode well for a sane resolution to this stand-off. . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 8:40 am

Posted in Government, Media

The “Show Me” state refuses to be shown re: Prescription drug database

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Missouri is the only state that refuses to create a prescription drug database to detect and prevent prescription drug abuse. The reasons seem to be a refusal to be shown. The NY Times story by Alan Schwarz begins:

On his office phone at L & S Pharmacy, Richard Logan listened as a doctor’s office detailed how a patient had just left with her third prescription for painkillers in only nine days — and was quite possibly getting more, illegally, elsewhere.

Mr. Logan, 61, holstered two guns, slipped on a bulletproof vest and jumped into his truck. Because in his small corner of America’s epidemic of prescription drug abuse, Mr. Logan is no ordinary pharmacist. He is also a sheriff’s deputy who, when alerted to someone acquiring fraudulent drug prescriptions, goes out to catch that person himself.

“I’m only one guy, and for every person we get to, there are probably 100 who we can’t,” Mr. Logan said. “How many people have to get addicted and die for us to do what everyone else is doing about it?”
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His frustration stems from this: Missouri is the only state in America that has declined to keep a prescription drug database — the primary tool the other 49 states use to identify people who acquire excess prescriptions for addictive painkillers and tranquilizers, as well as the physicians who overprescribe them.

Not having the database has not only hampered Missouri’s ability to combat prescription drug abuse, but also attracted people from neighboring states looking to stockpile pills and bring them home to take themselves or sell to others, according to law enforcement officials, legislators and data compiled by a prescription drug processing firm.

“Welcome to Missouri — America’s Drugstore,” said Dr. Douglas Char, an emergency room physician in St. Louis. “We aren’t just allowing abuse, we’ve created a business model for dealers.”

Drug monitoring programs, whose procedures and powers can vary significantly from state to state, all share a similar strategy: to require doctors, pharmacists or both to enter all prescriptions into a database that can — or, in some states, must — be consulted later to make sure patients do not get excess medication.

Because many states’ programs appear effective, Missouri has been urged to put one into effect. Among those calling for a change are Missouri medical associations, members of Congress from neighboring states, the White House and even Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, the St. Louis-based manufacturer of oxycodone, the highly abused prescription painkiller.

But while proponents say the vast majority of the Legislature supports the measure, it has been blocked by . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 8:33 am

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