Later On

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Archive for November 14th, 2015

Classified Report on the C.I.A.’s Secret Prisons Is Caught in Limbo

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Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo report in the NY Times:

A Senate security officer stepped out of the December chill last year and delivered envelopes marked “Top Secret” to the Pentagon, the C.I.A., the State Department and the Justice Department. Inside each packet was a disc containing a 6,700-page classified report on the C.I.A.’s secret prison program and a letter from Senator Dianne Feinstein, urging officials to read the report to ensure that the lessons were not lost to time.

Today, those discs sit untouched in vaults across Washington, still in their original envelopes. The F.B.I. has not retrieved a copy held for it in the Justice Department’s safe. State Department officials, who locked up their copy and marked it “Congressional Record — Do Not Open, Do Not Access” as soon as it arrived, have not read it either.

Nearly a year after the Senate released a declassified 500-page summary of the report, the fate of the entire document remains in limbo, the subject of battles in the courts and in Congress. Until those disputes are resolved, the Justice Department has prohibited officials from the government agencies that possess it from even opening the report, effectively keeping the people in charge of America’s counterterrorism future from reading about its past. There is also the possibility that the documents could remain locked in a Senate vault for good.

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch last week, Ms. Feinstein, a California Democrat, said the Justice Department was preventing the government from “learning from the mistakes of the past to ensure that they are not repeated.”

Although Ms. Feinstein is eager to see the document circulated, the Senate is now under Republican control. Her successor as head of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, has demanded that the Obama administration return every copy of the report. Mr. Burr has declared the report to be nothing more than “a footnote in history.”

It was always clear that the full report would remain shielded from public view for years, if not decades. But Mr. Burr’s demand, which means that even officials with top security clearances might never read it, has reminded some officials of the final scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when the Ark of the Covenant is put into a wooden crate alongside thousands of others in a government warehouse of secrets.

The report tells the story of how, in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the C.I.A. began capturing people and interrogating them in secret prisons beyond the reach of the American judicial and military legal systems. The report’s central conclusion is that the spy agency’s interrogation methods — including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other kinds of torture — were far more brutal and far less effective than the C.I.A. acknowledged to policy makers, Congress and the public.

For now, it is the most comprehensive chronicle of one of the most controversial counterterrorism programs after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the C.I.A. for access to the document, and at this point the case hinges on who owns it. Senate documents are exempt from public records laws, but executive branch records are not. In May, a federal judge ruled that even though Ms. Feinstein distributed the report to the executive branch, the document still belongs to Congress. That decision is under appeal, with court papers due this month.

Justice Department officials defend their stance, saying that handling the document at all could influence the outcome of the lawsuit. They said that a State Department official who opened the report, read it and summarized it could lead a judge to determine that the document was an executive branch record, altering the lawsuit’s outcome. The Justice Department has also promised not to return the records to Mr. Burr until a judge settles the matter.

“It’s quite bizarre, and I cannot think of a precedent,” said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. He said there are any number of classified Senate documents that are shared with intelligence agencies and remain as congressional records, even if they are read by members of the executive branch.

The findings of the report on the secret prisons remain the subject of fierce debate. A group of former senior C.I.A. officers published a book in September challenging its conclusions and methodology, and Senate Republicans have derided the investigation as shoddy and partisan. . .

Continue reading.

It’s pretty clear that what happened is something the American public deserves to know, and the intensity of resistance to revealing what happened shows that it must have pretty bad.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2015 at 7:16 pm

Time to ground Congress

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Dana Milbank writes in the Washington Post:

House Republican leaders this month did something that should outrage Americans of all parties and creeds: They declared that the people’s representatives will be working only two days a week next year.

The House will be in session just 111 days in 2016. This means the chamber will be closed more weekdays (150) than open, and many of the 111 are partial days. That’s upward of 30 weeks of paid vacation for all 435 members of the House. Is it any wonder the House is not doing what the people want?

Worse, American taxpayers are subsidizing members of Congress so that they can take more time off. Lawmakers have awarded themselves essentially unlimited travel budgets so they can spend more time at home.

It began with good intentions years ago: Members of Congress, out of a desire to be in touch with their constituents, made sure they could travel home to their districts as often as they wished. But this has contributed to a culture in which lawmakers fly to Washington Tuesday morning and fly out Thursday evening when in session (and perhaps make a quick trip home Wednesday night for the odd Rotary speech).

And how has being closer to their constituents worked out for them? Job approval of Congress stands at 13 percent in polls, near historic lows.

Lawmakers are spending too much time at home and not enough solving problems in Washington — and taxpayers are enabling lawmakers to blow off work rather than toil the five-day workweek that other U.S. workers do.

A week ago, I wrote that new House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) could solve much of the dysfunction in Washington by moving his family here, encouraging others to do the same and extending the congressional workweek to the standard five days. This would force lawmakers to get to know each other as human beings rather than partisan adversaries, and the result would be a more cooperative, functional legislature.

After reading that, lobbyist Vin Weber, a congressman from Minnesota in the 1980s and 1990s and a member of Republican leadership, suggested another measure: curtail the unlimited congressional travel allowances. This would encourage collegiality in Congress while also getting taxpayers out of financing what amounts to an incumbent protection racket.

“We’re subsidizing their campaigns,” he said. “The impact is these guys spend no time with each other and less quality time doing their jobs, and it contributes enormously to the dysfunction of the Capitol.”

Weber recalled that when he was in Congress, some lawmakers would drive to Washington in January and drive back to their districts in August, when Congress recessed.

In a statement justifying the two-day-average workweek, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) argued: “This calendar ensures that ‘the People’s House’ always remains in-touch with those back home. Discussing ideas and concerns is a critical function of a responsive, representative democracy, and for this reason, our schedule will continue to provide members considerable time for constituent services in their districts each month.”

Nice try. But what we have now is not responsive democracy but reactive democracy, in which lawmakers answer to parochial and shortsighted views — generally those expressed by the last wealthy donor to buttonhole them — rather than thinking about the national interest or working with colleagues to build a consensus.

“It’s a great irony, really, that by every measurement it looks as if Congress is more out of touch with constituents than ever before,” Weber said, “and yet they’ve been back with their constituents more than they’ve ever been.”

And we pay for this new parochialism in many ways: free parking spaces for lawmakers at Reagan National Airport, discounted government rates for lawmakers, the privilege of booking themselves on multiple flights while regular fliers get bumped. Powerful lawmakers push airlines to schedule convenient flights to their home states and districts; one has been heard to boast about “my plane” on his flights to and from Washington. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2015 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Congress, Government

$5M Jury Award for One Foreclosure Fraud Makes U.S. Punishment Look Trivial

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Eric Holder as Attorney General acted as though he were a protector of the banks and finance industry (and of course he did return to his lucrative position at his white-shoe law firm). He could have done much more, as indicated by David Danyen’s report in The Intercept:

A Texas jury’s recent decision to award over $5 million in damages and fees for the fraudulent foreclosure of a single home suggests that the big banks could have been on the hook for as much as $32 trillion — before the Justice Department and state attorneys general settled for $25 billion, or less than on tenth of a penny on the dollar.

In the trial in Harris County district court, the jury awarded Houston foreclosure victims Mary Ellen and David Wolf $5.38 million on November 6, on the grounds that Wells Fargo Bank and Carrington Mortgage Services knowingly submitted false documents to kick them out of their home.

The Wolfs had taken out a $400,000 home equity loan from Carrington (then known as New Century), which was immediately sold into a mortgage-backed trust administered by Wells Fargo. The loan was never properly placed into that trust, however, breaking the chain of title and making it impossible for Carrington or Wells Fargo to legally enforce the lien.

They put the Wolfs into foreclosure anyway, relying on a transfer document fabricated (or “robo-signed”) by Tom Croft, a New Century employee. New Century did not own the promissory note or deed of trust and could therefore not legally transfer the lien, and Croft signed off without personal knowledge of the underlying loan.

The jury agreed with the Wolfs that this made the foreclosure invalid, and awarded the family $150,000 in financial injuries, $40,000 for mental anguish, $5 million in punitive damages and $190,000 in attorney’s fees. Wells Fargo can seek a new trial, ask the judge to reduce the damages, or appeal the case, though they haven’t done so yet.

Numerous court depositions released in 2010 revealed that robo-signing of mortgage documents in an attempt to prove ownership of loans and secure foreclosures – in other words,foreclosure fraud — was a widespread industry practice. Two years later, the five leading mortgage servicing companies, including Wells Fargo, paid $5 billion in fines and $20 billion in credits in return for federal and state prosecutors agreeing not to pursue civil charges.

With the jury award in the Wolf family case, we can now assess the true financial exposure on these banks and mortgage companies. There have been roughly 6 million foreclosures since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008, and virtually all of them were completed with robo-signed, fabricated or fraudulent documents in one form or another. If we apply the $5.38 million jury award to all of those loans, you have a potential cost from the foreclosure fraud scandal of $32.28 trillion. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2015 at 2:25 pm

Michigan Prosecutors Pressured Lab to Falsify Medical Marijuana Results

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Juan Thompson reports in The Intercept:

The Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division finds itself embroiled in scandal as newly released emails paint a picture of a crime lab in turmoil over how to classify marijuana. Attorneys and medical marijuana advocates accuse Michigan prosecutors of pressuring the state’s crime lab to falsely classify the origins of THC found in hash oils and marijuana edibles as “origin unknown.”

Prosecutors exploited the ambiguity to charge medical marijuana users for possession of synthetic THC, despite the fact that the personal use of medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since it was approved by voters in 2008. Under Michigan law, possession of synthetic THC constitutes a felony, whereas possession of marijuana and its derivatives by someone who is not a licensed medical marijuana user is a misdemeanor.

The emails were obtained by Michael Komorn, lead lawyer for Max Lorincz, a medical marijuana patient who lost custody of his child and now faces felony charges after the lab’s misleading classification of hash oil found in his home.

“I’d never seen a lab report reporting origin unknown,” Komorn told The Intercept. “What was produced for us was the most unbelievable set of documents I’ve ever seen.”

The emails show that as Michigan forensic scientists debated how to classify oil and wax produced from marijuana plants, they were pressured by police and prosecutors to classify the products in a way that would facilitate harsher drug convictions.

“It is highly doubtful,” a forensic scientist named Scott Penabaker wrote in May 2013, “that any of these Med. Mari. products we are seeing have THC that was synthesized. This would be completely impractical.” And in February 2014, the supervisor of Lansing, Michigan’s controlled substances unit, Bradley Choate, wrote that a misleading identification of THC “could lead to the wrong charge of possession of synthetic THC and the ultimate wrongful conviction of an individual.” Lab inspector John Bowen, referring to the THC in edibles and oils, agreed: “Is it likely that someone went to the trouble to manufacture THC and two other cannabinoids, mix them up, and bake them into a pan of brownies? Of course not.”

Despite the unlikelihood that Lorincz and others were somehow cooking up synthetic THC, Andy Fias, a state police lieutenant with West Michigan’s regional drug task force, reached out to the Forensic Science Division in January 2015. “We are encountering a significant amount of THC wax and oil,” he wrote. “If we were to seized [sic] the wax/oil from a card carrying patient or caregiver and it comes back as marijuana, we will not have PC [probable cause] for the arrests.” . . .

Continue reading.

Note that the only thing Andy Fias wants is to send a person to prison, even if that person is not guilty of a felony. Getting them into prison is what he’s all about. This man is dangerous.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2015 at 2:15 pm

Fascinating maximum break by Ronnie O’Sullivan—best snooker player ever?

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This is one of the relatively rare times when the commentary is worth listening to. Snooker: each time you pot a red ball (1 point) you can pot any numbered ball and get that many points. Until all the red balls are sunk, each time you pot a numbered ball, it is replaced on its original position at the opening of the game. Once all the red balls are sunk (and the numbered ball after the final red ball), then you must pot the numbered balls in order, 2 (yellow) through 7 (black).

Obviously the best strategy is always to sink the 7 ball after sinking a red ball. That’s what he quite elegantly does, making some very interesting shots along the way.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2015 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Games, Video

A lovely little shave with H.L. Thäter, Klar Seifen, and a 37G

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SOTD 14 Nov 2015

Very nice and compact shave today. The H.L. Thäter brush is a wonderful little brush. It has the domed shape that Germans seem to prefer, unlike the fan shape the English like.

Klar Seifen is a very nice shaving soap and although they sell tins that are completely full, I do not find them at all messy: it’s just a matter of learning to load the brush. The lather was extremely good and lasted through the shave.

This Merkur 37G dates from before the very recent tweaking of the head design, but even so it is highly efficient and highly comfortable. Three passes to a BBS finish, and then a splash of Klar Seifen aftershave.

The weekend begins.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2015 at 9:50 am

Posted in Shaving

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