Later On

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Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

In the Hillary Clinton Era, Democrats Welcome Lobbying Money Back Into the Convention

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Debbie Wasserman Schulz actively recruited lobbyists to join the DNC, and Hillary Clinton’s praise and support of DWS indicates Clinton’s own predilections: a very accommodating attitude toward lobbyists (cf. her speaking fees that she personally accepted from Goldman Sachs). This is one big drawback to Clinton: business as usual with respect to lobbyists, Wall Street, and big corporations.

Just to be clear: Clinton is worlds better than Trump, but she is totally a part of the system and is way too accommodating to special interests. She has feathered her nest, so she doesn’t see anything wrong with nest-feathering. I support her in this election, but I do not for one minute think she has a progressive outlook.

Zaid Jilani and Alex Emmons report for The Intercept:

By quietly dropping a ban on direct donations from registered federal lobbyists and political action committees, the Democratic National Committee in February reopened the floodgates for corruption that Barack Obama had put in place in 2008. [This was Debbie Wasserman Schulz’s doing. – LG]

Secret donors with major public-policy agendas were welcomed back in from the cold and showered with access and appreciation at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

Major donors were offered “Family and Friends” packages, including suites at the Ritz-Carlton, backstage passes, and even seats in the Clinton family box. Corporate lobbyists like Heather Podesta celebrated the change, telling Time: “My money is now good.”

What was going on inside the convention hall was also reflected outside, at costly events sponsored by the  fossil fuel industrytechnology companiesfor-profit collegespharmaceutical companies, and railway companies, to name a few.

Craig Holman, an elections financing expert at Public Citizen, said that the end of the lobbyist contribution ban as well as Congress’s 2014 terminationof all remaining public financing of the party conventions has served to undermine democracy. “The implications of these changes are that we have opened up access to the parties and the conventions to just the very, very wealthy,” he said.

He pointed out that Congress originally passed the law to publicly finance presidential conventions after a 1972 scandal where President Richard Nixon terminated an anti-trust investigation eight days after the telecommunications company ITT donated heavily to that year’s Republican convention.

For the more than 1,900 Bernie Sanders delegates at the convention, the dependence on high-roller lobbyists was particularly galling. Sanders’s campaign was built on a simple promise: he would shun big-ticket fundraisers and corporate lobbyists in favor of a legion of small donors. And it worked. By the end of April 2016, Sanders’s campaign was actually raising more money than Clinton’s, which was welcoming support from corporate lobbyists and bundlers.

But an overwhelming majority of Democratic lawmakers we spoke to at the convention didn’t seem troubled by the rule change at all.

At a posh event hosted by The Atlantic and paid for by the American Petroleum Institute oil lobby, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, shrugged off concerns about the influence of special interest groups.

“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the DNC on that,” he said in response to a question whether lifting the ban was the right move.

“Do you think that lobbyists have undue influence?” we followed up.

“I don’t know.”

“What about energy lobbyists? What about oil lobbyists?”

“What about ’em?”

“Do you think they have undue influence in the United States?”

“I think they’re just like teachers, like firemen, like everybody who contributes.”

“What about the Koch Brothers, who spent $400 million on an election?”

“You’ve gotta go talk to the Koch Brothers,” he replied, ending the conversation.

Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia offered a Willie Sutton justification for lifting the lobbying ban. “The lobbyists, that’s where the money is,” he said.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley made . . .

Continue reading.

This selling out the Federal government is exactly what Bernie Sanders was running against. Hillary Clinton thinks it’s just fine. (She, after all, was happy to accept money personally from the likes of Goldman Sachs.)

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2016 at 6:55 pm

6 state employees criminally charged in connection with Flint water crisis

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Excellent news: they betrayed their public trust. Here’s the story. From the story:

The six new indictments bring the total number of individuals charged in relation to the Flint water crisis to nine. Schuette had brought felony charges against two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials and one City of Flint official in April. . . .

Michigan governor Rick Snyder was reported to withhold information from the investigation.

 My hope is that Rick Snyder will be indited for obstruction of justice.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2016 at 5:14 pm

Panama Papers: Will Wall Street Get Swept Up in Justice Department’s Investigation?

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Wall Street enjoys a certain amount of immunity from the DoJ: Wall Street firms may be fined (with fines paid using a portion of the profits the firm made), but no individual is ever held accountable and no individual pays any fines. (Fines are paid by the bank or investment firm, leaving individual bonuses intact.)

But here’s another opportunity to actually hold Wall Street accountable, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch may be less protective of Wall Street than Attorney General Eric Holder was (whose practice of law at Covington & Burling  included Wall Street firms as former and potential future clients). (You see the dynamic of protecting Wall Street in Mary Jo White’s tenure as chair of the SEC: she is a defense lawyer for Wall Street firms before joining the SEC and she will return to that practice after leaving the SEC, and one assumes she would not want to anger any former or potential future clients in her private practice.)

Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

The Wall Street Journalreported yesterday that the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C. and its U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan “have launched a criminal investigation into whether individuals at Mossack Fonseca & Co., the law firm at the center of the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal, knowingly helped its clients launder money or evade taxes…”

That investigation, if conducted thoroughly and without improper interference, could turn up the heat on some powerful Wall Street players.

On May 16 Wall Street On Parade broke the story that the Miami office of Citigroup’s Private Bank at 201 South Biscayne Blvd. was the listed address for dozens of offshore companies whose agent is Mossack Fonseca. (See graph below.) Our information was obtained from a search of the public database made available by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which received more than 11.5 million leaked files from the Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca. ICIJ calls Mossack Fonseca “one of the world’s top creators of hard-to-trace companies, trusts and foundations.”

Prior to Citigroup’s implosion and bailout in 2008, it reported its major subsidiaries to the Securities and Exchange Commission. In this report from 2006, Citigroup showed more than 1600 major subsidiaries with more than five dozen in secrecy jurisdictions. As Citigroup came under serial investigations by the Justice Department and other Federal regulators, its list of subsidiaries shrank dramatically. But as we reported in 2014, that doesn’t mean the subsidiaries are actually gone – many are simply just not listed any longer in an out-of-sight-out-of-mind kind of operation.

Wall Street hedge funds may also come under the microscope. Hedge fund titans have turned up in the Panama Papers database or earlier leaked documents that are now part of the ICIJ database.

Internationally known hedge fund billionaire mogul, George Soros, turned up in the Panama Papers. His name is linked to Soros Holdings Limited, whose agent is Mossack Fonseca, with the British Virgin Islands listed as its registration. Another company tied to Soros is Soros Finance Inc., which shows registration in Panama and also shows Mossack Fonseca as its agent.

Another hedge fund mogul, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2016 at 5:00 pm

Why Make Something When Nothing Sells Just as Well?

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Corporations are sociopaths. For example, read this report by David Epstein in ProPublica:

It’s a fundamental law of nature… or at least nature legislation: For every action that the government takes to protect the natural environment, there is a cleverly corrupt reaction. An investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek profiled an extraordinary case of fraud that exploited the Renewable Fuel Standard program, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2005. That’s what he gets for trying to lessen our dependence on foreign oil… sucker! Your six W’s:
What’s the background?

The catchily named Renewable Fuel Standard law requires traditional gas and diesel refiners (ExxonMobil, BP, etc.) to mix a certain amount of ethanol and biodiesel into their products. But, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, refiners can avoid that little nuisance if they instead purchase renewable fuel credits from manufacturers of ethanol or biodiesel. It’s kind of like when your great-great-grandaddy Phineas slipped his buddy Granville a fiver to take his spot in the Civil War. (Srsly, people did that.) Except, in this case, refiners pay a renewable manufacturer so they don’t have to get their own hands messy with cleaner fuel. Hmm. That’s where Philip Rivkin, founder and CEO of Houston-based Green Diesel came in.

What did he do?

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, EPA investigators say that Green Diesel’s production of biodiesel ended in 2008, at which point Rivkin decided to skip the whole, laborious making-renewable-fuel part of the operation and focus exclusively on selling credits to big oil companies. When an EPA inspector paid a visit to Green Diesel, he found rusted canisters where biodiesel was supposed to be mixed, a grand total of zero employees at the factory, and pipes that connected to nothing. Maybe Rivkin was designing a tribute to M.C. Escher? More likely, he realized that the only thing better than making renewable fuels and selling renewable credits is not making renewable fuels and still selling renewable credits.

What did that accomplish?

Let’s just say that, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, Rivkin later left Houston to live in Spain with his wife, his son, a Lamborghini Murcielago and his very own Canadair Challenger jet. And he didn’t make all that dough leading private Pokémon Go training sessions. Rivkin was selling tens of millions of dollars worth of renewable fuel credits to major oil companies, without making any renewable fuel to which those credits were supposed to be tied, the story says.

Why was he able to do that?

My guess is that the EPA saw how good preschoolers are at being honest about whether they already had dessert, and so decided also to use self-reporting of violations as the main method of enforcement. Works every time! Sellers of the credits — known as Renewable Identification Numbers (RIN) — just had to send the EPA spreadsheets of their transactions. As Bloomberg Businessweek put it: “All an unscrupulous biofuel trader really needed in the early RIN years was a talent for Microsoft Excel.” Ok, I know that sounds bad, but you have to admit, that program is glitchy.

What happened next? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2016 at 3:14 pm

“Power corrupts”: an example from NYPD’s courthouse police

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Daryl Khan has a report for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange that is well worth reading. It begins:

I am writing this from inside a jail cell. I was put here for doing an unremarkable, routine bit of journalism, covering a sentencing in a murder. I won’t go so far as to say I was arrested since I was never read any rights. I am in the cell just the same.

I must have covered hundreds of similar hearings in my career. But this is the first time I ever ended up in the same cellblock as the subjects I was covering.

I had just shot video of a phalanx of court officers who came out of a courtroom and were followed by a pregnant woman in the throes of some kind of intense anxiety attack. She moved haltingly. She struggled to breathe.

You will never see this 28 seconds of video because I have just been forced to delete it.

I am composing this column in my head because court officers put me in handcuffs, escorted me to a holding pen and threw me in a cell while I was reporting on the fate of Taylonn Murphy Jr. He is a 20-year-old found guilty of murder for shooting Walter Sumter, who was 18 at the time. I will do my best to get it down on paper as soon as I get out.

A few minutes ago, one of the court officers handed me a pink piece of paper. It reads “‘Title of Offense: Dis Con’.”

For those unaccustomed to the penal code, this is common shorthand for “disorderly conduct.” Technically, it is a charge for a person who intends to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm. That includes someone making too much noise, fighting or blocking pedestrian or vehicular traffic and so on. In practice, it is a catch-all used commonly by law enforcement in New York to lock people up for whatever they want. Sometimes it’s for being black. Sometimes it’s for protesting.

I got it for doing journalism on June 24.

I can’t say that I am surprised. I don’t know what else to expect. Writing from a cell almost follows the perverse logic of the story I am here covering.

The sentencing was a bleak coda to a story that I started working on four years ago.

Since the murder of his daughter and the subsequent trials of the killers, Taylonn Murphy Sr. has dedicated his life to intervening and ending the violence that led to the killing. He has tried to salvage some meaning from her pointless death. Now, in the same courthouse where his daughter’s killers were tried, Murphy Sr. was awaiting the sentence in a murder trial where the tables were turned and his son — known to friends as Bam Bam — was the defendant.

I had arrived early at 100 Centre St., home to the criminal branch of Manhattan’s Supreme Court, to cover the sentencing. That’s not unusual. Any reporter wants to get interviews before a sentencing like this. You never know how people are going to react.

So, in front of the courthouse entrance, I conducted an interview with Taylonn Murphy Sr. about how he was feeling. Murphy Sr. was composed for someone who was going to lose another child to a bloodsoaked feud between two low-income housing projects in Harlem. First a daughter to a grave, now a son, his youngest, to a cell.

From where he stood, he could see the courthouse where over the course of a year he had watched two grueling criminal cases unfold that led to convictions in the murder of his daughter, Tayshana “Chicken” Murphy. Now he was about to hear the fate of his son, Taylonn Jr., who had been convicted of killing Walter Sumter, for being allied with the crews who murdered Tayshana on Sept. 11, 2011 and bragging about her killing on social media.

“Both sides of the gun, D,” he said, shaking his head wearily, “both sides of the gun.”

As we spoke, Taylonn Jr.’s lawyer asked to speak to Murphy Sr. in private. When Murphy Sr. returned, he said Justice Edward McLaughlin had ordered extra security for the hearing.

What else should I expect?

Murphy Sr. told me a sergeant assigned to the raid investigation had testified in his daughter’s murder trial that he had watched live surveillance footage from a command center while Chicken’s killers huddled outside their building, exchanged the gun and headed to the Grant Houses to shoot the promising basketball player. The sergeant said a New York Police Department team of investigators had watched as the killers prepared to hunt down Murphy Sr.’s daughter.

That they did nothing but watch has served as a haunting symbol to Murphy Sr., one that puts in sharp relief what he and others campaigning to end violence have worried about for years.

The NYPD started surveilling Taylonn Jr. when he was 15. The raid that swept up Murphy ended an investigation that started in 2010. So for 4½ years, investigators watched these teenagers, kids in some cases, grow into young men exchanging threats and hurling insults on social media sites and fighting and stabbing each other in the streets. All the while, job opportunities remained cut off and the hope promised from positive-change programs seemed like a cruel joke.

They didn’t do anything but watch.

The Department of Probation didn’t do anything. The Administration for Children’s Services didn’t do anything. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office didn’t do anything. Neither did the City Council. Or the mayor, or the mayor before him.

So it feels almost natural to be covering this story from a cell when everything else about this system seems so upside-down.

While still mourning his daughter’s death, Murphy Sr. formed a partnership with Arnita Brockington, the mother of Tyshawn Brockington, one of his daughter’s convicted killers, and Derrick Haynes, whose teenaged brother was also shot and killed decades ago, to end the feud fueling youth violence in the housing projects. Haynes’ brother was the first killed in this senseless feud that has pitted poor black kids against each other in a nihilistic death spiral for years.

Murphy, Brockington and Haynes filled the void because they looked around and felt that no one else was doing anything. There is a Department of Probation, a Department of Corrections, a Horizons and Crossroads and a special building on the sprawling complex of prisons on Rikers Island, cell after cell after cell, but there’s no Department of, of, well — this, whatever name you want to call this crisis — of stopping young black kids from killing each other to give some purpose to otherwise chaotic lives.

The prosecutors might be right that Taylonn Jr. pulled the trigger on the gun that shot Sumter, but we put the bullet out there. Society was, at the very least, an accomplice.

There was no intervention until The Raid. All that happened was Taylonn Jr.’s imprisonment, the length of which was now being decided upstairs, on the 15th floor.

There was no doubt that this was not being treated as a normal sentencing. There were at least triple the usual number of court officers for the hearing. They wore bulky bulletproof vests despite a thorough and arduous security process to get into the courthouse, including going through a metal detector.

By the time I made my way upstairs, members of the New York press corps had already assembled and were waiting on the floor as well. There were reporters and photographers from the New York Times, the Post, the New York Daily News and others, including a film crew from “Nightline.” I joined the mass of reporters and waited.

Eventually they started letting press in so they could set up in the jurors’ box. When I approached, a court officer asked to see my press credentials. Press credentials are handed out by the NYPD and are not legally binding in any way. I have had credentials in the past when I worked for daily newspapers but the NYPD has refused to give me one since I work for JJIE. So when the officer asked I told him I don’t have one. He refused to let me in.

So I sat outside with a photographer from one of the tabloids and waited. I asked questions and observed the young people out in the hallway making small talk. They had come to show support for Murphy Jr. but there wasn’t enough room to let them in.

After an hour or so, a court officer shouted to no one in particular: “Defendant’s family coming out!”

As I shot the video, a female court officer told me I should be ashamed of myself. And then another asked, “Is he shooting video?”

And another responded, “Yes, he is.”

I was approached by three court officers, all men, one in the middle flanked by two on each side, their hands on the handles of their guns. They are authorized to use deadly force.

“Who are you?” the one in the middle asked.

I told him my name.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I’m a reporter,” I said, handing him my business card, which was already in my hand. “I’m covering this story like everyone else.”

“Where’s your press credentials?” he asked.

“I don’t have any, NYPD won’t give them to me,” I replied.

The three left the office, leaving me with a man and a woman. The man stared at a computer screen and glancing down at my business card.

“Did you shoot video?” he asked absently.

“No disrespect, sir, but am I being detained?” I replied.

“Yeah,” he said, still not taking his eyes off the screen.

“Then with all due respect, sir, I’d rather not say anything,” I said. He shrugged.

One of his colleagues, a female sergeant with tattoos on her arms, didn’t take it as well.

“Well, can you hear?” she asked, her voice filled with sarcastic venom.

“You won’t talk, right, but you can hear, right? Right,” she said, jabbing her finger into my chest. “Because listen to this — you’re going to jail. Can you hear that?”

I tried to reason with her but she wasn’t interested. I sat there for a while before a lieutenant who refused to identify himself asked me to come out to the hallway. He fumbled to find the right words.

“Are you willing to show me the video?” he asked, as if memorizing a question for a test.

“Am I under arrest, sir?” I asked.

“We’ll get to that. Are you willing to show me the video?” he repeated. He suggested he’d let me go if I showed him the video.

I figured if I was reasonable with him he’d be reasonable with me.

I had a deadline to meet and I knew that the sentencing upstairs was going to be wrapping up soon. I showed him the video. I figured wrong.

“Turn around,” he said.

“Really?” I asked, almost bemused.

Imagine your own job. You get up to go get a drink from the water cooler. Along the way you are detained by guys with guns, and then, after an interrogation, you’re handcuffed and led out of your office building to a cell.

That’s the Kafkaesque quality of what I felt was happening to me. A prequel to “The Trial,” playing out in a nondescript government judicial building, but with the twist that I am never taken to see a judge.

“Turn around,” he said.

“Can I ask you a question, lieutenant?” I asked.

“No,” his reply came curtly.

I asked anyway: “Am I under arrest?”

“We’ll get to that later,” he said.

“Put him in handcuffs,” he said to his underlings.

They grabbed my arms roughly and I felt the steel close in on my wrists behind my back. As the metal dug tight into my skin, the cuffs squeezed my wrists so that my hands were immobile.

The court officers exchanged glances: “Take him down to the captain’s room.” . . .

Continue reading.

Police are supposed to protect people and their Constitutional rights, but the corrupting effects of power seem to have many police more interested in demonstrating their power than in protecting the public’s rights.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2016 at 3:04 pm

The US has some catching up to do

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Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 7.39.52 PM

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2016 at 7:45 pm

What marijuana legalization will look like in California

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Philip Smith reports in the Drug War Chronicles on how marijuana legalization is shaping up in California:

Twenty years ago, California led the way on weed, becoming the first state in the nation to approve medical marijuana. Now, while it’s already lost the chance to be the first to legalize recreational use, the Golden State is poised to push legal pot past the tipping point.

Although voters in Colorado and Washington first broke through the grass ceiling in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following suit in 2014, if and when Californians vote to legalize it this coming November, they will more than triple the size of the country’s legal marijuana market in one fell swoop.

It’s not a done deal until election day, of course, but the prospects are very good. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative is officially on the ballot as Proposition 64, it has cash in the bank for the campaign (more than $8 millioncollected so far), it has broad political support, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and at least four California US representatives, and it has popular support, with the latest pollshowing a healthy 60% of likely voters favor freeing the weed.

It’s also that the surfer’s paradise is riding a weed wave of its own creation. Thanks in large part to the “normalization” of the pot business that emerged out of California’s wild and wooly medical marijuana scene, the national mood about marijuana has shifted in recent years. Because of California, people could actually see marijuana come out of the shadows, with pot shops (dispensaries) selling it openly to anyone with an easily obtained doctor’s recommendation and growers turning parts of the state in pot cultivation hotbeds. And the sky didn’t fall.

At the same time, the shift in public opinion has been dramatic. According to annual Gallup polls, only a quarter of Americans supported marijuana legalization when California voted for medical marijuana in 1996, with that number gradually, but steadily, increasing to 44% in 2009, before spiking upward ever since then to sit at 58% now.

California isn’t the only state riding the wave this year — legalization will also be on the ballot in Maine and Nevada and almost certainly in Arizona and Massachusetts — but it is by far the biggest and it will help the state regain its reputation as cutting edge on social trends, while also sending a strong signal to the rest of the country, including the federal government in Washington.

But what kind of signal will it send? What will legalization look like in the Golden State? To begin, let’s look at what Prop 64 does:

  • Legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants (per household) by adults 21 and over.
  • Reduces most criminal penalties for remaining marijuana offenses, such as possession or cultivation over legal limits or unlicensed distribution, from felonies to misdemeanors.
  • Regulates the commercial cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of marijuana through a state-regulated licensing system.
  • Bars commercial “mega-grows” (more than ½ acre indoors or 1 acre outdoors) until at least 2023, but makes provisions for licensed “microbusinesses” (grows smaller than 10,000 square feet).
  • Allows for the licensing of on-site consumption premises, or “cannabis cafes.”
  • Allows cities and counties to regulate or even prohibit commercial marijuana activities, but not prohibit personal possession and cultivation.
  • Taxes marijuana at 15% at the retail level, with an additional $9.25 per ounce cultivation tax imposed at the wholesale level.

In other words, pot is largely legalized and a taxed and regulated market is established.

Some changes would occur right away, advocates said.”The criminal justice impact will be huge and immediate, and it will start on November 9,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is backing Prop 64 not only rhetorically, but also with its checkbook through its lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action.

California arrests about 20,000 people a year for marijuana felonies and misdemeanors, currently has about 10,000 people incarcerated for pot offenses, and has as many as half a million people with pot convictions on their records. Things are going to change in a big way for all these people.

“Those marijuana arrests will stop,” said Lyman. “And everyone currently sitting in jail or prison will be eligible to apply for release. They will have to . . .”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2016 at 3:13 pm


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