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Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Chris Christie settles with Exxon for less than 3¢ on the dollar

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The damages were $8900 million, Christie settled for $250 million: 2.8¢ on the dollar. Really knows how to drive a hard bargain, eh? Amazing negotiating skills.

Benjamin Weiser reports in the NY Times:

A long-fought legal battle to recover $8.9 billion in damages from Exxon Mobil Corporation for the contamination and loss of use of more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, marshes, meadows and waters in northern New Jersey has been quietly settled by the state for around $250 million.

The lawsuits, filed by the State Department of Environmental Protection in 2004, had been litigated by the administrations of four New Jersey governors, finally advancing last year to trial. By then, Exxon’s liability was no longer in dispute; the only issue was how much it would pay in damages.

The stakes were high, given the enormous cost the state’s experts had placed on restoring and replacing the resources damaged by decades of oil refining and other petrochemical operations, as well as of the public’s loss of use of the land.

“The scope of the environmental damage resulting from the discharges is as obvious as it is staggering and unprecedented in New Jersey,” the administration of Gov. Chris Christie said in a court brief filed in November.

But a month ago, with a State Superior Court judge believed to be close to a decision on damages, the Christie administration twice petitioned the court to hold off on a ruling because settlement talks were underway. Then, last Friday, the state told the judge that the case had been resolved.

The parties have not announced the deal publicly, and it still must be approved by the judge. But some legal and environmental experts who were told about the agreement asked why New Jersey would suddenly settle a case that it had fought strenuously for more than a decade.

Richard B. Stewart, a New York University law professor and a former head of the Justice Department’s environmental division under President George Bush, noted the “striking disparity between the damages claimed, which have been exhaustively litigated, and the settlement amount,” particularly with a judicial ruling expected soon. Mr. Stewart said that it was hard to assess the agreement without knowing the evidence, but that “it raises questions.”

The documents that made reference to the settlement, which had not been filed publicly, were obtained after a request by The New York Times. They do not reveal the settlement amount; the figure was provided by two people who were told about it, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet public. . .

Continue reading.

The citizens of New Jersey got the opposite of a bargain when they elected Christie: that decision alone cost them $8.65 billion. I think New Jersey could probably have used that money.

Christie portrays himself as a tough guy, but he’s obviously a pushover. A blowhard, yes, but no spine. He left $8,650,000,000 on the table.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 11:54 am

Netanyahu apparently is set on a war with Iran

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I think he’d be biting off a lot more than he could chew, but I imagine he figures if he starts the war, he can use the US as a catspaw to save him (and Israel). In other words, he thinks to play the US for his own ends. Mark Langfan has this report:

The Bethlehem-based news agency Ma’an has cited a Kuwaiti newspaper report Saturday, that US President Barack Obama thwarted an Israeli military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2014 by threatening to shoot down Israeli jets before they could reach their targets in Iran.

Following Obama’s threat, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was reportedly forced to abort the planned Iran attack.

According to Al-Jarida, the Netanyahu government took the decision to strike Iran some time in 2014 soon after Israel had discovered the United States and Iran had been involved in secret talks over Iran’s nuclear program and were about to sign an agreement in that regard behind Israel’s back.

The report claimed that an unnamed Israeli minister who has good ties with the US administration revealed the attack plan to Secretary of State John Kerry, and that Obama then threatened to shoot down the Israeli jets before they could reach their targets in Iran.

Al-Jarida quoted “well-placed” sources as saying that Netanyahu, along with Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon, and then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, had decided to carry out airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear program after consultations with top security commanders.

According to the report, . . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2015 at 11:59 am

Obama’s war on whistleblowers includes starving agencies that might protect them

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Marisa Taylor reports for McClatchy:

Thomas Drake became a symbol of the dangers whistleblowers face when they help journalists and Congress investigate wrongdoing at intelligence agencies. He claims he was subjected to a decade of retaliation by the National Security Agency that culminated in his being charged with espionage.

But when the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office opened an inquiry into the former senior NSA official’s allegations of retaliation in 2012, it looked at only two of the 10 years detailed in his account, according to a recently released Pentagon summary of the probe, before finding no evidence of retaliation. That finding ended Drake’s four-year effort to return to government service.

Whistleblower advocates say Drake’s experience, spelled out in a document McClatchy obtained this month through the Freedom of Information Act, underscores the problem that intelligence and defense workers face in bringing malfeasance to the surface. The agencies that are supposed to crack down on retaliation are not up to the task, especially when the alleged wrongdoing involves classified information, they charge.

“This report epitomizes the utter lack of protection for national security whistleblowers,” said Jesselyn Radack, Drake’s attorney. “This is a pathetic, anemic excuse for an investigation.”

Although investigators appear to have rejected Drake’s claims almost a year ago, the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office did not publicly disclose its findings and hadn’t shared them even with Drake’s attorneys. McClatchy gave the attorneys a copy of the report.

The news of the rejection comes as McClatchy has learned that the same officials who are supposed to be helping whistleblowers such as Drake claim that they themselves have been forced to blow the whistle on their own office.

Multiple former and current officials from the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office have alleged to the Office of Special Counsel, the independent government agency that investigates whistleblower claims, that they’ve been retaliated against for objecting to how cases are handled. Drake’s case is one of several singled out for criticism.

“It illustrates the bleak landscape faced by whistleblowers and IG investigators,” said one of the several people who described the accusations but asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter. “The numerous allegations of reprisal and misconduct directed against senior IG officials call into question the efficacy of the whistleblower mission. If true, one can make the case that the office of inspector general has failed.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, including a video.

Obama is dedicated to making the US government a secret operation and will go to any lengths to prevent the public from learning what the government is doing. “Transparency” and “protection of whistleblowers” was his promise, but his actions are the opposite.

Note also Obama’s war on privacy. While he wants government activities to be secret, he wants your own personal life exposed for government inspection.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2015 at 7:52 pm

Correctional officer immunity for crimes of violence now being tested

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Law enforcement in general, including correctional officers, operate under a kind of immunity: they are allowed to commit crimes without being called to account—an example. From the article at the link:

But here’s my question: Why aren’t the seven witnesses to Dendinger’s nonexistent assault on Cassard already facing felony charges? Why are all but one of the cops who filed false reports still wearing badges and collecting paychecks? Why aren’t the attorneys who filed false reports facing disbarment? Dendinger’s prosecutors both filed false reports, then prosecuted Dendinger based on the reports they knew were false. They should be looking for new careers — after they get out of jail.

If a group of regular citizens had pulled this on someone, they’d all likely be facing criminal conspiracy charges on top of the perjury and other charges. So why aren’t these cops and prosecutors?

In a police state, it’s extremely difficult to prosecute or even discipline the police, who use what the Mafia calls “omerta” to protect the malefactors among them. You can see that in these articles in the NY Times about Rikers Island today, where guards continue brutalizing prisoners without no let-up in sight despite many promises from the administration.

Now we get another test to see whether violent officers will be held accountable: Tom Robbins writes in the NY Times:

ATTICA, N.Y. — On the evening of Aug. 9, 2011, one month before the 40th anniversary of the bloody Attica prison riot, a guard in that remote facility in western New York was distributing mail to inmates in C Block, one of the vast tiers of cells nestled behind its towering 30-foot walls.

The prisoners were rowdy that night, talking loudly as they mingled on the gallery outside their cells, a State Police inquiry found. Frustrated, an officer shouted into the din: “Shut the (expletive) up.”

Normally, that would be enough to bring quiet to C Block, where guards who work the 3 to 11 p.m. shift are known for strict, sometimes violent, enforcement of the rules. This night, somewhere on the gallery, a prisoner shouted back, bellowing “You shut the (expletive) up.” Emboldened, the shouter taunted the officer with an obscene suggestion.

Inmates were immediately ordered to retreat to their cells and “lock in.” Thirty minutes later, three officers, led by a sergeant, marched down the corridor. They stopped at the cell of George Williams, a 29-year-old African-American from New Jersey who was serving a sentence of two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan.

Mr. Williams had been transferred to Attica that January following an altercation with other inmates at a different facility. He had just four months to serve before he was to be released. He was doing his best to stay out of trouble. His plan was to go home to New Brunswick and try to find work as a barber. That evening, Mr. Williams remembers, he had been in his cell watching the rap stars Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy on television, and missed the shouting on the cellblock. The guards ordered him to strip for a search and then marched him down the hall to a darkened dayroom used for meetings and classes for what they told him would be a urine test.

Mr. Williams is 5-foot-8, and a solid 170 pounds. But corrections officers tend toward linebacker size, and the three officers towered over him. The smallest was Sgt. Sean Warner, 37, at 5-foot-11, 240 pounds. Beside him was Officer Keith Swack, 37, a burly 6-foot-3 and some 300 pounds. A third officer was standing behind the cell door. Mr. Williams thought it was Officer Matthew Rademacher, 29, who had followed his father into the job six years earlier. Officer Rademacher was six feet tall and weighed 260 pounds. All three men are white and had goatees at the time.

Mr. Williams was wondering why a sergeant would be doing the grunt work of conducting an impromptu drug test when, he said, a fist hammered him hard on the right side of his rib cage. He doubled up, collapsing to the floor. More blows rained down. Mr. Williams tried to curl up to protect himself from the pummeling of batons, fists and kicks. Someone jumped on his ankle. He screamed in pain. He opened his eyes to see a guard aiming a kick at his head, as though punting a football. I’m going to die here, he thought.

Inmates in cells across from the dayroom watched the attack, among them a convict named Charles Bisesi, 67, who saw Mr. Williams pitched face-first onto the floor. He saw guards kick Mr. Williams in the head and face, and strike him with their heavy wooden batons. Mr. Bisesi estimated that Mr. Williams had been kicked up to 50 times, and struck with a dozen more blows from nightsticks, thwacks delivered with such force that Mr. Bisesi could hear the thud as wood hit flesh. He also heard Mr. Williams begging for his life, cries loud enough that prisoners two floors below heard them as well.

A couple of minutes after the beating began, one of the guards loudly rapped his baton on the floor. At the signal, more guards rushed upstairs and into the dayroom. Witnesses differed on the number. Some said that as many as 12 officers had plunged into the scrum. Others recalled seeing two or three. All agreed that when they were finished, Mr. Williams could not walk.

His ordeal is the subject of an unprecedented trial scheduled to open on Monday in western New York. Three guards — Sergeant Warner and Officers Rademacher and Swack — face charges stemming from the beating that night. All three have pleaded not guilty. An examination of this case and dozens of others offers a vivid lesson in the intractable culture of prison brutality, especially given the notoriety of Attica, which entered the cultural lexicon as a synonym for prison havoc after 43 men died there in 1971 as the state suppressed an uprising by inmates. This account is based on investigative reports and court filings, as well as interviews with people on both sides of the bars at Attica, state officials and prison reform advocates. . .

Continue reading.

Based on past practice, no real reform will occur.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2015 at 6:53 pm

Everyone wants your data to be secure from everyone but them

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Bruce Schneier writes:

In December, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was interviewed at the CATO Institute Surveillance Conference. One of the things he said, after talking about some of the security measures his company has put in place post-Snowden, was: “If you have important information, the safest place to keep it is in Google. And I can assure you that the safest place to not keep it is anywhere else.”

The surprised me, because Google collects all of your information to show you more targeted advertising. Surveillance is the business model of the Internet, and Google is one of the most successful companies at that. To claim that Google protects your privacy better than anyone else is to profoundly misunderstand why Google stores your data for free in the first place.

I was reminded of this last week when I appeared on Glenn Beck’s show along with cryptography pioneer Whitfield Diffie. Diffie said:

You can’t have privacy without security, and I think we have glaring failures in computer security in problems that we’ve been working on for 40 years. You really should not live in fear of opening an attachment to a message. It ought to be confined; your computer ought to be able to handle it. And the fact that we have persisted for decades without solving these problems is partly because they’re very difficult, but partly because there are lots of people who want you to be secure against everyone but them. And that includes all of the major computer manufacturers who, roughly speaking, want to manage your computer for you. The trouble is, I’m not sure of any practical alternative.

That neatly explains Google. Eric Schmidt does want your data to be secure. He wants Google to be the safest place for your data ­ as long as you don’t mind the fact that Google has access to your data. Facebook wants the same thing: to protect your data from everyone except Facebook. Hardware companies are no different. Last week, we learned that Lenovo computers shipped with a piece of adware called Superfish that broke users’ security to spy on them for advertising purposes.

Governments are no different. The FBI wants people to have strong encryption, but it wants backdoor access so it can get at your data. UK Prime Minister David Cameron wants you to have good security, just as long as it’s not so strong as to keep the UK government out. And, of course, the NSA spends a lot of money ensuring that there’s no security it can’t break.

Corporations want access to your data for profit; governments want it for security purposes, be they benevolent or malevolent. But Diffie makes an even stronger point: we give lots of companies access to our data because it makes our lives easier.

I wrote about this in my latest book, Data and Goliath: . . .

Continue reading.

The idea that law enforcement (and “official” law-breakers like NSA) can have a backdoor to your encrypted data and criminals won’t be able to use it is as realistic as the idea that law enforcement can have guns and criminals cannot.

One point of interest: “official” backdoors to allow decryption of data is being pushed by the wealthy (e.g., Hillary Clinton) and the powerful (e.g., NSA), and those are the entities with the most to lose once criminals and other (hostile) governments find the backdoors. This will be interesting to watch from a distance.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2015 at 12:27 pm

Robert Kagan, conservative hawk, things GOP made a big mistake inviting Netanyahu to speak to Congress to oppose Obama

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Robert Kagan has an interesting column in the Washington Post this morning. It’s worth reading in its entirety, so click the link. He concludes:

. . . For the United States, however, there is no doubt that the precedent being set is a bad one. This is not the first time that a U.S. administration and an Israeli prime minister have been at loggerheads. President George H.W. Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, reportedly detested then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and did their best to help him lose his next election. Baker even had a few choice words for the American Jews who tried to come to the Israeli government’s defense. Did anyone at the time think of inviting Shamir to address Congress? The very idea would have been regarded as laughable. Now, we’re supposed to believe that it’s perfectly reasonable.

Is anyone thinking about the future? From now on, whenever the opposition party happens to control Congress — a common enough occurrence — it may call in a foreign leader to speak to a joint meeting of Congress against a president and his policies. Think of how this might have played out in the past. A Democratic-controlled Congress in the 1980s might, for instance, have called the Nobel Prize-winning Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to denounce President Ronald Reagan’s policies in Central America. A Democratic-controlled Congress in 2003 might have called French President Jacques Chirac to oppose President George W. Bush’s impending war in Iraq.

Does that sound implausible? Yes, it was implausible — until now. Now we are sailing into uncharted waters. Those who favor having Netanyahu speak may imagine this is an extraordinary situation requiring extraordinary measures, that one side is so clearly right, the other so clearly wrong. Yet that is often how people feel about the crisis of their time. We can be sure that in the future the urgency will seem just as great. The only difference between then and now is that today, bringing a foreign leader before Congress to challenge a U.S. president’s policies is unprecedented. After next week, it will be just another weapon in our bitter partisan struggle.

Kevin Drum observes:

President Obama has been poking sticks in Republican eyes ever since November, and Republicans desperately needed to poke back to maintain credibility with their base. Since passing useful legislation was apparently not in the cards, this was all they could come up with. What a debacle.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2015 at 12:16 pm

So Loretta Lynch, like Eric Holder, is a pawn of Wall Street

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Wall Street seems to control DoJ. Marcy Wheeler reports at The Empty Wheel:

Loretta Lynch is an excellent nominee for Attorney General, and her prior actions in whitewashing the blatant and rampant criminality of HSBC should not be held against her, because she didn’t know that at the time she last whitewashed that criminal enterprise, right?

No. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a cop out by Lynch’s advocates. Lynch either knew, or damn well should have known. She signed off on the HSBC Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), if she was less than fully informed, that is on her. That is what signing legal documents stands for….responsibility. Banks like HSBC, Credit Suisse, ING etc were, and still are, a cesspool of criminal activity and avoidance schemes. Willful blindness to the same old bankster crimes by Lynch doesn’t cut it (great piece by David Dayen by the way).

But, all the above ignores the Swiss Alps sized mountains of evidence that we know Lynch was aware of and blithely swept under the rug by her HSBC DPA. So, we are basically left to decide whether Lynch is a bankster loving toady that is her own woman and cravenly whitewashed this all on her own, or whether she is a clueless stooge taking orders to whitewash it by DOJ Main. Both views are terminally unattractive and emblematic of the oblivious, turn the other cheek to protect the monied class, rot that infects the Department of Justice on the crimes of the century to date.

And that is only scratching the real surface of my objections to Lynch. There are many other areas where Lynch has proven herself to be a dedicated, dyed in the wool “law and order adherent” and, as Marcy Wheeler artfully coined, “executive maximalist”. Lynch’s ridiculous contortion, and expansion, of extraterritorial jurisdiction to suit the convenient whims of the Obama Administration’s unparalleled assault on the Rule of Law in the war on terror is incredibly troubling. Though, to be fair, EDNY is the landing point of JFK International and a frequent jurisdiction by designation. Some of these same questions could have been asked of Preet Bharara (see, e.g. U.S. v. Warsame) Loretta Lynch has every bit the same, if not indeed more, skin in the game as Bharara, whether by choice or chance.

Lynch has never uttered a word in dissent from this ridiculous expansion of extraterritorial jurisdiction. Lynch’s record in this regard is crystal clear from cases like US v. Ahmed, Yousef, et. al. where even Lynch and her office acknowledged that their targets could not have “posed a specific threat to the United States” much less have committed specific acts against the US.

This unconscionable expansion is clearly all good by Lynch, and the ends justify the means because there might be “scary terrists” out there. That is just dandy by American “executive maximalists”, but it is toxic to the Rule of Law, both domestically and internationally (See, supra). . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 7:23 pm

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