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The government against the vets: It goes way beyond tryng to renege on enlistment bonuss

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Charles Ornstein and Mike Hixenbaugh have a scathing report that shows the government once more determined to screw over American vets. The blurb: “For decades, the military and the VA have repeatedly turned to one man to guide decisions on whether Agent Orange harmed vets in Vietnam and elsewhere. His reliable answer: No.”

And do read this illustrative report: “Eight Times Agent Orange’s Biggest Defender Has Been Wrong or Misleading.”

Just like corporations choosing arbitrators that have a history of deciding always in favor of the corporation, the government chooses experts who have a history of supporting the government position.


Written by LeisureGuy

26 October 2016 at 1:28 pm

Banning things to cast shade on a group

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Communities of any size, from village to nation, have groups considered “acceptable” by the dominant power group and groups considered “questionable at best” and groups considered “not acceptable.” The group definitions and categories vary with time, but Radley Balko points out in a column today that banning breeds of dogs is a way of showing displeasure toward, and a measure of rejection of, the groups who enjoy those breeds.

The banning of marijuana was due in part as a way to express disapproval Hispanic Americans, just as the bannot of alcohol was rural Protestants showing they diapproved of urban Catholics, what with their drinking and all. (One reason for Prohibition’s failure, I’ve read, was that the amendment was passed as a statement with no real interest in enforcement.)

The zoot-suit ban was aimed at Mexican-Americans in LA and urban African Americans in the Northeast.

Banning: a way to take a stand.  It’s just a boycott in reverse.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 October 2016 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul

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An old story: the rebels coopted by the establishment and becoming a lapdog. Matt Stoller writes in the Atlantic:

It was January 1975, and the Watergate Babies had arrived in Washington looking for blood. The Watergate Babies—as the recently elected Democratic congressmen were known—were young, idealistic liberals who had been swept into office on a promise to clean up government, end the war in Vietnam, and rid the nation’s capital of the kind of corruption and dirty politics the Nixon White House had wrought. Richard Nixon himself had resigned just a few months earlier in August. But the Watergate Babies didn’t just campaign against Nixon; they took on the Democratic establishment, too. Newly elected Representative George Miller of California, then just 29 years old, announced, “We came here to take the Bastille.”

One of their first targets was an old man from Texarkana: a former cotton tenant farmer named Wright Patman who had served in Congress since 1929. He was also the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Banking and Currency and had been for more than a decade. Antiwar liberal reformers realized that the key to power in Congress was through the committee system; being the chairman of a powerful committee meant having control over the flow of legislation. The problem was: Chairmen were selected based on their length of service. So liberal reformers already in office, buttressed by the Watergate Babies’ votes, demanded that the committee chairmen be picked by a full Democratic-caucus vote instead.

Ironically, as chairman of the Banking Committee, Patman had been the first Democrat to investigate the Watergate scandal. But he was vulnerable to the new crowd he had helped usher in. He was old; they were young. He had supported segregation in the past and the war in Vietnam; they were vehemently against both. Patman had never gone to college and had been a crusading economic populist during the Great Depression; the Watergate Babies were weaned on campus politics, television, and affluence.

What’s more, the new members were antiwar, not necessarily anti-bank. “Our generation did not know the Depression,” then-Representative Paul Tsongassaid. “The populism of the 1930s doesn’t really apply to the 1970s,” argued Pete Stark, a new California member who launched his political career by affixing a giant peace sign onto the roof of the bank he owned.

In reality, while the Watergate Babies provided the numbers needed to eject him, it was actually Patman’s Banking Committee colleagues who orchestrated his ouster. For more than a decade, Patman had represented a Democratic political tradition stretching back to Thomas Jefferson, an alliance of the agrarian South and the West against Northeastern capital. For decades, Patman had sought to hold financial power in check, investigating corporate monopolies, high interest rates, the Federal Reserve, and big banks. And the banking allies on the committee had had enough of Patman’s hostility to Wall Street.

Over the years, Patman had upset these members by blocking bank mergers and going after financial power. As famed muckraking columnist Drew Pearson put it: Patman “committed one cardinal sin as chairman. … He wants to investigate the big bankers.” And so, it was the older bank allies who truly ensured that Patman would go down. In 1975, these bank-friendly Democrats spread the rumor that Patman was an autocratic chairman biased against junior congressmen. To new members eager to participate in policymaking, this was a searing indictment.

The campaign to oust Patman was brief and savage. Michigan’s Bob Carr, a member of the 1975 class, told me the main charge against Patman was that he was an incompetent chairman (a charge with which the nonprofit Common Causeagreed). One of the revolt’s leaders, Edward Pattison, actually felt warmly toward Patman and his legendary populist career. But, “there was just a feeling that he had lost control of his committee.”

Not all on the left were swayed. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2016 at 4:37 pm

AT&T’s big question: Will Congress stay bought?

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Cecilia Kang and Eric Lipton report in the NY Times:

From the political right and the left, AT&T’s $85 billion bid for Time Warner has provoked pushback. But AT&T, in addition to its billions of dollars of capital, has another arsenal at its disposal: one of the most formidable lobbying operations in Washington.

The company’s list of nearly 100 registered lobbyists already on retainer in 2016 includes former members of Congress. AT&T is the biggest donor to federal lawmakers and their causes among cable and cellular telecommunications companies, with its employees and political action committee sending money to 374 of the House’s 435 members and 85 of the Senate’s 100 members this election cycle. That adds up to more than $11.3 million in donations since 2015, four times as much as Verizon Communications, according to a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group.

AT&T has also spent decades building a national alliance of local government officials and nonprofit groups — particularly from black and Hispanic communities — that it will certainly be asking to weigh in again in Washington, as it tries to get the merger approved.

But navigating this transaction will be a test of just how much influence AT&T has in Washington these days, especially as it tries to persuade antitrust officials at the United States Department of Justice, who will be crucial in approving the deal. The task may be particularly tricky as AT&T’s lobbying team undergoes a transition after losing its longtime leader, James W. Cicconi, a former aide to President George H. W. Bush.

For AT&T, the regulatory environment around megadeals has also soured. Antitrust officials have muscled up in recent years, blocking dozens of deals across industries including pharmaceuticals and retail. Other prominent telecommunications deals have imploded even after huge lobbying efforts, most notably Comcast’s attempt to buy Time Warner Cable in 2014 and AT&T’s bid in 2011 to buy T-Mobile, a cellular telephone competitor.

Issues that led to the collapse of those deals seem even more prevalent now, as the nation closes out a presidential campaign that has featured candidates from both parties — most notably Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders — promising to challenge corporate power.

“The public is really stirred up and angry about the growing dominance of a small number of firms,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of Public Knowledge and a former antitrust official at the United States Justice Department during AT&T’s bid for T-Mobile.

The alarms over AT&T’s deal for Time Warner stem from mounting frustration over high prices and the lack of competition in the telecom industry, with most Americans limited to one or two providers of broadband services. Regulators are set to focus on AT&T’s powerful control over broadband and television customers since it is the nation’s second-largest wireless company, after Verizon, and biggest paid television provider after its recent acquisition of DirecTV. . .

Continue reading.

See also: “AT&T Is Spying on Americans for Profit, New Documents Reveal.” From that report:

. . . In 2013, Hemisphere was revealed by The New York Times and described only within a Powerpoint presentation made by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Times described it as a “partnership” between AT&T and the U.S. government; the Justice Department said it was an essential, and prudently deployed, counter-narcotics tool.

However, AT&T’s own documentation—reported here by The Daily Beast for the first time—shows Hemisphere was used far beyond the war on drugs to include everything from investigations of homicide to Medicaid fraud.

Hemisphere isn’t a “partnership” but rather a product AT&T developed, marketed, and sold at a cost of millions of dollars per year to taxpayers. No warrant is required to make use of the company’s massive trove of data, according to AT&T documents, only a promise from law enforcement to not disclose Hemisphere if an investigation using it becomes public.

These new revelations come as the company seeks to acquire Time Warner in the face of vocal opposition saying the deal would be bad for consumers. Donald Trump told supporters over the weekend he would kill the acquisition if he’s elected president; Hillary Clinton has urged regulators to scrutinize the deal.

While telecommunications companies are legally obligated to hand over records, AT&T appears to have gone much further to make the enterprise profitable, according to ACLU technology policy analyst Christopher Soghoian.

“Companies have to give this data to law enforcement upon request, if they have it. AT&T doesn’t have to data-mine its database to help police come up with new numbers to investigate,” Soghoian said.

AT&T has a unique power to extract information from its metadata because it retains so much of it. The company owns more than three-quarters of U.S. landline switches, and the second largest share of the nation’s wireless infrastructure and cellphone towers, behind Verizon. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2016 at 3:28 pm

An Ex-Cop’s Remorse

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Stephanie Clifford writes in the New Yorker:

A couple of times a year, Peter Forcelli, a former New York Police Department detective who now works as a federal investigator in Florida, returns to the city to testify in court cases. The night before his appearances, he often heads to El Rio Grande, a midtown Tex-Mex restaurant, where he and former N.Y.P.D. colleagues trade stories about their days on the force. Forcelli, who is fifty-one, worked in the Bronx during some of the most violent years of the nineteen-nineties, before he left for a job with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. As a federal agent, Forcelli has found himself developing an unusual specialty: reinvestigating cases that were considered solved and uncovering evidence to free people imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. His view of this work is uncompromising, even a little heroic, colored by the cop dramas he watched growing up, and his determination to expose flawed tactics and shoddy work has aroused the anger of officers and prosecutors.

Last year, a hundred and fifty-seven people nationwide were exonerated—a record number. Amid growing awareness of the scope of the problem, the National Registry of Exonerations has gathered data on wrongful convictions going back to 1989, logging nearly two thousand exonerations, and the number is only a fraction of the convictions that are now being contested on the ground of innocence. In the popular imagination, blame for wrongful convictions falls on individuals: the racist prosecutor, the crooked cop. Although such cases do occur, Forcelli has come to believe that the problem is more fundamental—that the workings of the criminal-justice system itself have led even conscientious prosecutors, judges, and juries to put innocent people in prison.
On a visit to the city in October, 2014, Forcelli went to the Bronx Supreme Court to testify in a hearing relating to a case from 1995, in which a young man named Edward Garry had been convicted of killing a retired N.Y.P.D. detective in a holdup at a grocery. The conviction was based on testimony from two eyewitnesses, but Garry had always maintained his innocence, and the hearing was part of his fifth formal plea for exculpation. As Forcelli sat in the witness box, he was increasingly uneasy. Garry’s case seemed to be one of those in which everyone did what they were supposed to do, but something had gone wrong, costing an apparently innocent man twenty years of his life. One thing made the case especially unsettling: Forcelli himself had helped arrest Garry. “When I sat in the chair and I looked at Garry, I had this horrible, sinking feeling that I knew exactly what happened,” Forcelli told me. “That kick-in-the-chest feeling I had hasn’t gone away since.”

Forcelli grew up in Bedford Park, in the Bronx. His was one of the few white families on the block. His father was a construction worker, and jobs were sporadic; sometimes the family ate Cheerios for dinner. Money problems drove the family to move in with his dad’s parents, in South Yonkers—fourteen family members from three generations, all crammed into one house. Forcelli always knew that he wanted to become a policeman. He took the entrance test for the N.Y.P.D. at sixteen, four years before he was eligible to join the force, and finished high school and worked as a carpenter until he could apply.

In 1986, at the age of twenty, he became a housing officer, and was assigned to patrol projects in the East Bronx. It was during the crack-cocaine epidemic, and that year there were more than sixteen hundred murders in the city, almost five times the number today. But Forcelli took to the work immediately. When he saw children heading to school or celebrating birthdays, they reminded him of the kids he grew up with, and he was shocked by the attitude of some of his colleagues. “You see this ‘Ah, people in the projects, they’re all animals,’ ” he said. He soon gained a reputation for investigating crimes until there was nothing left to investigate, and his superiors found him driven and outspoken. “He wasn’t afraid to let you know if he thought there was a better way to do things,” one of them recalled.
Forcelli has always been obsessive about his work. He doesn’t follow sports, or music, or politics, and is dreading mandatory retirement, when he turns fifty-seven. When I visited him at his A.T.F. office, in Miami, I noticed that the pens and papers on his desk were arranged with a precision bordering on the fanatical. He wears a dark suit to work almost every day. (Occasionally, he permits himself a palm-covered Tommy Bahama shirt, a taste he attributes to watching too much “Magnum, P.I.” as a kid.) He refers to crime victims respectfully, using “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” and can precisely recall crime-scene addresses from decades ago. Early in his career, his office was next to an interrogation room, on one side of a two-way mirror; as he ate his lunch, he would study the techniques that seasoned detectives used in questioning suspects. After he married, in his late twenties, his wife, Noreen, whom he’d met at a police fund-raiser, would bring him clothes and food as he worked double and triple shifts.
In 1995, Forcelli was promoted to detective and assigned to the N.Y.P.D.’s Forty-seventh Precinct, which stretches from Woodlawn Cemetery, in the western part of the Bronx, to the New York State Thruway, in the east. Its main roads are flanked by malnourished trees and low-rise buildings with faded awnings—storefront churches, transmission-repair shops, dollar stores. The year that Forcelli began working there, the precinct was the city’s most dangerous, with more murders than anywhere else in the five boroughs. Almost every day, officers were confronted with knifings, shootings, disembowelments, and “dump jobs”—bodies that showed up in parks or rivers. Three weeks into the job, he got his first fresh case as a detective, the murder of a retired cop named Oswald Potter.

The murder took place at Irene’s New Hope Grocery, which occupied a small corner building on Laconia Avenue. The front room of Irene’s was an ordinary grocery, but tucked in a parlor behind it was an illegal gambling den. Men gathered nightly to drink beer and play dominoes or the numbers game (a kind of unofficial lottery). In the early evening of August 18th, four regulars were playing dominoes around a table. Gladys Garcia, a clerk who oversaw the gambling operation, and Oswald Potter were looking on. Potter, who was sixty-two, had retired as an N.Y.P.D. detective in 1982, after twenty-five years working in the Bronx.

At 6:20 p.m., a man burst through the door to the back room. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2016 at 3:44 pm

The DEA slowed enforcement while the opioid epidemic grew out of control

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The DEA is not a very good agency. It totally ignores science, and now it seems it cannot do the job it was assigned. Perhaps it’s time to close the agency. Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham report in the Washington Post:

UNNATURAL CAUSES SICK AND DYING IN SMALL-TOWN AMERICA: Since the turn of this century, rates have risen for whites in midlife, particularly women. In this series, The Washington Post is exploring this trend and the forces driving it. Related: Wholesalers sent pills to drugstores that fueled the opioid epidemic

A decade ago, the Drug ­Enforcement Administration launched an aggressive campaign to curb a rising opioid epidemic that was claiming thousands of American lives each year. The DEA began to target wholesale companies that distributed hundreds of millions of highly addictive pills to the corrupt pharmacies and pill mills that illegally sold the drugs for street use.

Leading the campaign was the agency’s Office of Diversion Control, whose investigators around the country began filing civil cases against the distributors, issuing orders to immediately suspend the flow of drugs and generating large fines.

But the industry fought back. Former DEA and Justice Department officials hired by drug companies began pressing for a softer approach. In early 2012, the deputy attorney general summoned the DEA’s diversion chief to an unusual meeting over a case against two major drug companies.

“That meeting was to chastise me for going after industry, and that’s all that meeting was about,” recalled Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who ran the diversion office for a decade before he was removed from his position and retired in 2015.

Rannazzisi vowed after that meeting to continue the campaign. But soon officials at DEA headquarters began delaying and blocking enforcement actions, and the number of cases plummeted, according to on-the-record interviews with five former agency supervisors and internal records obtained by The Washington Post.

The judge who reviews the DEA diversion office’s civil caseload noted the plunge.

“There can be little doubt that the level of administrative Diversion enforcement remains stunningly low for a national program,” Chief Administrative Law Judge John J. Mulrooney II wrote in a June 2014 quarterly report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

In fiscal 2011, civil case filings against distributors, manufacturers, pharmacies and doctors reached 131 before dropping to 40 in fiscal 2014, according to the Justice Department. The number of immediate suspension orders, the DEA’s strongest weapon of enforcement, dropped from 65 to nine during the same period.

“Things came to a grinding halt,” said Frank Younker, a DEA supervisor in the Cincinnati field office who retired in 2014 after 30 years with the agency. “I talked to my fellow supervisors, and we were all frustrated. It was ridiculous. I don’t know how many lives could have been saved if the process was done quicker.”

The slowdown began in 2013 after DEA lawyers started requiring a higher standard of proof before cases could move forward.

Top officials at the DEA and Justice declined to discuss the reasons behind the slowdown in the approval of enforcement cases. The DEA turned down requests by The Post to interview Mulrooney, acting DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg, chief counsel Wendy H. Goggin and Rannazzisi’s replacement, Louis J. Milione.

The agency provided a statement from Rosenberg:

“We combat the opioid crisis in many ways: criminally, civilly, administratively, and through robust demand reduction efforts.

“We implemented new case intake and training procedures for our administrative cases, increased the number of enforcement teams focused on criminal and civil investigations, restarted a successful drug take back program, and improved outreach to — and education efforts with — our registrant community.

“We have legacy stuff we need to fix, but we now have good folks in place and are moving in the right direction.”

The Justice Department, which oversees the DEA, declined requests to interview Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates.

The department issued a statement saying that the drop in diversion cases reflects a shift from crackdowns on “ubiquitous pill mills” toward a “small group” of doctors, pharmacists and companies that continues to violate the law.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said diversion investigators are also increasingly using criminal procedures to force targets to surrender their licenses without administrative hearings. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2016 at 9:09 am

GOP demanded retraction of a DHS report on right-wing domestic terrorism—which we now are seeing more frequently

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Under George W. Bush, the Department of Homeland Security wrote reports evaluating terrorism threats from various sources, including domestic left-wing terrorism and (in a separate report) domestic right-wing terrorism. The report was not finalized and released until Barack Obama took office, and the Republicans in Congress went berserk, though only about the report on the likelihood of right-wing domestic terrorists.

Conservatives are extremely tribal, much like the Taliban, and place an extremely high value on loyalty. They perceived the report an attack on members of their tribe—who unfortunately were involved in domestic terrorism, but still a member of the conservative tribe, to be defended at all costs, particularly since the report came out when a Democratic administration was in office (though the report had been initiated and completed under a Republican administration, that of George W. Bush).

Now the chickens so assiduously protected and ignored are coming home to roost. Curtis Tate reports at McClatchy:

In April 2009, Daryl Johnson found himself caught in a firestorm because of a report he’d authored at the Department of Homeland Security.

It warned of a surge in activity by right-wing groups, including militias, white supremacists, anti-government activists and others motivated by racial grievance toward the nation’s first black president and the consequences of a faltering economy.

Republicans in Congress slammed the report as an attack on conservatives. Then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized for the report and it was withdrawn. Johnson’s unit was disbanded.

Nearly eight years later, Johnson’s warnings have proved prescient in a string of incidents from the murders of a Kansas abortion doctor and a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to mass shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and an African-American church in South Carolina.

And last week, a foiled alleged plot by three militiamen to attack an apartment complex inhabited by Muslim Somali immigrants in western Kansas further demonstrated that it isn’t just foreign terrorists or those sympathetic to them that Americans have to worry about.

“This is exactly the type of threat we were talking about,” said Johnson, who’s now a homeland security consultant. “It’s continued to grow over the past eight years.”

Three Kansas men – Curtis Allen, 49, Gavin Wright, 49, and Patrick Stein, 47 – were indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday with one count of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. The three are accused of plotting to detonate truck bombs around the complex in Garden City, Kansas, where 120 people live and worship.

The FBI arrested the men last Friday in Liberal, Kansas, after an undercover investigation.

According to a complaint filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kansas, the men belonged to a militia group called the Crusaders, known for its anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-government views.

The group referred to the Somali immigrants, who work at a local meatpacking plant, as “cockroaches,” the complaint said.

The men had discussed using rocket-propelled grenades to attack the complex, proposed dipping bullets in pig’s blood and even considered something similar to the fertilizer-and-fuel-oil combination Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, according to the complaint.

“I’ll blow every goddamn building up right there,” Stein allegedly said.

The three even talked about attacking area churches that supported the Somali migrants, according to the complaint, and said they wouldn’t even spare the children any mercy.

“The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim,” Stein allegedly said.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the activities of extremist groups, the number of anti-Muslim hate groups has increased 42 percent since 2014.

“This is just symptomatic of the really unprecedented rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in our society,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Hooper and others say the federal government’s focus on terrorism from abroad, or domestic terrorism carried out by people sympathetic to foreign terrorist groups, is diverting attention from threats against Muslims and where they live and worship.

“The attitude seems to be it cannot be terrorism unless a Muslim commits an act of violence,” he said.

Hooper said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had fueled anti-Muslim bias by calling for, among other things, a ban on Muslims entering the country and widespread surveillance of mosques.

“All of this stuff adds up,” he said.

The suspects in Kansas allegedly were planning to carry out their attack Nov. 9 – the day after Election Day. Trump’s campaign has struggled in recent weeks, and he’s fallen behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the polls.

“The militia and anti-government types are using the election to recruit more people and fuel more paranoia,” Johnson said. . .

Continue reading.

More at the link, including video.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2016 at 8:35 am

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