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Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Here’s How Wall Street Is Ripping You Off, and What You Can Do About It

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One reason I supported Bernie Sanders is that he would have taken action on the sort of thing described in a Wall Street on Parade post today; Hillary Clinton will not, since I think she is in on the game and will protect Wall Street. Maybe I’m wrong—I hope I am, since I’m voting for her. But I’m not hopeful.

Pam Martens and Russ Martens write:

Members of Congress were absolutely shocked – shocked! – that the employees of the commercial bank of Wells Fargo had created several million accounts and credit cards that their customers had never asked for simply to meet sales quotas set by the bank and/or to obtain bonuses.

But what is going on every single day at the brokerage firms owned by all of these banking giants is that the stock broker (variously called a financial consultant, financial adviser or Vice President of Investments) is able to triple the commission he collects on the bonds he sells you at his discretion. It’s been that way for 30 years, if not longer.

Let’s say you are buying a $10,000 corporate bond which the firm is showing on their computer screen with a one point commission. One point means $10 per thousand or a total commission of $100 on a $10,000 bond trade. The honest broker who is truly looking out for the best interests of his client, will do the trade as it appears on the computer screen. But to placate its greedy brokers and its million-dollar producers who can readily jump ship to another firm, the brokerage firm will tolerate the broker tripling the commission to as much as three points or $300 on a $10,000 bond, and sometimes, even more. The broker actually has the ability to go into the computer and change the commission at will when he inputs his trade. The same thing happens on municipal bonds and Ginnie Maes. Over time, that money moving out of your pocket into the pocket of the broker and his firm (the broker gives a split of his commissions to his firm) can make a major difference in your wealth.

There is also a massive ripoff taking place in the sale of annuities. . .

Continue reading. The column makes a very interesting and valid point in the next 3 paragraphs.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2016 at 12:25 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

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

Law enforcement links from Radley Balko

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Full list here in the Washington Post. The first few:

  • If we all agree that we don’t want New York Police Department cops shooting mentally ill people armed only with a baseball bat, why are they trained to do so?

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2016 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

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

Hollywood and police: One hand washes the other

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Very interesting long read by Alyssa Rosenberg in the Washington Post:

David Simon was in trouble. Just weeks before he was supposed to begin filming the second season of “The Wire,” Simon still couldn’t get the permits he needed to shoot on the streets of the very city that was his setting.

It was time to call Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley.

The showrunner and the politician had a complicated history. When O’Malley ran for mayor in 1999, he targeted drug dealing at the intersection of West Fayette and Monroe streets, the neighborhood that was the subject of “The Corner,” Simon’s 1997 book about the city’s drug trade. But in Simon’s telling, once O’Malley was in office and fighting the drug war, Simon’s bleak critique of that effort made for an awkward political prop. When HBO held the premiere for the adaptation of “The Corner” at Baltimore’s Senator Theatre, O’Malley skipped the event. He said he already knew the story.

About this series: Police influence played a powerful role in shaping early Hollywood. The entertainment industry has since spent decades advancing ideas about policing that play out in some of our most agonized public debates.

PART II: How pop culture’s cops turned on their communities (Oct. 25)

PART III: In pop culture, there are no bad police shootings (Oct. 26)

PART IV: The drug war’s most enthusiastic recruit: Hollywood (Oct. 27)

PART V: Blue lives: Pop culture’s minority cops (Oct. 28)

So as Simon began work on “The Wire,” he made an extraordinary offer. To get time with O’Malley, he bought a lunch with the mayor at a charity event and took O’Malley and the mayor’s chief of staff to Sotto Sopra, a plush Italian restaurant tucked into one of the city’s iconic rowhouses. Simon explained just how dark “The Wire” would be. And he told O’Malley that if the mayor preferred, he would set his critique of the drug war in another city.

“I don’t have to do it in Baltimore. I can do it in Philly, I can do it in Cleveland, I can do it anywhere,” Simon recalled telling the ambitious young mayor. “I don’t have to film this here if you feel like Baltimore’s really taking it on the chin.”

Syllabus: A complete guide to the movies, television and books this project explores.

At the time, Simon said O’Malley assured him that it was fine, that Baltimore loved the TV business. He even had his picture taken with Simon.

(A spokeswoman for O’Malley said he would be unavailable to discuss the lunch or the offer Simon described. Steve Kearney, who worked in the O’Malley administration at the time, said, “We have no recollection of that offer.”)

But now, when Simon called O’Malley to try to speed the permit process, the mayor tore into him for almost an hour as Simon paced in an A&P parking lot.

“We want to be out of the ‘Wire’ business,” Simon recalled the mayor saying. “You’re not giving us credit. We’re doing great things in this town. We’re getting the crime down … I’m the mayor of the future. You’re doing a show that’s only hurting us.”

In the end, the mayor — and Baltimore’s similarly disgruntled City Council — backed down. If “The Wire” moved, the city would lose twice over. The show would still be about Baltimore, but another city would get the jobs and tens millions of dollars of spending “The Wire” created. The moment for Baltimore to avoid becoming the poster city for the failure of the war on drugs had passed over lunch at Sotto Sopra.

Simon’s victory was a product of the tenacity that helped him gain the trust of suspicious homicide detectives. But it also illustrated the entertainment industry’s growth into a national business, with states and municipalities competing to lure productions out of Hollywood. When Simon faced off with O’Malley and won, he provided a forceful lesson about how the balance of power among city governments, police departments and the entertainment industry has shifted in the past century.

That dynamic has had particularly important implications for popular culture’s depiction of police work. From “Dragnet” to “Dirty Harry” to “Die Hard,” Hollywood’s police stories have reinforced myths about cops and the work of policing — ideas that resonate painfully today as police-involved shootings and questions about race and community relations wrack U.S. cities and play a starring role in the presidential election.

The police story is one of the elemental dramas of American popular culture, the place we face down whatever crimes frighten us most in a given era and grapple with what we want from the cops who are supposed to stop those crimes. “Dragnet’s” Joe Friday bolstered public faith in law and order in the ’50s. “Dirty Harry” Callahan stoked terror and rage about the violent crime wave that began in the ’60s. And John McClane of “Die Hard” awed audiences when he singlehandedly saved a whole office tower from ruthless criminals in the 1980s.

If these were only fantasies, they would still be powerful. But the ideas that popular culture embeds in the public consciousness about policing remain after the story is over. This five-part series examines the evolving relationship between police officers and the communities they are supposed to serve; the way Hollywood shapes our expectations for shootings by police; the entertainment industry’s embrace of a more violent style of policing during the drug war; and the changing composition of police forces in an increasingly diverse society.

Because it is not possible to understand the stories Hollywood tells about the police without looking back at the industry’s own vexed relationship with the law, this series begins by exploring how police pressure, government regulation and censorship helped mold pop culture’s stories about the police.

This is not a straightforward story about how police departments are bad and Hollywood is good, or vice versa. Nor is it a simple morality tale about how creative freedom made it possible for a liberal industry to critique a conservative profession. Artists such as Simon have used their independence to challenge public perceptions about policing. But driven by the need for drama and excitement, Hollywood used genres such as action movies and reality shows to glamorize the very ideas about policing that have generated such division in the United States today.

entury ago, the prospect of city governments and police departments deferring to artists was unimaginable. From Hollywood’s earliest days, these institutions took for granted that regulating movies was an essential crime-fighting function.

In 1908, New York Mayor George McClellan Jr. used police power to close every movie theater in the city. To prove they could manage themselves, theater owners and movie distributors founded what eventually became known as the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, which examined movies for objectionable content and suggested cuts that directors should make before films reached the public.

The board, and the movie business as a whole, had a daunting task convincing the public and police that it was up to the task of self-governance. In 1910, the International Association of Chiefs of Police adopted a resolution condemning the movie business because, as the organization’s president put it, “the police are sometimes made to appear ridiculous.”

Five years later, . . .

Continue reading.

Lots more, and video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2016 at 9:57 am

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

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