Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Law Enforcement’ Category

So many Russia connections

leave a comment »

Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post a couple of days ago:

The Post reports:

A Russian gun rights activist pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate the conservative movement in the United States as an agent for the Kremlin from 2015 until her arrest in July.

Maria Butina, 30, became the first Russian national convicted of seeking to influence U.S. policy in the run-up and through the 2016 election as a foreign agent, agreeing to cooperate in a plea deal with U.S. investigators in exchange for less prison time.

As part of her plea, Butina admitted “’unofficial lines of communication with Americans having influence over U.S. politics’ for the benefit of the Russian government, through a person fitting the description of sanctioned Russian central banker Alexander Torshin.” Torshin, according to previous reports, met briefly with Donald Trump Jr. at a National Rifle Association event in 2016. There is also evidence Donald Trump had an exchange with Butina at an event shortly after he announced he was running for president about the subject of sanctions:

“What is so significant about Butina is that she pulls the curtain back on Russia’s larger objectives,” says Max Bergmann of the Moscow Project. “Her influence efforts started before the Trump campaign existed and formed a distinct and separate line of effort. Her goal was to move the Republican Party away from its 70-year-plus history of being hawkish toward Russia. To do so, she built ties to one of the most powerful interest group on the right: the NRA.”

He continues, “So at the same time the Russians were backing Trump, they were also seeking to influence the NRA and the Republican Party with the stated goal of shifting U.S. policy.”

He concludes, “This demonstrates that Russia launched a multifaceted political assault in the U.S., and support for Trump was only the biggest part of the assault.”

It will be fascinating to learn the extent of the Russians’ relationship with the NRA, as well as other right-wing groups. (“Butina and Torshin invited NRA leaders to Moscow in December 2015, a delegation that included David Keene, a former NRA president and past head of the powerful American Conservative Union. Documents reviewed previously by The Washington Post show the group met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.”)

So many Russians. So many people on the Trump campaign (14 at last count) in contact with Russians. The Moscow Project has counted up more than 90 separate contacts between Trump team members and those linked to the Russian government. No other campaign of either major party has ever, to our knowledge, had a single contact with a hostile foreign power.

It’s odd that Trump wasn’t getting courted for possible “synergy” with an ally of the United States but rather with Russia. It’s likewise curious that Russia was seeking to penetrate the American right, not the left. (I don’t think the Sierra Club or the ACLU had a problem with Russian spies.) From what country did foreigners come who contacted Trump Jr. with dirt on Hillary Clinton? And which country had a cutout, WikiLeaks, dump Clinton’s emails? Russia. Russia. It was never Italy or China, for example. Always Russia.

It’s hard to describe how utterly unprecedented and creepy this phenomenon would have been to any candidate with a modicum of political experience or patriotic loyalty. At the first  . . .

Continue reading.

And she has an update:

Former acting CIA director John McLaughlin explained the significance of the Butina plea. He told me, “The big picture takeaway is that Russia comes at the U.S. target with every option it can muster — full fledged spies operating under some kind of cover and seeking to recruit genuine secret agents; a corps of ‘Illegals’ like the ten expelled from the US in 20, kept in place for contingencies that develop; and someone like Butina who is best seen as ‘espionage lite,’ a person who hides in plain sight, makes no secret of her broad aim to improve Russia-US relations but conceals the role of official Russia in guiding and enabling much of her work.” He summed up, “Working in combination, these three techniques increase dramatically the possibility that Moscow will gain something – or someone — of intelligence value.”

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2018 at 2:17 pm

Can corporations (as persons) commit treason?

leave a comment »

Headline in email from NY Times:

McKinsey, the U.S. consulting firm, has helped raise the stature of authoritarian governments, sometimes in ways that counter American interests.

That sounds a lot like treason to me. Put the corporation in the docket?

Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe report in the NY Times:

This year’s McKinsey & Company retreat in China was one to remember.

Hundreds of the company’s consultants frolicked in the desert, riding camels over sand dunes and mingling in tents linked by red carpets. Meetings took place in a cavernous banquet hall that resembled a sultan’s ornate court, with a sign overhead to capture the mood.

“I can’t keep calm, I work at McKinsey & Company,” it said.

Especially remarkable was the location: Kashgar, the ancient Silk Road city in China’s far west that is experiencing a major humanitarian crisis.

About four miles from where the McKinsey consultants discussed their work, which includes advising some of China’s most important state-owned companies, a sprawling internment camp had sprung up to hold thousands of ethnic Uighurs — part of a vast archipelago of indoctrination camps where the Chinese government has locked up as many as one million people.

One week before the McKinsey event, a United Nations committee had denounced the mass detentions and urged China to stop.

But the political backdrop did not appear to bother the McKinsey consultants, who posted pictures on Instagram chronicling their Disney-like adventures. In fact, McKinsey’s involvement with the Chinese government goes much deeper than its odd choice to showcase its presence in the country.

For a quarter-century, the company has joined many American corporations in helping stoke China’s transition from an economic laggard to the world’s second-largest economy. But as China’s growth presents a muscular challenge to American dominance, Washington has become increasingly critical of some of Beijing’s signature policies, including the ones McKinsey has helped advance.

One of McKinsey’s state-owned clients has even helped build China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, a major point of military tension with the United States.

It turns out that McKinsey’s role in China is just one example of its extensive — and sometimes contentious — work around the world, according to an investigation by The New York Times that included interviews with 40 current and former McKinsey employees, as well as dozens of their clients.

At a time when democracies and their basic values are increasingly under attack, the iconic American company has helped raise the stature of authoritarian and corrupt governments across the globe, sometimes in ways that counter American interests.

Its clients have included Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy, Turkey under the autocratic leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and corruption-plagued governments in countries like South Africa.

In Ukraine, McKinsey and Paul Manafort — President Trump’s campaign chairman, later convicted of financial fraud — were paid by the same oligarch to help burnish the image of a disgraced presidential candidate, Viktor F. Yanukovych, recasting him as a reformer.

Once in office, Mr. Yanukovych rebuffed the West, sided with Russia and fled the country, accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars. The events set off years of chaos in Ukraine and an international standoff with the Kremlin.

Inside Russia itself, McKinsey has worked with Kremlin-linked companies that have been placed under sanctions by Western governments — companies that the firm helped build up over the years and, in some cases, continues to advise.

It has consulted in many sectors of the Russian economy, including mining, manufacturing, oil and gas, banking, transportation and agriculture. A McKinsey official sat on the Russian government’s energy board. Former McKinsey consultants have gone to work in the Russian companies they once advised.

In August,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Obviously, they figure that, whatever happens, they will come out on top.

Later in the article:

. . . On his 100th day in office, in a Soviet-era palace adorned with Cossack art, Mr. Yanukovych stiffly briefed the nation, laying out his economic plan. After sipping Cognac and Scotch, legislators and guests packed the hall, where the cameras conspicuously stopped on a man with a bright blue suit and a résumé that touched the lives of virtually everyone in Ukraine.

His name: Rinat Akhmetov, the country’s richest oligarch. As much as anyone, he was the reason for the gathering, and he had reason to feel good.

He had rescued Mr. Yanukovych through a strategy that included hiring two very different consulting groups: Mr. Manafort, whose Russian-linked team had worked for dictators with little regard for human rights, and McKinsey, the purveyor of best practices for the world’s most important corporations. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2018 at 12:57 pm

The Protagonists — Only White Men Need Apply

leave a comment »

writes in Vox:

The boy meets the girl, just like he always does. He falls in love with her, and after a brief and frenzied courtship, she falls in love with him too. There are setbacks and hardships, but the story is headed where you expect: toward bliss. Toward an easy, uncomplicated love. Toward marriage and family, even.

This is the framework for a million, million stories, throughout human history. It is also the framework for Lifetime’s new drama You, based on the novel by Caroline Kepnes and adapted for TV by Sera Gamble and Greg Berlanti. The brilliance of You (my favorite new series of the fall) comes from how relentlessly it grounds you, the viewer, in the age-old story you already know, in order to tell you a different but related one that has been happening all around you for ages, maybe without you even noticing it.

The boy who meets the girl in You is Joe, played by Penn Badgley; the girl is Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail. And even their casting is primed to help you understand what the show is attempting to subvert. Badgley is well-known to TV fans for his six seasons on Gossip Girl (his character Dan was eventually revealed, believe it or not, to be the titular character). Lail, meanwhile, isn’t exactly a newcomer — she had a stint on Once Upon a Time — but she’s not the face you recognize in the cast, not the person Lifetime built the ad campaign around.

The resulting disparity in who we instinctively trust, as viewers, is part of what makes You so devilish and terrific. Joe reveals himself (to the audience, at least) as a stalker at his earliest opportunity, first invading Beck’s life to find out what she wants in a guy and then turning himself into that very guy. And if he can slowly isolate her from the rest of her support network at the same time, well, that too could serve his purpose.

Again and again, You demonstrates the monstrousness of Joe’s reasonable nature. He cannot understand Beck as anything other than an adjunct to his story, because stories where men are the focus and women mostly exist to support them are the stories he’s been told his whole life. And because You situates us firmly in Joe’s point of view, via narration and other tricks, it leaves us no real exit from that perspective.

Joe wants so badly to make Beck’s life perfect and to make himself perfect for her that he fails to recognize that even her bad choices are her choices, her questionable taste is her taste, her two-faced friends are still her friends. He tries to rob her of the luxury of making her own mistakes, of the ability to have a story that is not his.

By the time we finally get to see this story through Beck’s point of view, we’re so desperate to escape Joe’s toxicity that it’s almost a relief — but we can still feel his poisonous attraction all the same. He’s right there, and he smiles so kindly. What could go wrong?

I’ve thought about Joe a lot these past few weeks.

Outwardly, former CBS head Les Moonves and newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh don’t have all that much in common. Kavanaugh is a prep school alumnus and an Ivy Leaguer and a die-hard conservative jurist. Moonves attended the small Pennsylvania college Bucknell University and later became a massively powerful entertainment executive who occasionally gave money to Democratic political candidates. They operated in entirely different worlds, at least superficially.

But what links Kavanaugh and Moonves, for me, is their belligerence, their obvious inability to understand what it means that others have accused them of terrible things. The accusations of sexual misconduct leveled against Kavanaugh have been national news for the past several weeks, while those made against Moonves are already slipping into our collective memories. But the acts that men both have been accused of — and which both men have roundly denied — involve women and sexual misconduct and an abuse of privilege and power. This is America, 2018. You already know the rest of the story.

But I’m not here to adjudicate what these men might have done all those years ago. Instead, what I’m interested in is the similar fury that both men displayed upon having to deal with an adversity they hadn’t expected. . .

Continue reading.

And do read the whole thing. Later in the article:

Straight white men in America are taught that they are the protagonist of the story from birth. Their number includes me — I’ve always intuitively understood myself as the protagonist too. And this mindset has only become more ingrained in the past 20 years. Under Moonves, CBS became America’s most powerful network, but also went from broadcasting shows like Murphy Brown and Designing Women to mostly being a place where women were corpses, whose murders were solved largely by steely, determined men, with occasional help from quippy female sidekicks.

Update: It occurs to me that conservatives get so angry also for the same reason they fight so hard (cf. the Wisconsin effort to gut offices to be occupied by Democrats in January: that is some serious anti-American stuff there) and work together so much and over such a long term: it’s because they have a lot of power, and they consider that power extremely valuable and are willing to do anything in a fight to keep it and make it greater. It’s all about power, and you can judge the extent of that power by the extents to which they will go to keep the power. And that is pretty damn far.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2018 at 11:54 am

Michael Flynn continues lying

leave a comment »

I imagine his habit worsened through his association with Donald Trump, but Flynn’s now lying that he was “tricked” into lying to FBI agents. I would like to see his description of how that trick was done.

From a NY Times newsletter:

The special counsel’s office rejected a suggestion from Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, that he had been tricked into lying to F.B.I. agents investigating Russia’s election interference and ties to Trump associates.

Prosecutors laid out a pattern of lies by Mr. Flynn, above, to Vice President Mike Pence, senior White House aides, federal investigators and the media in the weeks before and after the presidential inauguration as he scrambled to obscure the truth about his communications with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. at the time.

Neither Mr. Flynn nor his lawyers have explained why he lied. But in a memo this week asking for little or no prison time, they blamed the F.B.I. for not informing Mr. Flynn ahead of time that lying to agents is illegal.

In court papers, prosecutors repudiated the argument. “A sitting national security adviser, former head of an intelligence agency, retired lieutenant general and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents,” they said.

Emphasis added, and I would include grabbing Gen. Flynn by the shoulders and shaking him as I shout that text at him, if I could.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2018 at 3:25 pm

Swamp-draining failure: Trump’s Inauguration Paid Trump’s Company — With Ivanka in the Middle

leave a comment »

Indeed, Trump seems to have had ambitions to grow the swamp extensively.Ilya Marritz, WNYC, and Justin Elliott, ProPublica, report in ProPublica:

When it came out this year that President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised and spent unprecedented amounts, people wondered where all that money went.

It turns out one beneficiary was Trump himself.

The inauguration paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company’s Washington hotel, according to interviews as well as internal emails and receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica.

During the planning, Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s eldest daughter and a senior executive with the Trump Organization, was involved in negotiating the price the hotel charged the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee for venue rentals. A top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to “express my concern” that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces, worrying of what would happen “when this is audited.”

If the Trump hotel charged more than the going rate for the venues, it could violate tax law. The inaugural committee’s payments to the Trump Organization and Ivanka Trump’s role have not been previously reported or disclosed in public filings.

“The fact that the inaugural committee did business with the Trump Organization raises huge ethical questions about the potential for undue enrichment,” said Marcus Owens, the former head of the division of the Internal Revenue Service that oversees nonprofits.

Inaugural workers had other misgivings. Rick Gates, then the deputy to the chairman of the inaugural, asked some vendors to take payments directly from donors, rather than through the committee, according to two people with direct knowledge. The vendors felt the request was unusual and concerning, according to these people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they signed confidentiality agreements. It is not clear whether any vendors took him up on his request.

The revelations about the inauguration’s finances show how Trump blurred the lines between his political and business lives, as the real estate mogul ascended to the presidency.

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors in New York have opened a criminal investigation into whether the inaugural committee misspent money and whether donors gave in return for political favors, citing people familiar with the matter. In addition, The New York Times reported that prosecutors are examining whether foreigners illegally funnelled money to the inauguration.

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s ethics lawyer, said: “When contacted by someone working on the inauguration, Ms. Trump passed the inquiry on to a hotel official and said only that any resulting discussions should be at a ‘fair market rate.’ Ms. Trump was not involved in any additional discussions.”

Mirijanian did not provide evidence that Ivanka Trump sought a fair market rate.

A spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said it “is not aware of any pending investigations and has not been contacted by any prosecutors. We simply have no evidence the investigation exists.” The White House and a lawyer for Gates did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the Manhattan federal prosecutors’ office declined to comment. The Trump Organization did not comment. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Jonathan Chait in New York also comments:

President Trump is facing so many criminal investigations it’s difficult to keep track of them all. The latest, revealed late Thursday by The Wall Street Journal, is that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is probing Trump’s Inauguration. The investigation reportedly centers on two alleged crimes: embezzlement and trading money for favors.

Trump’s inauguration looked fishy from before it even took place. Three days prior, the New York Times noted that Trump’s inauguration raised twice as much as the previous record, but “How much of that the committee will spend, and how, is less clear.” Nobody has managed to figure out where all the money went, especially given its relatively sparse attendance. “It’s inexplicable to me. I literally don’t know,” Greg Jenkins, who chaired George W. Bush’s second inaugural, told WNYC. “They had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did,” he said. “So there’s the obvious question: Where did it go? I don’t know.”

Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating Russian businessmen gaining unusual access to the festivities. But the new investigation, which concerns misappropriation of funds and federal corruption laws, might not be related to that inquiry at all. The vice-chairman of the Inaugural Committee was Rick Gates, Paul Manafort’s former lobbying partner, who has pleaded guilty to financial crimes and is cooperating with Mueller. It would not exactly be a surprise if Gates did something shady with the vast unexplainable sums at his disposal.

Today’s Journal report also notes that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2018 at 1:57 pm

How a Dubious Forensic Science Spread Like a Virus

leave a comment »

Crackpot pseudo-science is dangerous in a court of law (cf. bite-mark analysis), particularly since few judges have any knowledge of science and how it works. Leora Smith reports in ProPublica:

THE PROSECUTION’S star witness — a forensics specialist named Herbert MacDonell — set out an array of props before the jury: a medicine dropper, a mirror hastily yanked from the wall of the courthouse bathroom and a vial of his own blood, drawn that day at a nearby hospital.

It was a strange sight in the 1985 Texas courtroom, and the jurors, the judge and even the defense attorneys watched, rapt, as MacDonell laid the mirror flat and then climbed up on a chair, holding the vial and dropper.

MacDonell’s expertise lay in an obscure discipline known as bloodstain-pattern analysis. He claimed he could reconstruct the events of a crime by reading the bloodstains left behind.

Like a professor performing a classroom demonstration, he dipped the dropper’s tip into the blood and, with a practiced hand, released a single drop onto the mirror. It landed with a muted thud, forming a perfect crimson circle.

Blood landing on a flat surface should not spatter, MacDonell told the jurors with satisfaction. He let another drop fall onto the white shirt he was wearing. Blood lands differently on fabric, he showed them.

A defense attorney shot up from his chair in protest. This was a murder trial. There was no mirror at the crime scene. No medicine dropper. The demonstration was not reliable science, he argued. The judge disagreed.

MacDonell’s testimony would be pivotal to proving the Fort Bend County prosecutor’s theory that 21-year-old Reginald Lewis had murdered his family, shooting his mother and two brothers, and setting his father on fire. MacDonell had identified dozens of minuscule blood spots on Lewis’ clothing, and he said they placed Lewis at the scene during the crime

The jurors gave Lewis four 99-year sentences.

“MacDonell kind of took over the courtroom,” Lewis’ attorney, Donald Bankston, recalled, his disbelief still fresh. “It was almost like having Mr. Wizard.”

But MacDonell’s testimony that day did more than mesmerize the jury. It gave bloodstain-pattern analysis its first toehold of legitimacy in Texas courts, spreading it quietly, but surely, further into the justice system.

Two years later, Texas’ 1st Court of Appeals ordered a retrial because of evidentiary flaws (two retrials ended in hung juries), but it expressly rejected Lewis’ argument that bloodstain-pattern analysis was a “novel technique” that should never have been admitted and was not “scientifically recognized” or reliable.

“MacDonell’s studies are based on general principles of physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics, and his methods use tools as widely recognized as the microscope; his techniques are neither untested nor unreliable,” Judge James F. Warren wrote for the court. To support his decision, Warren cited four other states — Tennessee, California, Illinois and Maine — that had already affirmed bloodstain-pattern analysis’ use at trial. Two of those states had based their decisions on court testimony by MacDonell.

Warren’s hearty defense of MacDonell and his methods percolated through Texas’ courts, reassuring hundreds of the state’s judges that bloodstain-pattern analysis was reliable enough to be admitted at trial. They would allow it, again and again.

Over time, a parade of spatter experts, often trained by MacDonell — or by someone he trained — dazzled juries across the country with their promise of scientific surety, often tying bows of certainty on circumstantial evidence. Judges in Minnesota, Idaho and Michigan would rely on the Texas court’s decision when deciding to admit blood spatter in their own states in the 1990s. Those decisions, in turn, would be relied upon by other states.

Blood-spatter testimony spread through courtrooms across the country like a superbug.

Its path — the steady case-by-case, decision-by-decision acceptance of a new forensic science by the justice system — is one that’s rarely, if ever, been retraced. But it reveals the startling vulnerability of judges, and juries, to forensics techniques, both before, and after, they’ve been debunked.

Although the reliability of blood-spatter analysis was never proven or quantified, its steady admission by courts rarely wavered, even as the technique, along with other forensic sciences, began facing increasing scrutiny.

In 2009, a watershed report commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences cast doubt on the whole discipline, finding that “the uncertainties associated with bloodstain pattern analysis are enormous,” and that experts’ opinions were generally “more subjective than scientific.”

Still, judges continued allowing spatter experts to testify.

Subsequent research, funded by the Department of Justice, raised questions about experts’ methods and conclusions. But little changed.

All along, attorneys like Bankston continued challenging the admission of bloodstain-pattern analysts. But they came to learn that a forensic discipline, once unleashed in the system, cannot easily be recalled.

The Birthplace of Blood Spatter

ABOUT A FOUR-HOUR drive northwest of New York City, down a quiet winding road, a house with bright red siding peeks through the trees, nondescript except for its fitting hue. At first glance, the home is typical. A side door opens into an overstuffed kitchen, where a stairwell descends to the lower level.

Down those steep stairs, in a sprawling warren of rooms, forensic history was launched more than a half century ago.

Modern American blood-spatter analysis didn’t originate in a federal crime laboratory or an academic research center. It started in Corning, New York, in MacDonell’s basement. Decades before blood-spatter analysis gained fame in TV series like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” or “Dexter,” MacDonell spent countless hours in his home laboratory, incubating and refining the technique.

Then, he spent a lifetime helping it spread.

MacDonell built his first basement laboratory in 1935, when he was 7, setting up some test tubes on a marble slab by the furnace in his childhood home.

But it wasn’t until the 1950s, when he was pursuing a graduate degree focusing on analytical chemistry, that he got a firsthand taste of real forensics while working in a Rhode Island state crime laboratory. After graduating, MacDonell took a stable job as a chemist for the local corporate giant Corning Glass Works, best known for its CorningWare casserole dishes. But in his off hours, he taught forensics at a nearby community college and began moonlighting as a consultant. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2018 at 8:20 am

“I Don’t Grieve Over His Cruelty. I Grieve Over Yours.”

leave a comment »

John Pavlovitz, of the “Stuff That Needs To Be Said” blog, says something that needed saying:

I really don’t care about him.

I know you think I do, but my sadness really has nothing to do with him.

I know who he is—and more accurately, I know what he is.

I know that he is just a mirror.

He has simply revealed clearly the disfigured ugliness of the place I call home and the people I live here alongside—and that is the thing I grieve over. And this is not the mourning over a singular loss, it is a daily grieving.

I grieve when I see elementary school teachers dressed up like a border wall for Halloween.
I grieve when I see a white woman screaming obscenities at two Muslims teenagers at a stop light.
I grieve when I see a Jewish professor’s office littered with spray-painted swastikas.
I grieve when I watch a father of four being tackled by ICE agents outside immigration offices.
I grieve when I witness white high school seniors making a “Heil Hitler” arm gesture during class photos.
I grieve when I see . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2018 at 5:15 pm

%d bloggers like this: