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The Pruitt Emails: E.P.A. Chief Was Arm in Arm With Industry

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The GOP, for whatever reason, was determined that Pruitt’s confirmation vote be held before his emails were released (which would have involved a wait of less than a week). Now we see why.

Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton report in the NY Times:

During his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, now the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups with ties to the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch to roll back environmental regulations, according to over 6,000 pages of emails made public on Wednesday.

The publication of the correspondence comes just days after Mr. Pruitt was sworn in to run the E.P.A., which is charged with reining in pollution and regulating public health.

“Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” said one email sent to Mr. Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity. That nonprofit group is funded in part by the Kochs, the Kansas business executives who spent much of the last decade combating federal regulations, particularly in the energy sector. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!” the note said.

Mr. Pruitt has been among the most contentious of President Trump’s cabinet nominees. Environmental groups, Democrats in Congress and even current E.P.A. employees have protested his ties to energy companies, his efforts to block and weaken major environmental rules, and his skepticism of the central mission of the federal agency he now leads.

An Oklahoma judge ordered the release of the emails in response to a lawsuit by the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group. Many of the emails are copies of documents previously provided in 2014 to The New York Times, which examined Mr. Pruitt’s interaction with energy industry players that his office also helps regulate.

The companies provided him draft letters to send to federal regulators in an attempt to block federal regulations intended to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas wells, ozone air pollution, and chemicals used in fracking, the email correspondence shows.

They held secret meetings to discuss more comprehensive ways to combat the Obama administration’s environmental agenda, and the companies and organizations they funded repeatedly praised Mr. Pruitt and his staff for the assistance he provided in their campaign.

The correspondence points to the tension emerging as Mr. Pruitt is now charged with regulating many of the same companies with which he coordinated closely in his previous position. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt took part in 14 lawsuits against major E.P.A. environmental rules, often in coordination with energy companies such as Devon Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas producer, and American Electric Power, an Ohio-based electric utility.

The emails show that his office corresponded with those companies in efforts to weaken federal environmental regulations — the same rules he will now oversee.

“Please find attached a short white paper with some talking points that you might find useful to cut and paste when encouraging States to file comments on the SSM rule,” wrote Roderick Hastie, a lobbyist at Hunton & Williams, a law firm that represents major utilities, including Southern Company, urging Mr. Pruitt’s office to file comments on a proposed E.P.A. rule related to so-called Startup, Shutdown and Malfunction Emissions.

The most frequent correspondence was with Devon Energy, which has aggressively challenged rules proposed by the E.P.A. and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, which controls drilling on federal lands — widespread in the west. In the 2014 election cycle, Devon was one of the top contributors to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which Mr. Pruitt led for two years during that period.

In a March 2013 letter to Mr. Pruitt’s office, William Whitsitt, then an executive vice president of Devon, referred to a letter his company had drafted for Mr. Pruitt to deliver, on Oklahoma state stationery, to Obama administration officials. Mr. Pruitt, meeting with White House officials, made the case that the rule, which would rein in planet-warming methane emissions, would be harmful to his state’s economy. His argument was taken directly from Mr. Whitsitt’s draft language.

“To follow up on my conversations with Attorney General Pruitt and you, I believe that a meeting — or perhaps more efficient, a conference call — with OIRA (the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Analysis) on the BLM rule should be requested right away,” Mr. Whitsitt wrote. “The attached draft letter (or something like it that Scott is comfortable talking from and sending to the acting director to whom the letter is addressed) could be the basis for the meeting or call.”

The letter referred to . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2017 at 11:00 am

SEC Nominee Has Represented 8 of the 10 Largest Wall Street Banks in Past Three Years

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It should be acknowledged that Barack Obama also went out of his way to pick a Wall Street lawyer, Mary Jo White, to head the SEC. It does seem that whether the president is a Democrat or Republican, Wall Street controls the part of the Executive branch that oversees Wall Street: the corporate takeover of the U.S. Government.

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

President Trump’s nominee to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, Walter J. (Jay) Clayton, a law partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, has represented 8 of the 10 largest Wall Street banks as recently as within the last three years.

Clayton’s current resume at his law firm is somewhat misleading. It lists under “Representative Engagements” in “Capital Markets/Leveraged Finance” the following:

Initial public offering of $25 billion by Alibaba Group Holding Limited;

Initial public offering of $190 million by Moelis & Company;

Initial public offering of $2.375 billion by Ally Financial.

All three of the above IPOs occurred in 2014 – less than three years ago. A quick check of the prospectuses for the IPOs that were filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows that Clayton, as a law partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, was representing the underwriters in the offering, which include the largest Wall Street banks. Put the three deals together and you have 8 of the 10 largest banks on Wall Street being represented by the SEC nominee within the past three years. These are the same banks that are serially charged by the SEC for increasingly creative means of fleecing the public.

If that’s not enough to conflict Clayton out of consideration to Chair the SEC post, then conflicts of interest have lost all meaning within the legal lexicon of the United States.

According to the IPO for Alibaba, the underwriters were Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. The prospectus from Alibaba reads as follows: . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2017 at 10:22 am

As the immigrant population of California has increased, the incidence of crime has dropped

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President Trump doesn’t care much for facts, but they are real, and his idea that immigration causes crime is contrary to facts and—since the facts are readily available—also stupid (unless he is using immigrants as an “enemy” (as he uses Muslims) to frighten those who are ignorant of the facts so that they will regard him as a savior).

Here’s a chart Kevin Drum made, and here’s his explanation:

blog_crime_california_usa

I think it’s a danger to the nation that the president operates on false information and, in the case of his economic forecast, deliberately creates false information. The US is headed in a very bad direction: once reality is ignored, as the GOP has long ignored it (cf. climate change), things are off track.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2017 at 12:26 pm

Good example of bad cops in Georgia: Innocent couple jailed for buying a car

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And note that the detective gets away scot-free. It seems quite difficult to hold police accountable for misdeeds.

And note this from Radley Balko’s morning links:

Police union gets judge to block the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department from giving prosecutors the names of 300 deputies who have records of  “domestic violence, theft, bribery and brutality.” The sheriff says such a history could be relevant to an officer’s reliability on the witness stand. The police union argues — apparently with a straight face — that the officers’ records are private.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2017 at 10:41 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Tech still does not take discrimination seriously, allowing it to flourish

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Klint Finley writes in Wired:

The tech industry isn’t big on dress codes, employee handbooks, or rules. The Silicon Valley management philosophy is simple: Hire talented coders, give them tools to do their jobs, and get out of their way. The best coders should be rewarded, and those who just can’t hack it should be let go.

The problem is that, all too often, workplace problems boil down to more than just code. Yesterday widely respected programmer Susan J. Fowler revealed in a blog post that she quit her job at the transportation company Uber last year after facing sexual harassment, discrimination, and, perhaps most worryingly, a corporate culture that let all that harassment and discrimination slide.

One of the most striking things about the allegations is how unsurprising they are. Uber has always had a cavalier attitude about rules and regulations, so it’s easy to imagine that attitude extending to sexual harassment and employment laws in general. But the issue goes far beyond Uber. Stories like Fowler’s are common in the tech industry, which has never quite gotten a handle on how to hold employees accountable for anything other than “performance.”

Fowler, a frequent speaker at conferences and author of the book Production-Ready Microservices, claims that shortly after she joined Uber, her manager propositioned her. She reported him to Human Resources, she writes, but was told that because it was the manager’s first offense, no action would be taken. She had the choice between staying on his team, where she was allegedly told that she might receive a poor performance review in retaliation, or transfer to another team. She chose to transfer.

Fowler writes that she later found out it was not this manager’s first offense at all, and that although he eventually left the company, he wasn’t disciplined—even after more women had reported him for sexual harassment.

That was just the beginning. Fowler describes a dysfunctional, Game of Thrones-esque company culture, with management admitting that she was given a bad performance review for non-work related reasons, and, ultimately, a manager threatening to fire her if she continued reporting discrimination to the HR department. A common refrain, each time she complained to HR about a harasser, was that the person in question was a “high performer.”

Uber didn’t respond to our request for comment, but The New York Times reports that CEO Travis Kalanick has promised an investigation. Media mogul and Uber board member Arianna Huffington promised on Twitter that she will work with Uber’s chief of human resources, Liane Hornsey, on the investigation.

Uber has a troubled history on gender relations. In 2014, Kalanick told GQ that he called the company “Boob-er” because it has made him more attractive to women. That same year, the company ran an ad in France promising to pair customers with “hot chick” drivers. When journalist Sarah Lacy suggested that this sort of sexism was a problem, Uber senior vice president Emil Michael suggested digging up dirt on her to ruin her reputation, according to BuzzFeed. Kalanick tweeted that Michael’s comments didn’t represent Uber’s views, but Michael kept his job.

The company isn’t the only tech darling to face these kind of problems, though. Fowler’s story retraces what has become a familiar sequence of events: A female employee complains about sexual harassment and/or discrimination to HR. The company takes no action. The employee takes to the internet to complain. Media attention follows. The company promises to investigate. Sometimes someone resigns in scandal. But the industry itself stays the same.

In 2014, a former employee of the code hosting and collaboration site GitHub claimed one of the company’s programmers sexually harassed her, and that one of the founder’s wives had also repeatedly harassed her—despite multiple reports to the company’s HR department. After a flurry of media coverage, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2017 at 2:09 pm

Man wrongly convicted with bite mark evidence confronts bite mark analysts

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Though he paid an awful price, he must feel a great satisfaction at confronting those whose groundless testimony sent him to prison for those decades. Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

Keith Harward was wrongly convicted of a grisly rape and murder and spent more than 33 years in prison. The main evidence against him were alleged bite marks found on the victim. Over the course of two trials, six bite mark analysts said the marks were a match to Harward’s teeth. He was finally cleared by DNA testing last year.

This week, Harward showed up in New Orleans at the annual American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference, where he crashed a panel on bite mark analysis. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

“I’m not here to make any friends,” began Harward, who was sent behind bars for rape and murder largely on the erroneous testimony of two forensic dentists, known as forensic odontologists.

At a conference workshop Monday with a number of forensic dentists listening, Harward, his voice rising, said, “This stuff is all crap. It’s bogus. This bite mark stuff is bogus. Why even continue with it? It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Thirty-four years thinking, ‘Wow, what just happened?’” he said of his convictions.

“You’re taking people’s lives in your hands and guessing, ‘Well, I say it is so, so it’s got to be.’ There’s no Gods in here. So why do it?”

He said the only motives he could think of were “money and ego.”

Among those who implicated Harward was Lowell Levine, one of the pioneers of bite mark matching and a longtime evangelist for the practice. Levine first gained some fame after giving bite mark testimony in the trial of serial killer Ted Bundy. He’d later declare that a bite mark identification is as reliable as a fingerprint match. Back in 1995, Levine claimed to have matched the bite marks on the corpse of a 75-year-old Massachusetts woman to Edmund Burke, a local handyman. Burke was arrested and held for 41 days before he was cleared by DNA testing. Levine is a giant figure in forensics. He served as president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. The latter (at whose conference Harward confronted the bite mark analysts) is one of the largest and most influential professional forensics organizations in the world.

Levine has continued to promote his field. From my 2015 series on bite mark evidence:

In a 2011 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Levine continued to defend bite mark analysis as “important and viable.” But when Cooper asked if there’s any way bite mark analysis can be reconciled with the scientific method, Levine replied with some candor: “I sure can’t think of it.” Yet Levine has testified countless times in court about his “level of scientific certainty” with respect to bite marks.

As we’ve pointed out here many times before here at The Watch, to date, every scientific panel, commission or study that has reviewed bite mark analysis has found no scientific basis for its methods, conclusions or underlying premises. And yet to date, no court in the United States has upheld a challenge to its admissibility.

Meanwhile, prosecutors continue to utilize it, and the professional organization that “certifies” bite mark analysts just lowered its standards on what’s required to obtain those credentials.

Keith Harward, at least, is having none of it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2017 at 12:22 pm

Evelyn Farkas was the Pentagon’s top Russia expert. Now she wants Trump independently investigated.

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Also read David Frum’s article blogged in the previous post. Ezra Klein writes in Vox:

From 2012 to 2015, Evelyn Farkas served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. Since leaving office, she’s been raising the alarm that there was more to the strange relationship between Trumpland and Russia than the public knew. Maybe even much more. This week, she was proven right.

We spoke Wednesday, and the relief was evident in her voice. Far from being concerned over the new revelations, she’s comforted that the ties are finally being made public and broad pressure is finally being applied for more investigations. “I didn’t think it would happen this fast,” she says.

The investigation we need, Farkas continues, is the equivalent of running “a security clearance on the president.” The core question is, “Are you susceptible to blackmail from a foreign entity or individual?”

Farkas, who served as the executive director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, thinks Congress needs to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate Russia’s ties to the Trump administration and role in the election. In this interview, which is edited for length and clarity, she explains why.

Ezra Klein: What’s your level of alarm after the resignation of Michael Flynn?

Evelyn Farkas:It’s lower than it’s been since the summer, when I was first made aware of all this stuff. I’m like, finally, everybody else sees it! Seriously.

The reason I was so upset last summer was that I was getting winks and hints from inside that there was something really wrong here. I was agitated because I knew the Clinton campaign and the world didn’t know. But I didn’t think it would happen this fast. I didn’t think Flynn would survive a year, but I thought it would be most of the year.

The fact that Flynn is gone is constructive from the perspective of US foreign policy. He was getting it wrong on combating terrorism and Russia. So I feel relieved that he will not be whispering his policy prescriptions in the president’s ear.

On the bigger issue, the intelligence community, the bureaucracy, patriotic Americans, and some members of Congress are making it impossible for the White House to sweep whatever they are trying to hide under the rug. And the White House is clearly trying to hide something, or the president would have said, on day one, that he would support the investigations that began under his predecessor.

Ezra Klein: The piece of this I keep coming back to is Trump’s own actions. He’s a guy with very few consistent and clear policy positions, particularly on foreign policy. But he has always had very specific, very hard-line pro-Russian policies — questioning NATO, altering the GOP platform to be friendlier to Russia on Ukraine. And he has surrounded himself with staffers like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who are unusually closely tied to Russia. That behavior is what, to me, creates a context that makes these contacts between his associates and Russian intelligence really unnerving.

Evelyn Farkas: It is unusual. His personnel choices line up with his words on Russia. This is the only place where we haven’t seen Trump contradict himself, but we still don’t know exactly what his policy will be. We know he’s inclined to be friendly to Putin, to cooperate with Putin, but he hasn’t articulated specifics.

Ezra Klein: Where does an investigation like this go? What do you think the investigators are looking for? . . .

Continue reading.

It’s getting pretty damn explicit and overt.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 8:13 pm

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