Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:
Yesterday, former SEC Chair Arthur Levitt penned an OpEd for the Wall Street Journal, effectively telling Senator Elizabeth Warren to stop criticizing Mary Jo White in public. White is the current Chair of the SEC that Senator Warren publicly asked President Obama to fire this month for her bad leadership.
Obviously Levitt thought it was appropriate to criticize Senator Warren in public. So what is wrong with Senator Warren, doing the same thing to the Chair of the SEC, particularly since it is the responsibility of Congress to ride herd on Federal agencies, and the SEC has been a spectacular failure in protecting the public, but highly successful at protecting Wall Street firms. I would say that Sen. Warren’s criticism of Mary Jo White is totally appropriate, particularly since Levitt by his example validates this sort of public criticism. Continuing the column:
Senator Warren is a genuine champion of the investing public and understands how the SEC has become a lapdog to Wall Street under White’s inept leadership. Levitt is part of the Bill Clinton machine that de-regulated Wall Street and turned it into a massive looting racket in the 1990s through today. It’s important to take note of Levitt’s effort to muzzle Warren in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Expect to see more of this coming from a lot more of Wall Street’s cronies.
Arthur Levitt was appointed as SEC Chair by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Levitt served until 2001, making him the longest serving SEC Chair. Levitt had previously been Sandy Weill’s business partner in a Wall Street brokerage firm. In 1998, when Weill wanted to create Citigroup by merging his Travelers Group, which owned an insurance company, brokerage firm and investment bank, with Citibank, an insured depository bank – an illegal merger at the time under the Glass-Steagall Act — Levitt and his other cronies in the Bill Clinton administration eagerly got the ball rolling.
During his long tenure, Levitt presided over the serial looting of the public by Wall Street. Levitt was in charge when two university professors discovered that the Nasdaq stock market had been fleecing investors for more than a decade in an illegal price-fixing scheme. Levitt was in charge when Wall Street’s fraudulent research and IPO pump and dump schemes led to the great tech bubble crash, wiping away $4 trillion in market value. Levitt was there when JPMorgan and Citigroup helped Enron cook its books.
So when Levitt tells readers of the Wall Street Journal that “Mary Jo White has been a firm, thoughtful SEC chairman who, through speeches and a carefully chosen agenda, has made herself a capable steward of an essential agency,” one should take it with a grain of salt.
In 1994, a year after taking the reins at the SEC, Levitt . . .
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.
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. . .
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. . .
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. . . .
GOP demanded retraction of a DHS report on right-wing domestic terrorism—which we now are seeing more frequently
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. . .
More at the link, including video.
Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:
Julian Assange, founder and Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, is the man responsible for the daily release of emails showing the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to be an unprecedented machine whose tentacles and snitches reach into Wall Street, big corporations and big media. Earlier this year, WikiLeaks released emails showing that the Democratic National Committee had maliciously conspired to undermine the presidential campaign of Clinton challenger, Senator Bernie Sanders, in order to elevate Hillary Clinton to the top of the ticket.
Now it has emerged that two of the top lawyers representing Assange, John Jones in London and Michael Ratner in New York, died within less than a month of each other this year. And, Assange’s closest confidant in London and a Director of WikiLeaks, Gavin Macfadyen, died just yesterday.
Wall Street On Parade has carefully investigated the similarly unprecedented banker deaths over the past two and one half years. What is noteworthy about the banker deaths is that at the time of the deaths, Wall Street banks and their global brethren were under the largest investigations for criminal rigging of markets to occur in the past century. Even during the Senate investigations of the early 1930s when crooked business journalists touting fraudulent Wall Street stocks and crooked Wall Street bank execs manipulating stock prices were regularly revealed through subpoenaed documents, there was no similar rash of deaths or series of alleged suicides. (See related articles below.)
Now there is WikiLeaks leaking emails and documents that show that the same kind of cartel-like behavior that has corrupted Wall Street to its core has also infested the top of the Democratic Party. And, amazingly, three key members of the Assange/WikiLeaks support network have died within six months of each other this year. The statistical probability of this being a natural occurrence is slim.
The first WikiLeaks lawyer death to occur was on . . .
Joseph Cox writes at Motherboard:
It’s not just your friends following you on Facebook or Twitter. The cops are, too.
Law enforcement agencies around the world have used social media monitoring software to keep tabs on populations en masse, sweeping up their posts and tweets, giving police a bird’s-eye view of what, say, Twitter users are broadcasting in a specific area, or about a particular topic. Tweeting from an Olympic stadium? Sharing a post with a hashtag supporting Black Lives Matter? Police may be watching that, in real time.
On the face of it, you might not have a problem with cops reading public social media posts or tweets: individuals presumably took the decision to put the information out there themselves. But law enforcement’s monitoring of social media is not that simple.
“Social media monitoring is so much more than it first appears. Programs to monitor social media are rarely about manual review of public information,” Amie Stepanovich, US policy manager at activist group Access Now, told Motherboard in a Twitter message.
Instead, these programs are often about learning new, and qualitatively different information from an individual’s or communities’ postings. That might be the ‘mood’ of a population, which can then be used to predict any upcoming instability, or if a group may start to protest, for example.
“Police have a huge challenge in monitoring social networks for the prevention and detection of crime due to the sheer volume of material across networks such as Twitter and YouTube,” a spokesperson from the Metropolitan Police Service in London told Motherboard in an email. The MPS has made heavy use of social media monitoring tools.
Or, software can map a person’s movements over time, based on the geolocation data attached to their posts, and other pieces of metadata that users may not realise they are beaming out, as it is not always easily accessible to someone just looking at Twitter normally.
“What law enforcement increasingly can do with social media looks very different from what the public can do,” Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law told Motherboard in a phone call. According to The Daily Dot, Geofeedia, a particularly popular social media monitoring tool, also makes use of fake profiles in an attempt to gain access to even more information on behalf of law enforcement clients. This activity appears to be geared toward targeted individuals.
Indeed, these services may rely on special access to social media site data, which gives them more information than an ordinary user. . .
“Are we being followed?” can now be answered: Yes, we are. All of us. And with tools that can zoom in and get an amazingly complete profile of any individual.
UPDATE: Using the “Look Inside” feature to read the first page of Nexus, a science-fiction novel.