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Do the Kochs have their own spy network?

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Astonishing. Jane Mayer reports in the New Yorker:

ve years ago, when The New Yorker published my piece “Covert Operations,” about the ambitious and secretive political network underwritten by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, the Koch brothers complained mightily about the story’s title, protesting that there was nothing at all covert about their political activities. Since then, the two have embarked on an impressive public-relations campaign meant to demonstrate their transparency and openness. But today, the Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel came out with a blockbuster scoop suggesting that the brothers, whose organization has vowed to spend an unprecedented eight hundred and eighty-nine million dollars in the 2016 election cycle, are more involved in covert operations than even their own partners have known.

After culling through the latest legally required disclosures, Vogel unearthed a new front group within the Kochs’ expanding network of affiliated nonprofit organizations—a high-tech surveillance and intelligence-gathering outfit devoted to stealthily tracking liberal and Democratic groups which Politico calls the “Koch Intelligence Agency.” The sleuthing operation reportedly includes twenty-five employees, one of whom formerly worked as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, and follows opponents by harvesting high-tech geodata from their social-media posts.
According to Vogel, the effort is so secretive that very few people know of it even within the Kochs’ own sprawling political operation. Housed with other Koch nonprofit organizations in a bland office building in Arlington, Virginia, the outfit is managed by a limited-liability partnership called American Strategies Group, LLC. The company is part of the Kochs’ main political group: a circle of ultra-conservative donors called Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, which describes itself as a “business league” and so claims that it can legally hide the identities of its members.
Reached for comment, James Davis, the spokesman for Freedom Partners, described news accounts comparing the organization’s operation to espionage as “inaccurate.” Davis said, “Like most other organizations, Freedom Partners has a research department that benchmarks our efforts against other organizations.”
While it’s big news that the Kochs are now running their own private intelligence-gathering operation in order to track political opponents, including labor unions, environmental groups, and liberal big-donor groups, it actually isn’t surprising, given their history.
For decades, there have been reports suggesting that Charles and David Koch and Koch Industries have employed private investigators to gather inside information on their perceived enemies, including their own brother, Bill Koch, with whom they fought over control of the family business and fortune. My forthcoming book, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,” which will come out in January, builds on earlier reporting about this, including my 2010 New Yorker piece. In fact, again and again, those who have challenged the Kochs and Koch Industries—whether they are federal officers, private citizens, or members of the press—have suspected that they have been under surveillance.
In Daniel Schulman’s deeply researched biography of the Kochs, “Sons of Wichita,” for instance, he describes how Angela O’Connell, the lead federal prosecutor in a huge environmental-pollution case brought against Koch Industries in 1995, “began to suspect that Koch had placed her under surveillance. ‘I thought that my trash can was taken outside my house several days,’ she recalled. ‘I was upset enough about it at the time to report what I thought was a bugging and what I thought was the trash being taken—a number of incidents,’ ” Schulman writes that “the Justice Department was never able to prove that Koch had targeted one of its prosecutors, but for the first time in her career, O’Connell operated as if everything she said and did was being monitored.”
Schulman also quotes a lawyer for the plaintiff in a massive fatal personal-injury case, brought against Koch Industries in 1999, as saying that he hired a security firm to sweep his office after suspecting that his phones were bugged. The firm, he said, discovered electronic transmitters had been planted there. “I’m not saying that the Kochs did it,” the lawyer, Ted Lyon, told Schulman. “I just thought it was very interesting that it happened during the time we were litigating the case.”
Similarly, as I reported in my New Yorker piece, when a Senate committee investigated Koch Industries, in 1989, for what its final report called a “widespread and sophisticated scheme to steal crude oil from Indians and others through fraudulent mismeasuring,” the report noted that in the course of the probe Koch operatives had delved into the personal lives of the committee’s staffers, even questioning one’s ex-wife.
Vogel, the Politico reporter who broke today’s story, has had his own run-ins with the Kochs’ hyper-vigilance. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2015 at 5:24 pm

Sobering insight about Ben Carson

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Just read it. Kevin Drum in Mother Jones.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2015 at 3:32 pm

Why the protests at the University of Missouri may have the NCAA terrified

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Very interesting interview in Salon with Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation, by Elias Isquith:

Earlier this week, after a series of escalating protests from students at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) culminated in the football team’s vow to strike, Tim Wolfe, the school system’s president, resigned. And almost immediately thereafter, R. Bowen Loftin, the chancellor for Mizzou’s Columbia campus, promised to soon resign as well. To see athletes at a prestigious program like Mizzou threaten to withhold their labor for political reasons was remarkable; but to see their threat so rapidly produce such enormous results was nothing short of extraordinary.

Yet because events within the school system transpired so quickly, it could be difficult to keep up. So Salon decided to reach out to one of our favorite sources for understanding the relationship between politics and sports, Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation and the author of “Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Struggle for Democracy,” who has been following the story closely. We spoke over the phone a few days ago about the protests, their context and what comes next for the school, its athletes and the NCAA. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.

In terms of explaining what’s happening on the Mizzou campus right now, when do you think we should begin the story? Because that’s often a point of contention, here, with protesters arguing the blow-up was a long time coming; and with their critics opting instead for a narrative that makes the students’ outcry seem disproportionate.

It predates Tim Wolfe by years, if not decades.

The more I read about this, the more I read accounts from students — who aren’t just recent graduates but are in their 30s and 40s — [I see] clearly there is an issue on this campus of unaddressed racism, unaddressed sexism and unaddressed homophobia. And by “unaddressed,” I mean that incidents always happen at an alarming and almost metronomic regularity, and the response of the administration has been to shrug their shoulders, and say, “Well, you deal with it!”

Given that there was already frustration to begin with, couple that with the fact that Ferguson took place just two hours away from the Columbia campus, and the administration didn’t do anything; couple that with the fact that this president, Tim Wolfe, has no experience in higher ed; he comes from a tech background; his plan was to run university like a business; he slashed programs; he slashed healthcare for grad students — and you got what you got.

And what’s that?

A situation where very real grievances weren’t addressed, and where it took protests — a student almost killing himself with a hunger strike — and a football team taking what is, in many respects, an unprecedented act of civil disobedience, to get this guy to exit stage right.

Some critics of the protesters have argued that Wolfe lost his job simply because he answered one question the wrong way. 

That one incident was catalytic. But it has more to do with the vandalism that has been breeding on campus; the fact that the student body president, who was black, was assailed with racial epithets and the school didn’t do anything. And these things happen with great regularity. Students come forward, and say that they don’t feel safe walking home after dark because other students and people in the community pull up in trucks and yell shit at them.

I would argue that people on social media, or radio, or television, saying, “Oh, they only wanted him out of there because they’re the p.c. thought police and he just happened to misspeak on that question” — I think those people have an absolute hard-line agenda. They don’t want students organizing or speaking out. [Focusing on that one question] is a way to further marginalize their grievances, which run really deep — far deeper than one statement on one phone-cam one evening.

You’ve written that the protests at Mizzou complicate or run against a common narrative depicting students as, basically, powerless. Can you tell me more about that trope; and why you think what’s happening at Mizzou is such an important counterpoint? 

First of all, the fact is that most people view college athletes very negatively. They say, “What are they complaining about? They get a free education.” What they ignore is the incredible amount of exploitation that [college athletes] go through; the absence of their ability to earn any income, even though they are generating billions of dollars in the industry; even their inability to take their classes, or the fact that most college athletes in revenue-producing sports have year-to-year scholarships and are there are at the pleasure of the coach.

But the people, who actually do care about the plight of the revenue-producing, disproportionately black college athletes, too often speak about them in terms of their powerlessness and in terms of how they’re screwed over. They don’t see them as actors who actually have a tremendous amount of social power; and you see in Missouri how much power they actually have.

Where does that power come from? . . .

Continue reading.

The closing question and answer are good:

Lastly, I wanted to ask you about how this incident should influence the way we understand the relationship between students and student-athletes. You’ve noted that while the team’s threat to strike was sort of the tipping point, it came after a lot of hard work and organizing from other students on the campus. We tend to imagine that the big-time college athletes sort of live in a different world than the rest of the student body; is that true? And how might this example change that?

Honestly, from what I am hearing and from my own reporting at Missouri, and in general, that separation is very real. It is not just a perception. It is something that is organized by the administration on these big football schools. Big-time athletes have separate study halls, dorms and cafeterias. The separation is organized to keep everyone apart, so they don’t feel the general friction and rhythm on campus — and also so they concentrate on game day.

So I think what this shows is that if student activists make the effort to reach out to student athletes, to reach out to [those in] the revenue-producing sports — if they don’t just speak to them about what is happening on campus, but also listen to their grievances, which are very real, then they have a different kind of power on the campus and a different kind of leverage. The more non-isolated the athletes become, the more powerful movements for change can be.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2015 at 10:21 am

Canada’s Muzzled Scientists: Free at last!

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Stephan Buranyi reports in Motherboard:

Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was only sworn on November 6, but his government has already taken steps to address one of its predecessor’s most toxic legacies: the so called “muzzling” of government scientists.

Last Friday, scientists at Fisheries and Oceans Canada reported that they had been told they were allowed to speak to the media about their research without restrictions. And later in the day the newly appointed Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, suggested that the restrictive policies of the previous government were ending.

“Our government values science and will treat scientists with respect. That is why government scientists and experts will be able to speak freely about their work to the media and the public,” he is quoted as saying in a statement released by his office.

If things are really changing, we should be able to hear it from the scientists themselves—so I called scientists in several government departments who were at the center of muzzling controversies over the past ten years. In many cases it was the first time they’ve been able to speak about their research and experiences publicly since the previous government came into power in 2006.

“I’m really pleased to talk to you, and it’s so good to be back,” said Dr. Max Bothwell, an Environment Canada researcher, who I reached at his office on Vancouver Island.

It’s the first time in nearly a decade I’ve been able to speak with a Canadian government scientist directly, on the telephone, without spending days or weeks clearing the request through a media officer and submitting a list of questions for editing and approval.

In 2014 The Canadian Press tried to ask about a paper Dr. Bothwell published onDidymosphenia geminata, a species of algae wreaking havoc in Canadian waterways, but the interview was refused by Environment Canada. Document’s obtained by journalists through Access to Information requests showed that there were 110 pages of emails amongst 16 different communications officers discussing the request—and Dr. Bothwell, as if behind glass, was arguing with them about interview scripts and approved statements, trying to get his answers out.

During our conversation Dr. Bothwell made reference to the “nightmare” being over. After Trdueau was sworn in as Prime Minister, he heard about Fisheries scientists being given the permission to speak in the news, and emailed around Environment Canada looking for an answer. “I got a phone call from my boss saying, pick up the phone Max, you can talk to anyone about your science,” he said.

Dr. Kristi Miller heard the news directly from her manager before the rest of Fisheries and Oceans Canada; they anticipated the press would be calling her. After Dr. Miller was restricted from speaking about her 2011 paper on declining salmon stocks, published in the journal Science, her case became perhaps the most cited example of muzzling, and one of the few cases reported outside of Canada.

She recalls that during the Harper years how things went from bad to worse. “Over time the limitations kept growing and there would be more and more bureaucracy to go through to speak to the media—starting with only answering questions provided in writing, and getting so bad that the communications people would write the answers,” she told me.

But now that they can speak openly, both scientists are more interested in talking about their current research than their silent past (though Dr. Miller says there’s a joke going around her office that Trudeau may reverse the muzzling decision once everyone realizes how boring scientists are).

Dr. Miller is working on a large scale genomic platform that will test fish for a huge number of fish disease agents at once and compare populations worldwide. ”We usually look for technology that’s used in the human medical arena first, this is the first time in my twenty year career that we’re ahead of the human medical world,” she explained.

As for Dr. Bothwell, he’s found some surprising things about the ”invasive” algae he studies. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2015 at 12:17 pm

PPP Uses the Power of Pyramids to Figure Out Which Republican Candidate Has the Weirdest Supporters

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Worth reading: short post plus a chart.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 11:07 am

When reality fails to respect ideology: Sex-ed division

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Jen Hayden has an excellent post at Daily Kos. From it:

Who could’ve seen this coming? When you don’t teach kids about safe sex, they tend to have sex anyway, minus the safe part: . . .

And later she quotes:

Abstinence-only programs have been an enormous failure, despite heavy funding from the George W. Bush administration and conservative legislatures:

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs don’t work.

To date, 11 states have evaluated the impact of their abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. None has been shown to reduce teen sexual activity.

Virginity pledgers have found “loopholes” to keep their pledges intact—engaging in risky oral or anal sex—and neglecting to use condoms when they do begin to have vaginal intercourse, according to research from Peter Bearman at Columbia University.

2007 federally-funded evaluation of these programs found that youth in the control group were no more likely to have abstained from sex and, among those who reported having sex, had a similar number of partners and had initiated sex at the same age.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 10:50 am

How evolving public attitudes on marijuana could affect the 2016 presidential race

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Evan Helper and Curtis Lee report in the LA Times:

Pot is very much on the minds of voters, with millions poised to decide whether to legalize it. That raises a tantalizing question for presidential candidates: Is there political opportunity in the wind?

Some are beginning to believe there is.

The latest sign was the full-throated call last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders to end federal prohibition. With that one move, the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination plunged into uncharted territory — and, arguably, so did the presidential race.

Never before has a contender with so much to lose so unequivocally suggested that smoking a joint should be viewed the same as drinking a beer, at least in the eyes of the law.

The move was about more than Sanders’ signature straight talk. It could give the Vermont senator a much-needed boost in some primary states, especially in the West.

Some pollsters and strategists are surprised it has taken this long for a leading candidate to promote legalization this forcefully.

“Politicians are terrible at anything new,” said Celinda Lake, a Washington political strategist who has worked on pot initiatives. “They always miss the trends where voters are ahead of them.”

She says voter opinion is shifting on marijuana as rapidly as it did on same-sex marriage, another issue where lawmakers struggled to keep pace with evolving public attitudes.

A new Gallup poll found that 58% of voters say marijuana should be legalized, suggesting there is not a lot of risk in embracing it. More important, the pot vote draws a demographic highly coveted by campaign operatives: It’s young, diverse and up for grabs.

But there may be danger in doubling down on the dime bag. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2015 at 9:08 am


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