PNN Notes 6/3/12
1. GOP Spokesman Slammed for 'Let's Hurl Acid' at Female Senators Comment
Steve Benen flags this story:
Jay Townsend, GOP Spokesman: 'Let's Hurl Some Acid At Those Female Democratic Senators'
A spokesman for Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) is facing criticism after advocating violence against female Democratic senators in a Facebook post.
Jay Townsend, the official campaign spokesman for the freshman representative, went on a vicious online rant on Saturday, which he began by taunting a constituent who voiced criticism about an earlier post on gas prices. "Listen to Tom. What a little bee he has in his bonnet. Buzz Buzz," Townsend wrote.
"My question today... when is Tommy boy going to weigh in on all the Lilly Ledbetter hypocrites who claim to be fighting the War on Women? Let's hurl some acid at those female democratic Senators who won't abide the mandates they want to impose on the private sector."...
Townshend is getting the response he deserves:
Comments from outraged constituents quickly followed. "'Hurl some acid' Jay Townsend? Do you realize what that means?" wrote one person. "Acid attacks are particularly brutal, aimed almost solely at women, with the intent to maim and disfigure. I couldn't imagine a worse piece of invective from someone who puts the Republican war on women in quotes."
Another commenter: "Mr. Townsend, do you think we live in Afghanistan?"
This, as it turns out, is the same Jay Townsend who, when he was running for Chuck Schumer's Senate seat in 2010, appeared at Pam Geller's rally against the "Ground Zero mosque" on June 6, 2010. Here's his speech at that rally -- in which he addressed the Islamic cultural center's champion, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, as if he was personally responsible for every bad thing done by anyone anywhere in the name of Islam:
... The wounds have not healed, Imam! And we cannot soon forget the hatred that spawned this assault on our sensibilities is taught in too many of your mosques and inscribed on too many of your prayer rugs. Not here, not now! Until you have excised the hatred that is inscribed in the schoolbooks of your impressionable young -- not here, not now!(Smiles.) Until you have removed from the world stage the despots who advocate the annihilation of America and her allies -- not here, not now! ...
And so on and so on. This, apparently, was all Imam Rauf's fault, according to Townsend. Odd that Townsend didn't mention acid attacks (though, admittedly, they weren't as much in the news then). But the fact that he's mentioning them now makes you wonder if the right's obsession with the behaviors that besmirch Islam is just a form of jealousy.
2. Zimmerman ordered back to jail, because of his lies.
SANFORD, Fla. — Trayvon Martin’s shooter must return to jail, a judge ordered Friday in a strongly worded ruling that said George Zimmerman and his wife lied to the court about their finances to obtain bond in a case that hinges on jurors believing his account of what happened the night the teen was killed.
Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder for the February shooting. The neighborhood watch volunteer says he shot Martin in self-defense because the unarmed 17-year-old was beating him up after confronting Zimmerman about following him in a gated community outside Orlando. Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the killing, and during a bond hearing in April, his wife, Shellie, testified that the couple had limited funds available. The hearing also was notable because Zimmerman took the stand and apologized to Martin’s parents. Prosecutors pointed out in their motion that Zimmerman had $135,000 available then. It had been raised from donations through a website he set up and they suggested more has been collected since and deposited in a bank account.
Shellie Zimmerman was asked about the website at the hearing, but she said she didn’t know how much money had been raised. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester set bail at $150,000. The 28-year-old was freed a few days later after posting $15,000 in cash — which is typical — and has since been in hiding. Prosecutor Bernie De la Rionda complained Friday, “This court was led to believe they didn’t have a single penny. It was misleading and I don’t know what words to use other than it was a blatant lie.” The judge agreed and ordered Zimmerman returned to jail by Sunday afternoon.
3. Edwards verdict
A North Carolina jury found former Sen. John Edwards not guilty today on one of six counts in a campaign-finance trial, and declared itself hopelessly deadlocked on the remaining charges, leading the judge to declare a mistrial on those counts. Edwards, a two-time presidential candidate, accused of soliciting nearly $1 million from wealthy backers to finance a cover up of his illicit affair and illegitimate child during his 2008 bid for the White House, was found not guilty on count 3 of the six-part indictment. That count pertained only to whether Edwards illegally received several hundred thousand dollars in donations from wealthy heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon to cover up the affair in 2008.
The one count the 12-member jury agreed on--count three--was related to $725,000 given to Edwards by Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, a wealthy Texas heiress. The jury found Edwards not guilty of that count.
4. NY Stop & Frisk in Black & White
Last year in New York City, police stopped and interrogated black men and boys between the ages 14 and 24 a total of 168,126 times. The total population of black men and boys aged 14 through 24 in New York City is 158,406. That means the amount of times police stopped black men and boys in this age group exceeds the total number living in the city.
In fact, last year, more than 85% of the 685,000 people stopped by the NYPD were African American or Latino, most of them children and young adults. This is up from less than 100,000 stops a decade ago. Then, like now, 90% of those stopped are completely innocent. All this adds up to nothing less than the most aggressive street-level racial profiling program in the country.
5. Japan continues to create new Plutonium despite all reactors offline
Last year's tsunami crisis left Japan's nuclear future in doubt and its reactors idled, rendering its huge stockpile of plutonium useless for now. So, the nuclear industry's plan to produce even more this year has raised a red flag. Nuclear industry officials say they hope to start producing a half-ton of plutonium within months, in addition to the more than 35 tons Japan already has stored around the world. That's even though all of the reactors that might use it are either inoperable or offline while the country rethinks its nuclear policy in light of the tsunami-generated Fukushima crisis. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)
6. Scott's Voter Attack Purge + Limiting Registration
On Thursday, a federal court in Florida issued a preliminary injunction against the state for restricting the registration drives, creating a window for those to resume before the August primary elections. Whether that will be appealed by the state or continue into the fall is not known, the League said in a press conference call.
But that is not all Scott has done to roll back voting rights. The governor also reversed rules established by his predecessor, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, to re-enfranchise an estimated 70,000 nonviolent felons who have served their sentences. Scott imposed a five-year-waiting period before the ex-convicts can recover their voting rights.
“They are making it hard to get on the rolls by restricting voter registration drives. They are making it hard to vote by limiting the number of days for early voting. They’re shrinking the electorate by making it more difficult for people with felony convictions to get their rights restored. And now they are making it hard to stay on the rolls,” said Myrna Perez, senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, interviewed before Thursday's court ruling.
Scott’s latest gambit to purge what he alleges are 180,000 non-citizen voters pressed even more political hot buttons—in addition to possibly violating federal civil rights law, as the Justice Department informed him on Thursday evening.
The threatened mass voter purge rekindles memories of Florida’s 2000 presidential election, when Democrats lost the presidency by 537 votes after the U.S. Supreme Court halted the Florida Supreme Court’s statewide recount. In a litigation settlement in 2002, the state’s election division acknowledged that 22,000 legal voters had been purged from Florida rolls before the 2000 election. Their names were similar those on a nationwide felon list compiled by a contractor working for another arch GOP partisan, Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Longtime administrators such as Sancho believe the figure is closer to 50,000 purged voters, because the state was reluctant to admit its errors.
7. SEC prefers whaling on some "bite-sized" enemies
If f you want to see a perfect example of how completely broken our regulatory system is, look no further than a speech that Daniel Gallagher, one of the S.E.C.’s commissioners, recently gave in Denver, Colorado.
It’s a speech whose full lunacy is hard to grasp without some background.
It’s by now been well-established that the S.E.C.’s performance in policing Wall Street before, after, and during the crash has been comically inept. It would be putting it generously to say that the top cop on the financial services beat has demonstrated particular incompetence with regard to investigations of high-profile targets at powerhouse banks and financial companies. A less generous interpretation would be that the agency is simply too afraid, too unwilling, or too corrupt to take on the really dangerous animals in this particular jungle.
The S.E.C.’s failure to make even one case against a high-ranking executive involved in the mass frauds leading to the 2008 crash – compare this to the comparatively much smaller and less serious S&L crisis twenty years earlier, when the government made 1,100 criminal cases and sent 800 bank officials to jail – became so conspicuous that by the end of last year, the “No prosecutions of top figures” idea became an accepted meme in mainstream news media coverage of the economic crisis.
The S.E.C. in recent years has failed in almost every possible way a regulator can fail to police powerful criminals.
Failure #1 was that it repeatedly fell down on the job even when alerted to problems at big companies well ahead of time by insiders. Six months before Lehman Brothers collapsed, setting off a chain reaction of losses that crippled the world economy, one of Lehman’s attorneys, Oliver Budde, contacted the S.E.C. to warn them that the firm had understated CEO Dick Fuld's income by more than $200 million; the agency blew him off. There were similar brush-offs of insiders with compelling information in cases involving Moody’s, Chase, and both of the major Ponzi scheme scandals, i.e. the Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford cases.
The S.E.C.’s attitude toward whistleblowers at powerhouse companies has not just been aloof or indifferent, it’s been downright hostile at times. Whistleblowers commonly report being treated as though they're the criminal. The most notorious example probably involved Peter Sivere, a compliance officer at Chase who years ago went to the S.E.C. to complain that Chase was withholding an incriminating email from the agency, which was investigating an illegal trading practice. When Sivere contacted the S.E.C. with the documents, he asked if he would be eligible for an award; they told him no, and he gave them the documents anyway. Subsequently, Sivere was fired by Chase because, in the words of Chase’s attorneys, Sivere had "sought payment from the SEC to provide documents and information to them.”
Sivere had to scratch his head and wonder how his bosses knew about the award request , until it dawned on him: the S.E.C. had ratted him out to Chase! It subsequently came out that the S.E.C. official who’d narked on Sivere was George Demos, who more recently was seen running for Congress in New York.
Since the S.E.C. couldn’t make cases even when insiders handed them to them, it followed that the agency fared even worse when asked to deduce problems by mere analysis and review, which brings us to failure #2: the agency was spectacularly inept at detecting marketplace problems that should have been obvious to anyone with access to a federal regulator’s investigatory tools. It came out after the crash, for instance, that the SEC repeatedly ignored warnings of excessive risk-taking at companies like Bear Stearns; they even censored an IG report to conceal, among other things, their history of non-action.
More notoriously, the SEC stood by and did nothing even after the FBI publicly warned that the incidence of so-called “liar’s loans” – mortgage applications in which income levels and other information were not verified – was “epidemic” and could cause an “economic crisis.” The SEC could have walked into any major mortgage lender’s office anytime in the five years prior to the 2008 crash and in one afternoon’s worth of interviews learned that fraud in the mortgage markets was out of control, but instead they allowed companies like Countrywide and Long Beach to proliferate and pump the economy full of millions of bad loans, nearly destroying the economy.
Failure #3 is that even after the fact, they have so far failed to make cases against even the most obvious targets, from the Deutsche Bank executives who knowingly sold billions in risky mortgages they knew were “pigs,” to the Lehman bankers who hid liabilities and cooked the books in the infamous “Repo 105” case, to the creeps at Barclays who, in what one Wall Street attorney I spoke to described as “the biggest bank robbery in the history of the world,” siphoned off billions of dollars from the rotting hulk of Lehman Brothers just before that company’s collapse. In that deal, executives at Lehman and Barclays essentially sold Lehman assets and operations to Barclays at fractions of their real cost – and some of the Lehman executives involved went to work for Barclays right after Lehman collapsed. Lehman’s creditors want Barclays to pay back over $11 billion.
Failure #4: one company after another was allowed to settle serious criminal charges without having to admit wrongdoing. Failure #5: in those settlements, the S.E.C.continually allowed companies to avoid having to disclose the exact nature of their crimes, which not only shielded those firms from litigation, but kept the general public, which might otherwise have been warned away from doing business with those firms, in the dark about crucial information. “Truth is confined to secretive, fearful whispers,” federal judge Jed Rakoff complained, talking about the settlements. Failure #6: companies have been allowed to settle cheap on the promise that they would never commit the same crimes again, only to do exactly that – and be allowed by the S.E.C. to get off with the same promise!
The Times made a list of firms that got the “Just promise you’ll never do it again, again” treatment: They read like a Wall Street who’s who: American International Group, Ameriprise, Bank of America, Bear Stearns, Columbia Management, Deutsche Asset Management, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Putnam Investments, Raymond James, RBC Dain Rauscher, UBS and Wells Fargo/Wachovia.
All of this is important background for the speech given in Denver on April 13 by S.E.C. commissioner Gallagher. The commissioner was trying to explain the S.E.C.’s thought process in how it decides to allocate its relatively meager resources. The key thing, Gallagher explained, was to make sure that when you send Enforcement staff on a case, you should make sure there’s actually crime there to fight:
It is critically important that our enforcement program be extremely efficient… Recognizing that it is unrealistic to imagine we will ever achieve a one-to-one correspondence between incidents of misfeasance and SEC Enforcement staff, we’d better plan to do everything we can to increase our hit-rate per investigation opened, and should commit our staff resources carefully, which is to say, consciously.
Sounds reasonable, although this does also sound a little odd; how is securing a good "hit rate" in finding crime a problem in an era where even an $11 billion robbery isn’t high enough in the in-box to warrant a criminal investigation? For most of the last ten years, you could walk into any major bank in America and find whole departments committed to the practice of writing false, robosigned affidavits. We’re not talking about crime that is hidden in a line item, or has to be deduced by checking and re-checking the numbers of dozens of accounts: we’re talking about groups of flesh-and-blood human beings, sitting there in plain view with huge stacks of folders on their desks, openly committing fraud and perjury. Walk in any direction in lower Manhattan with a badge, you're going to hit a fraud case whether you want to or not.
But fine, Gallagher’s point is taken: when you commit resources, you want to make sure you get hits. So what’s the solution? He goes on, cheerfully employing a jockish metaphor:
Experience teaches us, for example, that fraud tends to proliferate in smaller entities that may lack highly developed compliance programs. It also means thinking carefully about what we might, borrowing again from the world of sports, call “shot selection.” It can be tempting to tangle with prominent institutions. But chasing headlines and solving problems are two different things. The question is what will do most good – where our focus should be. And the record seems to suggest that we can do most to protect smaller, unsophisticated investors by focusing more attention on smaller entities...
8. War on Yemen
With a Western withdrawal from Afghanistan “irreversible," according to NATO, the Pentagon and CIA’s military focus will concentrate on Yemen, where diplomatic or political solutions seem impossible anytime soon.
From the official US perspective, Yemen is the center of gravity in their battle to subdue Al Qaeda-linked jihadist cells with plans to attack the US. There is a kernel of truth to the claim. For example: the so-called “underwear bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, began his December 2009 mission in Yemen; bombs concealed within printer cartridges inside larger packages were shipped from there in October 2010; and the US-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki – killed by a CIA drone last September – actively counseled many jihadists.
Despite tactical delaying actions, the long-term futility of counterterrorism was underscored last week when a suicide bombing killed at least 112 people and injured hundreds more in Sana, the 2,500-year-old capital of Yemen, “stunning the country’s beleaguered government and delivering a stark setback to the American counterterrorism campaign,” according to the New York Times. (May 22, 2012)
The bombing was in retaliation against the escalation of US military intervention, included at least 20 US Special Forces advisers assisting an offensive in southern Yemen. The US forces had been driven out of Yemen last year when a popular movement toppled the long-time dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, only to return in recent weeks. At least 18 US drone strikes have been reported just since March. (Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2012)
Beneath the secret war against Al Qaeda, in reality the US continues to intervene in an ongoing ethnic civil war in Yemen itself, a conflict that cannot possibly be “won” by a foreign military power. While professing no other aim but counterterrorism, the US is funding and advising a shaky new Sunni regime, one pitted militarily against northern Shiite tribes and southern secessionists. (For more, please see Jeremy Scahill’s “The Dangerous US Game in Yemen,” The Nation, March 31, 2011)
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Al Qaeda is launching “a wide-scale domestic insurgency,” and transforming itself from an AQ-affiliate to a “more Taliban-like movement as well,” known as Ansar al Sharia, which took credit for the Sana blast. One of the leaders of Ansar al Sharia is Tariq al Zahab, brother of the widow of the slain Anwar al-Awlaki. (CRS, p. 5)
According to the United Nations, in the wake of the civil war, 150,000 people have become refugees from a single southern province, Abyan, since May 2011. (CRS, p. 5)
This sectarian civil war threatens to reverberate across regional boundaries because Saudi Arabia worries that the insurrection on its southern flank will spread to include minority Shiite tribes in the eastern provinces of its royal kingdom.
The taxpayer cost of the Yemen war is almost as secret as the US military role. For FY2013, the White House is asking for $72.6 million in State Department funding. But there are at least 17 separate aid channels for Yemen, involving multiple DC agencies. Total US foreign aid to Yemen from FY2009-2011 averaged $185.3 million.
As for military appropriations, the Pentagon’s Section 1206 “train and assist” budget is the main source of overt Yemen assistance. Under President Bush, Yemen received $30.3 million in Section 1206 money, while in the past two fiscal years Yemen obtained $221.8 million. Yemen, as of FY2010, was the world’s largest recipient of 1206 funds, ahead of runner-up Pakistan. These sums do not include US budgeting for special operations or drone strikes.
Measured in direct funding, Yemen will become another billion-dollar war this year. The country has a population of 24 million, less than California.
9. Propaganda the War on Truth
Here’s a quote from Sunstein’s paper:
[W]e suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of those who subscribe to such theories. They do so by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.
Sunstein is a sort of caricature of everything people don’t like and don’t trust about government. The fact that he’s in charge of “open government” speaks volumes.
Apparently not a great enthusiast for the Freedom of Information Act, Sunstein has said that judges are not qualified to second-guess executive branch decisions on what the public should or should not be told.
In light of this record, it’s useful to consider Sunstein’s broader mandate: to make government more efficient and accountable. Releasing records involves, in part, cutting red tape. Another aspect of cutting red tape is getting rid of bureaucracy. And that’s where things get even more interesting. Under cover of making government more accountable, Sunstein gets to push for elimination of regulations that corporations find onerous. Here’s a Washington Post article on Sunstein holding up (for more than a year) food safety legislation that the industry doesn’t like.
What’s going on here? Why the seeming shift away from Obama’s initial commitment to openness? One attorney involved with these matters says he suspects this may be traceable to Obama’s order, shortly after he took office, to release many of the so-called “torture memos.” The President seemed taken aback by vociferous public demands that he prosecute the torturers—a perilous policy due to internal resistance—and quickly shifted to favoring the intelligence community and restricting disclosure. As the attorney points out, the broader concept—that transparency leads to public awareness which in turn leads to demands for political changes—certainly does not sit well with dominant sectors in this country. Obama has hardly distinguished himself for seriously taking on those sectors. Maybe because he doesn’t want to, maybe because…he can’t.
10. Compares Manning vs Guantanamo
WASHINGTON — US rights activists Friday condemned a lack of disclosure in the case against WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning, saying there was even less transparency than proceedings against the alleged September 11 attackers.
A coalition headed by the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a petition asking the US Army to order the judge in Manning's court martial to allow access to government papers, court orders and transcripts of proceedings, "none of which have been made public to date."
Manning, whose trial is scheduled to start on September 21, is accused of "aiding the enemy" and dozens of other charges over his alleged leaking of documents to the site -- a charge that carries a potential life sentence.
Manning allegedly leaked hundreds of thousands of military logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks between November 2009 and May 2010, when he served as a low-ranking intelligence analyst in Iraq.
But the lack of access to legal documents in Manning's case amounts to "denial of the public's First Amendment rights," and "is clearly erroneous and amounts to an usurpation of authority," the campaigners' petition said. "The contrast with the degree of public access provided for in the military commissions under way at Guantanamo is striking," it said. "Courtroom proceedings at Guantanamo are open to public observers and also available for live viewing domestically via closed circuit television.
"Transcripts of these courtroom proceedings are posted in a time frame comparable to that provided for high-profile criminal trials," it added. Manning, 24, last month faced pre-trial hearings at Fort Meade military base in Maryland, near the US capital. Earlier proceedings against him at the same base in December 2011 were conducted "largely outside the public view," those who signed Friday's petition said.