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Updated: 12 hours 5 min ago

Will the Korean War Formally End?

Fri, 2018-04-20 11:33
Ranked-Choice Voting Will Be Used for June Primaries, Maine Supreme Court Rules (Jimmy)

The author writes, “The state’s highest court ruled Tuesday that a ballot-box law that moves Maine’s primary elections to a ranked-choice voting system should stand for the pending primary elections in June. The June 12 vote will be the first in the nation for a statewide use of ranked-choice voting system.”

Trump’s Lawyer Drops Libel Suits (Reader Steve)

President Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen dropped libel suits against Buzzfeed and investigation firm Fusion GPS after the FBI raided his files. The libel suits were connected to the dossier alleging ties between Trump and Russian contacts.

Natalie Portman Pulls Out of ‘Israeli Nobel’ Award Ceremony (Dan)

The Jerusalem-born actress said her decision was due to the “recent distressing events,” and that she could not attend the ceremony “in good conscience.”

Blame Finance, Not Social Media, for the Death of News (Reader Steve)

At least the death of local news. This article details how a hedge fund can buy a local paper (in this case the Denver Post), saddle it with debt, cut staff, and eventually make the paper into a shell of what it once was.

Cuba’s New Mysterious Leader (Dan)

Raul Castro’s handpicked successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, will come to power as Cuba is undergoing radical changes. How he will deal with these changes is anyone’s guess.

The post Will the Korean War Formally End? appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

April 20, 2018

Fri, 2018-04-20 11:06

The post April 20, 2018 appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

Attorney in Pulse Nightclub Trial Slams Government Misconduct

Fri, 2018-04-20 07:14

Charles Swift is director of the Dallas-based Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America. He led the defense team in the month-long Orlando trial of Noor Salman, the widow of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen.

Swift has an enviable record of success in securing justice for unpopular clients. As a Navy judge advocate general, Swift was a member of the defense bar at Guantánamo Bay, where his advocacy won freedom for a Yemeni detainee in a precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling.

Following the Pulse shooting, Salman was charged with aiding and abetting, and obstruction of justice. In his conversation about the trial with Peter B. Collins, Swift details major misconduct by the FBI and prosecutors, who introduced into the record Salman’s “confession” which they knew was riddled with falsehoods.

Swift says that the prosecution strategy was to put Mateen on trial posthumously, in the effort to prove that his wife helped him scope out targets for his deadly intentions. But this led to major revisions in the “official” narrative: contrary to reports published immediately after the shooting, Mateen was never a patron of Pulse; in fact, he had never been to that location until the night of June 12, 2016.

Swift explains how Salman’s cell phone data cast doubt on the government’s claim that she was at the club; this was one of many false claims included in the “confession” produced after hours of interrogation that the prosecution submitted at trial. Swift was able to disprove almost half of the statements in the prosecution document.

Just as the defense was about to rest, prosecutors notified the Swift team that Seddique Khan, father of the shooter, had been a paid FBI informant for over 11 years. Swift says that his investigation and trial tactics would’ve been different if the government had properly shared this information, and that it’s a likely “Brady” violation. (From Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland: “suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to a defendant who has requested it violates due process.”)

Swift deplores the obvious double standard: no penalties for egregious government misconduct, but when the defense was delayed in delivering a psychological evaluation of Salman, it faced sanctions from the court.

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Peter B. Collins: Welcome to another edition of Radio WhoWhatWhy. In San Francisco, I’m Peter B. Collins. At the end of March, a jury in Orlando Florida acquitted Noor Salman. She is the widow of Omar Mateen, the accused Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter. It was a remarkable case, with incidents of gross government misconduct, and the attorney who defended Noor Salman joins me today. Charles D. Swift is the executive director of the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America. He’s based in Dallas, and prior to that, he served in the Navy as a Judge Advocate General. He was assigned to Guantanamo, where he represented Salim Hamdan, and that was the rather remarkable case that went all the way to the US Supreme Court and required changes in the military tribunals at Guantanamo. Mr. Swift, thanks for being with me today. Charles D. Swift: You’re welcome. It’s a pleasure to join you. Peter B. Collins: And you have a distinction here because you won one of only two acquittals of the almost 183 cases that have gone to trial on so-called domestic terrorism charges since 9/11. Charles D. Swift: Well, it is a distinct case in that respect. I think it also showed what we were up against and why the government, I think, proceeded even though they didn’t have the facts for it. Peter B. Collins: Now, in your opinion, was Omar Mateen himself really on trial and was his widow simply a proxy because the community wanted someone to take responsibility for this crime? Charles D. Swift: Well, in part is … yes, Omar Mateen was on trial. That was actually necessary in the case. To answer the first part of the question. Then I’ll go to the second part. Miss Salman was charged with aiding and abetting. And aiding and abetting requires the government to prove the underlying crime, in this case, material support of terrorism toward ISIS by the attack on The Pulse. So they did have an awful lot of the case focused on Omar Mateen and the government did their job by proving his guilt. Where they fell apart was in proving her guilt. And their temptations in the fact that Omar Mateen was dead, certainly in my view, drove the government to approaching a very weak case, hoping that the taint of Omar Mateen would just spill over onto his wife and a jury would forget about holding her accountable for what she’d actually done rather than just simply finding someone who would be accountable for The Pulse in a court of law. Peter B. Collins: And, Mr. Swift, like many people, I followed the news accounts of The Pulse event and the investigation into Omar Mateen and it’s fair to say the Noor Salman trial significantly changed the narrative because news accounts had indicated that Omar Mateen had been a patron of The Pulse nightclub. That appears to be completely false. The accusation that he had cased the place, in advance, appears to be unsupported by any evidence and so this was a major shift in what most people believe was the narrative of some of those events. Charles D. Swift: It is and it shouldn’t be lost now on your listeners that this wasn’t something that was discovered only months, a year later after The Pulse shooting or during or just prior to the trial. The government actually knew almost all of this within days. When Loretta Lynch spoke then in the … US attorney general spoke to the community, she already knew because the FBI knew, that Omar Mateen hadn’t cased The Pulse. That there was nothing in his cell phone records. They had obtained the cellphone immediately and had immediately, within two days, conducted the overall diagnostic which brought those things into real question. A cell phone, for your listeners, is a personal tracking device. Whether you choose to use it or not, we’ve given up a lot of privacy in the electronic age. And there are a ton of cameras as well around almost any metropolitan area, which combined with cellphones, can give you a very good idea of where people are, what they’re doing. And the government had devoted extraordinary amount of resources immediately to this. That’s to be expected. One would criticize them if they didn’t. What one… Ask the next question  though is, having known all this, why didn’t you tell the public? Loretta Lynch promised the LGBT community that she would give them answers. There were no answers forthcoming afterwards. The reason, I believe, is because it did not support the narrative the government wanted to portray if they were going to charge anyone. See, the government, on that very evening, had coerced, on the evening following the attack, had coerced Miss Salman into making statements that she was with him when he scouted The Pulse. That he’d showed her The Pulse’s website. That she knew The Pulse was the target. All of that was actually impossible because he hadn’t scouted The Pulse. He’d never been to The Pulse’s website and there was no … And his actions on that evening showed that The Pulse had been chosen at random after he projected his first target. So, everything that she supposedly knew was impossible and the government, of course, was aware that they had in fact, coerced a confession. That was not good news if you wanted to charge Miss Salman. So the government allowed a misperception to continue in the press. They just let people talk and they liked what they were saying and it fit the narrative they wanted even if it didn’t fit the facts. Peter B. Collins: Equally, if not more significant, is that the FBI submitted false testimony and deceived the judge in the case for at least a year. Charles D. Swift: Absolutely. You know, during this entire part on it is that the FBI and all known parts on it, they submitted when holding her that she had in fact scouted The Pulse. This was a representation they made in San Francisco. They being the US government. Based on the a proffer of what the evidence would show. The government knew that the evidence wouldn’t show that. The government tried to walk it back at subsequent hearings by saying she stated it. Which they had coerced but they don’t give any context that “well, we know that’s false.” They play a careful semantic game in each part to try and put guilt on Miss Salman because the truth, as the jury found, largely exonerates her. The government didn’t like that narrative. It wasn’t helpful to them. So they played the game on this part and they had significant abilities to do it. When  they would say, “Okay, well, all of this is classified because we’re investigating national security.” So the media doesn’t get access to it. When I received the discovery material, well it’s all protected. You can’t talk about it in the public. You’ve received this information in a way that you can’t talk about it. So they left the public with a misperception about the case. Their hope is what I call cognitive dissonance that if … Well I don’t call it cognitive dissonance, others refer to this phenomenon, is that once you get a narrative, Omar Mateen attacked The Pulse nightclub because he was a fundamentalist Muslim who hated gay people and his wife knew about it and helped him. That’s the narrative. Okay? Now what happened, but once that narrative is in place, you have the real problem that people, once they’ve accepted it, don’t want to accept facts to the contrary. The gay community in Orlando, members of it accepted the facts they were told. They sat in the trial, they saw what had happened. Other members, however, who had spent less time in the trial continued to rail against it because it didn’t fit the narrative. It didn’t make it less tragic, it didn’t make it … It’s a senseless, horrible tragic act of which the LGBT community was the victim and suffered. It just wasn’t perpetrated on the narrative… Peter B. Collins: Now… Charles D. Swift: …that they’d embraced. But they didn’t want to give it up. And the government used that idea to try to exploit the situation to get a conviction. Peter B. Collins: And to what extent did the government use this statement? And I understand from news accounts, that during the trial, you put up a summary of Noor Salman’s alleged FBI confession or statement, and that over time you redlined the false elements, and that by the end basically half of it was provably false. To what extent was this, in your view, an intent to entrap her, if you had decided to put Noor Salman on the stand? Charles D. Swift: Well, if I decided to … Entrapped to me is a weaker word, in the part is that they wanted to say, “Well you said this, so you said that, you’re lying now, or you were lying to them,” in that process. The choice to put Miss Salman on the stand, I start every case with the idea that my client’s going to testify. And then I work very, very hard. Because my defense is not what I think up. My defense is what my client tells me happened. And then I work very, very hard to see if I can tell that story without them testifying. Because if I can get it from third parties or from the evidence, it’s stronger because, you know, they have a motive to lie. Miss Salman wasn’t lying, as I proved. But, as we set out in the court, but you start on that. I think the government’s whole set up of the part was that they wanted to ride the prejudice against her and then say, “Hey, I know we didn’t prove that but you should convict her anyway because this was a really horrible attack.” They knew that they … The first four days, or three days and half days of the trial, we’re seeing horrific photos of bodies on the ground, blood everywhere. This was, it is incredibly gory. Hearing from victims and how they had suffered during this attack. And they’d hoped that sympathy would, for those victims, would call for finding someone, anyone, guilty for this because somebody needs to be punished. Rather than go to the simple … And we were ready to stipulate that this was a terrorist attack. We offered that in the very beginning. We said, “We’re not here to defend Omar Mateen.” Omar Mateen is not my kind of client. I would never represent him. I’m in a fortunate position where I get to choose who I represent. And he would not have fallen into the realm of people that I would want to defend. I just don’t feel I’m well suited to it. But he, in that context, we were very willing to stipulate to those things. The government nevertheless said, “No, no, no. We have to prove them.” And their hope was that the jury would be so incensed by the blood and the gore that they would not apply reason when it came to Miss Salman. That hope was destroyed in the second week of trial in this process, despite the fact that we were trying the case less than a mile and a half from where everything had happened. It was an extraordinary environment. The Orlando media themselves, the national media which had not been tracking the case quite as closely in conversations, was like, “Where’s the case against Miss Salman?” The Orlando media was not worried to give that up. They continued to press. It had to be, “We need justice. We need justice. We need someone to pay.” And because she was Muslim, because she was married to him, because she’d been there, she’s the eligible stand-in. The wife will stand in for the husband and pay. And the government was seeking life imprisonment. The same sentence they could’ve gotten for Omar Mateen under 2339B. You know, that part was … Ironically he would not have been eligible for the death penalty had he survived under the statute which they could try him for. The State of Florida could’ve tried him for the death penalty but, for murder of 49 people. Although one has real questions on the fairness of the death penalty, there are some cases that probably fall into, unless there was an absolute abolishment of the penalty, one that would fall in. The government here wanted to take the forefront, take this case, and try it under 2339B and do this. Now, there was another motive for the government doing this beyond just appeasing the community. Omar Mateen was someone who had been on the FBI’s radar. Much like the Parkland shooter should’ve been on the FBI’s radar. Omar Mateen was someone who’d been turned in for making terrorist type statements. He’d been recorded making those statements. He’d been interviewed by the FBI about those statements. He’d lied to the FBI about those statements and he subsequently admitted that he lied about those statements. Peter B. Collins: And Mr. Swift, if I may just inject a little context here. Omar Mateen was a security guard for a firm that had a contract with the Port St. Lucie courthouse. Charles D. Swift: That’s right. Peter B. Collins: And he worked alongside sheriff’s deputies who I presume secured the courtrooms and worked as bailiffs and that sort of thing and there were personality conflicts between Mateen and some of these sheriff’s deputies and as I understand it, he then, to get them to back off, claimed that he had connections to terrorist groups. Is that accurate? Charles D. Swift: Yeah, that’s one version of it. In either version, we’re accurate on the part that he had contact … That he was in the employment part on it. He later claimed that he made those comments to get them to back off. That they were superfluous and part of it, there is certainly is a reasonable interpretation given that his claims were absolutely false. Nevertheless, when the FBI interviewed him, there was concern level on him certainly because he was angry. If nothing else, he was angry at the sheriff’s department et cetera, and all of this had a detrimental effect on him. Despite the FBI’s choice not to charge him for the false statements that he’d made to them. In this context, one doesn’t get the ability to deny making the statements at all, which is what he did originally. It’s certainly for the president of the United States, while his lawyers aren’t excited about him being interviewed by the special counsel. Lying to the government, even if it is … The actual conduct isn’t a crime, or you were justified in it, doesn’t matter. You lie, you lie, and it’s punishable under the US code. So the government could’ve taken that option. They chose not to in this case and they dropped him from continued observation. He suffered because he was removed from that detail and put on a gate guard for a golf community instead. He remained an armed security guard but he was moved. He subsequently was denied entry into the law enforcement academy. Right before the attack. What becomes clear is that Omar Mateen was motivated, not out of Islamic fundamentalism, but out of what he felt … And this is true of almost all mass shooters. Some perceived unfairness. Whether we look at the Parkland shooter, Valentine’s Day was what set him off in his perception that … At least that’s what’s believed at this point, this perception that he had been wronged at this school on Valentine’s Day. He was angry with them and he attacked. These motives don’t … They can be fairly trivial. Going all the way back to the original shootings in Colorado. These things can motivate people to do the unthinkable. But it wasn’t Islamic radicalization per se that had pushed Omar Mateen into this. He actually fit the pattern of a school shooter et cetera. The FBI … Or the other type mass shooters. The FBI didn’t look for that because that’s not what was on their radar. On their radar was, okay is he being a radicalized? And they needed to keep that narrative. To keep the narrative, they needed to blame somebody else other than themselves, is my belief. That’s absolutely my belief. Peter B. Collins: And Mr. Swift, this is the perfect point to introduce what you learned very late in the trial. Charles D. Swift: Yes. Peter B. Collins: On Saturday night, you got an email from the prosecution side acknowledging that Omar Mateen’s father, Sadiq Mateen, had been a paid FBI informant for over 11 years. Charles D Swift: That is correct. Peter B. Collins: And this had to come as a shock to you. And let me first ask, is this first and foremost a Brady violation? Did the prosecution, unethically, suppress information that should’ve been shared with your defense team? Charles D. Swift: Yeah. We believed it was and we filed a motion on it. The court disagreed though commentators who have looked at it since, in the legal community, law professors, respected counsel et cetera, who talk about rulings in courts, have almost universally agreed that it was a Brady violation. Brady v. Maryland is the Supreme Court decision. Well you have to turn … The government has to turn over evidence that’s potentially favorable. In our view, there were two parts in it because it gave the FBI a very strong motive to blame someone else. Omar Mateen had as much contact, in one sense with his father, as he had with his wife. And he certainly confided far more in his father than he did in his wife. His wife was somebody he cheated on. Somebody he had contempt and little respect. Though she loved him, he utilized that to exploit her. His father on the other hand was in a position of some level of influence in his life and he had had contacts with him. Apart from being a paid informant, we also learned that his father had been subsequently placed under investigation for payments he’d made and statements he’d made prior to the attack on The Pulse. Peter B. Collins: These were related to groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, correct? Charles D. Swift: Yes. Peter B. Collins: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. Charles D. Swift: Well actually the payments were to groups in Turkey- Peter B. Collins: Oh. Charles D. Swift: Were to Turkey and to Afghanistan. Turkey’s notable, not that Turkey is a hotbed in and of itself, but it’s the gateway to ISIS. Peter B. Collin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Charles D. Swift: And ISIS’s most significant presence outside of Syria and Iraq, to which the gateway is, everyone agrees, is Turkey. The other gateway … The other significant presence of ISIS is now in Afghanistan. So, if you’re looking at ISIS and you’re looking at money payments and you’re looking at things you can’t explain and you’re looking at somebody who is now interested in them, and if you were even pursuing the radicalization theory, all of this would tend to go that, his wife’s not part of this, his father is. Which to us was exculpatory on the process and the government should have turned it over. Peter B. Collins: How would your case have been different had you known of Sadiq Mateen’s relationship with the FBI before the trial began? Charles D. Swift: Well, a couple of things. A, he wouldn’t have been on our witness list, he was. B, on the part of that, he was also on the government’s witness list, interestingly enough. And under a separate case, they had to turn this over if they called him. The government only turned this over because they realized under Giglio, which is a separate case, that they needed to get the information about a witness that would expose bias. On the part that’s a progeny of Brady. Their part on it was, this was an exculpatory, in the part. But our case would have differed in the part is, one of things, and it’s hard for me to say exactly how, but it would’ve been different in the sense that what we did in the Salman case, is investigate. All the things that we’ve learned were either buried in more than a 100,000 pages of documents. There was more than a terabyte of total data turned over to us. All of it, generally unlabeled. Think of it as your … 100,000 pages is a lot. Think about your office filled with pages of … Stacking up to the ceiling on a box and you have to go through all of that. And you have to find in it, you have to redo the investigation of which they give you nothing other than the pages. In addition, we hired a private investigator who was a former FBI agent and we set out diligently to find and investigate people and to find out what was going on. But Omar Mateen’s father was not ever a subject of that investigation because we didn’t know that he would be relevant to it. We certainly would’ve done a lot more on it and pursued areas that we looked at and said at the time, “Oh well, he called his father a whole lot. Big deal. He is his son. Why do you care? Oh, his father was outside the country right before the attack. Big deal. Why do you care? What was he doing there? I don’t care.” Because there’s no reason to investigate that, at that point. You have limited time and limited resources. Had I known for certain that he was an undercover operative for the FBI, there’s a whole lot of questions that I’d be asking on whether this guy is going rogue. Others have, in this process. I don’t know that he had or he hadn’t. He may have been absolutely on point. We don’t know on that. Peter B. Collins: And certainly- Charles D. Swift: We certainly would’ve investigated it. I don’t mean to insinuate that he did, that he had in fact done those things. What I’m pointing out is that we didn’t get the opportunity to investigate it. At that stage, the question is, Brady doesn’t say, “Oh well, we don’t think it is. It says could this lead to discoverable information?” And our view on it was absolutely it could. And so we looked at withholding it. Also though is, let’s step back and understand why the government might not want to talk about it. It’s embarrassing. At a very minimum, that’s what it is. Peter B. Collins: Yes. Charles D. Swift: It’s embarrassing. Because the government has maintained to the Islamic, American Islamic community, and to civil libertarians, when we dispute the informant program, whether it’s actually valuable, does it actually do anything? Is putting people into mosques to create hate and discontent, is that helping? The government comes back again and again and says, “It is absolutely necessary. This is the only thing that keeps America safe.” Okay, let me get this straight. Let me just understand here. The worst mass shooting at the time, the worst terrorist attack since 9/11 and the guy’s father was an informant. Who are you protecting again? What attacks are you actually stopping with this program? And it’s not like they were estranged. They lived blocks from each other and talked on an almost daily basis. His father’s the one who got him out of it. So, huh? Peter B. Collins: Now, now please- Charles D. Swift: All of this, all of this- Peter B. Collins: Mr. Swift, please expand on that a moment because that’s what I wanted to ask you about. Charles D. Swift: Sure. Peter B. Collins: Did his father … We know that Omar Mateen had at least two contacts with the FBI prior to the events at The Pulse and that the father, as an informant, may have been able to straighten things out for the younger Mateen. Charles D. Swift: It’s almost … You know, that one I’m not at all, I don’t have the same reservations. I think his father did. In fact, the reports are very clear that they had conversations with his father, that the intelligence people who were evaluating Omar already had his father as part of it and that fits a pattern. The FBI doesn’t want to look at things that aren’t going … The questions that come up. They love the program and they’re not going to do anything to jeopardize the program. Here they had somebody who was in it, and I presume they believed was valuable. So his wishes certainly played quite a big part of it, certainly the FBI … Omar Mateen learned was motivated to go in and apologize and give an explanation rather than to continue to deny these after he talked to his father. His father had talked to the FBI prior to that. So he sent him in. He wrote a letter of apology. He did all of these sort of — — the normal person who didn’t have an informant for a father would not get to do. They took all of that and closed the case. They even told his — “Hey look, these aren’t substantiated, there’s no problem with him. You have the sheriff’s deputies are upset but it’s not a problem to re-assign this guy and continue to allow him to have a weapon and continue to allow these sort of things.” That in my experience is atypical of such an investigation in the part. The only thing I can attribute to the atypical nature of it, that … And I’ve been doing this now for, since Hamdan, I’ve had only one of these types of cases at all times in my legal career since. But I’ve had a lot of the cases where we’re in the pre-investigative stage, or in the investigative stage rather than the indictment stage, and I know how difficult it is to get out of the room when the government believes you lied. It’s almost impossible. It is difficult and again, I refer to you to why the president’s attorneys are not excited about him going in and doing an interview. I have to say, if I were on that team I would be absolutely terrified of it. Because I go, “Okay, these interviews, if they go bad, they go real bad. And when the FBI’s thought that you lied to them or the justice department feels that you lied to them, they come after you.” That’s just the basic way it is. Peter B. Collins: But what about- Charles D. Swift: It is better to keep your mouth shut. Peter B. Collins: What about when the FBI lies to a federal judge? What happens? Charles D. Swift: Almost nothing. There is the Hatch Act. Whether Salman pursues that or not, will be up to her and it’s not something that I ordinarily do. But one of the things that for prosecutors and the FBI is, there is no real consequences for these violations. The FBI, in part, doesn’t take significant hits to … Nobody gets sanctioned. Nobody will, after it’s over, do we come back and say, “You did bad.” No one comes into it. They go, “Well, that’s okay. Yeah.” But in the history of these types of things, there have not been significant sanctions brought down on prosecution in any team. That’s not just the terrorism cases. Peter B. Collins: Yeah. Charles D. Swift: That’s almost every case. Peter B. Collins: Right. Charles D. Swift: On the part. Whether it was the late Senator Ted Stevens where the government hid, lied constantly in his trial, resulting in a conviction. You may think what you want of Senator Stevens’s politics. He wasn’t guilty of the crime. Period. End of story. I can say that without reservation. And the government’s conduct was abominable. In trying to get a scalp, yet they faced no sanctions for it apart from losing his conviction. In other words, the incentive to cheat is high. At worst, you lose a conviction you probably wouldn’t get. Absent cheating. If you do cheat and you get caught, nothing happens. You know the part … So it literally comes out on the part that goes, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” As opposed to defense counsel. On the other hand, we sit in sanctions. I’ll give you the example on this very trial. In this very trial, we were given … Remember those 100,000 pages? Okay, we were supposed to digest all of that and have our experts’ reports due in less than three months. Understanding. Now we went into high gear. One of the critical experts was a doctor named Dr. Frumkin. And his schedule allowed him to evaluate Miss Salman because we wanted to see, why would she confess falsely and one of the things … A lot of psychological testing revealed why she did that. And he went through his testing and what not and we anticipated that we would have the report in. Okay? So, Dr. Frumkin completes his reports, I get the report and he says, “Hey, I absolutely have these opinions. She is susceptible to coercion. These sort of things, a couple of the tests I think need to be rerun because she was overly compliant on the test. In other words, she was absolutely on it. She went ahead and answered every question yes. She shouldn’t have done that. She tends to, if it’s suggested, answer affirmatively. We’ll give her some other instructions and expand the test question part so that we can get valid results. Okay? I tell the  government, I need to rerun it.” The government complains and says, “Well this report is preliminary because they haven’t completed final testing.” Nothing in the final testing changed it. The judge hauls me in for sanctions for misrepresenting that I would have the report due on the 30th of July, even though I had furnished a complete report. He had indicated that these were his opinions, that he might modify them if further testing. This was … Yeah I was going to be held in contempt. I had to beg and plead and had to hire another attorney to say, “Hey, this guy operated in absolute good faith. He believed he had it. He was told by the expert he would have it. He put forward the expert’s report as written. He didn’t try and alter it and nothing substantially changes and it doesn’t affect the timeline.” Nevertheless, the judge is on me. Let’s look at the other hand on this. On how this is played. The government tells a court in San Francisco that the Mateens, that Omar Mateen and his wife scouted The Pulse. They know that is a lie at the time they do it. Then they will get up and say that they told the magistrate court judge that. They further play around with the judge, on the part. They withhold the … Oh yeah, the text messages between them are actually far more exculpatory than they’ve been held in the media. But we won’t tell the magistrate that, we’ll let only the ones that are in the media be considered. They withhold, they lie, they play a game to get her in jail because they understand that the possibility of conviction goes up dramatically if you’re incarcerated prior to trial. You can’t work with your attorneys nearly as easily. The government knows who are there. Determined now you wouldn’t be in jail if you didn’t do something. You know, it’s a huge part on having somebody found in it and they wanted to make sure that she was in jail. Even though they had known where she was every single day after The Pulse because she and her family told them. Voluntarily. But they nevertheless wanted her in jail. Because it would help their case and they talked about those things. Now, where is the contempt sanctions hearing, for the government? There isn’t one, is the answer. There isn’t one because one does not do that to prosecutors. Prosecutors live in their own world and in part on it … For those of us who do this, it is … I don’t care what the rules are. Like anybody playing in a basketball game, I never argue about fouls, as long as you’re calling it the same way. As long as when I … If it’s a touch foul when I do it, then it’s a touch foul when they do it. If we’re calling it rough, okay. Just call it the same way both sides, I don’t care. I just want to know, you know on these parts on it, that if I’m expected to have absolute candor and we can question on candor. What I absolutely believe to be the case, substantially complied with, and I’m not being candid, and force me to spend money, my own money to represent myself during the course of this hearing and yet the government’s absolute parts … Government’s statements go unnoticed or un-noted. The government may get criticized but they don’t get sanctioned, is something that needs to change in this, because if the rules don’t change we’re going to continue to have cases like Salman. Peter B. Collins: Mr Swift, this is the reason that I wanted to give you an opportunity to address these matters because I’m deeply offended at the double standard that is so clearly evident here. Charles D. Swift: It is a double standard on the part. And let’s understand, in part of the thing is, a defense counsel, constitutionally, the criminal case, is supposed to … We’re supposed to advocate on behalf of our client. That’s what we’re supposed to do. You are to take on guilty clients and if the government hasn’t proven it, in this case, I didn’t have to. But if the government hasn’t proven it, you’re to argue that they should be acquitted even if you know they’re guilty. That’s the standard for a defense counsel. Because that’s what the right to counsel under the sixth amendment … And there’s the Supreme Court has said often, and repeatedly, the sixth amendment doesn’t mean only innocent people get counsel. And counsel means you argue for them. On the other hand, a prosecutor’s job is to advance the truth. That’s their job. This system gives extraordinary discretion to prosecutors. Extraordinary. They can decide who they’re going to charge and who they’re not going to charge. Who they’re going to investigate and who they’re not going to investigate. Indictment, in and of itself … You know Miss Salman, thank God, is home with her child. But, for a year, she wasn’t. More than a year. 14 months. She was in jail. For 14 months of her life and her son’s life, they will never get back. They don’t get that back. It isn’t suddenly all made right on the end of the verdict. She suffered extraordinarily. Imagine being innocent and sitting in a cell knowing that you might spend the rest of your life there. What does that do to you? And in all of this, the government wasn’t pursuing the truth. They, in fact, what they didn’t like was the truth. And there’s another detail from the trial that really sets that out. Critical in this trial was something that would seem somewhat inconsequential. Miss Salman, on the evening in question, called her mother-in-law because her husband had told her that he was going out with Nemo. Nemo was a friend of his. On the part of Miss Salman … He actually didn’t live in Florida at the time, he’d moved to Maryland. But Miss Salman didn’t know that. Miss Salman believed it because it was a story he’d given many times. Omar Mateen had learned to use that excuse for why I’m not going to be home tonight. He had used that multiple times to … When he was stepping out on Miss Salman. When he was conducting infidelities, if he couldn’t explain an absence then I’m at dinner with Nemo. Nemo knew that. In the course of it, we discovered the existence of this cover story. The government knew about that, that Nemo was the go-to excuse for Mateen two days, again, two days as the investigation began because he told them. They subsequently found out that everything that he told them was true. Because, Nemo knew details that only he could’ve only learned from Omar Mateen. He wasn’t making this up. Omar Mateen had told him about the type of women. He told him where he’d met them. And those that when to do on the social media and they interviewed the women and they found out, you know what? He’s right. You know what the government did? Say, “Oh well we’ll give this up.” Nope. They charged it and then they did everything in their power, including a continued investigation of Nemo, to keep him off the stand. They argued at every stage that he shouldn’t testify. That the jury should never know that this was a false statement. That he had used this as an excuse. They did not want the jury to know the truth. Their part on it was … Here even the court became incensed that at some point he said, “What are you trying to do? Your investigation confirms that this is the truth and yet you argue against it.” It’s a relevant truth. And the government, from their viewpoint is, “Yeah but it’s not a helpful truth. It hurts our case and therefore the jury shouldn’t know about it.” That, now you know what? As a defense counsel I’ve done that. Okay? Sure. Done it it repeatedly. When I seek to suppress the search of my client’s home because it violated the constitution, I’m basically saying, “They may have found things I didn’t like.” I don’t try and suppress searches where they didn’t find anything. I highlight those searches. You know, when they found something I don’t like, “Yeah but the jury shouldn’t know about that constitution.” That’s inside the duty of the defense counsel. It’s not inside the duty of the prosecutor. The prosecutor’s role is to bring out the truth. The government here, instead of saying, “Hey, we’ll bring the truth out.” If the truth hurt them, they obscured it. If the truth would embarrass the FBI, they obscured it. If the truth would undermine their claims, they obscured it. And at every stage on it, they did not like the truth. And that to me was striking in this case. It’s been striking in several of the other cases that are acquittals. You know what all those cases have in common now? Peter B. Collins: What’s that? Charles D. Swift: They all had dedicated defense teams either because the person could afford them or because some group took it up. We had, into this case, between our fellows who are also practicing attorneys, myself, Linda Moreno, local counsel et cetera. Well over 2,000, closer to 3,000 hours working on this case. To get through all that material. To do all the investigations. To write all the motions. Basically that’s a year and a half of a high-billing attorney’s life. Year and a half. We were given seven months to get it done in. But a year and half. When one looks at it in that context, you take it on and go “wow”. The government, their belief was why? They won’t have the time. The only times that these come out, this is a real question on it is, if they had had let’s say, just appointed an attorney who had 25 other clients who had maybe 300 hours to give to this case. Would they have been successful? Would any of this come out? And that to me is extraordinarily bothersome because I know that that is actually the norm. Peter B. Collins: And Mr Swift- Charles D. Swift: That’s the norm. In a federal case or a state case. That’s the norm. That Salman is atypical because of the resources that were devoted to it. Hamdan is atypical because of the resources devoted to it. In part, at least, because I’d become convinced that the resources need to be devoted to it but I lie awake at night about the cases I turn down. Peter B. Collins: I can understand. Mr. Swift, as we wrap up here, I see from your description of this case, the outlines of a creeping police state, the kind of east German Stasi control that we abhor and that we see as the antithesis of the American system. What is your characterization of where we are in terms of a police state? Charles D. Swift: Well you know, the police state. I am still a great believer in America. For all her faults, I love this country. I think that there are some things that need to change though, okay, and that we should look and change them. And there are three that I’ll go toward. First, I would hope that all Americans … You know I talk to my colleagues, Linda Moreno is actually a member of a group of barristers and others overseas that do international, things like that and I’ve gotten to talk to some of them and they tell me that one of the healthiest things in a British jury is that seven out of 10 British subjects doubt the government’s truth at the onset. In any case. Doesn’t matter. Terrorism … They just doubt the government. They no longer trust them. That’s healthy by the way. Number two on the part is how … Justice Brandeis said it a long time ago, he said: “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” I think for far too long under the guise of national security, we’ve given the FBI a free pass. That’s not to mean that the men and women of the FBI generally aren’t good people working toward a good result. But this law enforcement agency is unique in the lack of scrutiny for what it does. DA, nobody else gets away with what they get away with. Philadelphia police, the Seattle, the San Francisco police, they do not have … They are subject to scrutiny. And that prevents or corrects an awful lot of these abuses. So the next part is, we need to re-look at what is being done in the name, how much is hidden from us in the name of national security. Peter B. Collins: And let me just add that the last time I checked, 150 out of 150 times, when the FBI investigated itself, it found no wrongdoing by the FBI. Charles D. Swift: Of course not. Part of that is the problem. Sunshine, any the public needs to see and be, there has to be independent review. The FBI’s structural part inside the country, et cetera needs to be put out. The last one is a structural change. Inside the FBI. The missions of an intelligence agency and the missions of a law enforcement agency are not the same on the process. If the FBI is going to retain intelligence oversight or domestic intelligence, they need to split this off. That’s how it exists in Britain. That’s how it exists everywhere because of the competitions. Law enforcement cannot exist in a plain where what they do, they’re able to hide it and this inner play right now permits the FBI, structurally, hide. And difficult questions to be asked. Great Britain, France, perhaps all of these agencies split, the western democracy split this out, we uniquely do not. We need to revisit that idea. That was an idea that J. Edgar Hoover grabbed and then immediately abused. We protect … Nothing has changed. Ironically, the president of the United States now complains about it because he’s subject to it. That’s one of the rare places where I find myself in agreement with him. How does it feel? Because you are being subject to the same part that my clients are and it doesn’t feel very good, does it? That’s why he already may well be … I’ve not concluded at all. I have no idea. The American public likely has no idea too because they hide what they have. That part on it has to change. It has to. Otherwise, the agency’s power … If they can do that in that, in such a large stage, imagine what they can do on a small one. Peter B. Collins: And Mr. Swift, one friendly amendment perhaps a fourth change, don’t we need to require the FBI to record interviews with subjects? Charles D. Swift: Oh absolutely. That’s one last part of it. This one is a structural part. The FBI again, in keeping … They need to get all of these things or changes to a part. The FBI should have. They should join what every other law enforcement agency does. And that is record anything that occurs in an interview room inside their buildings. The modern law-enforcement does this. They do it to prevent abuses. It’s like putting … Here’s the thing. Police officers now in San Francisco and around the country wear body cams and recordings. They will tell you now that initially they were reluctant. Now they think it’s a great thing. When somebody’s guilty, boy is that good evidence. And it’s preventative. It no longer puts pressure to look the other way if somebody’s abusive. You know, there’s this huge … The silence of the cops. If you say, “Hey look, I didn’t like what he did.” You’re going to be ostracized. Now you don’t have to worry about it. It’s self-polices. The videotapes police. The FBI uniquely does not want … Let’s go to the overall culture of not wanting self-police, of policing mechanism of them.  Who’s watching the watchers is always the question in a democracy. Peter B. Collins: Charlie Swift, the attorney for Noora Salman who won a remarkable acquittal in the case trying to tie her to her husband’s involvement in The Pulse nightclub shooting. Thank you very much for joining us today and thank you for your work on behalf of Muslims here in the United States. Charles D. Swift: You’re very welcome and it’s a privilege to do the work, quite frankly. Thank you. Peter B. Collins: Thanks for listening to this radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. I always appreciate your comments and feedback. You can email peter@peterbcollins.com. And please do what you can to support independent investigative journalism here at WhoWhatWhy.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Charles Swift (CLCMA) and FBI van (Kim F / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0).

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The New ‘Blank Check’ for War

Thu, 2018-04-19 11:36
Entire Island of Puerto Rico Loses Power (Jimmy)

The author writes, “An island-wide electricity outage plunged Puerto Rico back into darkness Wednesday, in the biggest blackout to hit the island since Hurricane Maria wiped out much of the island’s fragile infrastructure seven months ago.”

Out of 26 Major Editorials on Trump’s Syria Strikes, Zero Opposed (Jimmy)

The author writes, “Seven of the top 10 newspapers by circulation — USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, Newsday and Washington Post — supported the airstrikes. The New York Daily News and San Jose Mercury News offered no opinion, while the New York Times (4/13/18) was ambiguous — mostly lamenting the lack of congressional approval, but not saying that this meant the strikes were illegal or unwise.”

The Biggest US Banks Made $2.5 Billion From Tax Law — in One Quarter (Reader Luke)

The author writes, “The latest gain came Tuesday when Goldman Sachs Group reported first-quarter profit that rose 26% from a year earlier. This was aided by a lower corporate tax rate that boosted earnings by about $232 million.”

Formally Ending the Korean War? Not So Fast. (Dan)

South Korea confirmed recently that talks with North Korea are underway to formally end the Korean War. Except any deal would have to include China and the United States, who both support ending the war, but have some long standing and irreconcilable differences.

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The New Frontline in the Battle for Campaign Finance Reform

Thu, 2018-04-19 07:21

With the FEC asleep at the wheel, the best hope for campaign finance reform might be local governments.

High levels of independent expenditures, the prominence of big donors, and a lack of transparency about funding sources have become part and parcel of the electoral process — thanks to legislative changes and agency gridlock.

By closely following the flow of cash into political coffers, a new report from the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI) sheds light on what has caused the ever-increasing polarization of political campaigns.

But not all is grim on the reform front. Where federal bodies have failed to regulate and enforce laws intended to abate political corruption, cities and states are moving ahead with local measures that hold out the promise of more transparent and representative elections.

Big Money and Independent Expenditures .

Through the 1990s, most major presidential candidates accepted public funds to finance their campaigns. The spending caps that came with public funding were widely seen as an integral part of a healthy election process. By the early 2000s, the pendulum had begun to swing toward private donations. Barack Obama was the first major party nominee to rely solely on private money; not coincidentally, levels of campaign spending have skyrocketed since.

In 2010, two Supreme Court decisions — Citizens United v. FEC and SpeechNow.org v. FEC — made it even easier and more appealing for campaigns to renounce public funding, and its associated spending caps, and draw entirely on private donations. Citizens United removed any limits on independent spending by corporations and unions, while SpeechNow declared that organizations that make only independent expenditures would face no contribution limits. Taken together, these rulings led to a spike in independent spending.

Protected as free speech since Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, independent spending is money spent in direct support of a candidate — often to buy ads or otherwise boost media coverage — but with no coordination between the donor and the candidate or a campaign committee.

Such spending increased nearly 14-fold from 2004 to 2016 in presidential campaigns and 15-fold in congressional races. Much of this spending, the CFI report concludes, comes from closely allied SuperPACs and formal party committees, lending a definite “insider” cast to what is nominally  “independent” spending.

So great is the pressure to use only private donations, and thereby avoid any imposed spending caps, that fewer and fewer presidential candidates are tapping into public financing — which has been dubbed “the loser fund.”

Photo credit: OpenSecrets.org

While Citizens United marked the shift toward a reliance on fewer larger donations, another Supreme Court decision four years later — McCutcheon v. FEC — amplified its effect. McCutcheon allows a donor to give the maximum legal contribution to an unrestricted number of candidates, political party committees, and PACs, as long as the total giving remains below a mandated threshold — currently $1.8 million, which is more than 12 times the maximum before McCutcheon. Contributions exceeding $20,000 now represent the largest percentage of funding for the Democratic and Republican national parties.

FEC Snoozes on the Job .

Even as the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for “independent” political contributions, the FEC has largely failed to enforce existing regulations on such expenditures.

Related: Exclusive Interview: FEC Commissioner Calls Her Own Agency “Scandalous”

The FEC never was a vigilant agency. Indeed, campaign finance reformers called it the “Failure to Enforce” commission. But it has grown even more lax in policing the boundary between “independent” and “coordinated” spending, between outside donors and the campaigns they support. As long as they don’t literally coordinate with outside money to create and disseminate a specific advertisement, campaigns have ample leeway to work with donors on a wink-wink, nudge-nudge basis.

“The laws on the books aren’t being enforced as they should be. We don’t have the cop on the beat that Americans deserve,” Stephen Spaulding — chief of strategy at Common Cause, who once served as a special counsel to an FEC commissioner — told WhoWhatWhy. “It’s become a wild west without a sheriff in town.”

Enforcing to the beat of its own drum, the FEC has issued fewer and fewer fines in response to complaints in the past 20 years — despite often ample evidence of violations.

In 2016, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) filed a complaint with the FEC against Patrick Murphy, then running for US Senate in Florida. FACT maintained that Murphy and close relatives — in violation of campaign finance law — had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars from the family company to a Super PAC supporting Murphy’s candidacy. Local news outlets covered the events, but the FEC finally ruled in 2017 that there was “no reason to believe” the allegations.

Related: Campaign Finance Watchdogs Sue the FEC

Such weak enforcement of regulations around independent spending has played no small part creating increasingly nationalized and dumbed-down campaigns.

Photo credit: The Campaign Finance Institute

“It feeds a kind of polarization in the system,” Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, told WhoWhatWhy. “It’s harder for quirky, local voices to get through and be heard.”

Smaller Quantities of More Transparent Cash .

Yet, several states and cities have already instituted campaign reforms that could serve as national models to help restore checks and balances to the US electoral system.

Taking action in a state where campaigns have a reputation for relying on money that passes through nonprofits and other organizations to mask its true origins, the Washington State Legislature passed a local DISCLOSE Act in March 2018. The law targets nonprofits that secretly, but legally, spend and donate heavily to campaigns. Election spending or contributions that exceed $10,000 annually will be subject to new reporting requirements — a number that Spaulding calls “a very reasonable threshold.”

Spaulding sees the DISCLOSE Act as a valuable tool to shine a light on money that is cycled and laundered through other organizations.

There have been efforts in Congress to pass similar legislation to strengthen the disclosure requirements for corporations, labor organizations, Super PACs, and other organizations. But the prospects for passage are dim.

In addition to increasing electoral transparency through legislation, local jurisdictions can take action to encourage more citizen participation in democracy. Seattle runs a taxpayer-funded Democracy Voucher Program, which distributes vouchers worth $100 to registered voters who can use them to support candidates in local elections.

The Council of the District of Columbia is currently considering a Fair Elections Act, which would implement a publicly funded, small-donor matching system. A similar program, already in place in New York City, has been celebrated as a strategy to break down the barriers to political contributions and make elections more competitive.

To foster more dynamic and equitable elections, says Malbin, “[We need to] make sure we know who is spending what, that when they’re spending independently they really are independent, and encourage everybody to play.”

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from coins (kschneider2991 / Pixabay – CC0).

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April 18, 2018

Thu, 2018-04-19 05:44

The post April 18, 2018 appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

The Enzyme That Eats Plastic

Wed, 2018-04-18 09:59
Mattis Wanted Congressional Approval Before Striking Syria. He Was Overruled (Jimmy)

The author writes, “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged President Trump to get congressional approval before the United States launched airstrikes against Syria last week, but was overruled by Mr. Trump, who wanted a rapid and dramatic response, military and administration officials said.”

Goldman Sachs Analysts Ask ‘Is Curing Patients a Sustainable Business Model?’ (Klaus)

The author writes, “Goldman Sachs analysts attempted to address a touchy subject for biotech companies, especially those involved in the pioneering ‘gene therapy’ treatment: cures could be bad for business in the long run.”

Bolton Dealing to Build an Arab Military Force in Syria (Jimmy)

The author writes, “The US is pursuing contributions from Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help counter Iran in Syria by filling the void should the US significantly reduce its footprint in the country.”

The American Pastor Held in Turkey (Dan)

American pastor Andrew Brunson has been detained in Turkey since 2016 on suspicion he had something to do with the attempted coup that year. US officials, including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, have claimed Brunson’s innocence and have sent appeals for his release. The only way that will happen, it seems, is if the US extradites the Turkish priest Fethullah Gulen, who is currently residing in Pennsylvania.

More Than 95% of World’s Population Breathing Unhealthy Air (Reader Luke)

The author writes, “More than 95% of the world’s population is breathing unhealthy air and the poorest nations are the hardest hit, a new report has found. According to the annual State of Global Air Report, published Tuesday by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to an estimated 6.1 million deaths across the globe in 2016.”

Sen. Wyden: CIA Engaging in ‘Cover-Up’ of Director Nominee Gina Haspel’s Background (Reader Luke)

The author writes, “Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee say they are increasingly ‘disturbed’ by classified information they are reading about CIA director nominee Gina Haspel, and Sen. Ron Wyden charged Tuesday that the agency is engaged in a ‘cover-up’ of her covert actions.”

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Will a Canadian Court Hand a Powerful Tool to the Oppressed?

Wed, 2018-04-18 07:02

Far away from the media spotlight, a crucial two-day hearing in a landmark court case could set the stage for giving stakeholders in developing nations a powerful tool to hold multinational corporations to account for violating labor and environmental standards.

The case, Yaiguaje v. Chevron Corporation, pits indigenous peoples of Ecuador against Chevron. At issue is whether a multi-billion-dollar judgment the plaintiffs won in their home country — because their land was contaminated with toxic materials — can be enforced against Chevron’s Canadian subsidiary.

If they prevail in the Ontario Court of Appeal in Toronto, it would allow other groups that feel wronged by multinational corporations to pursue justice across the globe.

“Chevron’s April court hearing in Canada is critically important to the well-being of all indigenous and farmer communities in Ecuador who have been harmed by the company’s pollution, as well as to all victims of corporate human rights abuses throughout the world,” said Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler.

Before its Canadian appearance, the case was heard and adjudicated in Ecuadorian and American courts, as the oil giant has tried to win a war of attrition against plaintiffs with far fewer resources.

“We’re going to fight this until hell freezes over, and then we’ll fight it out on the ice,” Chevron said in response to the lawsuit.

Against all odds, however, the plaintiffs have persisted. It has taken them decades to get to this point. In fact, Chevron, the current defendant, wasn’t even involved in the dumping of toxic chemicals in Ecuador’s rainforest. (Editor’s note: As explained in greater detail below, the oil company that did business in Ecuador was Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron. For purposes of clarity, however, this article will refer to the defendant as “Chevron” in most cases).

Along with the indigenous Ecuadorians, they have won some major victories and suffered crushing defeats in different courts on three continents. Both sides in the dispute have accused each other of various crimes.

The legal saga began when Ecuadorian villagers sued the oil giant for contaminating their land in the 1970s and 80s. In 2011 and 2012, Ecuadorian courts found Chevron liable and ultimately required the company to pay $9.5 billion in damages. However, because Texaco has not had operations in Ecuador since 1992, there was no way to enforce the ruling, e.g., by seizing assets. Chevron argued that Texaco settled with Ecuador in 1998, when it paid the country $40 million to clean up the mess that was left behind — an assertion the government disputes.

In 2014, the case was brought to the US district court in New York, where federal judge Lewis Kaplan found that Chevron was responsible for environmental damage. But the judge sided with Chevron that the case had been tainted by improper actions taken by the Ecuadorians’ principal lawyer, Steven Donziger, thus excusing the company from paying any damages.

Chevron has accused the attorney of paying witnesses and submitting fraudulent evidence. Donziger told WhoWhatWhy these claims are false, and that Chevron has no real evidence for their accusations.

Refusing to give up, the affected indigenous people and Donziger took their lawsuit to Canada, where Chevron also holds assets.

“The whole paradigm of how [to] do business in the world will shift dramatically,” Donziger told WhoWhatWhy, when asked about the impact of a potential ruling in favor of the indigenous people. He stressed that this case is important not just to them, but to people around the world who are being taken advantage of because of their social status or economic standing within society.

The plaintiffs wanted the case to be tried in Canada, in part, because the Ecuadorians did not feel they could get a fair trial in the US. Donziger claims that the New York trial was marred by corruption and fraud.

In turn, Chevron has also charged Donziger with various crimes, including extortion, wire fraud, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. WhoWhatWhy contacted the company about this article but received no answer.   

Canadian flag and the Toronto skyline. Photo credit: Toronto-Images.Com / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

At the heart of this case is the environmental devastation left by oil exploration in Ecuador’s orienté region, which has had an enormous negative impact on rainforest communities in the South American country. According to scientific reports, harm has been inflicted on the environment and the overall health and well-being of the people in these drilling areas; this includes but is not limited to polluted water and soil, higher cancer and other fatal-disease rates, and the decimation of cattle herds.

“There’s 220,000 pages of record evidence; that evidence includes multiple peer-reviewed, independent, third-party, scientific health evaluations that show very high cancer rates in the region where Chevron operated compared to other parts of Ecuador,” Donziger said.

The lawyer added that this record, along with the “60,000 chem sample results that prove presence of chemical toxins that are harmful to either the environment or human health or both” were not admitted into the US hearing of the case. Ecuador’s courts relied on this evidence when it held Chevron liable for any damage found in the regions of Ecuador it had worked in.

Where It All Started .

The Chevron v. Ecuador saga began over 20 years ago when evidence of oil spills and the deteriorating health of communities started to surface. Before Chevron came into the picture, Texaco was drilling for oil in Ecuador. In 1964, Texaco partnered with PetroEcuador, the national oil producer of Ecuador.

In 2001 Chevron bought Texaco, ultimately inheriting its assets, liabilities, and problems. After that purchase, indigenous Ecuadorians and their lawyers opened a case on the destruction of the rainforest habitat they called home. Though Chevron was not directly involved in all of the pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon, the plaintiffs have argued that it was legally responsible for much of the damage that Texaco had caused.

In 1992, following a trial in the Ecuadorian Supreme court, Texaco was found guilty of illegally dumping toxic waste and was told to pay reparations. But by that time, Texaco, then owned by Chevron, no longer held any assets in Ecuador. In 2013, Ecuador’s Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed the ruling. The question then became, how could Chevron be made to fulfill its obligations under the ruling.

Photo credit: Cancillería del Ecuador / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

After losing the case in Ecuador, Chevron decided to bring the matter to New York, where it hoped for a more favorable outcome. During the New York trial, Chevron made claims against Donziger, stating that he was guilty of racketeering and fraud. Judge Kaplan handed Chevron a major victory by ruling that the company did not have to pay. The ruling was affirmed by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals. The US Supreme Court then declined to hear the case last year.

One of the many issues the Ecuadorians had with the ruling was that Kaplan did not seat a jury to hear the Chevron case, making sure his judgment would be the only one in the case.

At the time, Donziger noted that US courts really have no role in this dispute. In addition, he has raised serious doubts about the credibility of Chevron’s star witness in the US case.

In 2012, Chevron began working with Ecuadorian judge Albert Guerra, who was made the star of Chevron’s defense. In return, he received payments of over $2 million in cash and benefits, which included moving the entire Guerra family to the United States — with housing, cars, insurance, healthcare, and permanent residence in the United States.

However, Guerra later admitted that he had lied about the facts of the case during his testimony in the US trial.

“(Kaplan) could care less that Guerra wasn’t telling the truth,” Karen Hinton, the US spokesperson for the Ecuadorians, said. “The one witness that said he had knowledge of the fraud, is now saying he was lying about it.”

Photo credit: Rainforest Action Network / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Going to Canada .

If the Canadian court rules in favor of the Ecuadorian villagers, it could provide a legal tool for other groups facing similar ecological devastation.

An Ecuadorian win could radically change the way multinational corporations do business and the way they treat local people and the environment, Donziger believes.

A favorable verdict would show that oil companies can no longer wreak havoc on delicate ecosystems and their indigenous communities without legal consequences — and it would prove wrong what one Chevron lobbyist has said: that “little countries can’t screw around with big companies like this.” A loss, however, would make it more difficult to “reverse global warming and save the planet,” Donziger said.

The Ecuadorian and Canadian National Indigenous Federations have jointly signed an agreement that holds Chevron accountable for the wrongdoing in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

“This case is extremely important, not only for the environmental movement, but for every human rights victim of a corporation in the world,” Donziger told WhoWhatWhy.  

According to media reports, Chevron has been working to sell around $6 billion of its Canadian assets; critics suggest that the company may try to rid itself of the assets in case the Canadian court rules against it.

In a legal saga this complicated, it is impossible to predict how a court will rule. However, the plaintiffs have already notched some victories in procedural rulings in Canada.

“There can be no doubt that the environmental devastation to the appellants’ lands has severely hampered their ability to earn a livelihood. If we accept the findings that underlie the Ecuadorian judgment — findings that have not yet been undermined in our courts — Texaco Inc. contributed to the appellants’ misfortune,” the court stated last year.

It is doubtful that miners in Africa, women sewing dresses in abysmal conditions in Bangladesh, or any number of people whose environment has been destroyed by the actions of multinational corporations across the globe will follow the case in Ontario this week. But there is no doubt that, if the Ecuadorians prevail, it could have a major influence on their lives, and how companies do business abroad.

Related: Chevron Making a Killing With Water in California — But at What Cost?

Related: Secret Tapes Reveal Contamination a Big Joke to Big Oil

Related: CEO Behind Murder of Environmentalist Arrested

Related: Paid Not to Drill? Not So Fast

Related: Grave Matters in Pipeline Controversy

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from bus (Rainforest Action Network / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0).

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April 17, 2018

Tue, 2018-04-17 20:53

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Funny, Wise Quotations on Taxes

Tue, 2018-04-17 15:03

This article was originally published April 15, 2016.

Filling Out Tax Forms with Fiction .

Income tax returns are the most imaginative fiction being written today. (Herman Wouk)

The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government. (Barry Goldwater)

The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has. Even when you make a tax form out on the level, you don’t know when it’s through if you are a crook or a martyr. (Will Rogers)

The avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that still carries any reward. (John Maynard Keynes)

There isn’t a rich man in your vast city who doesn’t perjure himself every year before the tax board. They are all caked with perjury, many layers thick. Iron-clad, so to speak. If there is one that isn’t, I desire to acquire him for my museum, and will pay Dinosaur rates. (Mark Twain)

They can’t collect legal taxes from illegal money. (Al Capone)

I am willing to barter my nudity for your love. That way the IRS can’t tax our transaction. (Jarod Kintz)

There are no withholding taxes on the wages of sin. (Mae West)

The IRS spends God knows how much of your tax money on these toll-free information hot lines staffed by IRS employees, whose idea of a dynamite tax tip is that you should print neatly. If you ask them a real tax question, such as how you can cheat, they’re useless. (Dave Barry)

Guide to the Perplexed .

This is a question too difficult for a mathematician. It should be asked of a philosopher. (when asked about completing his income tax form) (Albert Einstein)

The devil appears in many forms, but the most nefarious of all are tax forms. (Jarod Kintz)

Of course the truth is that the congresspersons are too busy raising campaign money to read the laws they pass. The laws are written by staff tax nerds who can put pretty much any wording they want in there. I bet that if you actually read the entire vastness of the US Tax Code, you’d find at least one sex scene (“‘Yes, yes, YES!’ moaned Vanessa as Lance, his taut body moist with moisture, again and again depreciated her adjusted gross rate of annualized fiscal debenture”). (Dave Barry)

There is an ancient belief that the gods love the obscure and hate the obvious. Without benefit of divinity, modern men of similar persuasion draft provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. Section 341 is their triumph. (Martin D. Ginsburg)

You Will Pay .

A tax collector has what it takes to take what you have. (Anonymous)

The trick is to stop thinking of it as ‘your’ money. (Anonymous IRS auditor)

What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin. (Mark Twain)

Another difference between death and taxes is that you don’t have to work like fury to pay for the dying you did last year. (Robert Quillen)

He’s spending a year dead for tax reasons. (Douglas Adams)

The art of taxation consists of plucking the goose so as to obtain the most feathers with the least hissing. (Jean-Baptiste Colbert)

Where is the politician who has not promised to fight to the death for lower taxes- and who has not proceeded to vote for the very spending projects that make tax cuts impossible? (Barry Goldwater)

Taxes Are Necessary .

They’re so broke that they’ve actually cut essential services. In many places, they’ve cut policemen, because, who the f*ck needs them? Or firemen, son of a bitch, it’s much more fun watching something burn down. (Lewis Black)

Innovations in science and technology are the engines of the 21st-century economy; if you care about the wealth and health of your nation tomorrow, then you’d better rethink how you allocate taxes to fund science. The federal budget needs to recognize this. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

I hate paying taxes. But I love the civilization they give me.  (Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.)

If you have free trade and free circulation of capital and people but destroy the social state and all forms of progressive taxation, the temptations of defensive nationalism and identity politics will very likely grow stronger than ever in both Europe and the United States. Note, finally, that the less developed countries will be among the primary beneficiaries of a more just and transparent international tax system. (Thomas Piketty)

Just tell ’em you’re gonna soak the fat boys and forget the rest of the tax stuff…Willie, make ’em cry, make ’em laugh, make ’em mad, even mad at you. Stir them up and they’ll love it and come back for more, but, for heaven’s sakes, don’t try to improve their minds. (Robert Penn Warren, from “All the King’s Men”)

When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income. (Plato)

Drawing by Honore Daumier. Taxpayers carry money up the ramp to King Louis’s mouth. Documents granting privileges to the few are excreted into the commode below him. Photo credit: Honoré Daumier / Wikimedia

Grumbling .

The intelligent man, when he pays taxes, certainly does not believe that he is making a prudent and productive investment of his money; on the contrary, he feels that he is being mulcted in an excessive amount for services that, in the main, are useless to him, and that, in substantial part, are downright inimical to him. (H.L. Mencken)

To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical. (Thomas Jefferson)

In 1790, the nation which had fought a revolution against taxation without representation discovered that some of its citizens weren’t much happier about taxation with representation. (Lyndon B. Johnson)

Let your voice be heard, whether or not it is to the taste of every jack-in-office who may be obstructing the traffic. By all means, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s — but this does not necessarily include everything that he says is his. (Denis Johnston)

The collection of taxes which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare, is only a species of legalized larceny. (Calvin Coolidge)

Taxing The Rich — Go Ahead and Try .

We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes. (Leona Helmsley)

You can’t tax business. Business doesn’t pay taxes. It collects taxes. (Ronald Reagan)

Taxes are important. President Bush’s tax proposals leave no rich person behind. Voters approve of President Bush helping the kind of people they wish they were one of. (Andy Rooney)

President Bush said that if illegal immigrants want citizenship, they’d have to do three things: pay taxes, hold meaningful jobs, and learn English. Bush doesn’t meet those qualifications. (P. J. O’Rourke)

If Warren Buffett made his money from ordinary income rather than capital gains, his tax rate would be a lot higher than his secretary’s. In fact a very small percentage of people in this country pay a big chunk of the taxes. (Michael Bloomberg)

G.E. doesn’t pay any taxes, and we are asking college kids to take on even more debt to get an education and asking seniors to get by on less. These aren’t just economic questions. These are moral questions. (Elizabeth Warren)

Corporations barely pay taxes. The corporate tax rate is already very low, but corporations have worked out an array of complicated techniques so they often don’t have to pay taxes at all… The scale of sheer robbery by corporate power is enormous. (Noam Chomsky)

Nobody has been arrested on Wall Street for the crash of 2008. They’re not paying their fair share of the taxes. And now with the Citizens United case of the Supreme Court, they get to buy politicians up out in the open. (Michael Moore)

An unregulated derivatives market essentially gives Wall Street a way to place hidden taxes on everything in the world. (Matt Taibbi)

Once you realize that trickle-down economics does not work, you will see the excessive tax cuts for the rich as what they are — a simple upward redistribution of income, rather than a way to make all of us richer, as we were told. (Ha-Joon Chang)

Those who take their money abroad in an effort to avoid paying American taxes should lose their American citizenship. (Robert Reich)

US Government & Taxes .

Alexander Hamilton started the US Treasury with nothing and that was the closest our country has ever been to being even. (Will Rogers)

An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation. (John Marshall)

It is a way to take people’s wealth from them without having to openly raise taxes. Inflation is the most universal tax of all. (Thomas Sowell)

In a very weak economy, when you say ‘cut government spending,’ what you mean is you’re laying off school teachers and you’re de-funding various programs that put money into the economy. This means you have more unemployed people that then draw unemployment benefits and don’t pay taxes. (Fareed Zakaria)

[Obama] was highly praised, including by his supporters, for his statesmanlike attitude during the lame-duck session, bipartisanship, and getting legislation through. What did he get through? The main achievement was a huge tax cut for the extremely wealthy … Meanwhile, at the same time, he initiated a tax increase on federal workers. Of course, no one called it a tax increase. That doesn’t sound good. They called it a pay freeze. But a pay freeze on public-sector workers is exactly the same thing as a tax increase. So we punish public-sector workers and reward the executives of Goldman Sachs, who just announced a $17.5 billion compensation package for themselves. (Noam Chomsky)

The taxpayer: that’s someone who works for the federal government, but doesn’t have to take a civil service examination. (Ronald Reagan)

Texas & Taxes .

I just want Texas to be number one in something other than executions, toll roads and property taxes. (Kinky Friedman)

Texas has no income tax, which is a big draw for corporate executives who do business there. But it’s hardly tax-free. The property taxes are high for a Southern state. The sales taxes are high. One study found that the bottom 20 percent of the Texas population pays 12 percent of its income in state and local taxes. (Gail Collins)

These are tough times for state governments. Huge deficits loom almost everywhere, from California to New York, from New Jersey to Texas. Wait — Texas? Wasn’t Texas supposed to be thriving even as the rest of America suffered? Didn’t its governor declare during his re-election campaign, that ‘we have billions in surplus’? Yes, it was, and yes, he did. But reality has now intruded, in the form of a deficit expected to run as high as $25 billion over the next two years. And that reality has implications for the nation as a whole. For Texas is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting — the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending — has been implemented most completely. If the theory can’t make it there, it can’t make it anywhere. (Paul Krugman)

Related frontpage panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Mark Twain (A.F. Bradley / Wikimedia).

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Sanctuary Cities Under Attack

Tue, 2018-04-17 09:34
Scientists Accidentally Create Mutant Enzyme That Eats Plastic Bottles (Jimmy)

The author writes, “The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles. The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan.”

AT&T and Cable Lobby Are Terrified of a California Net Neutrality Bill (Jimmy)

The author writes, “Internet service providers celebrated four months ago when the Federal Communications Commission voted to eliminate nationwide net neutrality rules that prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. But now internet service providers in California are terrified that they could end up facing even stricter rules being considered by the California legislature.”

Syria and Gas Prices (Reader Steve)

Expect to see higher prices at the pump in the upcoming months, and not just because of the seasonal increase.

Pompeo: “Hundreds of Russians Killed in Syria” (Dan)

Mike Pompeo stated that “hundreds of Russians were killed in Syria” during his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State. Pompeo offered the report to show the Trump administration has indeed been hard on Russia and Vladimir Putin.

Social Media and Free Speech (Reader Steve)

Your profile may be personal, but it’s certainly not private. At least not from your employer or fellow employees.

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Still Gagged As Death Penalty Appeal Grinds On

Tue, 2018-04-17 06:50

As the fifth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing comes and goes, we can’t help but wonder what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev might have to say for himself — if he were allowed to speak.

For one thing, we’d like to ask him if he could fill in some details about his brother Tamerlan’s mysterious activities in the years leading up to the bombings — much of which the government continues to withhold as “classified.”

Dzhokhar is being held at the maximum-security federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado — known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” — under extreme confinement conditions called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs). He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2015 for his role in the bombing near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Tsarnaev is appealing his federal death penalty conviction. (All death penalty convictions are automatically appealed.)

Essentially a form of solitary confinement, SAMs prevent inmates from communicating with all but a few pre-approved individuals. Tsarnaev is not even allowed to communicate with other inmates in the facility. The government justifies the imposition of SAMs by pointing to the possibility that Tsarnaev could try to secretly communicate with criminal compatriots or incite violence of one kind or another.

It’s not clear who that might be, since the government insists that Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan acted on their own.

The few statements Dzhokhar made that we heard about actually sounded apologetic and remorseful in nature.

For instance, Sister Helen Prejean, Catholic nun and death penalty opponent, testified at trial that Tsarnaev “had pain in [his voice] when he said what he did, about how nobody deserves that. I think he was taking it in and he was genuinely sorry for what he did.” Prejean had met with Tsarnaev in jail multiple times over the course of two months.

United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility, Florence, Colorado. Photo credit: THE ENIGMATIC TRAVELER / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In a final statement in court, Tsarnaev said he “would like to now apologize to the victims, to the survivors,” and, “I am sorry for the lives I have taken, for the suffering that I have caused you, for the damage I have done — irreparable damage.”

Does this sound like what one would expect from an extremist hell-bent on inciting violence?

In justifying the imposition of the SAMs, prosecutors cited, in part, a phone conversation the defendant’s mother recorded and then played for the public “in an apparent effort to engender sympathy,” they wrote. The defense team characterized that concern as “telling.”

“While the government may not want anyone to feel ‘sympathy’ for Mr. Tsarnaev,” a defense motion reads, “that is not a proper basis to impose SAMs.”

Nonetheless, Tsarnaev can’t speak with members of the news media, although the reasoning for that comes across as a little overwrought:

Communication with the media could pose a substantial risk to public safety if the inmate advocates terrorist, criminal, and/or violent offenses, or if he makes statements designed to incite such acts. Based upon the inmate’s past behavior, I believe that it would be unwise to wait until after the inmate solicits or attempts to arrange a violent or terrorist act to justify such media restrictions.

The warden at the US Penitentiary in Florence recently refused our third interview request citing the SAMs. We’ve written previously about our efforts to interview Tsarnaev. Each time the request was denied. A second letter to Dzhokhar was also recently returned — unopened this time.

The warden suggested we take up the matter with “the US Attorney’s Office in the district he was sentenced in,” i.e. Boston. The US Attorney’s office in Boston has not responded.

Ironically, when we previously requested the underlying justification for the SAMs from the Department of Justice (DOJ), it refused to provide it because to “confirm or deny” the mere existence of SAMs would be a violation of Tsarnaev’s privacy.

Tsarnaev’s appellate team has until August to present its written brief opposing the decision of the lower court. A brief is the legal team’s argument about why the trial court’s decision was legally incorrect. The government then files its own brief responding to the appellant’s brief — which the appellant then responds to in a final brief. At that point the case will be fully “briefed” and would then move on to an oral arguments stage.

As far as how long all this will take? “That requires a bit of a crystal ball,” Cliff Gardner, one of Dzhokhar’s attorneys wrote in an email to WhoWhatWhy. Gardner could not guess how long it will take the government to file its brief, but did say that it is certain to be “long and complex.”

Whenever the actual appeal trial finally gets underway, the government will still be firmly in control of the narrative that is fed to the public about Dzhokhar.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (US Marshals Service / Wikimedia).

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April 16, 2018

Mon, 2018-04-16 23:00

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Pension Deficit Problems

Mon, 2018-04-16 09:40
Revealed: Secret Right Wing Strategy to Discredit Teacher Strikes (Gerry)

The author writes, “A nationwide network of right-wing think tanks is launching a PR counteroffensive against the teachers’ strikes that are sweeping the country, circulating a ‘messaging guide’ for anti-union activists that portrays the walkouts as harmful to low-income parents and their children.”

The Road to Jihad (Dan)

France’s Muslim population in the Parisian suburbs are often besieged by unemployment, vice, perceived racism, and general feelings of worthlessness. That’s why many turn to jihad, according to this article covering the ongoing court case for the 2015 Bataclan attack in Paris.

Tim Kaine Says He Won’t Back Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State (Jimmy)

The author writes, “Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) voted to confirm Mike Pompeo as CIA director, but he will oppose him as Secretary of State, citing the director’s ‘anti-diplomacy disposition.’”

Bolton’s National Security Shakeup (Dan)

President Trump’s new national security advisor John Bolton is cleaning house. And given Bolton’s record, that is worrisome.

Confusion Tops Voting Problems (Reader Steve)

Close to 250,000 California voters mismarked their ballots in 2016 due to the confusing layout. This year’s races in June could result in an even higher number.

Macron: I’ve ‘Convinced’ Trump to Stay in Syria (Dan)

Along with the UK, France took part with the US in bombing Syria’s alleged chemical weapons facilities. French president Emmanuel Macron has convinced President Trump that more needs to be done, and that the US should stay in Syria “long term.”

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Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Classified History

Mon, 2018-04-16 06:48

It’s been half a decade since two bombs exploded at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, yet the government continues to maintain a seemingly impenetrable wall of silence around what it knows about the primary instigator of the attack that traumatized a major city for nearly a week — bombing mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

It’s been four years since the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community wrote an “unclassified summary” of a report (IGIC Report) that laid out what federal agencies knew about Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the years leading up to the bombing. But most of that report — commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) — remains classified.

However, the inspectors general (IGs) expressed  their own displeasure with the level of secrecy veiling the final report: in its first few lines they asked for a review of the protocols — known as “classification and sensitivity designations” — used to withhold the majority of it.

In our ongoing efforts to make public as much as possible about the history of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, WhoWhatWhy requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) those classification designation reviews.

It’s now been more than two years — and we’re still waiting.

Tamerlan’s younger brother, Dzhokhar, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2015 for his role in the attack. He’s currently being held at the US government’s maximum-security penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police days after the bombing and many important details about his history died with him.

Tamerlan: ‘Known’ Wolf .

It’s understandable that much of the public assumes we’ve already learned all there is to know about the older Tsarnaev brother. After all, oceans of ink were spilled after the bombing on morbid human-interest stories describing how Tamerlan went from one-time immigrant success story — a Golden Gloves champion boxer — to a murderous monster filled with anger and resentment toward his adoptive country.

But as we’ve pointed out repeatedly, many of the facts the public learned about Tamerlan’s history with federal agencies were based on “leaks” to the media from anonymous law enforcement officials. In other words, most of what we know about him could be called the “unofficial record.”

Photo credit: Adopted by WhoWhatWhy from background (Jim Larrison / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), wolf statue (William Garrett / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), and J Edgar Hoover building (Cliff / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).

The FBI claims to have had no interest in Tamerlan until the Russians sent a warning in 2011 to the FBI and the CIA about his radicalization — suggesting that he might fly to Russia to engage in terrorist activity there. The Bureau said it conducted an assessment based on the warning, but concluded that he represented no danger. The assessment was closed six months later.

And yet, for some reason Tamerlan was watch-listed in multiple ways, at least one of which labeled him armed and dangerous and required a secondary screening of him if he tried to board an airplane. Nonetheless, Tamerlan flew to Russia months later, but that somehow didn’t trigger any second looks at the airport — by US or Russian officials. The strange fact that Russian officials allowed Tsarnaev to fly back to Russia — despite its purported concerns about him — hints at the possibility that Tsarnaev was part of some cat and mouse game between both country’s security services.

The 32-page unclassified summary of the IGIC Report — the official record — provides very little in the way of substance about Tamerlan’s interactions with federal agencies. Instead, it reaffirms a narrative that had already been developed by those leaks to the media in the early days of the investigation: Tamerlan slipped through the cracks, but not to worry, steps have been taken to ensure better “information sharing” between federal agencies. It’s not clear how information sharing would have prevented anything considering that all agencies involved deny knowing that he was becoming radicalized.

The trial didn’t tell us much about Tamerlan either. Prosecutors succeeded in preventing much of anything about the older brother being entered into evidence — and thereby kept him out of the official record.

There were a series of classified documents filed under seal with the court during the trial, presumably about Tamerlan, but those were never shared with Dzhokhar’s attorneys. They are similarly being withheld from his appellate attorneys, too.

The Non-Report .

The IGs who wrote the report suggest that the public will not be fully informed — that “[many of the activities and events that occurred during the period [prior to the Marathon bombing] cannot be included in this unclassified summary.” In fact, the first thing readers encounter is a sort of disclaimer that reads like a protest.

The IGs first tell us that we’re only getting 32 pages summarizing a 168-page report. Then, we are made aware that the:

Redactions in this document are the result of classification and sensitivity designations we received from agencies and departments that provided information to the [IGs] for this review. As to several of these classification and sensitivity designations, the [IGs] disagreed with the bases asserted. We are requesting that the relevant entities reconsider those designations so that we can unredact those portions and make this information available to the public [emphasis added].

It’s been four years since the IGs wrote that. We don’t even know if the reviews were ever conducted.

Forestalling of Information Act? .

WhoWhatWhy has been regularly emailing to follow up on this important request. Each time, we were told of the specific number of requests ahead of us “in the queue” (hundreds). At one point, we were told that if we narrowed the request “to just a new review of the document itself,” the DNI “would likely be able to respond sooner.”

Photo credit: Facebook and Dave Newman / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

We complied. We also requested, separately, “copies of the requests made by the [IGs] to the ‘relevant entities’ and their subsequent response regarding unredacting the information the [IGs] felt should be made public.”

It’s been a year and a half since we narrowed the request. And DNI has sent nothing. At one point, DNI stated they would provide no more estimates — which is highly irregular because they are obliged to provide good faith estimates.

In an effort to discover what progress, if any, the DNI’s FOIA office has made on our requests, we requested copies of the FOIA processing records produced so far — a FOIA of the FOIAs so to speak.

DNI’s response was as questionable as its “no more estimates” response. DNI claims that until the underlying requests about the IGIC Report are completed, it can’t process the request for FOIA processing records. Attorney and FOIA expert Kel McClanahan told WhoWhatWhy, “Oh that’s nuts … there’s no provision for that.”

WhoWhatWhy left multiple messages with the ODNI seeking comment. We have yet to hear back.

Regular Schmo or Secret Agent Man? .

The government has, by and large, succeeded in having it both ways with Tamerlan Tsarnaev. He was just a disgruntled loser, but everything in his history is withheld as a matter of “national security.”

In other words, the government had to simultaneously convince the public that Tamerlan and his brother were monsters with an obvious track record of incriminating behavior to back it all up, all the while maintaining they couldn’t possibly have predicted Tamerlan would do something so violent.

Consider, according to the IGs who wrote the unclassified summary report, that all of the information in the report — most of which remains classified — relates to “activities and events” that took place prior to the bombing.

Consider further, that the IGs complained in the document that they were being stonewalled by the FBI during their investigation, meaning there may be more “activities and events” that didn’t even make it into the classified portion.

WhoWhatWhy has submitted more than 85 FOIA requests seeking records about Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the bombing — the vast majority of which have been denied.

If Tamerlan was just some lone nut, wouldn’t the government want to dump all it knows about him out in the public? Why is everything about him still “classified” five years later?

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Tamerlan (Facebook), paper (macfly / Pixabay), and files (The National Archives UK / Wikimedia).

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Farewell to a Hypocrite

Sun, 2018-04-15 06:39

De’Quanda Jackson stands for many of the things conservatives don’t like about the way the US operates these days. She began getting government checks from the time she was 16 and used the money to go to college. Taking advantage of her personal connections, Jackson then scored a government job. After working on and off in different positions there — interspersed with brief stints in the private sector — she finally got a cushy job in Washington and kept drawing a government paycheck for the next 20 years. A lot of the people she worked with couldn’t name a single productive thing she did in all that time. On the contrary. Now at age 48, she will retire and get a nice pension for the rest of her life.

Actually, we made up De’Quanda Jackson. The above paragraph, however, accurately sums up the career of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced his retirement this week — praised by the same conservatives who complain about ineffective taxpayer-funded programs, entitlements, and lazy government workers.

Obviously, the point of this little exercise is not to suggest that Ryan shouldn’t have gotten all that taxpayer money he received. For example, his father died when he was 16 and, subsequently, he was eligible for and collected Social Security benefits. Ryan used that money to pay for college.

That’s exactly what is supposed to happen. His family was dealt a blow and lost a source of income. Fortunately, there was a government program that helped young Paul Ryan go to college. Without that money, that might not have happened and he would have been denied the opportunity to become House Speaker. No matter how you feel about his politics, the system worked to assist a deserving young man.

So this isn’t about Ryan being a “burden to the taxpayer.” Rather, it’s about him being a huge hypocrite because he has spent his entire career in government trying to deny others the same opportunities he had.

Ryan’s biggest regret is probably that he didn’t completely gut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying. And because his crowning achievement — passing last year’s “tax reform” legislation — will permanently rack up huge deficits, Republicans will keep trying to make his dream come true by “balancing out” the money they need to give to corporations by making cuts to “entitlement” programs.

It’s entirely fitting that Ryan is calling it quits to cash in right after shepherding a tax cut for the rich through Congress. The big question everybody is asking: what’s he  going to do now?

We have some suggestions for potential jobs based on his experience and passions:

  • Anything the Koch brothers want.
  • Truck driver for major corporations so that he can drive truckloads full of money through the loopholes in the tax code he created.
  • Working in the claims denial department of an insurance company.
  • A job in a school cafeteria where he can make funs of kids getting subsidized lunches.
  • Literally throwing old people under buses.

Whatever it is that he will be doing next, it would save taxpayers some money if he would do it right now.

According to congressional rules, the pension of a lawmaker “depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary.” In Ryan’s case, he got a huge pay increase after he was elected as House Speaker in October 2015. That means, if he leaves office before that date, his pension would be noticeably smaller because, as Speaker, he makes $50,000 more per year than rank-and-file members.

Therefore, if Ryan were to retire now, his pension would be calculated based on a three-year average of $207,000. If he serves out this lame-duck term, however, the pension would be based on an average of $223,500. We’re not holding our breath because, for Ryan and others like him, it always seems to be easier to preach something than to practice it.  

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Paul Ryan caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), cafeteria (U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr), and sign (USDA).

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Why Segregation Persists 50 Years After Fair Housing Act

Sat, 2018-04-14 06:30

As with most achievements of the civil rights era, the legacy of the Fair Housing Act, which turned 50 on Wednesday, is equivocal. Housing segregation has improved over the years, but the advances are a far cry from the grandiose promises made in 1968.

“Fair housing for all — all human beings who live in this country — is now a part of the American way of life,” President Lyndon B. Johnson announced when he signed the bill into law.

Though housing segregation as a whole dropped by 23 percent in the 50 years after the law passed, it only dipped by 8 percent for black Americans, who remain far more vulnerable to the trend than other groups.

The dissimilarity index, a standard measure of neighborhood segregation, is highest — in some cases near or above 0.85 — in metro areas such as Milwaukee, Detroit, New York, Chicago, and Newark. (An index of 0.85, in practical terms, means that 85 percent of African Americans would need to relocate for these regions to achieve a racially equal composition).

But segregation is as much a social phenomenon as it is a legally enforced one. Black tenants have been conditioned to rely on heuristics when choosing a habitat. Decades of discrimination have trained them to prioritize familiarity, kinship, and convenience. Even when given the opportunity to integrate, they have often turned it down.

Such was the case when the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created the “Moving to Opportunity” program two decades ago, which provided black public housing tenants with vouchers to relocate to middle-class and affluent neighborhoods. The initiative was intended to equip disadvantaged black kids with the same resources as their wealthier, white counterparts — namely, with high-performing schools and better employment prospects. Yet studies showed that many tenants chose to further segregate by using the vouchers to move from public housing to other impoverished but predominantly black districts where they felt there would be less discrimination.

Economist Jonathan Zasloff, co-author of the forthcoming book Moving Toward Integration, proposes mobility grants to reduce housing segregation. Unlike the vouchers employed by HUD, these grants would explicitly focus on integration, and can be rewarded to both poor whites and poor blacks willing to inhabit a neighborhood previously dominated by the other race. While a measure of this scope won’t instantly reverse segregation, Zasloff said, it could set an important precedent and diminish the phenomenon in cities with high dissimilarity indices.

Watch the videos below to learn more about why segregation has persisted in mostly-black neighborhoods.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from LBJ and MLK (LBJ Library) and HUD.

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DOJ Blocks Legal Aid to Immigrants Facing Deportation

Fri, 2018-04-13 11:13
Jeremy Corbyn Calls Out Syria Warmongering (Jimmy)

The UK Labour Party leader released a statement on Facebook calling out the UK government for waiting on instructions from President Donald Trump, while receiving contradictory signals from the US. “The need to restart genuine negotiations for peace and an inclusive political settlement of the Syrian conflict, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces, could not be more urgent.”

Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis (Jimmy)

The New York Times writes, “The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America.”

Major Papers Urge Trump to Kill Syrians, Risk World War III (Reader Luke)

Instead of calling for caution and further analysis, major US newspapers are beating the war drums. Should anyone be surprised?

Where Are All the US Oligarchs With Links to Washington? (Reader Luke)

The author writes, “Here’s a phrase I haven’t heard from any of the purportedly progressive hosts on MSNBC: ‘A US oligarch with links to Washington.’ That avoidance is revealing when one considers an indisputable fact: US oligarchs have done far more to undermine US democracy than any Russian.”

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