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Amped Status's List: Government & Politics

  • about 19 hours ago

    "Riad explained, in rudimentary English, that his punishment had followed a pay dispute with CoreCivic, the billion-dollar prison corporation that runs the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, where he was being held. The amount in question was $8.

    Riad’s account marks the latest instance in which CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, stands accused of using the punishing conditions of solitary confinement to manage its detainee labor program, which pays detainees well below minimum wage for jobs that keep its facilities running.

    Other instances of CoreCivic using isolation to punish detainee workers are detailed in a class-action lawsuit filed in Georgia this week, which claims that CoreCivic’s operations at Stewart amount to a “deprivation scheme intended to force detained immigrants to work for nearly free.” Punishment, including solitary confinement, is used to ensure work gets done, the suit alleges."

  • about 19 hours ago

    "A number of security gaps in the Treasury Department’s financial reporting system could leave the door open for online bad actors to tamper with the government’s spending data, a congressional watchdog found.

    The Government Accountability Office uncovered eight different flaws in the system used by the department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service to check the accuracy of the annual financial reports it publishes for every government agency.

    The new flaws, when combined with a handful of unresolved issues GAO previously identified within the bureau, could “increase the risk of unauthorized access to, modification of, or disclosure of sensitive data and programs and disruption of critical operations,” investigators wrote in a report published Tuesday.

    The Fiscal Service Bureau is responsible for keeping tabs on the government’s debt and monitoring agencies’ revenue, spending, obligations and other fiscal behavior. Treasury relies on the bureau’s annual reports to inform decisions on managing debt, paying out interest and allocating temporary funds to agencies.

    Though the shortcomings they uncovered didn’t affect the agency’s federal debt report in 2017, auditors said future inaccuracies could go undetected.

    Of the eight flaws revealed in the audit, four could be exploited to illegally access and change financial data and resources, three could potentially allow for unauthorized changes to hardware and software security, and one involved the bureau’s risk management system. While no one glitch amounted to a major threat on its own, they collectively represent “a significant deficiency” in the bureau’s internal controls, GAO said.

    Addressing these issues require the bureau to increase its focus on determining what risks exist in its system, designing controls to address the risks, and measuring the success of those controls, the report said.

    Investigators also found the bureau had yet to fully correct 15 different deficiencies GAO identified in previous audits, including some the bureau said had already been addressed. The watchdog gave 10 recommendations for fixing new and existing issues in a separate report that was not made public.

    In response to the restricted report, the bureau said, “it would continue to look for efficient and effective ways to improve and ensure the consistent application of agency-wide security controls over all systems.”"

  • about 19 hours ago

    "The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s acting director, Mick Mulvaney, warned staffers not to leak information about the bureau’s enforcement work, a move aimed at tamping down what he has called “ideologues and activists” inside the agency."

  • about 20 hours ago

    "An investigation by ProPublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer found numerous cases in which ICE agents and police officers allegedly engaged in racial profiling, conducted warrantless searches, detained people without probable cause, fabricated evidence, and, in this one extreme instance, solicited a bribe.

    But in none of these cases have agents or officers been put on the stand to respond to the allegations.

    The conduct of arresting officers is rarely scrutinized in the overwhelmed immigration courts, which focus squarely on whether arrested individuals should be removed from the United States. While deportation proceedings are civil, they afford immigrants fewer rights than criminal defendants to challenge their apprehensions.

    Noncitizens have a considerable range of protections under the Constitution; if arrested for a crime like robbery or assault, they, like citizens, are protected against unlawful searches and seizures, and against self-incrimination.

    Yet immigrants facing removal, unlike criminal suspects, do not have the right to a government-provided lawyer. And without a lawyer — two-thirds of immigration detainees didn’t have one last year — they are highly unlikely to contest the validity of their arrests. They are also 10 times less likely to win their cases. And if they get deported, any allegations of law enforcement abuses disappear along with them.

  • Apr 19, 18

    "Peter Thiel's data-mining company Palantir has been working with local police forces and ICE for federal funding—including giving law enforcement information to “identify and deter people likely to commit crimes” and preemptively stop them, according to Bloomberg. Palantir started working with the Los Angeles Police Department in 2009 on a system that generates “a list of people the department defines as chronic offenders.” The list is given out to officers who are told to stop or monitor these chronic offenders, often using “jaywalking or fix-it tickets” as an excuse. Information from the tickets is then added to the database, creating a rich system of connections and profiles all available to police without a warrant. In 2016, the LAPD arrested a man for having connections to the 18th Street gang—even though he wasn't a member. The man claims he’s been “stopped more than a dozen times” since. ICE reportedly detained two men in Chicago based on “erroneous information in gang databases” that Palantir likely had a role in. Palantir’s systems were used by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to “integrate information from at least 14 different databases,” including gang lists. The company also has a “$41 million data-mining contract” with ICE."

  • Apr 10, 18

    "Earlier today, Edelman filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the government agency that protects federal employees from improper personnel practices, especially reprisals for whistle-blowing. In the complaint, Edelman and his attorneys—John Tye, of the nonprofit law firm Whistleblower Aid, and Michael Ronickher, of the firm Constantine Cannon—argue that Edelman’s decision to circulate the photographs was based on his “reasonable belief that he was reporting evidence of criminal corruption, obstruction of justice, and ethics violations by officials within the Department of Energy,” including Perry. In Edelman’s view, Perry had run afoul of the “Fourteen Principles of Ethical Conduct for Federal Employees,” which forbid “preferential treatment to any private organization or individual” and “unauthorized commitments or promises of any kind purporting to bind the Government.” In a statement, a spokeswoman for Perry noted that “industry and other stakeholders visit the Department of Energy on a daily basis.” She called Edelman’s assertions “ridiculous.”"

  • Apr 10, 18

    "About 90 percent of state judges face some kind of election. States turned to judicial elections with the best intentions in the 19th century. As I explained in my book The People’s Courts, Americans had witnessed the problems with partisan judicial appointments to relatively short terms. Judges had remained captured by party bosses and politicians, and they were unwilling to stand up to the abuses by the political branches. American reformers thought the elections would promote judicial independence by insulating judges from partisanship.

    Their naivete is on display throughout American today.

    Instead of judges beholden to the inside politics of appointment and reappointment, they are now beholden to special interests, campaign financiers, and the manipulations of negative advertising. Competitive state supreme court races usually cost many millions of dollars, often raised from parties with pending cases or interest groups with something at stake in those cases. And many states have partisan elections, which makes those judges reliant on partisan support.

    Reformers have tried to address this problem by adopting non-partisan election systems. For example, Wisconsin has multiple judicial candidates run in a non-partisan open primary to select two candidates for a general election with no party labels. These efforts have also backfired.  One of the main problems with judicial elections is that voters do not know enough about the candidates to make a meaningful choice. But as long as voters already have so little information, removing the party identification from the ballot gives voters even less information. A “D” or an “R” by a name might not very helpful, but party labels do give us at least a good hint about the candidates’ leanings on major questions. If you take that hint away, it turns out that voters depend on worse signals: first and last names as a hint about sex, race, and ethnicity. Voters choose names that are familiar, not foreign. They sometimes pick judges who happen to have the same names as celebrities and sports heroes.

    These type of non-partisan reforms also backfire by forcing candidates to replace the party ID signal with even more advertising, and even nastier campaigns, funded by even more special interest money. If they can’t reply on the party label hint, they choose to try to destroy their opponents’ reputations."

  • Apr 07, 18

    "Mick Mulvaney, President Trump's appointee to oversee the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has given big pay raises to the deputies he has hired to help him run the agency, according to salary records.

    Mulvaney has hired at least eight political appointees since he took over the bureau in late November. Four of them are making $259,500 a year, and one is making $239,595. That is more than the salaries of members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries and nearly all federal judges apart from those who sit on the Supreme Court.

    The salary records came as part of a records request submitted by the Associated Press this year.

    While most of the federal government follows a universal pay scale, some government agencies and departments have gotten waivers to use their own separate pay scales. One of those agencies is the Federal Reserve, the nation's central bank. Since the CFPB is technically part of the Federal Reserve, its employees get paid at a higher scale than their general government counterparts.

    The top salary under the general federal government pay scale is $134,776, not including adjustments for the higher cost of living in areas such as New York City or Washington, D.C., according to the Office of Personnel Management. The top pay bracket for a Federal Reserve employee is $250,000.

    Mulvaney, as Trump's budget director, has long railed against government spending. One of his first directives as acting CFPB director was to announce he needed zero dollars in funding to run the agency, pledging to spend down the bureau's surplus fund this quarter before requiring more money from the Fed. (The CFPB is funded by the Fed and not through the traditional congressional budget process.)

    In his Jan. 17 letter to the Fed, Mulvaney said he was asking for zero dollars because of the need to be "responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars." But that tight-fisted approach apparently was not used with his staff's salaries.

    Kirsten Mork, Mulvaney's chief of staff, got a significant bump in pay for going to work at the CFPB. She made $167,300 in her job working for Rep. Jeb Hensarling on the House Financial Services Committee, according to LegiStorm, a website that tracks congressional salary data. She now makes $259,500 as chief of staff of the CFPB, according to bureau records."

  • Apr 07, 18

    "Beyond the committee’s questionable investigatory procedures and conclusions, however, lay a more concerning prospect in our system of separated powers: the abdication of Congress’ rightful and vital oversight duties. The HPSCI investigation lay bare the trend towards rank partisanship in congressional oversight, exemplified by an unwillingness to remove Chairman Nunes from the reins of power. Nunes, a Trump partisan and member of Trump’s transition team, pantomimed recusal from control while a bad-faith ethics investigation reached the conclusion most favorable to keeping Nunes in his position.

    Three years ago one of us wrote a report anticipating this breakdown in the HPSCI, and found that its institutional failings go beyond partisanship."...

    HPSCI is an unusually concentrated microcosm of congressional decay. The committee was created as the public’s window into the workings of the intelligence community, which is by its nature secretive, to ensure accountability and prevent executive and agency overreach. HPSCI is unusually dependent on the party center, and thus leadership support, since—unusually for Congress—its members are chosen solely by the speaker and minority leader. This fundamental difference is not the only abnormal committee rule under which HPSCI operates.
    Unlike other committees, HPSCI members cannot avail themselves of the full measure of advice from their personal office staff, as personal staff lack sufficient security clearances. Moreover, committee staff—who are already too few in number—are chosen solely by the chair and ranking member, and are bound by loyalty to leadership. (By contrast, the Senate Intelligence Committee has some staff chosen by individual members of the committee). Civil society, which provides useful advice and assistance to other committees, is largely locked out of its indispensable auxiliary role. Accordingly, HPSCI Committee members are at the mercy of committee leadership and their staff, who are at the mercy of the speaker and minority leader. It is an upside-down pyramid balancing on a pinpoint that rests on a high wire.

    The need for congressional oversight

    Congress has the constitutional obligation to review, monitor, and supervise federal agencies. Oversight is a major means by which Congress can learn about and check the power of the executive branch, which has grown enormously in size and power. Even the mere threat of congressional oversight provides an active deterrent against agencies overstepping their statutory bounds. But this threat must be credible to work, and HPSCI’s behavior of late is best described as lacking credibility.

    Why the breakdown matters

    Congressional oversight is a primary mechanism for protecting individual liberty by providing a check on the executive branch and review of its interstitial decisions. The undermining of oversight is a catalyst for, and byproduct of, political partisanship. It incentivizes parties to run interference in investigations against their party for political purposes, and present committee reports that are used primarily as campaign messaging tools. Through these means it offers partisan actors another avenue to sow distrust in our political system.

    While HPSCI is an outlier in many ways, it is the canary in the coal mine for Congress’s ability to acquit itself in the most serious of matters. The list of this most recent investigation’s breakdowns are many: Chairman Nunes retaining control of the committee; Steve Bannon ignoring the committee’s subpoena; multiple witnesses inappropriately invoking executive privilege; the failure to call key witnesses; and the unbelievable drama around the (plural) committee reports.

  • Apr 07, 18

    "Now that Tillerson has been fired, the vaunted "Redesign" initiative he launched faces an uncertain future, but at least one clear legacy: around $12 million spent just for private consultants who in some cases charged the State Department more than $300 an hour.

    The figures, included in materials obtained by POLITICO and confirmed in part by a State Department spokesperson, have not previously been reported. Most of the money has gone to the consulting firm Deloitte as part of a pre-existing federal contract whose ceiling was lifted to $265 million, an indication of the redesign’s ambitions."....

    “I believe we must look into how taxpayer money was spent on this botched project and will continue to call for the committee to examine these issues in open hearings in the near future,” New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. Menendez also blasted the State Department for a “lack of transparency” and refusal to share information with his panel.

    Congressional aides and former State Department officials noted that, despite months of work, Tillerson’s redesign initiative has had few, if any, tangible accomplishments. Some pointed out that the spending on consultants happened amid cost-cutting measures at State, including efforts to downsize its staff. Some also said that rather than rely on an army of high-priced consultants, Tillerson could have turned to public sources that would cost taxpayers nothing....

    One sign of the scope of change Tillerson envisioned was the decision to raise the cap of the existing State Department contract with Deloitte from nearly $140 million to $265 million, in large part to cover the redesign costs. (Experts warned that contract ceilings are more of a budgetary gimmick and are often not reached.)

  • Apr 03, 18

    "There have also been repeated efforts within federal agencies to chill employee speech, including increased investigations against “leakers” and mandatory agency “anti-leak” trainings. Other efforts, like the NDAs, illegally violate laws that supersede gags on employees’ rights to blow the whistle.

    The Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, the National Park Service, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency have sought to ban employees from making statements or providing documents to the public or journalists. Last fall, the EPA barred three of its scientists from speaking at a press conference and workshop about the effects of climate change on the health of the Narragansett Bay. At the end of 2017, the Washington Post reported that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials implemented a “word ban” allegedly prohibiting policy analysts from using certain terms, including “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based,” in budget documents given to the CDC’s partner organizations and to Congress. (The agency denied the accusations.) Most recently, the Department of Justice issued a memo prohibiting its employees from communicating with members of Congress or their staff without first consulting with the DOJ’s Office of Legislative Affairs.

    These gags are shameless legal bluffs. Without explicit reference to the primacy of employees’ whistleblower protections, none are legal or appropriate."

  • Apr 03, 18

    "Discovered by a security researcher last week, the files confirm that AggregateIQ, a British Columbia-based data firm, developed the technology Cambridge Analytica sold to clients for millions of dollars during the 2016 US presidential election. Hundreds if not thousands of pages of code, as well as detailed notes signed by AggregateIQ staff, wholly substantiate recent reports that Cambridge Analytica’s software platform was not its own creation.

    What’s more, the files reveal that AggregateIQ—also known as “AIQ”—is the developer behind campaign apps created for Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, as well as a Ukrainian steel magnate named Serhiy Taruta, head the country’s newly formed Osnova party....

    AIQ is bound by an non-disclosure agreement the company signed in 2014 to take on former client SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, according to a source with direct knowledge of the contract.

    In an interview over the weekend with London’s The Observer, Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistleblower, claimed that he helped establish AIQ years ago in an effort to help SCL Group expand its data operations. Silvester denied that Wylie was ever involved on that level, but admits that Wylie helped AIQ land its first big contract.

    “We did some work with SCL and had a contract with them in 2014 for some custom software development,” Silvester told Gizmodo. “We last worked with SCL in 2016 and have not worked with them since.”...

    AIQ’s contract with SCL, a portion of which was published by The Guardian last year, stipulates that SCL is the sole owner of the intellectual property pertaining to the contract—namely, the development of Ripon, Cambridge Analytica’s campaign platform.

    The find led UpGuard to unearth a code repository on AIQ’s website. Within it were countless files linking AIQ to the Ripon program, as well as notes related to active projects for Cruz, Abbott, and the Ukrainian oligarch....

    In an internal wiki, AIQ developers also discussed a project known as The Database of Truth, a system that “integrates, obtains, and normalizes data from disparate sorces, including starting with the RNC Data Trust.” (RNC Data Trust is the Republican party’s primary voter file provider.) “The primary data source will be combined with state voter files, consumer data, third party data providers, historical WPA survey and projects and customer data.”

    The Database of Truth, according to the wiki, is a project under development for WPA Intelligence....

    Known as Project Ripon, Cambridge Analytica’s goal was to furnish Republican candidates with a technology platform capable of reaching voters through the use of psychological profiling. (SCL Group has long used behavioral research to conduct “influence operations” on behalf of military and political clients worldwide.)

    Cambridge Analytica, which eventually chose AIQ to help build its platform, once boasted that it possessed files on as many as 230 million Americans compiled from thousands of data points, including psychological data harvested from social media, as well as commercial data available to virtually anyone who can afford it.

  • Apr 03, 18

    "Every agency that is tasked with serving human needs would be cut. Health and Human Services by 21 percent and Education by 10.5 percent. Even a much touted $5 billion expenditure over five years to combat the opioid epidemic is a pittance of what’s needed, according to advocates. This crisis is killing over 60,000 people a year, with the most severe impact to communities of color.

    To make matters worse, Trump’s budget doesn’t consider the $300 billion in congressional spending increases that he approved three days before releasing his budget. It also grossly underplays the impact of the $1.5 trillion tax cut at the end of 2017, by assuming consistent year over year growth rates that the U.S. economy hasn’t experienced in decades and is unlikely to ever achieve again."

  • Apr 03, 18

    "The story is that Cambridge Analytica, once directed by Steve Bannon, by shoplifting Facebook profiles to bend your brain, is some unique "bad apple" of the cyber world.

    That's a dangerously narrow view. In fact, the dark art of dynamic psychometric manipulation in politics was not pioneered by Cambridge Analytica for Trump, but by i360 Themis, the operation founded by… no points for guessing… the Brothers Koch.

    Mark Swedlund, himself an expert in these tools, explained in the film The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, that i360 dynamically tracks you on 1800 behaviors, or as Swedlund graphically puts it [see clip above],

    "They know the last time you downloaded porn and
    whether you ordered Chinese food before you voted."
    Swedlund adds his expert conclusion: "I think that’s creepy."

    The Koch operation and its competitor, DataTrust, use your credit card purchases, cable TV choices and other personal info — which is far more revealing about your inner life than the BS you put on your Facebook profile. Don’t trust DataTrust: This cyber-monster is operated by Karl Rove, "Bush’s Brain," who is principally funded by Paul Singer, the far Right financier better known as The Vulture.

    Way too much is made of the importance of Cambridge Analytica stealing data through a phony app. If you’ve ever filled out an online survey, Swedlund told me, they’ve got you — legally."

  • Apr 03, 18

    "Our nation’s 73 federal inspectors general are tasked with rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse, helping to oversee hundreds of billions of dollars in spending. Their findings and recommendations represent a “to-do list” for Congress as it considers reforms to government programs and changes to federal law.

    The inspectors general also play a critical oversight role through careful and detailed examinations of potential wrongdoing by government officials. The Department of Justice investigation that was criticized in the President’s tweet fits squarely into the normal role of the inspector general.

    Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, has long supported the inspectors general, and specifically their role as independent watchdogs outside of the political fray. The original Inspector General Act of 1978 clearly mandated that an inspector general would not be beholden to a presidential administration, but instead chosen “without regard to political affiliation.” Unlike other Senate-confirmed agency heads, inspectors general remain on the job when the administration ends. More recently enacted legislation further strengthened and detailed inspector general independence. For example, the inspectors general now have more budget independence, as well as clearer authority to access documents and information free from agency interference.

    "

  • Apr 01, 18

    "For all of the attention that we pay to our constitutional rights, we devote stunningly little attention to the more legalistic — but no less important — topic of how those rights are enforced. And as a largely unnoticed ruling last week by the full United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit demonstrates, the Supreme Court has quietly made it all but impossible for most victims of constitutional violations by the federal government to obtain relief.

    Not only is this development antithetical to the core purpose of having an independent judiciary, but it will almost certainly lead to more unconstitutional conduct by even the most well-meaning federal officers, who, in most cases, no longer have to seriously worry about the specter of judicial review."

  • Mar 31, 18

    "The nonpartisan, nonprofit National Institute on Money in State Politics promotes an accountable democracy by compiling comprehensive campaign-donor, lobbyist, and other information from government disclosure agencies nationwide and making it freely available at FollowTheMoney.org."

  • Mar 30, 18

    "The FBI issues thousands of NSLs each year. They are controversial in part because they carry the force of law but are created entirely outside the judicial system: To issue one, an FBI official just needs to attest that the information sought is relevant to a national security investigation. The letters have also been criticized because they are shrouded in secrecy. Companies that receive them are for the most part forbidden from notifying their customers or the public. The government has fought to keep even basic rules governing them secret.

    The FBI’s internal guidelines suggest that the bureau uses the letters to demand sensitive information on email transactions — even though the Justice Department has specifically advised the FBI that it does not have the authority to use the letters this way. The documents also indicate that the FBI can use national security letters to surveil a “community of interest” by obtaining information from a business about a customer and every person that customer has contacted. This is a controversial practice that the bureau once halted amid scrutiny. But the documents reveal that a secretive unit that mines phone records can still initiate such requests."

  • Mar 30, 18

    "The FBI issues thousands of NSLs each year. They are controversial in part because they carry the force of law but are created entirely outside the judicial system: To issue one, an FBI official just needs to attest that the information sought is relevant to a national security investigation. The letters have also been criticized because they are shrouded in secrecy. Companies that receive them are for the most part forbidden from notifying their customers or the public. The government has fought to keep even basic rules governing them secret.

    The FBI’s internal guidelines suggest that the bureau uses the letters to demand sensitive information on email transactions — even though the Justice Department has specifically advised the FBI that it does not have the authority to use the letters this way. The documents also indicate that the FBI can use national security letters to surveil a “community of interest” by obtaining information from a business about a customer and every person that customer has contacted. This is a controversial practice that the bureau once halted amid scrutiny. But the documents reveal that a secretive unit that mines phone records can still initiate such requests."

  • Mar 30, 18

    "From first class plane tickets to a lobbyist-subsidized condo, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems intent on squeezing every luxury perk he can get out of his government job.

    Our investigations into Scott Pruitt’s mismanagement of the EPA have uncovered deep ties to energy and chemical companies, numerous meetings with industry lobbyists, and wasteful spending on pricey office upgrades."

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