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Amped Status's List: Government & Politics

  • Feb 23, 18

    "The state of Missouri has engaged in a wide-ranging scheme — involving code names and envelopes stuffed with cash — to hide the fact that it paid a troubled pharmacy for the drugs it used to execute inmates.

    Procuring execution drugs has become almost impossible, as major pharmaceutical companies stopped making them or refused to provide them for capital punishment. Missouri itself faced a crisis in early 2014, when the previous pharmacy it had been using was exposed in the press and stopped providing the state with drugs. Scrambling, Missouri found a new pharmacy and stockpiled the lethal injection drug pentobarbital, enabling it to set a record pace for executions, scheduling one a month for more than a year.

    To hide the identity of the new pharmacy, the state has taken extraordinary steps. It uses a code name for the pharmacy in its official documents. Only a handful of state employees know the real name. The state fought at least six lawsuits to stop death row inmates and the press from knowing the pharmacy’s identity. Even the way Missouri buys and collects the drugs is cloak-and-dagger: The state sends a high-ranking corrections officer to a clandestine meeting with a company representative, exchanging an envelope full of cash for vials of pentobarbital. Since 2014, Missouri has spent more than $135,000 in such drug deals."...

    BuzzFeed News can reveal the supplier: Foundation Care, a 14-year-old pharmacy based in the suburbs of St. Louis that has been repeatedly found to engage in hazardous pharmaceutical procedures and whose cofounder has been been accused of regularly ordering prescription medications for himself without a doctor’s prescription. Late last year, Foundation Care was sold to a subsidiary of health care giant Centene Corporation. Before publication of this story, Centene declined to comment; after publication, it said that under its ownership, “Foundation Care has never supplied, and will never supply any pharmaceutical product to any state for the purpose of effectuating executions.”

    According to two sources with knowledge of the matter, Missouri used Foundation Care’s drugs for 17 executions. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because of strict state laws that prohibit disclosing or publishing the identity of the supplier.

    Foundation Care is what is known as a compounding pharmacy, one that mixes specialty drugs that are not readily available on the market. These pharmacies are more loosely regulated than traditional manufacturers, and slipshod practices at some of them have led to tainted drugs and deadly disease outbreaks.

    Death row inmates fear that drugs prepared by such pharmacies could result in a painful and protracted death.

    According to more than 900 pages of court records and regulatory findings, as well as interviews with more than half a dozen people familiar with the company, Foundation Care has been accused of multiple problems.

    In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration inspected the pharmacy after a patient who took a drug supplied by Foundation Care developed pneumonia. The FDA found that the pharmacy was not testing all of its drugs for sterility and bacterial contamination, and it uncovered a lab report that indicated a vial of the pharmacy’s drugs had, in fact, been contaminated with bacteria. After initially denying that the vial was tainted with bacteria, the executives later insisted that they had purposefully infected it as part of a test, a story the FDA did not accept.
    In 2013, the FDA designated Foundation Care a “high-risk” pharmacy, and when FDA agents showed up to inspect it, the company’s CEO tried to block them from entering and threatened legal action. Inspectors, who ultimately gained access, found “multiple examples” of lax procedures that the agency warned “could lead to contamination of drugs, potentially putting patients at risk.”
    Two former senior employees — including the head of pharmacy operations — have alleged in a lawsuit that Foundation Care violated state or federal regulations by reselling drugs returned by patients, purposefully omitting the names of ingredients in drugs it prepared, and failing to notify other states about a $300,000 settlement with Kansas over allegations of Medicaid fraud. The suit also accuses one of the pharmacy’s founders of “regularly and frequently” ordering prescription medications for himself without a prescription, a crime that carries up to a year behind bars. One of the employees alleged that during a dispute with the founders, she was held against her will and feared she would be physically struck. Foundation Care and its founders have denied the allegations, and the suit is ongoing.
    A suit by another former employee, a pharmacy tech, alleges that she complained to her supervisors and the Missouri Board of Pharmacy about “serious operational violations.” The employee alleged she was fired shortly after filing her complaint. The company denied the allegations and settled with the employee out of court.

  • Feb 23, 18

    "There exists little evidence of what the American Life Sciences Innovation Council does, beyond giving out its “champion” award. There is also scant information about who supports the group: Because it is a nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization, it does not need to disclose to the public who funds its activities, and by how much.

    To experts, however, ALSIC bears the signs of an industry-backed operation: It has no full-time staff, lists as its address a UPS Store in Washington, D.C., and has a five-person board of directors with deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry. The last public event touted on the group’s thin website was in February 2012.

    This obscure organization, and the even more obscure award it hands out, offer a revealing glimpse into a decidedly not obscure phenomenon: powerful industries and interests seeking to influence Washington politics. Sometimes that is done through lobbying campaigns — and sometimes it is done by other, more creative means."...

    Though there are several indications that ALSIC is linked to the pharmaceutical industry, because of its status as a 501(c)(4) organization, information that would comprehensively reveal the extent to which industry interests support the group is not available to the public.

    (Public records do show that, in 2011, ALSIC received a $935,000 grant from the Council for American Medical Innovation, another Washington-based 501(c)(4) organization that shares an agenda friendly to the pharmaceutical industry.)

    Because of the lack of conclusive information about funding, it’s impossible to say how deeply linked ALSIC and pharmaceutical interests are. To money-in-politics experts, however, ALSIC’s characteristics are common among industry-backed “social welfare organizations” with political agendas.

    Robert Maguire, who researches political nonprofits at the Center for Responsive Politics, says he looks for several signs when considering a nonprofit’s links to a specific interest, including a “small board with ties to an industry in particular,” disbursements to consulting firms tied to members of the board, “no clear social welfare or trade association function beyond one small set of things,” and the lack of regular office space or paid staff. “It seems like this group has a lot of these characteristics,” Maguire says....

    Indeed, the pharmaceutical industry already spends a fortune on lobbying campaigns in Washington, and funding campaigns of members of Congress. It spent $277 million on lobbying in 2017 — its most ever — and over $100 million more than the next biggest-spending industry, insurance, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending.

    CRP finds that the “pharmaceutical and health products” industry has given over $10 million to candidates for the 2018 election cycle. Paulsen has received the sixth-most of any U.S. House member — a total of $133,000 — in campaign money from the industry so far in this election cycle. (Paulsen’s 3rd Congressional District has a strong health industry presence, and is home to medical tech giant Medtronic, among others.)

  • Feb 23, 18

    "It’s the gavel that no one wants.

    Not a single GOP lawmaker has launched a bid to replace retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the panel with investigatory powers over the Trump administration.

    The lack of interest in the gavel underscores how politically tricky and toxic many Republicans view the job.
    Most Republicans have no desire to lead a committee whose central charge would be investigating a Republican administration — particularly one led by the volatile President Trump, who strikes back fiercely at critics.

    Former Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) decided shortly after Trump took office it was better for him to quit Congress than to face pressure to investigate a Republican-run White House. Now Gowdy, less than a year into his chairmanship, is following Chaffetz out the door.    

    No one is throwing their hat in the ring for Gowdy’s chairmanship “probably because it’s a Republican president,” conceded Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a member of the panel."

  • Feb 23, 18

    Democrats love decrying “dark money” — political contributions for which the source of funds is a mystery. But that isn’t stopping them from accepting “dark money” themselves or making it difficult to determine the original underwriter of a political donation, as a recent Southern contest vividly illustrates....

    It’s a money trail worthy of a Rube Goldberg cartoon. Highway 31 gets money from super PAC Priorities USA Action, which gets some money from super PAC House Majority PAC, which gets money from super PAC Working for Working Americans, which gets all its money from the union United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, which is funded by more than 400,000 dues-paying members whose names aren’t publicly disclosed. Several other “dark money” daisy chains abound.

  • Feb 23, 18

    "Between 2007 and 2012, 200 of America’s most politically active corporations spent a combined $5.8 billion on federal lobbying and campaign contributions. A year-long analysis by the Sunlight Foundation suggests, however, that what they gave pales compared to what those same corporations got: $4.4 trillion in federal business and support.

    That figure, more than the $4.3 trillion the federal government paid the nation’s 50 million Social Security recipients over the same period, is the result of an unprecedented effort to quantify the less-examined side of the campaign finance equation: Do political donors get something in return for what they give?"...

    We focused on the records of 200 for-profit corporations, all of which had active political action committees and lobbyists in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 election cycles — and were among the top donors to campaign committees registered with the Federal Election Commission. Their investment in politics was enormous. There were 20,500 paying lobbying clients over the six years we examined; the 200 companies we tracked accounted for a whopping 26 percent of the total spent. On average, their PACs, employees and their family members made campaign contributions to 144 sitting members of Congress each cycle....

    After examining 14 million records, including data on campaign contributions, lobbying expenditures, federal budget allocations and spending, we found that, on average, for every dollar spent on influencing politics, the nation’s most politically active corporations received $760 from the government. The $4.4 trillion total represents two-thirds of the $6.5 trillion that individual taxpayers paid into the federal treasury.


  • Feb 23, 18

    1. Gilens and Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspective on Politics, 2014. http://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/de...

    2. Washington Post, “Rich People Rule!” 2014.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/m...

    3. Washington Post, “Once again, U.S. has most expensive, least effective health care system in survey,” 2014.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to...

    4. Forbes Opinion, “The tax code is a hopeless complex, economy-suffocating mess,” 2013.
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrenz...

    5. CNN, “Americans pay more for slower Internet,” 2014.
    http://money.cnn.com/2014/10/31/techn...

    6. The Hill, “Sanders requests DOD meeting over wasteful spending,” 2015.
    http://thehill.com/policy/finance/234...

    7. CBS News, “Wastebook 2014: Government’s questionable spending,” 2014.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/wastebook...

    8. The Heritage Foundation, Budget Book, 2015.
    http://www.heritage.org/issues/budget...

    9. The Atlantic, “American schools vs. the world: expensive, unequal, bad at math,” 2013.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/education/...

    10. CNN Opinion, “War on drugs a trillion-dollar failure,” 2012.
    http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/06/opinion...

    11. Feeding America, Child Hunger Fact Sheet, 2014.
    http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-...

    12. New York Times, “Banks’ lobbyists help in drafting financial bills,” 2014.
    http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/05/2...

    13. New York Times, “Wall Street seeks to tuck Dodd-Frank changes in budget bill,” 2014
    http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/12/0...

    14. Sunlight Foundation, “Fixed Fortunes: Biggest corporate political interests spend billions, get trillions,” 2014.
    http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/20...

    15. Sunlight Foundation, Fixed Fortunes database, 2015.
    http://influenceexplorer.com/fixed-fo..."

  • Feb 21, 18

    "Alas for Podesta, it appears he may not enjoy the same support from the media he once had. Recall a similar heated exchange with Fox’s Maria Bartiromo in June 2017 in which she grilled Podesta over his ties to a Kremlin-backed company.

    “Don’t you find it odd that there’s been so much attention on the Trump Campaign and the Trump associates and potential collusion with the Russians when in fact it’s really the Democrats who have deeper and stronger ties to Russia,” Bartiromo said.

    “I mean John I have to ask your own situation..”

    Bartiromo then goes on to break down how Podesta joined the board of the board of a small energy company in 2011 which later received $35 million from a Kremlin-funded entity. Other members of the board of Joule Unlimited included senior Russian official Anatoly Chubais and oligarch Reuben Vardanyan – a Putin appointee to the Russian economic modernization council. Podesta jettisoned his shares before the 2016 election, transferring them to his daughter via a shell corporation."

  • Feb 20, 18

    "Machine malfunctions are a regular feature of American elections. Even as worries over cybersecurity and election interference loom, many local jurisdictions depend on aging voting equipment based on frequently obsolete and sometimes insecure technology. And the counties and states that fund elections have dragged their heels on providing the money to buy new equipment.

    A ProPublica analysis of voting machines found that over two-thirds of counties in America used machines for the 2016 election that are over a decade old. In most jurisdictions, the same equipment will be used in the 2018 election. In a recent nationwide survey by the Brennan Center for Justice, election officials in 33 states reported needing to replace their voting equipment by 2020. Officials complain the machines are difficult to maintain and susceptible to crashes and failure, problems that lead to long lines and other impediments in voting and, they fear, a sense among voters that the system itself is untrustworthy."...

    While election equipment needs to be replaced more often, election administration remains a low funding priority, a ProPublica review of state and local budgets nationwide found.

    In 2017, Utah appropriated $275,000 to aid counties in purchasing new voting equipment, but $500,000 to help sponsor the Sundance Film Festival. A few years earlier, Missouri allocated $2 million in grants to localities to replace voting equipment the state, while increasing the Division of Tourism budget by $10 million to $24 million.

    In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, home to Pittsburgh, this year’s Division of Elections budget is $6.1 million. The budget of the county’s Parks Department is nearly three times as big. Across the state in Luzerne County, the Bureau of Elections budget is just under $900,000, while the Buildings and Grounds Department has a budget of $1.4 million.

    “Election officials are low on the totem pole, budget-wise,” says Masterson. “A lot of times it’s you or a new gazebo or improvements to the local golf course.”

    The cost of new voting equipment is typically many times larger than election administrators’ annual budgets. In both Allegheny and Luzerne counties, local officials estimate new equipment would be roughly four times the cost of their annual elections budget. Neither county has ticketed funds to make such large capital purchases.

    Even where voting machines are functional, their age can contribute to errors and confusion on Election Day. During the 2016 presidential election, aging machines contributed to scattered reports of “vote flipping” in Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

    Flipped votes occur when a voter selects one candidate but the voting machine shows a different selection....

    The reason that so many voting machines are nearing their end dates simultaneously is in part due to the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Following the Florida ballot-counting controversy in the 2000 presidential election, Congress provided over $3.6 billion in funds to states and territories to upgrade election system and improve election administration. HAVA also established minimum standards for voting systems and election administration, and created the Elections Assistance Commission to help states design systems that complied with the new law....

    While elections may be the cornerstone of a functioning democracy, funding them is an uphill battle. A 2014 report by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration reported that election administrators viewed themselves as the “least powerful lobby in state legislatures and often the last constituency to receive scarce funds at the local level.”...

    Buying machines online from non-certified vendors can heap additional security risks on top of the risk already posed by antiquated, vulnerable equipment. For over a decade, experts have warned of the risks of voting machines that store all information electronically, because voters cannot verify their votes and there’s no way to properly audit these machines.

    A recent report on election security by the Center for American Progress says “conducting elections with paper-based voting systems is one of the most important steps states can take to improve election security.” Paperless machines are still used in 14 states....

    Over a long weekend last summer, hackers at a conference in Las Vegas, DefCon, managed to breach all five models of paperless voting machines, as well as an electronic poll book. The hack received a great deal of media attention. One machine, called a WINvote by Advanced Voting Solutions, was hacked in under two hours and reprogrammed to play Rick Astley’s 1987 song “Never Gonna Give You Up.”..

    Less than six weeks after DefCon, the Virginia State Board of Elections decertified such machines, which were used in 23 cities and counties. This came only two weeks before absentee voting for the gubernatorial election began. The commonwealth provided no funding for new voting machines that keep paper records....

    Two years later, the Virginia State Board of Elections again demanded changes but offered localities no money and little time to overhaul their voting machines. Weeks away from a governor’s race many considered a bellwether for the national political climate, 23 cities and counties scrambled for funds.

    Norfolk, Virginia, bought new voting machines, spending over $630,000, and then tested and approved them under what Deputy Director of Elections Stephanie Isles called “a tight timeline.” Alexandria spent just under $600,000, taking it from the city’s 2018 budget. James Clement, the general registrar of Culpeper, Virginia, says that when it came to voting security officials suddenly “were being directed to spend with no regard at all, but when you ask for funds it’s like talking into a vacuum.”

    In the closing days of 2017, six senators filed the bipartisan Elections Security Act, which would make $386 million in unspent HAVA grants available to states to replace paperless voting machines. ...

    Michael Chertoff, former secretary of Homeland Security and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, urged Congress to move ahead on the act for the sake of national security. “The best estimates show that we can replace all paperless voting machines in the United States for about the cost of a single F-22 fighter jet.” they said. “It’s not practical to expect local election administrators in rural Missouri or small-town Maine to go toe-to-toe with the premier government-backed cyber-mercenaries of China or North Korea.”

  • Feb 20, 18

    "
    The kleptocracy squad
    In 2014, then–attorney general Eric Holder announced an FBI team that would tackle international kleptocracy — and its first target would be ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, Manafort’s longtime client and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    To find the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars Yanukovych and his aides were suspected of stealing, the task force scoured the globe, working with governments in Cyprus, Latvia, Ukraine, and elsewhere, said two former federal law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the effort. In doing so, the team stumbled across Manafort. As one of the former officials recalled, agents were told that he might have leads on where Yanukovych had stashed his money.

    As a political consultant, Manafort buffed the image of Yanukovych and autocrats across the world, including Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). He earned a fortune and spent millions on art, clothes, home theaters, even antique rugs. As the task force heightened its scrutiny of Manafort, the US Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit unearthed a mountain of evidence about him.

    Eight banks filed 23 “suspicious activity reports” between 2004 and 2014, which includes the years that Manafort and his consulting company, Davis Manafort Partners, worked for Yanukovych. These reports, reviewed by BuzzFeed News, show that between October 2008 and July 2013, Manafort’s personal and business accounts received about $30 million from banks in offshore havens such as Cyprus, Kyrgyzstan, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

    Got a tip? You can email tips@buzzfeed.com. To learn how to reach us securely, go to tips.buzzfeed.com.
    By law, banks must file suspicious activity reports with the Treasury Department when they spot transactions that bear hallmarks of money laundering or other financial misconduct. Such reports can support investigations and intelligence gathering — but by themselves they are not evidence of a crime.

    Throughout 2014, the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, conducted further investigation into the transactions flagged in the bank’s suspicious activity reports. Treasury officials requested additional information from law enforcement agencies in other countries, and they prepared numerous and extensive reports about Manafort's financial dealings. Those reports — sent to FBI agents and federal prosecutors, and reviewed by BuzzFeed News — stated that Manafort appeared to be running shell companies and that his transactions often lacked a clear business purpose and showed signs of “layering,” meaning that they seemed designed to obscure the original source of the money.

    In the summer of 2014, an FBI special agent questioned Manafort at his attorney’s office in Washington, DC. Manafort denied knowing anything about money reportedly stolen by the Yanukovych government, according to internal FBI emails reviewed by BuzzFeed News, and promised to turn over documents to the Bureau. He never did, according to the two officials.

    “We had him in 2014,” one of the former officials said. “In hindsight, we could have nailed him then.”

    The FBI’s top brass, both of the former officials said, deemed Manafort’s suspected financial crimes as too petty: They amounted to only tens of millions of dollars — small potatoes compared to what Manafort’s boss, Yanukovych, was suspected of stealing.

    But the task force didn’t get Yanukovych either. The US government, the former officials said, devoted far too few resources to build a case of the scale and complexity needed to prosecute the former Ukrainian president, and agents assigned to the task force left because they felt they were unable to properly do their jobs.

    When the investigation petered out, the reports on Manafort and the detailed financial records that supported them were all shelved, two former law enforcement officials who worked on his case told BuzzFeed News. But banks continued to send in suspicious activity reports on transactions involving Manafort or his companies all the way through 2016. For instance, in April and September 2015, PNC Bank flagged two transactions for a total of about $75,000."

  • Feb 20, 18

    "Kevin Shipp, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, intelligence and counter terrorism expert, held several high-level positions in the CIA. His assignments included protective agent for the Director of the CIA, counterintelligence investigator searching for moles inside the CIA, overseas counter terrorism operations officer, internal security investigator, assistant team leader for the antiterrorism tactical assault team, chief of training for the CIA federal police force and polygraph examiner. Mr. Shipp was the senior program manager for the Department of State, Diplomatic Security, Anti-Terrorism Assistance global police training program. He is the recipient of two CIA Meritorious Unit Citations, three Exceptional Performance Awards and a Medallion for high risk overseas operations. Website/book: fortheloveoffreedom.net"

  • Feb 20, 18

    "The stakes are very high. Current and former senior officials — and not only from DOJ and FBI, but from other agencies like the CIA and NSA, whom documents and testimony show were involved in providing faulty information to justify a FISA warrant to monitor former Trump campaign official Carter Page — may suddenly find themselves in considerable legal jeopardy. Like, felony territory.

    This was not supposed to happen. Mrs. Clinton was a shoo-in, remember? Back when the FISA surveillance warrant of Page was obtained, just weeks before the November 2016 election, there seemed to be no need to hide tracks, because, even if these extracurricular activities were discovered, the perps would have looked forward to award certificates rather than legal problems under a Trump presidency.

    Thus, the knives will be coming out. Mostly because the mainstream media will make a major effort – together with Schiff-mates in the Democratic Party – to marginalize Nunes, those who find themselves in jeopardy can be expected to push back strongly.

    If past is precedent, they will be confident that, with their powerful allies within the FBI/DOJ/CIA “Deep State” they will be able to counter Nunes and show him and the other congressional investigation committee chairs, where the power lies. The conventional wisdom is that Nunes and the others have bit off far more than they can chew. And the odds do not favor folks, including oversight committee chairs, who buck the system."...

    One glaring sign of the media’s unwillingness to displease corporate masters and Official Washington is the harsh reality that Hersh’s most recent explosive investigations, using his large array of government sources to explore front-burner issues, have not been able to find a home in any English-speaking newspaper or journal. In a sense, this provides what might be called a “confidence-building” factor, giving some assurance to deep-state perps that they will be able to ride this out, and that congressional committee chairs will once again learn to know their (subservient) place.

    Much will depend on whether top DOJ and FBI officials can bring themselves to reverse course and give priority to the oath they took to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. This should not be too much to hope for, but it will require uncommon courage in facing up honestly to the major misdeeds appear to have occurred — and letting the chips fall where they may. Besides, it would be the right thing to do....

    The apparently widespread practice of “unmasking” the identities of Americans under surveillance. On this point, Nunes said, “In the last administration they were unmasking hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of Americans’ names. They were unmasking for what I would say, for lack of a better definition, were for political purposes.”
    Asked about Schiff’s criticism that Nunes behaved improperly on what he called the “midnight run to the White House,” Nunes responded that the stories were untrue. “Well, most of the time I ignore political nonsense in this town,” he said. “What I will say is that all of those stories were totally fake from the beginning.”
    Not since Watergate has there been so high a degree of political tension here in Washington but the stakes for our Republic are even higher this time. Assuming abuse of FISA court procedures is documented and those responsible for playing fast and loose with the required justification for legal warrants are not held to account, the division of powers enshrined in the Constitution will be in peril.

    A denouement of some kind can be expected in the coming months. Stay tuned.

  • Feb 20, 18

    "About a month ago we covered the basics of the lawsuit by which the US government was seeking to keep pretty much all of Kim Dotcom's assets, despite the fact that Dotcom himself hasn't been tried -- and, in fact, it hasn't even been determined if he can be extradited to the United States (a country he's never visited). This week, that case took another step, with the judge, Liam O'Grady, who had already ruled that Kim Dotcom could be considered a "fugitive," more or less finalizing the theft of Dotcom's assets by declaring a default judgment in favor of the US. This isn't the end of the process (not by a longshot), but it highlights just how the US government can use some ridiculous procedures to steal millions in assets from someone who hasn't been shown to be guilty of anything.

    As we discussed last time, the story of the raid on Kim Dotcom's rented home in New Zealand, the seizure of all of his cars, money, bank accounts, computers, servers, etc. is well known. That was part of a case for which Kim Dotcom was indicted (under what appears to be questionable legal reasoning -- but that's a separate issue). As has been widely reported, that case is still on hold while Dotcom fights extradition from New Zealand. The extradition fight will finally go to a New Zealand court later this summer. Once that's done, if Dotcom loses, he'll be sent to the US, where he'll face a criminal trial based on the indictment.

    But this is actually separate from all of that. You see, when the US government grabbed or froze all of Dotcom's assets, they did so using an asset seizure procedure. Asset seizure is allowed in such cases, but the government then has to give that property back. What the government really wanted to do is keep all of Dotcom's tens of millions of dollars worth of assets -- and in order to do that it has to go through a separate process, known as civil asset forfeiture. It's technically a civil (not criminal) case, but (and here's the part that people find most confusing), it's not actually filed against Kim Dotcom at all, but rather against his stuff that the government already seized. Yes, it's technically an entirely separate lawsuit, that was only filed last summer (two and a half years after the government seized all of his stuff and shut down his company), entitled United States Of America v. All Assets Listed In Attachment A, And All Interest, Benefits, And Assets Traceable Thereto. And, as we noted last time, Attachment A is basically all of Kim Dotcom's stuff.

    This whole process is known as an "in rem" proceeding -- meaning a lawsuit "against a thing" rather than against a person. And the "case" basically says all this stuff should be "forfeited" to the US government because it's the proceeds of some criminal activity. You would think that in order for such civil asset forfeiture to go forward, you'd then have to show something like a criminal conviction proving that the assets in question were, in fact, tied to criminal activity. You'd be wrong -- as is clear from what happened in this very case. Once the Justice Department effectively filed a lawsuit against "all of Kim Dotcom's money and stuff," Dotcom did what you're supposed to do in that situation and filed a challenge to such a ridiculous situation. And here the DOJ used the fact that Dotcom was fighting extradition to argue that he was a "fugitive." Judge O'Grady agreed with that last month, and that resulted in the decision earlier this week to then declare a "default judgment" in favor of the DOJ, and giving the US government all of Kim Dotcom's stuff.
    "

  • Feb 20, 18

    "Dotcom's assertion is backed up by an analysis done last year by a researcher who goes by the name Forensicator, who determined that the DNC files were copied at 22.6 MB/s - a speed virtually impossible to achieve from halfway around the world, much less over a local network - yet a speed typical of file transfers to a memory stick.



    The local transfer theory of course blows the Russian hacking narrative out of the water, lending credibility to the theory that the DNC "hack" was in fact an inside job, potentially implicating late DNC IT staffer, Seth Rich.

    John Podesta's email was allegely successfully "hacked" (he fell victim to a phishing scam) in March 2016, while the DNC reported suspicious activity (the suspected Seth Rich file transfer) in late April, 2016 according to the Washington Post.

    On May 18, 2017, Dotcom proposed that if Congress includes the Seth Rich investigation in their Russia probe, he would provide written testimony with evidence that Seth Rich was WikiLeaks' source."...

    Three days later, Dotcom again released a guarded statement saying "I KNOW THAT SETH RICH WAS INVOLVED IN THE DNC LEAK," adding:

    "I have consulted with my lawyers. I accept that my full statement should be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation. My lawyers will speak with the authorities regarding the proper process.

    If my evidence is required to be given in the United States I would be prepared to do so if appropriate arrangements are made. I would need a guarantee from Special Counsel Mueller, on behalf of the United States, of safe passage from New Zealand to the United States and back. In the coming days we will be communicating with the appropriate authorities to make the necessary arrangements. In the meantime, I will make no further comment."...

    Three days later, Dotcom again released a guarded statement saying "I KNOW THAT SETH RICH WAS INVOLVED IN THE DNC LEAK," adding:

    "I have consulted with my lawyers. I accept that my full statement should be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation. My lawyers will speak with the authorities regarding the proper process.

    If my evidence is required to be given in the United States I would be prepared to do so if appropriate arrangements are made. I would need a guarantee from Special Counsel Mueller, on behalf of the United States, of safe passage from New Zealand to the United States and back. In the coming days we will be communicating with the appropriate authorities to make the necessary arrangements. In the meantime, I will make no further comment."

    Dotcom knew.

    While one could simply write off Dotcom's claims as an attention seeking stunt, he made several comments and a series of tweets hinting at the upcoming email releases prior to both the WikiLeaks dumps as well as the publication of the hacked DNC emails to a website known as "DCLeaks."

    In a May 14, 2015 Bloomberg article entitled "Kim Dotcom: Julian Assange Will Be Hillary Clinton's Worst Nightmare In 2016": "I have to say it’s probably more Julian,” who threatens Hillary, Dotcom said. “But I’m aware of some of the things that are going to be roadblocks for her.”

  • Feb 20, 18

    "Internet Research Agency, apparently directing the program, is now revealed to have been among the largest Super PACs operating in the 2016 elections.  This is now clearly one of the major campaign finance scandals in American history."...

    It suggests only that at the grassroots level, among state parties and on the ground in various locales, some Trump campaign supporters were “unwitting” co-conspirators duped into collaboration with Russians posing as Americans....

    The next phase of the investigation may bring out in more detail the nature and scope of that response and establish whether there are Americans, and/or the Trump campaign organization, that will share in the liability for the multi-million dollar, illegal operations of the Russian Super PAC.

  • Feb 19, 18

    "A programming error kept the IRS from notifying hundreds of thousands of identity theft victims about criminals using their Social Security numbers to get themselves jobs in 2017, according to an internal investigation.

    Last year, more than half a million Americans had their identities used by others to get hired, but only first-time victims received a notification from the IRS, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found. As a result, nearly 460,000 previous victims of employment identity theft were left in the dark about their information getting stolen yet again.

    “Most identified victims remain unaware that their identities are being used by other individuals for employment,” TIGTA wrote in its report.

    Auditors determined a programming error limited theft notifications to only those who were not labeled as victims in prior years. The inspector general brought the error to the attention of the IRS in April 2017, and the agency said it planned to implement a correction by Jan. 27.

    IRS could not confirm to Nextgov whether the system has been updated.

    To spot employment identity theft, IRS compares the Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers and Social Security numbers on electronically submitted tax returns. When it finds a mismatch, the agency alerts the individual their identity may be compromised.

    Of the 112,445 people who received notifications in 2017, investigators found roughly 13.5 percent weren’t actually victims of identity theft. The false alerts most commonly stemmed from couples double-filing returns that included the other spouse's wages and Social Security numbers.

    “Employment identity theft can cause a significant burden to innocent taxpayers, including the incorrect computation of taxes based on income that does not belong to them,” said investigators, adding, “erroneously marking taxpayers’ accounts with the employment identity theft marker causes taxpayer burden and confusion when they receive the [identity theft] notice.”

    In addition to updating the identity verification system, TIGTA recommended the IRS tell as-of-yet unnotified victims their Social Security numbers were stolen and alert those who accidentally received identity theft alerts to the agency’s mistake."

  • Feb 19, 18

    Federal law generally prohibits personnel actions taken, not taken, or threatened against a
    federal employee because of the employee’s disclosure of information that he or she reasonably
    believes evidences a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or gross mismanagement, a gross
    waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or
    safety.4 In addition, an employee’s right to “furnish information to either House of Congress, or
    to a committee or Member thereof, may not be interfered with or denied.”5...

    The risk that agency monitoring will discourage protected whistleblowing is not limited to contact with OSC or IGs, as employees may disclose most types of information outside of these channels, e.g., to agency leadership, to officials outside their chain of command, to Congress, or to the media. Monitoring an employee’s communications, including emails, computer files, or conversations, simply because the employee made or may make a protected disclosure has a chilling effect on these lawful activities. ...

    In this vein, employees should not be reported for making lawful disclosures, as this creates a false impression that they have engaged in misconduct. Moreover, reporting whistleblowers may suggest that they are being tracked by their agencies. Both of these circumstances discourage employees from making protected disclosures and impede efforts to reduce government waste, fraud, and abuse. ...

    See 5 U.S.C. § 1213(h) (prohibiting the Special Counsel from disclosing the identity of a whistleblower without the individual’s consent unless disclosure becomes necessary due to an imminent danger to public health or safety or imminent violation of any criminal law); Inspector General Act of 1978, 5 U.S.C. App. § 7(b) (prohibiting IGs from disclosing the identity of a whistleblower without the whistleblower's consent unless an IG determines such disclosure is unavoidable during the course of an investigation).

    "In sum, we strongly recommend that agencies review existing monitoring policies and practices, including insider threat program information, to ensure that they are consistent with both the law and Congress’s intent to encourage protected disclosures. "

  • Feb 19, 18

    "Liberal billionaire Tom Steyer, a friend and donor to Obama and Clinton, is hiring an army of more than 50 political operatives in a major campaign to help Democrats get control of the U.S. House this year and “remove Trump from power.”

    “Need to Impeach” Founder Steyer, 60, announced Thursday that he is hiring a team of 50 political and communications strategists to coordinate his campaign. While Steyer launched his $20 million campaign to impeach Trump last year, he has now promised to double that amount and also spend $30 million on 2018 House races through his super PAC, NextGen America.

    “The team, including 50 staff members, is adding thousands of new supporters to the impeachment movement each day, creating a digital army of activists who are mobilizing to take back the House of Representatives in the 2018 election and remove Trump from power,” read a Thursday statement from “Need to Impeach.”

    Separately, House Democrats announced Thursday that they plan to target as many as 101 Republican-held congressional seats this year, the most in a decade."

  • Feb 19, 18

    "And he says political involvement on the internet could also be greatly impacted by Friday’s actions.

    “You’re talking about regulation of political expression of a variety that a lot of Americans engage in. It seems like they’re doing this as a sweeping prohibition on a theory that these government agencies have had their missions frustrated by the way that this scheme took place,” said McCarthy, noting that such freedom could be at risk all for a case that may never be tried.

    McCarthy painted another unsettling scenario.

    “Are we now saying that every time that somebody champions a candidate or a cause in social media that that’s an in-kind campaign contribution and that if you’re doing it anonymously or under a pseudonym that you’re defrauding the United States?” asked McCarthy.

    “It would seem to me that that would be absurd, but it’s less absurd after reading this indictment than it would have been before,” said McCarthy.

    In addition to the actual charges announced Friday, McCarthy says it is significant that Mueller and Rosenstein conclude that no Americans knowingly collaborated with Russian attempts to cause mischief in the campaign. They also pointed out that the bots stirred up partisans on both sides, certainly in the wake of the elections.

    “It does say that to the extent Americans were involved in this it was ‘unwitting,’ which means that if that’s the full extent of it, there obviously can’t be a collusion conspiracy because you can’t collude – I mean collusion is a nonsense word legally anyway.

    “To be a criminal conspirator, you have to have an agreement to violate the law and that’s not something that someone can do unwittingly,” said McCarthy.

    So much like every other development in this case, both sides of the Russia debate see vindication in Friday’s developments.

    “Anybody who was interested in championing something that I think should have been beyond dispute – namely that the Russians tried to meddle in our elections – they get to say, ‘See, Russians meddle in elections.’

    “And anybody who had a political interest in saying that Trump didn’t collude, they can now come away and say, ‘See, this thing shows there’s no collusion,'” said McCarthy.

    It was in a “dossier” assembled by a former British spy in contact with Russian sources and working for a company funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign that made allegations against President Trump.

    The claims included that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian on the 2016 election.

    The “dirt” that was dug up on Trump, almost all unverified, later apparently was used by the Department of Justice and FBI as a legal document to obtain permission to spy on the Trump campaign."

  • Feb 19, 18

    "This is a list of U.S. state government budgets as enacted by each state's legislature. Note that a number of states have a two-year or three year budget (e.g.: Kentucky) while others have a one-year budget (e.g.: Massachusetts)."

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