Category: Corruption

Secret Service agent bound for prison for stealing what he was investigating


Carlos Amarillo/Shutterstock

A former U.S. Secret Service agent pleaded guilty to money laundering in connection with the theft of $820,000 in bitcoins in the Silk Road website probe.

Shaun Bridges, 32, a forensic analyst involved in the federal investigation which shut down the drug marketplace website, was the second agent caught stealing digital cash. He pleaded guilty to money laundering and obstruction of justice charges during a San Francisco federal court hearing Monday.

During the probe, Bridges used his access authority to move 20,000 bitcoins to an account he controlled. The majority of transactions on the Silk Road website were made using bitcoins, a payment method not involving any government-backed currency.

The website was shut down in 2013. Its operator, Ross Ulbrecht, received life imprisonment in May for operating the site, and former U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agent Carl Force pleaded guilty in July to three charges in connection with the theft of more than $700,000 in bitcoins…

Bridges is scheduled to be sentenced in December.

I would sentence the dude, tomorrow. He’s already pleaded guilty as charged. Are we supposed to let someone from law enforcement disappear into the judicial fog and maybe be allowed a kinder, gentler sentence?

Christie says “track immigrants like FedEx packages”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Saturday if he were elected president he would combat illegal immigration by creating a system to track foreign visitors the way FedEx tracks packages.

Christie, who is well back in the pack seeking the Republican nomination for president, told a campaign event in the early voting state of New Hampshire that he would ask FedEx Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith to devise the tracking system.

Immigration has become a top issue in the Republican campaign, with front-runner Donald Trump vowing to deport all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and to build a wall along the southern border…

The Republican clown show is getting so desperate to out-demagogue each other that Scott Walker is now proposing a wall blocking access to the US from Canada.

Christie has been lagging in recent opinion polls and is in danger of not making the top 10 candidates who will participate in the next official Republican debate on Sept. 16.

With real estate mogul Trump taking a hard line on illegal immigration, other Republican candidates in the 2016 White House race have sought to toughen their stances as well.

Christie did not say specifically how the system he proposes would track people the same way packages are tracked by FedEx, which scans a bar code on the package at each step in the delivery process.

The concept hasn’t changed much since the Nazis catalogued folks with tattoos before they warehoused and killed them in concentration camps. Christie just wants to modernize things.

More tech-oriented Republicans [Carly Fiorina?] might prefer injecting RFID tags under the skin. Tidier.

Tens of thousands of Japanese march against war constitution


Click to enlargeReuters/Kyodo

Tens of thousands of protesters have rallied outside Japan’s parliament to oppose legislation that could see troops in the officially pacifist nation engage in combat for the first time since World War II.

In one of the summer’s biggest protests ahead of the new laws anticipated passage next month, protesters on Sunday chanted “No to war legislation!” ”Scrap the bills now!” and “Abe, quit!”

Organisers said about 120,000 people took part in the rally in the government district of Tokyo, filling the street outside the front gate of the parliament, or Diet. Similar demonstrations were held across the nation.

In July, the more powerful lower house passed the bills that allow the army, or Self Defence Force, to engage in combat when allies come under attack even when Japan itself is not.

The upper house is currently debating the bills and is expected to pass them by late September, making it law.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his supporters say the bills are necessary for Japan to deal with the changed security environment in the world.

Public polls showing the majority of people oppose the bills and support for Abe’s government is declining.

Decades behind the US, Japan has learned the lessons of sophistry well. I recall the smattering of debate after WW2 when the pointy-heads in Washington decided to change the name of the War Department to the Department of Defense. As we changed to a time when the rest of the world needed to defend itself against Imperial America instead of Imperial England and Imperial Europe.

Not so incidentally, it may not take the anti-war movement in Japan to bring down Abe. Abenomics may do it for him. Pledging – as conservatives always do – to bring jobs growth and better economic times to the working people of Japan, the prime minister has only aided his Zaibatsu buddies. The rest of the nation suffers through a renewal of stagnation and ennui.

This is your government [on the war] on drugs

A new report shows just how much the war on drugs fundamentally changed the scope of the federal prison system — without any significant benefits to show for it.

The report from Pew Charitable Trusts found the number of federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses skyrocketed by more than 1,800 percent between 1980 and 2015 — from fewer than 5,000 to more than 95,000.

These prisoners are also serving much longer sentences, according to the report. While sentences for non-drug offenses declined by 3 percent from 1980 to 2011, sentences for drug offenses spiked by nearly 36 percent in the same time period.

After they were sentenced, the average time released drug offenders spent in prison increased 153 percent between 1988 and 2012 — from 23.2 to 58.6 months — while time served grew by 39 and 44 percent for property and violent offenders.

Although these stringent sentences were originally meant for some of the worst drug offenders, the Pew Charitable Trusts report found that they’re by and large picking up low- and midlevel traffickers. It estimated, based on federal data, that high-level suppliers and importers represented just 11 percent of federal drug offenders.

The Pew Charitable Trusts report concludes that this increase in incarceration and time served came with high costs and little returns. Drug offenders currently make up nearly half of the federal prison population, and the federal prison system now uses up roughly one in four dollars spent by the US Justice Department. Drug use, meanwhile, appears to have steadily risen over the past two decades, according to the nationwide surveys.

Our nation has a modern history of declaring war on any problems that requires thoughtful time to build a solution. Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that killing enough people wins wars, spending large enough sums makes that possible. That generals think that is a load of crap makes no difference to most politicians. So, we have a War on Drugs, a War on Terror. They’re both working out about the same.

That takes serious stupidity. Congress is surely up to the task.

New Mexico attorney general charges secretary of state with corruption


Hector Balderas at Navajo Nation Police Headquarters

New Mexico’s Democratic attorney general on Friday charged Republican secretary of state Dianna Duran with embezzlement, fraud, money laundering and campaign finance violations, further widening a rift between the two over enforcement of the state’s laws governing campaigns.

Attorney general Hector Balderas’ office filed the 64-count complaint…in state district court in Santa Fe…

The attorney general’s investigation stemmed from a confidential tip received in July 2014. Duran was accused of funneling contributions intended for her campaign into personal accounts for her own use.

According to the complaint, the investigation centred on deposits of large amounts of cash as well as campaign contributions into both personal and campaign accounts controlled by the secretary of state. The movement of money often culminated with cash expenditures at casinos throughout the state, the complaint states.

Investigators obtained subpoenas for multiple casinos where Duran withdrew cash. Records show those electronic debits totaled more than $282,000 in 2014 alone. Another $147,641 was withdrawn in 2013.

The complaint also cites a series of detailed bank transactions as well as donations from supporters, calling into question Duran’s campaign finance reports.

I have no knowledge whatsoever where the tip came from. BUT – I almost wager dollars to donuts it involves the good old Bank Secrecy Act. Among other requirements, banks must report suspicious transactions to law enforcement.

In addition to the numerous felony and misdemeanour embezzlement and money laundering charges, Duran also faces counts of tampering with public records, conspiracy and violating the state’s Governmental Conduct Act…

Republican governor Susana Martinez said she has talked with Balderas about the charges against the secretary of state.

“These allegations are deeply troubling and concerning, and all relevant state agencies have and will continue to assist the attorney general throughout the process,” Martinez said in a statement…

State law requires that candidates’ reports list donations and expenditures. The public documents are also supposed to list the donations’ sources.

Balderas said his office had received only one criminal referral from the secretary of state for a violation of the reporting law.

A review by the Daily Times newspaper in Farmington also showed that Duran’s office collected only 4% of roughly 2,000 fines imposed on candidates during the 2012 and 2014 primary and general elections…

Duran, a former Otero County clerk and state lawmaker, is serving her second term as the state’s top elections official. She was the first Republican to be elected to the office in eight decades, inheriting an agency that had been plagued by scandal.

A stellar example of the inbuilt failings of our 2-party farce.

New Mexico voters – including many independents and progressives like me – voted for Duran as the only choice offered as an alternative to a Democrat Secretary of State notorious for her own corruption. The only reason she stayed in office was a Democrat AG – from one of our political royal families – who deliberately stalled out her indictments and trial until she could claim lack of timely due process and charges finally had to be dropped.

So, the Republicans offered up an alternative in Duran – when we would have voted for a prairie dog as an alternative to what Democrats offered.

What did we get? The same old, same old. More corruption, money laundering, embezzling payoffs. What do we need? An open primary system like those in many Western democracies, like the system used in California. We haven’t any independents or Greens capable of building a grassroots base for a 3rd or 4th party. At least let us have a primary system where the occasional Bernie Sanders-style independent might be allowed to run and win.

The corruption, liaison between thieves and reactionaries representing every interest but workers and working class families, has given us 2-party indoctrination for so many decades in American politics, young people must think real democratic participation is a foreign invention. To be feared, not embraced.

I’d love to be able to think of Election Day as an opportunity – not a half-hearted defense against the evil of two lessers.

L.A. County politicians didn’t get the drought memo – I guess

Despite a devastating four-year drought that has forced strict water conservation measures across California, most Los Angeles County supervisors still have their cars washed two or three times a week…

The multiple weekly car washes carry on despite Governor Jerry Brown’s admonitions to Californians to take shorter showers and stop watering their lawns and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s own “Save the Drop” campaign, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

The five supervisors can either collect a car allowance or have the county buy them a vehicle, which is washed, maintained and kept fueled at taxpayer expense.

The Daily News determined through public service records that two of the supervisors, Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich, have their SUVs washed by county workers an average of twice a week and that a third, Mark Ridley-Thomas, has his car cleaned three times a week.

The remaining two, Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, wash their cars about once a week…Ridley-Thomas, Knabe and Antonovich actually increased the frequency of their car washes after the governor ordered the first statewide mandatory water restrictions in April, directing cities and communities to reduce their water usage by 25 percent…

Unlike many commercial car washes, the county’s facilities do not use recirculated water, the Daily News said.

The supervisors declined to answer questions from the Daily News about the car washing.

How about admitting they’re foolish, self-serving jerks? How about stopping the silliness immediately?

How about adopting practices already part of the daily lives of sensible Californians?

Kentucky lets clerk deny marriage licenses to gay couples despite court order


Karen Roberts and April Miller, denied marriage license by religious bigotAP/Timothy D. Easley

A gay couple was denied a marriage license for the third time in Kentucky on Thursday, after a Rowan county clerk refused to obey a federal court order telling her to comply with the law.

James Yates and William Smith Jr said that officials at Rowan County courthouse, led by clerk Kim Davis, refused to provide the couple with the paperwork for a marriage license on Thursday.

“It’s just making us want to press more,” Yates told the Courier-Journal. “She can’t get away with this.”

One of Smith’s deputies told the couple that the county clerk believes she can refuse to issue licenses until 31 August. The couple plans to return to the office the next day.

Same-sex marriage became legal nationwide on 26 June, but Davis is one of a handful of people who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She did not come out of her office and declined to comment to reporters…

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling ordering Davis to issue marriages for gay couples and denied her request for a stay while courts heard her appeals

Two same-sex couples and two straight couples sued Davis in July. A US district judge then ordered her to issue marriage licenses, but delayed his order so she could appeal against the decision with the US sixth circuit court of appeals. The court on Wednesday denied her request to stay the district judge’s decision.

Theocratic dolts who hold office founded on the US Constitution – and refuse to uphold constitutional rights, decisions made binding by the ultimate constitutional court in the land – should be removed from office.

I don’t really care if the excuses they offer for violating their oath of office are based on religion, racism or what the tooth fairy whispered into their tiny brain last night. Either they lied when they took office, required to meet public standards of conduct – or they have since decided to reject the Constitution of the United States and civil law. Whatever. They should be launched into the ranks of Kentucky’s unemployed and left to find an honest job.

Right Wing cabal defeated in their try to distort Hugo awards

GRRM
Click to enlarge

George RR Martin has said that the group of rightwing science fiction writers who tried to swing the results of this weekend’s Hugo awards to their own agenda were “routed” by the majority of fans who “did not like having their choices imposed on us”.

Two campaign groups, the so-called “Sad Puppies” and their more politically extreme counterparts the “Rabid Puppies”, had mobilised earlier this year to vote a bloc of writers onto the shortlists for the Hugo awards…

But on Saturday, members of the World Science Fiction Society rejected the finalists for the Hugos in an unprecedented five categories, voting for “No Award” rather than any of the nominees backed by the Puppies, which had included work by John C Wright, an author known for his homophobic views. Nominees picked by the Puppies won in only one category: Guardians of the Galaxy took best dramatic presentation.

“The Puppies lost and lost big; not just defeated, but routed, finishing behind No Award in almost all cases,” blogged Martin on Tuesday night. The bestselling author of the A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series has been a high-profile voice in what he has called “the controversy that has plunged all fandom into war”, urging fans to vote and criticising the Puppies for their actions.

On Tuesday, he said that “the Puppies are howling in outrage and anger…But fandom, according to Martin, is “mostly relieved”…

Martin was “pleased … greatly”, he said, to see Chinese author Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem win the best Hugo novel – an award won in the past by some of science fiction’s major names. “It’s a strong book, an AMBITIOUS book, a worthy winner … and the first Hugo to go to China, which is cool. Let us put more ‘world’ in worldcon, by all means.”…

I bought my first sci-fi magazine in 1946. THRILLING WONDER STORIES. That monthly – along with John Campbell’s AMAZING STORIES – became the heart and soul of newsprint periodicals for the rest of my life. Guiding my thoughts on philosophy, science and politics, flowing directly from the pens of giants.

An equal to some of the best, is George RR Martin. Though we’ve never met, we share mutual friends and the clean air of Northern New Mexico. And a love of science fiction.

Truly electric.