Category: Corruption

Blackwater thugs finally convicted of killing Iraqi civilians

Blackwater and Bush

Three security guards working for the private US contractor Blackwater have been found guilty of the manslaughter of a group of unarmed civilians at a crowded Baghdad traffic junction in one of the darkest incidents of the Iraq war.

A fourth, Nicholas Slatten, was found guilty of one charge of first-degree murder. All face the likelihood of lengthy prison sentences after unanimous verdicts on separate weapons charges related to the incident.

The Nisour Square massacre in 2007 left 17 people dead and 20 seriously injured after the guards working for the US State Department fired heavy machine guns and grenade launchers from their armoured convoy in the mistaken belief they were under attack by insurgents.

But attempts to prosecute the guards have previously foundered because of a series of legal mistakes by US officials, and the case had attracted widespread attention in Iraq as a symbol of apparent American immunity.

Now, after a 10-week trial and 28 days of deliberation, a jury in Washington has found three of the men – Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard – guilty of a total of 13 charges of voluntary manslaughter and a total of 17 charges of attempted manslaughter.

The fourth defendant, Slatten, who was alleged to have been first to open fire, was found guilty of a separate charge of first-degree murder. Slough, Liberty and Heard were found guilty of using firearms in relation to a crime of violence, a charge which can alone carry up to a 30-year mandatory sentence…

Federal prosecutor Anthony Asuncion said: “These men took something that did not belong to them: the lives of 14 human beings. They were turned into bloody bullet-riddled corpses at the hands of these men.”

“It must have seemed like the apocalypse was here,” said Asuncion in his closing argument, as he described how many were shot in the back, at long range, or blown up by powerful grenades used by the US contractors.

“There was not a single dead insurgent on the scene,” claimed the prosecutor. “None of these people were armed.”

Sounds like the qualities sought after by your local police department – guaranteeing these gangsters a job when they return to the States. That’s not just a smartass remark. It’s already part of the process of turning our local PD’s into military police.

RTFA for all the details. Personally, I think the GUARDIAN is too kind referring to “a series of legal mistakes by US officials”. Because never in over a half-century of civil rights activism have I ever seen any American officials make “legal mistakes” on behalf of someone poor, Black, working class.

The 14 victims killed by the Blackwater guards on trial were listed as Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y, Mahassin Mohssen Kadhum Al-Khazali, Osama Fadhil Abbas, Ali Mohammed Hafedh Abdul Razzaq, Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud, Qasim Mohamed Abbas Mahmoud, Sa’adi Ali Abbas Alkarkh, Mushtaq Karim Abd Al-Razzaq, Ghaniyah Hassan Ali, Ibrahim Abid Ayash, Hamoud Sa’eed Abttan, Uday Ismail Ibrahiem, Mahdi Sahib Nasir and Ali Khalil Abdul Hussein.

Someone in the United States ought to remember their names.

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What motivates Texas’ voter ID law? Supreme Court Justice says — racism

As one might expect, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had no difficulty putting her finger on the point of Texas’ voter ID law: it’s openly racist.

Ginsburg’s colleagues voted 6-3 to allow the Texas law to remain in effect for the upcoming election. But as she observed in a scathing dissent issued Saturday, the measure may prevent more than 600,000 registered voters, or 4.5% of the total, from voting in person for lack of accepted identification. “A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic,” she wrote.

The law’s intent is “purposely discriminatory,” Ginsburg concluded. Citing the U.S. District Court ruling that declared the Texas law unconstitutional, she observed that since 2000, Texas has become a majority-minority state. That gave its Legislature and governor “an evident motive to ‘gain partisan advantage by suppressing'” the votes of blacks and Latinos.

Is there any better testament to the bankruptcy of Republican political ideas than the party’s consistent effort to win elections by limiting the vote?…

Like all the Republican-governed states using this ploy to stop folks from voting, Texas turned up two cases that it to court. Time and again these states waste taxpayer dollar$ trying to prove their patent-leather lies.

Here in New Mexico, our Republican Secretary of state wasted hundreds of thousands of dollar$ trying to prove “widespread fraud” as preamble to forcing a law as criminal as the Texas variety. At the end she found a dozen people improperly registered and a couple who thought they were supposed to vote. And tried. And were turned away.

End of story. Meanwhile, crooks masquerading as constitutional experts run this crap through the Supreme Court as progress because right-wing bigots say we are a post-racial society. I would gladly start believing in some sillyass deity if these turds were struck by lightning for their lies.

Thanks, Mike

Oppenheimer’s reputation repaired by unredacted security records


Oppenheimer with a socialist who wouldn’t be allowed into the country, today

The release of unredacted transcripts of secret government hearings held in 1954 by the Atomic Energy Commission produced headlines last week as the disclosures reaffirmed the once-questioned loyalty of Los Alamos Manhattan Project mastermind J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Many are asking why it took six decades to release the previously secret sections, other than that the now-restored portions tended to exonerate Oppenheimer. One expert says there was no classified information in the redactions.

All questions of security in the United States are regulated by paranoid idiots.

In a monumental fall from grace, Oppenheimer went from the man who harnessed the power of the atom for the bombs that ended World War II to losing his security clearance after the AEC hearings amid accusations that this chain-smoking American eccentric was a Soviet spy.

The hearings were held against the backdrop of 1950s red-scare America, fueled by factors including the fact that Oppenheimer’s brother and wife had been communists, and his lack of enthusiasm for building the more powerful hydrogen or “Super” bomb.

RTFA. The JOURNAL isn’t quite as much of a PITA as some. They don’t require registration; but, you must answer one or more survey questions which earns them relevant baksheesh I guess.

Cold War hysteria fit perfectly into the reactionary politics of the American establishment post-WW2. Oppenheimer, with a scientist’s objectivity and reliance on observable and verifiable fact did not. Our politicians would rather reject talent than admit their foolishness. Which is why government transparency is a contradiction in terms.

His earnestness about trying to build peace – alienated him from hawkish thugs like Edward Teller who wanted more and bigger bombs every week [and got them] – sealed the deal. No pleas for peace in imperial ideology.

I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Oppenheimer a couple of times. He was just part of the audience at discussions about working to promote peace at forums sponsored by the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.

The Inequality Trifecta


– and in the United States, they own pretty much all the politicians

There were quite a few disconnects at the recently concluded Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Among the most striking was the disparity between participants’ interest in discussions of inequality and the ongoing lack of a formal action plan for governments to address it. This represents a profound failure of policy imagination – one that must urgently be addressed.

There is good reason for the spike in interest. While inequality has decreased across countries, it has increased within them, in the advanced and developing worlds alike. The process has been driven by a combination of secular and structural issues – including the changing nature of technological advancement, the rise of “winner-take-all” investment characteristics, and political systems favoring the wealthy – and has been turbocharged by cyclical forces.

In the developed world, the problem is rooted in unprecedented political polarization, which has impeded comprehensive responses and placed an excessive policy burden on central banks. Though monetary authorities enjoy more political autonomy than other policymaking bodies, they lack the needed tools to address effectively the challenges that their countries face.

…These are not normal times. With political gridlock blocking an appropriate fiscal response – after 2008, the United States Congress did not pass an annual budget, a basic component of responsible economic governance, for five years – central banks have been forced to bolster economies artificially. To do so, they have relied on near-zero interest rates and unconventional measures like quantitative easing to stimulate growth and job creation…

As a result, most countries face a trio of inequalities – of income, wealth, and opportunity – which, left unchecked, reinforce one another, with far-reaching consequences. Indeed, beyond this trio’s moral, social, and political implications lies a serious economic concern: instead of creating incentives for hard work and innovation, inequality begins to undermine economic dynamism, investment, employment, and prosperity.

So far, Mohamed El-Erian has avoided political office. In the United States as well as Egypt. Understandable when common understanding of officeholders in either nation leaves voters with a choice between the corrupt elected by the ignorant or someone too dumb to comprehend the differences.

Though he easily fits the populist definition of a prince of economics, history and academia both recognize his commitment to common folk, those of us who toil and spin, creating the profits of industry and commerce. I know I needn’t be concerned about most of the wasters in Congress understanding the article. They will not have read it.

Still, around the civilized world, most elected leaders trying to affect the lives of citizens in a positive fashion will read it and at least take his analysis to heart as honest and forthright – whether or not they agree with any logical tough remedies.

I suggest you click the link and read the whole article.

Who is missing from this picture?


Sec of Health, Sylvia Burwell; President Obama; CDC Director, Dr. Thomas FriedenREUTERS/Larry Downing

Who is missing? There ain’t any Surgeon General. That’s the person who would coordinate the federal contribution to confronting the Ebola threat to public health. Congressional Republicans have stopped the appointment of any one to that office for over a year.

That’s been the main in-house tactic of the Party of NO ever since the people of the United States elected a non-white president. And re-elected a non-white president. The normal procedures of staffing our federal courts with judges, appointing ambassadors, you name it – have been halted because a crap-cluster of old white Republicans decided they can’t abide a government headed by someone who doesn’t fit the good old boy network.

FTC expects record claims over AT&T cramming scam

AT&Y scum

Over 359,000 AT&T customers have already filled out an online application to obtain refunds from the company, which padded phone bills with suspect SMS charges.

Since the Federal Trade Commission announced a $105 million settlement with AT&T last week over fake billing charges, 359,000 individuals have already come forward to claim their share of the refund money, and that number is expected to climb.

The claims relate to so-called “cramming” charges in which AT&T customers paid extra fees, usually in the amount of $9.99, for “premium SMS” services that promised to deliver content like horoscopes and celebrity news to cell phones. Such services are a relic of the pre-smartphone days, but people still paid for them, often without authorization, with AT&T receiving a commission on the charges…

The process for making a claim is very straightforward: anyone who was an AT&T customer after January 1, 2009 can simply fill out this online form, which only requires a phone number and address.

Crooked corporation of the day, eh?

The Age of Vulnerability

Two new studies show, once again, the magnitude of the inequality problem plaguing the United States. The first, the US Census Bureau’s annual income and poverty report, shows that, despite the economy’s supposed recovery from the Great Recession, ordinary Americans’ incomes continue to stagnate. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, remains below its level a quarter-century ago.

It used to be thought that America’s greatest strength was not its military power, but an economic system that was the envy of the world. But why would others seek to emulate an economic model by which a large proportion – even a majority – of the population has seen their income stagnate while incomes at the top have soared?

A second study, the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report 2014, corroborates these findings. Every year, the UNDP publishes a ranking of countries by their Human Development Index (HDI), which incorporates other dimensions of wellbeing besides income, including health and education.

America ranks fifth according to HDI, below Norway, Australia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. But when its score is adjusted for inequality, it drops 23 spots – among the largest such declines for any highly developed country. Indeed, the US falls below Greece and Slovakia, countries that people do not typically regard as role models or as competitors with the US at the top of the league tables…

In the US, upward mobility is more myth than reality, whereas downward mobility and vulnerability is a widely shared experience. This is partly because of America’s health-care system, which still leaves poor Americans in a precarious position, despite President Barack Obama’s reforms.

Those at the bottom are only a short step away from bankruptcy with all that that entails. Illness, divorce, or the loss of a job often is enough to push them over the brink…

American politicians continue to reject the words and work of prize-winning economists like Joe Stiglitz for a couple of reasons. First, he won’t keep quiet about endemic illness in our economy. Inequality of opportunity being among the primetime crimes. Second, he doesn’t mind pointing out who benefits from the lousy politics, sleazy economics of the conservatives who have built this inequality into a new testament of American capitalism. Starting with fossil fuel and energy barons and following the money trail into the pants of Congress.

RTFA for details of the latest Stiglitz essay on a nation with leaders who really don’t care about the lives of ordinary people. Just stay in line and don’t ask too many questions.

Tech firms adopt warrant canaries — the Feds try to shut them up!

Warrant canaries — which tech companies are using to tell people that the government is NOT using secret orders — are the new frontline in the legal fight over surveillance.

Tech companies from Apple to Tumblr, faced with a growing number of secret orders from the government, have resorted to a clever legal tactic known as a warrant canary: the “canary,” popularized by libraries in the wake of the Patriot Act, is a sign that tells the public that an organization is not being investigated by the FBI. If the canary disappears, well, you can assume the worst:

Now, the federal government is trying to snuff out the use of canaries altogether, telling Twitter that it is forbidden from using “zero” when it reports on security demands in its Transparency Reports, the semi-annual documents used by Twitter and other tech companies to report on FBI and NSA demands.

The fact this there is a fight over “zero” and warrant canaries is revealed through a close reading of the lawsuit that Twitter filed against the Justice Department this week. The lawsuit, which claims the government security demands violate Twitter’s free speech rights, repeatedly asks the court to declare that it may use “zero” when stating whether it has been subject to various secret legal orders from the government…

Through its lawsuit, Twitter claims it has a First Amendment right to use warrant canaries to say whether or not it has received various categories of so-called NSL letters and FISA requests — secret orders that can subject the companies to criminal prosecution if they even disclose the existence of the letters in the first place…

I feel no need to sit around and discuss whether or not our government has the right not only to limit speech but ban your right to tell anyone it’s happening. This is as corrupt as anything attempted by dictators in any epoch in modern history. It is the polar opposite of transparency.

We sit here facing such limitations under a so-called liberal administration, one which campaigned for transparency in law and governance. I hate to break it to True Believers in the 2-party crappola; but, just as American foreign policy since the inception of the Cold War is indistinguishable between Democrat or Republican – attempts to shut down free speech, freedom of thought and inquiry are just as likely under administrations controlled by either wing of our corporate electoral police.

It doesn’t matter whether the donations and control come mostly from Wall Street and Silicon Valley – or Big Oil and the Military-Industrial Complex. We get screwed, our rights are under attack and transparency is a myth.

Lindsay and Edward together in Moscow

The mystery of the whereabouts of Edward Snowden’s long-time girlfriend is solved in a documentary that premiered in New York on Friday night: she has been living with the national security whistleblower in Russia since July.

The surprise revelation in the documentary, filmed by Laura Poitras, upends the widespread assumption that Snowden had deserted Lindsay Mills and that she, in a fit of pique, fled Hawaii where they had been living to stay with her parents in mainland US.

Since Snowden, a former NSA contractor, outed himself last year as being behind the biggest leak in US intelligence history, Mills has remained silent, giving no interviews or any hints of her feelings on the subject of her boyfriend or his actions.

The two-hour long documentary, Citizenfour, shows Mills living in Russia with Snowden…

Citizenfour offers a fly-on-the wall account of Snowden. Poitras filmed him at the Mira hotel in Hong Kong last year during interviews with journalists that resulted in a series of stories in the Guardian about the extent of surveillance by the US and British intelligence agencies as well as the internet and telecom companies. The revelations started a worldwide debate about the balance between surveillance and privacy.

Poitras captures the tension in his room at the Mira – where then-Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and I interviewed him – and in his final minutes at the hotel before he fled after being tipped off that hordes of media were about to arrive. She also filmed at the Guardian in London ahead of publication of one of the most explosive of the stories arising from Snowden’s revelations, and in Moscow, where Snowden is now in exile.

Snowden has been reluctant to talk about his personal life, preferring the media focus to be on wider debate about surveillance rather than him. But Poitras’s portrayal is both personal and sympathetic.

In his first comment about the documentary, which Poitras had shown to him in advance, Snowden told the Guardian: “I hope people won’t see this as a story about heroism. It’s actually a story about what ordinary people can do in extraordinary circumstances.”

I wish more Americans had the courage of Edward Snowden. I’ve known a few, folks who became left-wing activists on behalf of civil rights, peace and national liberation BITD. Two in particular who worked for military intelligence, who left the military and returned to the United States to become active in very different ways. Like Snowden, revulsion at the lies and deceit of our government, our “leaders” patronizing attitude towards the American people, lies in support of an imperial foreign policy – turned them into activists against political corruption.

And Lindsay Mills – I know nothing more than what little I read in newspapers like the GUARDIAN. Most of what appears here in the States, from the TIMES to TV talking heads, you can presume to be crap, lies and more crap. Mostly motivated by dedication and subservience to the Washington establishment. I accept her private life with Edward Snowden as her own.

I accept their life together as a reflection of the proto-existential dicho, “what is done out of love takes place beyond good and evil”. Snowden, for love of his country and its Constitution. Mills, for love of her man.