Ethics-challenged judges added to opioid deaths…and more


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❝ For years, they sealed evidence about the risks as the body count mounted. And as a Reuters analysis found, it’s only one of many big product-liability cases in which judges have countenanced a lethal and often unlawful secrecy.

❝ In an unprecedented analysis, Reuters found that over the past 20 years, judges sealed evidence relevant to public health and safety in about half of the 115 biggest defective-product cases consolidated before federal judges in so-called multidistrict litigation, or MDLs. Those cases comprised nearly 250,000 individual death and injury lawsuits, involving dozens of products used by millions of consumers: drugs, cars, medical devices and other products. And the numbers don’t convey the full extent of information locked away because they don’t include thousands of product-liability cases heard in state courts.

Frankly, they need to be indicted and tried in something more than the court of public opinion. However, I doubt there is any appropriate body in American jurisprudence or politics with sufficient courage – or dedication to the common good – to do so.

Fifty Years Ago, Israel attacked an unarmed US Navy ship killing 34

❝ On June 8, 1967, an Israeli torpedo tore through the side of the unarmed American naval vessel USS Liberty, approximately a dozen miles off the Sinai coast. The ship, whose crew was under command of the National Security Agency, was intercepting communications at the height of the Six-Day War when it came under direct Israeli aerial and naval assault…an attack that would leave 34 Americans dead and 171 wounded.

❝ Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the assault on the USS Liberty, and though it was among the worst attacks in history against a noncombatant U.S. naval vessel, the tragedy remains shrouded in secrecy. The question of if and when Israeli forces became aware they were killing Americans has proved a point of particular contention in the on-again, off-again public debate that has simmered over the last half a century. The Navy Court of Inquiry’s investigation proceedings following the incident were held in closed sessions, and the survivors who had been on board received gag orders forbidding them to ever talk about what they endured that day.

This INTERCEPT article has a couple of documents leaked by Edward Snowden as its core. Excepting these 2 documents, our patriotic spies still keep the entire event under security wraps. So much for transparency in a democracy. Even after a half-century.

A worthwhile read. Learn some real history, folks.

Thanks, Martyn

Spy chiefs briefed 8 Congress-drones a year ago on hacking of Democrats — didn’t tell DNC “because it was a secret”

U.S. intelligence officials told top congressional leaders a year ago that Russian hackers were attacking the Democratic Party, three sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday, but the lawmakers were unable to tell the targets about the hacking because the information was so secret…

The material was marked with additional restrictions and assigned a unique codeword, limiting access to a small number of officials who needed to know that U.S. spy agencies had concluded that two Russian intelligence agencies or their proxies were targeting the Democratic National Committee, the central organizing body of the Democratic Party…

Our spy professionals decided the DNC didn’t need to know.

The alleged hacking of the Democrats and the Russian connection did not become public until late last month when the FBI said it was investigating a cyber attack at the DNC…

The congressional briefing was given last summer in a secure room called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, to a group of congressional leaders informally known as the “Gang of Eight,” the sources said.

The group at the time included four Republicans: Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, and Senator Richard Burr and Representative Devin Nunes, the House and Senate intelligence committee chairs. Their Democratic counterparts were: Senator Harry Reid and Representative Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff of the intelligence committees…

A bipartisan group of professional politicians who couldn’t care less about transparency, security.

The attack on the DNC later led the hackers to other party organizations, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises funds for House candidates, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and other groups…

One of the sources said the Clinton campaign first detected attacks on its data system in early March, and was given what the source described as a “general briefing” about it by the FBI later that month. The source said the FBI made no mention of a Russian connection in that briefing and did not say when the penetration first took place.

According to a memo obtained by Reuters, interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile said on Thursday she was creating a Cybersecurity Advisory Board “to ensure prevent future attacks and ensure that the DNC’s cybersecurity capabilities are best-in-class.”

Better update security on your own. Obviously you can’t count on our bought-and-paid-for government spies to offer any help.

FISA court contradicts SCOTUS on our rights — in secret of course

On Tuesday, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) declassified an opinion in which it explained why the government’s collection of records of all Americans’ phone calls is constitutional, and that if there is a problem with the program, it is a matter of political judgment, not constitutional law…

…The opinion does not even mention last year’s unanimous US supreme court decision on the fourth amendment and GPS tracking, a decision in which all three opinions include strong language that may render the NSA’s phone records collection program unconstitutional. No court that had been briefed by both sides would have ignored the grave constitutional issues raised by the three opinions of Justices Scalia, Sotomayor, and Alito in United States v Jones. And no opinion that fails to consider these should calm anyone down…

In Jones, the government attached a GPS device to a suspect’s car and tracked all the car’s movements for four weeks. The government argued that since the car was visible on public roads, and could have been tracked in the open by a police officer, no warrant was needed. Just like phone metadata, the car’s movements were not in private – they were on public roads. The lower court had already excluded evidence from when the car was parked in its private parking lot. All nine justices found the tracking unconstitutional, and each of the opinions offer strong reasons to reject the Fisa court’s interpretation of the fourth amendment with regards to phone metadata…

The most sophisticated opinion about how “big data” changes what courts must do to protect against state surveillance was authored by Sotomayor, who also provided the fifth vote for the court’s main opinion. Responding specifically to the claim that GPS tracking involved only non-private information from public travel, Sotomayor wrote that with today’s technology even observing these purely public movements “generates a precise, comprehensive record of a person’s public movements that reflect a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious and sexual associations”.

As though writing about the NSA program itself, Sotomayor continued…”Awareness that the government may be watching chills associational and expressive freedoms. And the government’s unrestrained power to assemble data that reveal private aspects of identity is susceptible to abuse…

…All the Jones opinions offer a very strong argument that the dramatically lower cost of pervasive, sustained surveillance of publicly observable data in bulk implicates the fourth amendment, and that whatever its statutory basis, this program may well violate that amendment. That the FISC opinion did not even mention Jones is as clear a sign as we have that without fundamental reform, Americans simply cannot rely on the Fisa court’s lopsided process to protect our rights.

Lawyers – especially constitutional lawyers – understand how a change in context, in all or part of a process, changes a precedent. For Obama to play “Let’s pretend” with protecting our constitutional rights is a puppet show designed to gloss over the fears of the clueless, prop up the backbone of politicians and pundits who only need the word “legal” in a lie to make it acceptable.

If Obama was only playing the opposition game when he opposed George W. Bush’s playing loose with our freedoms – then he’s just another opportunist hack. If his opposition was legit and, now, the arguments from the NSA/CIA/Pentagon-types have convinced him to accept this crap – then he’s lacking backbone as much as any ordinary Blue Dog Democrat. Either way – instead of providing leadership which BTW doesn’t burn money by the boatload in wasted hours and flunkyland snoop facilities – he’s settling in to the status quo and “change” means that’s what he does to get along with the thugs who really own this nation.

We need to shine more light on America’s secret spy court

Many of America’s controversial surveillance activities are “legal” because they are approved by a secret court. Critics, including its own judges, have called for reform – but the problem won’t be fixed until the court adopts some basic legal traditions…

…There is a lot at stake because the court is charged with issuing warrants that give spy agencies permission to listen to Americans’ phone and email conversations if the agencies think there’s a chance that the American in question is communicating with a terror suspect outside the country.

The problem, however, is that the spy agencies are not asking for individual warrants, but large batches of them at once. And the FISA court has been rubber-stamping nearly all of these requests — without leaving any public record of when or why it is doing so…

…This week, a former FISA Court judge published an op-ed titled “A Better Secret Court” in which he argued that the government should appoint lawyers with security clearance to argue the side of the people the government wants to spy on (the people themselves can’t be made aware of the proceedings since that might compromise the investigations).

Such reforms could better protect civil liberties but they don’t address what’s most wrong the FISA court.

Even non-lawyers are familiar with two basic elements of how courts work in a democracy: the court publishes its decision and the loser has a way to appeal it. The FISA court, however, doesn’t really provide either of these basic planks of justice.

Only a handful of the FISA court’s many rulings over the past few decades have seen the light of day, since it is the court itself that decides whether to release them. And the appeals process is a bit of a mystery — even to lawyers familiar with the court…

It would not take much to fix the situation. Congress can write rules to require the court’s decisions to be declassified on a regular basis. It can also change the original law that created the court to confirm that it is not an island unto itself, but part of the rest of America’s judiciary and subject to oversight by the Supreme Court.

A coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans have already formed an influential alliance to challenge the country’s surveillance practices. It would be easy for them to shift their attention to the FISA Court and support people like Rep. Steven Cohen (D-Tenn) who are already trying to reform it.

Finally, in the short term, the FISA Court can take the situation into its own hands and start publishing its decisions — especially the ones that explain the powers of the government and the court’s own role in overseeing it. This transparency is essential to ensure that America, as it expands its security operations, doesn’t abandon the basic legal protections that are the base of every free society.

The closeness of the single occasion when Congress has voted on the question is encouraging. Cripes, it’s encouraging when Congress – particularly the Republican-controlled House – figures out how to do anything.

I wasn’t aware of the FISA court having the power to reform itself. I think the Obama White House can continue to count on childlike obedience from that quarter.

Meanwhile, we need to keep up the pressure.

Banks leaving Switzerland as the end of secrecy hurts tax dodgers

For European lenders with private-banking aspirations, a presence in Switzerland used to be a must. Now, with bank secrecy eroding and rising compliance costs chipping away at profits, more are saying adieu.

The number of foreign-owned Swiss banks fell to 129 by the end of May from 145 at the start of 2012, according to data from the Association of Foreign Banks in Switzerland. Assets under management slid by a quarter to $921 billion in the five years through 2012 as clients withdrew money or paid taxes on undeclared accounts…

…While Switzerland remains the biggest center for global offshore wealth with $2.2 trillion or about 26 percent of the market…departures may further chip away at the Alpine republic’s status.

“There will be a bit of a shakeout among private banks,” said Felix Wenger…co-head of the private-banking practice at consulting firm McKinsey & Co…“Specifically for Switzerland, some foreign players might conclude that an exit is a better option…”

The U.S. has been investigating Swiss banks and units of foreign banks in the country, including that of London-based HSBC, after UBS AG (UBSN) in 2009 avoided prosecution by admitting it fostered tax evasion and delivering data on about 4,700 accounts of Americans. France and Germany have been searching for tax dodgers using data stolen from Swiss banks and also sharing some of the information with authorities in other European countries.

Agreements with the U.K. and Austria to collect taxes on behalf of those countries on accounts held in Switzerland have been in force since January, and Switzerland is in talks with other European countries on taxing secret accounts. The country will join the international push against tax dodgers and help develop global standards allowing banks to share customers’ details to combat tax evasion, Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said in June…

Everyone is so nice and polite. Fact is we’re discussing corruption and theft, money owed to any number of nations. Looks like Mitt Romney will have to move a couple of chairs over to make room in the Cayman Islands for more of his cheapskate buddies to move in from Switzerland.

Pension fund sues Qualcomm for records of investors’ money used to fund political campaigns

New York State’s $150-billion public pension fund has sued Qualcomm, seeking to force the chipmaker to reveal its political spending, according to the state comptroller.

The suit was filed late on Wednesday in Delaware Court of Chancery, after Qualcomm refused the request by the New York State Common Retirement Fund — a Qualcomm shareholder — to inspect records detailing the use of corporate resources for political activities, said state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who oversees the fund.

“Without disclosure, there is no way to know whether corporate funds are being used in ways that go against shareholder interests,” DiNapoli, a Democrat who is up for re-election in 2014, said in a statement.

The suit opens a new front in the fight over corporate political spending, which has risen dramatically since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United.

That decision lifted restrictions on corporate political spending and led in part to an unprecedented $6 billion of spending on the recently held U.S. elections.

While other companies have agreed to increase their disclosure of political spending, Qualcomm has not…

Since at least August 2012, the pension fund has repeatedly attempted to get the information from Qualcomm, but the company has refused to divulge it, the suit claimed.

New York’s pension fund is “concerned that it cannot determine whether senior executives and directors of Qualcomm are spending corporate resources to support their favored political candidates” or on causes that aren’t focused on boosting shareholder value, the complaint said.

Other sources show that in 2012, Qualcomm spent more than $4.7 million on federal lobbying efforts, according to the complaint.

Delightful. Glad to see this approach/attack getting started.

Ever since the conservative flunkies on the Supreme Court decided “corporations are people, too” – and started the tsunami of corporate cash flowing into the coffers of SuperPACS – the American electorate has been stymied by Congressional hacks. This tactic is one that has been considered as having the potential to lift the veil of secrecy the same “justices” obediently handed over.

RTFA for the details.

Panetta halts controversial program – still won’t say what it was!


Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Four months after he was sworn in, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta learned of an intelligence program that had been hidden from Congress since 2001, a revelation that prompted him to immediately cancel the initiative and schedule a pair of closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill.

The next day, June 24, Panetta informed the House and Senate intelligence committees of the program and the action he had taken, according to Democratic and Republican members of the panels.

The incident has reignited a long-running dispute between congressional Democrats and the CIA, with some calling it part of a broader pattern of the agency withholding information from Congress.

Republicans could care less.

The program remains classified, and those knowledgeable about it would describe it only vaguely yesterday. Several current and former administration officials called it an “on-again, off-again” attempt to create a new intelligence capability and said it was related to the collection of information on suspected terrorists that was instituted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks…

Current and former administration officials familiar with the program said it was not directly related to previously disclosed high-priority programs such as detainee interrogations or the warrantless surveillance of suspected terrorists on U.S. soil. It was a intelligence-collection activity run by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, officials said. It was not a covert action, which by law would have required a presidential finding and a report to Congress.

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