MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF TRUTHOUT AT BUZZFLASH Supreme Court
Yesterday, we wrote a piece on the long-term and devastating impact of the right-wing GOP increasing control over the federal judiciary. It is a toxic impact that will last for decades, as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit David Sentelle has shown.
The BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary, "Republican Federal Judge David Sentelle: How the GOP Has Packed the Courts With Partisan Hacks," explains a bit of background on how Sentelle has carried out GOP political objectives through the federal courts since 1985 – and since 1987 on the DC appellate court in a way that has negatively changed the course of US history.
As further background on the Republican federal bench coup (remember it resulted in on a Supreme Court mandated stolen election in 2000), BuzzFlash is reaching back into its early days and providing some context through David Brock, now head of Media Matters.
In 2002, BuzzFlash was one of the foremost promoters of a repentant David Brock. At that time, Brock had written a mea culpa book, "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative," recounting how he had been a journalistic hit man for the extreme right. Indeed, Brock had been instrumental in igniting the Whitewater and Troopergate stories as a means for the Republicans to pursue the eventual impeachment of Bill Clinton. Brock "reported" for the American Spectator, a right wing attack publication largely financed by Richard Mellon Scaife, who was sort of a one man Koch Brothers in the '90s.
In short, Brock was a key scribe for what was known as "The Arkansas Project," the right wing financed effort to drive Bill Clinton from office despite being elected by the voters of America for two terms. Brock called it a "contract on Clinton" that included his early articles about Paula Jones that stirred up the Ken Starr lynch mob after the Whitewater findings -- the original purpose of the independent counsel -- ended with the exoneration of the Clintons, who had actually lost money on the deal.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT David Sentelle, Partisan Judicial Hack
The hijacking of the federal judiciary by the Republican Party – through the appointment of aggressive partisan judges combined with preventing votes on nominations by Democratic presidents – is the hidden cancer on US government. The sudden nixing of recess appointments last week by a DC appellate court panel of three Republican-appointed judges (in this case Obama filling empty National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seats and appointing Richard Cordray to chair the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) during a recess to circumvent endless Republican sabotage in the Senate) is symbolic of the macro-subversion of justice through manipulation of the federal bench, including, of course the Supreme Court.
It should be remembered, for those who have forgotten, that almost no legal scholars or analysts – conservative or liberal – thought that the Supreme Court would rule on the 2000 presidential ballot recount dispute in Florida. But Antonin Scalia, the exhaustively partisan hack who impresses people with his intellectually sounding illogical and unconstitutional blather, stopped the recount faster than you can say "stolen election."
Then he went onto gather his partisan five votes to permanently halt the recount in an act of Republican hypocrisy usurping states' rights that was limited, in the opinion of the felonius five, to apply only to the one case of – in effect -- appointing George W. Bush as president.
Enter David Sentelle, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Not only is the DC appellate court the most powerful in the land, it is essentially the pre-trial hearing ground for government cases before they reach the Supreme Court (if the Supreme Court chooses to hear an appeal).
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT Treasury Department
During the Bush presidencies, we thought that DC had turned into a Republican version of the Yale Secret Society "Skull and Bones" (which the Bush's had a dynastic membership in), in which the few inside players in government and finance protect and enrich each other – not to mention remain unaccountable for illegal governmental actions.
But as BuzzFlash at Truthout has reported again and again, the Obama administration – through the Department of Justice (DOJ), Treasury Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, and assorted other executive branch agencies and departments – has frequently applied a double standard to the masters of the universe when it comes to the rule of law and financial gain.
The BuzzFlash at Truthout commentaries dealing with the Washington DC government/Wall Street insider club are too many to mention, but our most recent critiques were "The Covington & Burling Trio Overseeing the Department of Justice Criminal Division: An Injustice" and "Consigliere Lanny Breuer, Head of the DOJ Criminal Division, Leaves Without Prosecuting One Made Man on Wall Street."
If you are a member of the masters of the universe secret society – the smug, career opportunist, ultra-rich governing/corporate class – you have something akin to a bullet proof vest at your disposal, only it is a prosecution proof garment that keeps you from going to jail for financial misconduct, while the guy who cashes three bum checks gets life in prison in some states.
(Photo: Joe W. Campbell)
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT Law gets dumb about smartphones
The Atlantic provides more evidence that the government is more interested in granting corporations monopolies than having them compete in a vibrant free market.
According to the Atlantic article headline, "It Is Now a Crime to Unlock Your Smartphone." That's right, as of Saturday, your smartphone cannot be switched by you to another carrier. In fact it will be a felony, with a huge potential jail sentence and possible humongous fines. As the Atlantic laments, "These laws serve to protect the interests of a few companies and create and maintain barriers to entry."
Indeed they do. In this case, for regulatory reasons derived from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), this legal obstruction of the theoretical free market and potential punishment of individual consumers is being instigated by the Library of Congress, of all places:
Until recently it was illegal to jailbreak your own iPhone, and after Saturday it will be illegal to unlock a new smartphone, thereby allowing it to switch carriers. This is a result of the exception to the DMCA lapsing. It was not a mistake, but rather an intentional choice by the Librarian of Congress, that this was no longer fair use and acceptable. The Electronic Frontier Foundation among other groups has detailed the many failings of the DMCA Triennial Rulemaking process, which in this case led to this exception lapsing.
The intrusion of the mega-corporations into fixing the rules to prevent competition and consumer choice should have, as the Atlantic notes, Republicans in an uproar – but Capitol Hill Republicans (as is the case with many Dems on the Hill) are not really pro-free market; they are pro monopolizing corporations.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Let's start here, with a question from the website Wall Street Parade:
The public, and Congress, have a pressing need to question how a law firm that was cited by a U.S. District Court, an Appellate Court and the U.S. Supreme Court as playing a central role in coordinating the illegal activity of Big Tobacco – activity that callously harmed the health and welfare of both children and adults, ended up sending three of its lawyers to the top slots at the Nation’s highest law enforcement office.
Both Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General, and Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division were Covington & Burling partners before they joined the Justice Department. Dan Suleiman, who also worked at Covington and Burling, became the new deputy chief of staff and counselor to Lanny Breuer on July 16 of this year. Since 2008, employees of Covington & Burling have contributed $347,951 to President Obama’s campaigns.
In the past, Covington & Burling's clients have included Monsanto, Union Pacific, Merck, Warner-Lambert, Eli Lilly, Turner Broadcasting, IBM, General Motors, BankBoston Corporation, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Blackwater (Xe), Chiquita Bananas (in which Eric Holder defended the company against a lawsuit brought by families of individuals slain by Colombian paramilitary groups receiving money from Chiquita), the Southern Peru Copper Company (accused of human rights violations and pollution) among a bevy of other mega-financial and corporate entities.
Among this list, it is important to remember that Covington & Burling received a lacerating critique from a federal judge in 2006 for its long-term representation of the Tobacco Institute and Philip Morris. Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia reprimanded attorneys for not just representing Big Tobacco, but for taking part in a conspiracy to deceive the public and regulators:
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
"Lanny Breuer, Justice Department criminal division chief, is stepping down," a Wednesday Washington Post headline announced.
We'd like to think that it was a Tuesday BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary that did the trick: "The New Untouchables Are Wall Street Executives, Despite Evidence Many Likely Criminally Violated Sarbanes-Oxley Act." In that piece, BuzzFlash observed that Breuer is ultimately responsible for not prosecuting any key Wall Street executives, many of which – on the evidence available – oversaw a tsunami of criminal violations of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Many Americans are not aware of Sarbanes-Oxley, which has many legal requirements in it. A key regulation it places on corporations, under penalty of law, is full disclosure of financial transactions and any discovered fraudulent activity. The latter breaking of the law was key to how the subprime mortgage breakdown was the gateway to the collapse of the economy in 2008.
Yet, Breuer, who was – and likely will be again – an insider DC megabucks lawyer representing banks too big to fail and global corporations, settled on fines (or let the Securities and Exchange Commission do a slap on the wrist to corporate and financial masters of the universe). As the Washington Post confirms, "Prior to his appointment at the Justice Department, Breuer worked at the Washington office of the Covington & Burling law firm, alongside [Eric] Holder."
In short, Breuer and Holder are responsible to the American people for prosecuting the same masters of the universe clientele who they represented for lavish salaries at Covington & Burling. We can't read the minds of Breuer and Holder, but given DC precedent, it is quite likely that they will return to mega-bucks salary partnerships at a DC law firm again representing the kind of people who they are supposed to be prosecuting. If they criminally indict Wall Street executives, their financial value as attorneys decreases. That's the bottom line.
Besides, these guys are of the same elite managerial class that the Wall Street "made men" are.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Federal Aviation Administration is planning on authorizing drone use that might result in 30,000 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) cruising through US airspace in the next decade. (There are already drones flying intelligence and law enforcement surveillance over American territory.) Many of these will be for commercial use (for instance, FedEX is preparing to use drones for deliveries to smaller markets).
But as of today, such drones present a chilling possibility beyond the already invasive loss of privacy and crowding of the skies: using a non-encrypted GPS system, the drones can possibly be hijacked and used for destructive purposes, potentially as bomb delivery vehicles by domestic or foreign terrorists.
Assistant Professor Todd Humphreys of the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin confirmed to BuzzFlash at Truthout that such a vulnerability exists. Humphreys developed the prototype for what is known as a "spoofer," a device that can seize control of a civilian drone (military drones are encrypted and less vulnerable to hijackings, although they can be jammed and disrupted in certain circumstances – which possibly explains how the Iranians captured a fully intact CIA surveillance drone).
Last year, Humphreys and his aerospace engineering team at the University of Texas demonstrated to the Department of Homeland Security and the FAA how, with equipment costing less than $2000, a drone could be hijacked in a controlled setting with a "spoofer." A similar experiment also proved successful at Carnegie Mellon University, according to Space.com: "The overall landscape of GPS vulnerabilities is startling, and our experiments demonstrate a signiﬁcantly larger attack surface than previously thought," a research paper about the Carnegie Mellon study concluded. "Until GPS is secured, life and safety-critical applications that depend upon it are likely vulnerable to attack."
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On January 22, Frontline airs a program asking why the executives on Wall Street who oversaw the economic meltdown in 2007 have remain unprosecuted.
According to a Frontline release, "In 'The Untouchables,' premiering Jan. 22, 2013, at 10 P.M. on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE producer and correspondent Martin Smith investigates why the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has failed to act on credible evidence that Wall Street knowingly packaged and sold toxic mortgage loans to investors, loans that brought the U.S. and world economies to the brink of collapse."
Frontline asks "asks Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Criminal Division, about his failure to criminally indict Wall Street executives. 'I think there was a level of greed, a level of excessive risk taking in this situation that I find abominable and very upsetting,' says Breuer. 'But that is not what makes a criminal case.'"
Yet, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was designed to prosecute key elements of the kind of activity that Wall Street engaged in prior to the economic breakdown – and of which there is the possibility that they are still engaging in. All the DOJ has done is fine banks (which is merely a cost of their doing business) along with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The lamentable damage to justice is nothing new regarding Wall Street inviolability from a criminal perspective (in regards to financial accountability). In fact, "60 Minutes" aired a compelling, lengthy evidence-filled investigative story on December 4, 2011, in which reporter Steve Kroft begins the segment with this statement:
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT Is the GOP brand in trouble?
If the Republicans are moving away from a confrontation with President Obama on the debt ceiling, a just-released NBC/Wall Street journal poll may hold the answer as to why: 49 percent of Americans view the GOP negatively, while only 26 percent view the party positively.
In contrast, the Democratic Party, in the survey conducted January 12-15, had a 44% favorability rating.
Looking toward the 2014 mid-term election, the Republicans (at this moment – and polling can shift like the wind) face the possibility of a wave election that breaks like a tsunami washing over their gerrymandered Tea Party House majority. According to Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
While Republicans still hold the House majority, they lost seats in the 2012 election and acknowledge that they held onto the majority only because of gerrymandering. Majorities of Republican voters reject key proponents of the GOP agenda, including cuts to Social Security and Medicare. In fact, 63 percent of GOP voters say the congressional GOP is out of touch. (That’s a Rasmussen number, by the way.)
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT Omerta: Jamie Dimon is a "made man"
On Tuesday, BuzzFlash wrote about how the late Aaron Swartz represented the double standard of the Department of Justice on aggressively prosecuting progressive activists – and demanding jail time – but letting off those in political and financial power. This can also be said about the government's treatment of Bradley Manning and many others versus the unprosecuted number of pro-administration classified leakers who are authorized to talk anonymously to the press on behalf of the administration.
Just think, is anyone getting prosecuted for all the leaks, including a book, about the Osama bin Laden raid? Not a chance.
BuzzFlash, also pointed out, as have numerous others, that the Wall Street bank fraudsters get bonuses and impunity, while the small fish of the financial world get prosecuted with an iron fist so that the Department of Justice (DOJ) can claim that it is enforcing the law. It's the appearance of abiding by the "rule of law," but in reality abandoning that standard for the powerful elite. For them the DOJ observes the ruling managerial class standard of omerta. It is the DC "masters of the universe" code of silence.
Top Wall Street dog and Obama favorite Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase's CEO, recently endured the "punishment" of having his yearly bonus reduced to $10 million dollars for not driving Chase's stock price and profit even higher. (Meanwhile, Chase cut its staff by 1500 last year.)
But the venerable Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel.net recently wrote a commentary that nailed down how the DOJ gives Dimon and bank executives at behemoths like HSBC a legal pass on criminal prosecution, while forcing a small fish in Los Angeles to go to jail for five years for lesser crimes. In this case, it involves the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Act. Wheeler describes how the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued orders to JPMorgan Chase to comply with the act (which is primarily meant to reduce the illicit money laundering of cash). But JP Morgan Chase continues to flout the law.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF TRUTHOUT AT BUZZFLASH President Obama with VP Joe Biden
Let's not mince words, with his issuance of 23 executive orders related to reducing gun violence, President Barack Obama is putting his life on the line.
The National Rifle Association is in the business, along with other even more fringe gun advocacy groups, of ginning up the base into a froth of hysteria. In this case, the gun lobby – as it is known – has been "warning" the white males psychologically in need of guns that Obama is going to confiscate all their firearms – and this nonsensical but highly incendiary charge has been caroming around the gunner universe since before the president was sworn in.
Timothy McVeigh was no anomaly. He just happened to succeed in killing 168 people in Oklahoma City. There are an unknown, but presumably large, number of pro-gun, "Turner Diary" reading gun fanatics out there who are fueled on high octane paranoia – and believe themselves the valiant patriots of a gun-toting white Christian male America. They are homegrown cousins of the Islamic Jihad movement, imbued with the conviction that killing in order to save the sacred gun culture is an act of martyrdom, not a crime.
On Truthout yesterday, Thom Hartmann wrote a trenchant insight into the Second Amendment and how it was originally crafted to placate Southern states who wanted to maintain armed militias to hunt down slaves and ensure a pro-slavery paramilitary. Hartmann describes the historical context of the Second Amendment:
By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.
If the anti-slavery folks in the North had figured out a way to disband - or even move out of the state - those southern militias, the police state of the South would collapse.
Now, we have our first African-American president and the heritage of the "slave patrols" is returning with a vengeance as the gun lobby stirs up white males fearing for their loss of power in society into a frenzy.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT A matter of justice
The status quo managerial elite – consisting of the political and financial masters of the universe – cannot tolerate progressive advocacy that threatens to redistribute power or wealth. That is why police across the nation were instructed to crush the Occupy Movement, to pummel it into dust as a public occupation of space – and more importantly to remove its message of grassroots power and wealth redistribution from the headlines of the media.
Those in the driver's seat of the nation fear empowering activism such as Occupy, as if it were a virulent contagion that might rapidly spread across the population and infect the public with "dangerous" ideas of financial and political justice.
Last week, BuzzFlash at Truthout yet again chastised the Department of Justice (DOJ) for giving a get out of jail free card to the moneyed elite. But that applies to the political elite too, who generally are not prosecuted for war crimes, torture, etc. Those in power protect those in power.
But the DOJ appears to have limitless resources to pursue Internet transparency activists such as Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide the other day at the age of 26. The pursuit only stopped with death, as the DOJ, according to The Hill, formally dropped the charges that appeared to be the precipitating factor in Swartz's taking his own life (in what appears to have been a valley of personal depression):
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Matthew R. Davies is 34 and married with two daughters. He runs a business that reportedly meticulously complies with California regulations and laws. He pays his taxes, providing much needed revenue to the government, and heads a transparent operation that is highly visible and meets a need.
In a New York Times (NYT) article, one of his former staff gushed over Davies's considerate treatment of his employees:
Stephanie Horton, 25, who went to work for Mr. Davies after going to one of his dispensaries to obtain medical marijuana to help her deal with ovarian and cervical cancer, said she was devastated by the arrest of employers she described as among the best she had ever had — not to mention the loss of her job.
“I’d go back and work there in a heartbeat,” Ms. Horton said. “I totally trusted them. We’re not criminals. I’ve never been arrested my whole life. I need that medication, and so do a whole lot of people.”
Now, because he refuses to accept a 5-year sentence in a federal prison for operating a medical marijuana dispensary and growing marijuana plants -- as part of a plea bargain with the Department of Justice (DOJ) -- he faces a trial and, if convicted of violating federal law (even though he is in full compliance with California law), could serve a long stretch in jail.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
As the 2010 Tea Party "wave" mid-term election resulted in Republicans controlling the governorships and state legislatures in many states, we saw a national GOP effort to suppress the votes of Democratic voting groups. For the most part, the effort failed. The federal government and some state courts struck down many efforts to legally deny voting, particularly in battleground states.
Yet, many states and many voting obstacles for non-Republican demographic voting groups were still put into place. It is hard to know how many US citizens were inhibited from voting based on such laws and what the presidential vote might have been (along with other races) had there been a system in place nationally that guaranteed the right of a citizen to vote.
But given the redistricting that occurred at the state legislature level after 2010, just as it did in congress, we are likely to see repeated efforts to deny the most basic right of citizenship – the right to vote – based on an utterly false narrative that otherwise there would be massive voter fraud. This effort will likely continue, unless perhaps Democratic governors are elected in states that currently have a GOP government monopoly, until reapportionment occurs in 2021.
Indeed, there have been a number of trial balloons that at least some Republican controlled states -- most notably as articulated by the GOP secretary of state in Ohio – might move to award state electoral votes by congressional district (currently only in effect in Maine and Nebraska). This would have meant Obama, who won the popular vote in Ohio, would have decisively lost the electoral vote to Romney because of the large number of gerrymandered Republican congressional districts in that state. (In the new congress, there will be four Democratic congressional representatives and 12 Republicans from the Buckeye State.)