Archive | Dirty Rotten Scoundrels


Oh, goody!

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court weakened a key anticorruption law today, ruling that the law against “honest services” fraud is too vague to constitute a crime unless a bribe or kickback was involved.

The decision is likely to have a wide impact and could affect recent convictions of public figures and corporate executives.

They include former Enron chief executive Jeff Skilling and former Chicago newspaper magnate Conrad Black, both of whom had appealed to the Supreme Court. They were convicted on other charges as well, however, and those convictions still stand.

Why Can’t Anyone Answer This Simple Question?

I keep reading all kinds of conspiracy theories as to why the press is unable to cover the Gulf oil spill and its cleanup. People say all kinds of crazy things when there’s an information vacuum. But I’m starting to wonder if there’s really some sensational explanation for why BP gets to keep the press from reporting on the cleanup sites, because I haven’t heard a good reason yet. Now that Helen Thomas is gone, there’s no one capable of asking a question until they get a real answer:

Mac McClelland, whose reporting from the Gulf for Mother Jones has been indispensable, brings us this latest bag of bull from BP, which insists that it’s not trying to restrict press access to public spaces.

According to McClelland, this was filmed on non-BP property in Houma last week by Drew Wheelan of the American Birding Association, who was stopped from filming by a Louisiana state police officer:

Wheelan: “Am I violating any laws or anything like that?”

Officer: “Um…not particularly. BP doesn’t want people filming.”

Wheelan: “Well, I’m not on their property so BP doesn’t have anything to say about what I do right now.”

Officer: “Let me explain: BP doesn’t want any filming. So all I can really do is strongly suggest that you not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

It makes no sense, unless, of course, BP has some authority over police and sheriff’s departments in Louisiana, a scenario that BP denies but which seems to crop up again and again. WDSU-TV’s Scott Walker, whose own encounter with an official who attempted to deny him access to a public beach went viral, received an apology from a BP flack nine days later.

Wheelan’s encounter didn’t stop there. Read McClelland’s entire report, and the next time someone asks you “Well, what do you want President Obama to do?”, tell them he could start by looking into why a foreign corporation seems to be allowed to act with extralegal authority on U.S. soil. It’s the sort of thing you’d think the Tea Party might care about, too.

ACORN Goes To Court Thursday

If you’re in New York this Thursday, here’s something useful you can do.

As you probably already know, ACORN is appealing this cutoff as an unconstitutional Bill of Attainder (the kind of thing the constitution-lovin’ Republicans would ordinarily protest, except that they demanded this one).

But it’s more than the legal issues. Liberals have to stand up for our allies, and few groups have done more to help the party base than ACORN. Show your support, either by attending the hearing, or by making a donation:

Please join the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) June 24, 2010 to take a stand against Congress’ unconstitutional defunding of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). ACORN, a community organization that serves poor and working class people across the U.S., was the subject of a targeted right-wing attack last year. CCR filed a case challenging Congress’ unconstitutional actions, and in March, a federal judgeordered the United States government and several federal agencies to rescind orders cutting off funding to ACORN and its affiliates and allies. The U.S. government has appealed this order. Join CCR for oral argument in Acorn v. U.S.A. to make the message loud and clear: give ACORN the federal funding it is undeniably due.

What: Oral Argument in ACORN v. U.S.A.
When: Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. (arrive by 9:30 a.m. for security and seating)
Where: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 500 Pearl Street, 9th Floor, Ceremonial Courtroom, New York, NY 10007Learn more about Acorn v. U.S.A.

Holder Delays Action On Prison Rape Commission Recommendations

The Washington Post published this two weeks ago, but still nothing happened:

“RAPE IS VIOLENT, destructive, and a crime — no less so when the victim is incarcerated.” These were the opening words of a report delivered to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. last June by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. By law, the attorney general was given one year to consider the report’s recommendations and issue standards to reduce the scourge of sexual violence in the nation’s prisons. The Justice Department is about to miss its June 23 deadline — and probably by a shamefully wide margin.

The department will not say, but those following this issue closely estimate that the Justice Department is unlikely to take action until the end of this year. At that time, federal prisons will be obligated to adopt whatever standards Justice approves. State and local facilities will not be forced to embrace the measures for another year after that. In the meantime, more prisoners — including juveniles — will have been senselessly brutalized.

This is such a basic principle of human decency, to keep prisoners from being sexually brutalized, and the thing is, the report had bipartisan support. As far as I can tell, the only people who oppose it are the corrections officials, who don’t want anyone looking over their shoulder while they ignore prisoners getting gang raped — or molested by guards.

Even the screwed-up people who believe prisoners deserve whatever happens might want to give some thought to the fact that prison rape happens so frequently to innocent people who are being held in custody until they’re cleared. Maybe even those sick bastards might give some thought to the possibility of their 17-year-old kid being raped by an HIV-positive convict after their kid’s held for DUI.

Because even in this Taser-lovin’ America of ours, people might still see the injustice of inflicting a life sentence like HIV on someone who hasn’t even been found guilty yet.

And that’s not even looking at the fate of gay prisoners, who are treated like sex slaves while guards and prison officials look the other way. Kendall Spruce testified at the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission hearings in 2005:

I was sentenced to six years in prison in 1991 on a probation violation. I was originally convicted of forging a check to buy crack cocaine. When I went to prison, I was 28 years old, I weighed 123 pounds, and I was scared to death.

I was right to be afraid. I am bisexual, but that doesn’t mean I want to have sex with just anyone. As soon as I got there, inmates started acting like they were my friends so they could take advantage of me. I told them I wasn’t going to put up with that. I didn’t want to be robbed of my manhood. But they jumped on me. They beat me. Within two weeks, I was raped at knifepoint.

Being raped at knifepoint was the worst thing I could ever imagine. The physical pain was devastating. But the emotional pain was even worse.

I reported the rape, and was sent into protective custody. But I wasn’t safe there either. They put all kinds of people in protective custody, including sexual predators. I was put in a cell with a rapist who had full-blown AIDS. Within two days, he forced me to give him oral sex and anally raped me. I yelled for the guard, but it was so loud in there, no one came to help me. I finally had to flood the cell to get a guard to come.

Because I was raped, I got labeled as a “faggot.” Everywhere I walked, everyone looked at me like I was a target. It opened the door for a lot of other predators. Even the administrators thought it was okay for a “faggot” to be raped. They said, ‘Oh, you must like it.’ I’m here to tell you that no one wants to be raped. No one likes being violently attacked.

I documented the abuse, I filed grievances, I followed all of the procedures to report what was happening to me, but no one cared. They just moved me from cell to cell. This went on for nine months. I went through nine months of torture – nine months of hell – that could have been avoided.

In August, I started bleeding really bad from the rectum. I didn’t want to go to the infirmary, because I was still so ashamed about what had happened to me, but I had to. They gave me a test, and that’s when I got the devastating news. I was HIV-positive.

Keith DeBlasio testified about a retaliatory transfer to a high-risk prison because he reported abuses by guards at a minimum-security prison:

.After being convicted of a nonviolent securities offense, I was sent to FCI-Morgantown. Set at a former youth facility, Morgantown is a minimum security facility with no fence. Places like Morgantown are used for individuals with relatively no risk of violence, escape, or predatory behavior.

As an inmate at Morgantown, I witnessed corrections officials breaking the rules of the institution, and I reported them. Because of my reports, the prison officials retaliated against me by holding me in solitary segregation, by falsely accusing me of misconduct on charges that were later proven to be false, and finally, I suppose as a last resort, by transferring me to a higher-security facility in Milan, Michigan.

At the time, FCI-Milan was a facility often used for more unmanageable inmates in the mid-Atlantic region. It had a history of gang activity, large scale riots, violence, and predatory assaults.

I was being sent to a place known to be dangerous simply for speaking up. I was worried about what might happen to me there, but I honestly had no idea how bad it would turn out to be. I tried to protest the decision to transfer me, and I asked not to be housed in the dangerous dormitory-style housing at Milan. But I was placed in a double dormitory with about 150 inmates, dozens of blind spots, and only one officer on duty at any given time. It was here that my nightmare began. It was here that I was sexually assaulted by the same assailant, more times than I can even count.

Today, one of the things that disturbs me the most is that before the abuse began, I told officials that I felt vulnerable in the open dormitory unit, and I told officials that I felt threatened by the assailant. My assailant was a leader in a gang called the Vice Lords, and he was known for being violent. When he began to threaten and harass me, I told the prison officials, but the prison officials did nothing.

After serving three days in segregation for brutally assaulting another inmate in a stairwell, he was released and assigned to my dormitory. That was when the repeated assaults began. He threatened to stab me, and he raped me. There were numerous assaults in a long period of ongoing abuse, especially after prison officials moved my assailant into the same cubicle with me as my bunkmate. I couldn’t defend myself, because he had his fellow gang members standing watch. I knew that if I reported him, I would face repercussions from the other gang members and no action was being taken by officials.

I felt there was no escape. Another man had reported abuse before me and, instead of finding safety, he was put in a recreation cage alone with his rapist, all while under protective custody. So I had just cause for staying silent.

Unfortunately, my story does not end there. Eventually, I became very ill. My illness was mysterious – swollen lymph nodes, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, dizziness, and scabs on my scalp. Medical staff could not identify the illness, and so I spoke with my personal physician and friend at home. She prompted me to ask for an HIV screening.

Permission to take the HIV test took quite some time. It was only after a lengthy grievance process and calls from the outside physician and family members that an HIV test was performed. Sure enough, I was determined to be HIV positive, and extensive triple therapy was begun which would be a lifelong ordeal.

Later I found out that prison officials knew the assailant was emotionally disturbed, a repeat predator, and on psychotropic drugs for his mental problems, and yet they did nothing to protect me. I was a nonviolent offender, but I was given a life sentence. I was repeatedly denied protection from a known predator with HIV.

And finally, this is the testimony of Erica Hejnar. Everything she describes happened in a Philadelphia police station not very far from my neighborhood, in the rapidly-gentrifying area of Fishtown — but of course, because she was homeless, she was powerless against this kind of treatment:

The officer next asked my friend and I if we were girlfriends and whether or not we liked “eating each other’s pussies.” I was shocked, and could not believe that this was really happening. Because our cell was inside a larger closed room, there were no other officers in sight that we could call out to or who could hear what he was saying to us. Trying to keep the situation from escalating, I responded that we were just friends and that we had never had sex. I prayed that he would stop asking us these questions, but he continued to look at us and our bodies in a very suggestive manner. It felt as though his eyes were piercing right through our clothes.

The officer propped up his feet and continued tormenting us. He asked us again if we were girlfriends and threateningly demanded that we kiss each other. As he told us this he jangled his keys in front of us, mocking us, and reinforcing the fact that he had all the power in the situation. In total fear that we would not be allowed to leave if we did not comply with his demands, my friend and I kissed. Unfortunately, the officer would not stop. He told us that he wanted to see us touch each others’ breasts. My friend put her hand on one of my breasts in compliance; the officer then proceeded to ask her if she liked “eating [my] pussy.”

I was so horrified that I started crying uncontrollably. I demanded to know why he was doing this to us, but he continued to insist that we touch each other if we wanted to get out. He threatened us that if we said anything, or made any noise, he would find something to charge us with so that we couldn’t leave.

Then he told us to “lick each other’s pussies.” I got so upset that I told him we were definitely not going to do that, but he pressed on, telling us that “no one would see [us],” and that he would not let us go until we did as he said. My friend and I were both sobbing and started yelling in hopes that somebody would hear and help us.

We wanted to be let out of the cell and get away from this monster as soon as possible. We were distraught, angry, frightened, and crying hysterically. Despite our outrage, there was no way out. He kept telling me to “eat [my friend’s] pussy” and that if I didn’t, we couldn’t go home. When he said that he would find something to charge us with if we didn’t comply with all of his demands, I believed him. It was without question the most humiliating and degrading moment of my life, and I could not believe that this so-called officer of the law had the power to violate us this way. I was beginning to feel like this officer would be able to get away with absolutely anything he chose to do. While this was happening, I noticed that another male officer stuck his head into the cell room and saw what was going on. Instead of doing anything to help us, he gave the first officer a smile, a “thumbs up,” and walked away.

The women were never charged. Nothing was done about what happened to Erica and her friend until the Philadelphia Inquirer began to cover her case.


Why Carl Jung is a genius:

The Raytown farmer who posted a sign on a semi-truck trailer accusing Democrats of being the “Party of Parasites” received more than $1 million in federal crop subsidies since 1995.

But David Jungerman says the payouts don’t contradict the sign he put up in a corn field in Bates County along U.S. 71 Highway.

“That’s just my money coming back to me,” Jungerman, 72, said Monday. “I pay a lot in taxes. I’m not a parasite.”

After a story about Jungerman’s trailer ran in Sunday’s Star, however, some readers called him a hypocrite for criticizing others for getting government help while taking government subsidies paid for by taxpayers.

Jungerman said he put up the sign to protest people who pay no taxes, but, “Always have their hand out for whatever the government will give them” in social programs.

Crop subsidies are different, he said. When crop prices dip below a certain point, the federal government makes up the difference with a subsidy payment.

Why, that sounds like a guaranteed profit to me – which is socialism. Which makes Mr. Jungerman not only a parasite, but a victim of his own cognitive dissonance.

Running Government Like A Business

Back during the age of Reagan, I was working on a story about the popular meme of “running government like a business.” I interviewed one management consultant who explained to me an important difference between government and the private sector. He said that business was focused on getting something out to market that was “good enough” quickly, something they could improve later. He said that government’s priority wasn’t speed or cost, but compliance with federal regulations, and everything else came second – not a bad thing when dealing with safety issues.

That’s why he confidently told me that “no one in their right mind” would ever apply “just get it done” business mentality to safety regulation:

An examination by The New York Times highlights the chasm between the oil industry’s assertions about the reliability of its blowout preventers and a more complex reality. It reveals that the federal agency charged with regulating offshore drilling, the Minerals Management Service, repeatedly declined to act on advice from its own experts on how it could minimize the risk of a blind shear ram failure.

It also shows that the Obama administration failed to grapple with either the well-known weaknesses of blowout preventers or the sufficiency of the nation’s drilling regulations even as it made plans this spring to expand offshore oil exploration.

“What happened to all the stakeholders — Congress, environmental groups, industry, the government — all stakeholders involved were lulled into a sense of what has turned out to be false security,” David J. Hayes, the deputy interior secretary, said in an interview.

Even in one significant instance where the Minerals Management Service did act, it appears to have neglected to enforce a rule that required oil companies to submit proof that their blind shear rams would in fact work.

As it turns out, records and interviews show, blind shear rams can be surprisingly vulnerable. There are many ways for them to fail, some unavoidable, some exacerbated by the stunning water depths at which oil companies have begun to explore.

But they also can be rendered powerless by the failure of a single part, a point underscored in a confidential report that scrutinized the reliability of the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer. The report, from 2000, concluded that the greatest vulnerability by far on the entire blowout preventer was one of the small shuttle valves leading to the blind shear ram. If this valve jammed or leaked, the report warned, the ram’s blades would not budge.

This sort of “single-point failure” figures prominently in an emerging theory of what went wrong with the Deepwater Horizon’s blind shear ram, according to interviews and documents. Some evidence suggests that when the crew activated the blind shear ram, its blades tried to cut the drill pipe, but then failed to finish the job because one or more of its shuttle valves leaked hydraulic fluid.

These kinds of weaknesses were understood inside the oil industry, documents and interviews show. And given the critical importance of the blind shear ram, offshore drillers began adding a layer of redundancy by equipping their blowout preventers with two blind shear rams.

Shorter version: For eight years, we had conservatives doing what conservatives do — namely, ignoring regulations, taking businesses at their word and doing everything possible to help them maximize profits at the expense of the public good. But appointing Ken Salazar was highly unlikely to reverse that trend.

Cognitive Deficit


There are many things to say about Alan Greenspan’s op-ed yesterday, none of them complimentary. But what struck me is the passage highlighted byTim Fernholz:

Despite the surge in federal debt to the public during the past 18 months—to $8.6 trillion from $5.5 trillion—inflation and long-term interest rates, the typical symptoms of fiscal excess, have remained remarkably subdued. This is regrettable, because it is fostering a sense of complacency that can have dire consequences.

You know, some people might take the fact that what’s actually happening is exactly what people like me were saying would happen — namely, that deficits in the face of a liquidity trap don’t drive up interest rates and don’t cause inflation — lends credence to the Keynesian view. But no: Greenspan KNOWS that deficits do these terrible things, and finds it “regrettable” that they aren’t actually happening.

Greenspan’s been wrong about everything else, why break his record?

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