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The 2012 Vote

New Questions Raised Over Aaron Schock's Fundraising Efforts

May 4th 2012

Aaron Shock and Mens Health
Aaron Shock and Mens Health

Two $25,000 donations during the final days of a hotly contested Illinois primary are raising more questions about whether super PACs — the political committees that have seen a flood of money from millionaires and billionaires — are being used to circumvent campaign contribution limits. Back in March, sophomore Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) wanted to help his friend and fellow Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger survive a rare incumbent-on-incumbent primary by sending some money his way.

Many members of Congress have “leadership PACs” set up for just this purpose — they direct funds from the PACs to their fellow representatives in hopes of earning support for senior leadership positions. Thanks to redistricting, Kinzinger, rather than face an easy primary, found himself facing 10-term Rep. Don Manzullo. Schock’s leadership PAC gave Kinzinger’s campaign $5,000 for the primary fight — the maximum allowed contribution. But Schock also managed to direct 10 times that much toward efforts aiding his buddy with help from the super PAC, earning the ire of campaign finance watchdogs.

Read more ..

Broken Labor

Fatal Work Injuries Rose in 2010

April 29th 2012

EMS with injured worker.

The Department of Labor reported this week that 4,690 U.S. workers suffered fatal injuries in 2010, a 3 percent increase from 2009. The higher number in part reflects a string of high-profile disasters in 2010: An explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia that killed 29; BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11; and a blast at the Tesoro Corp.’s oil refinery in Washington State that killed seven. Even discounting the 47 deaths from those three events, the toll rose in 2010. In 2009, 4,551 workers died, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The fatality rate rose slightly as well, from 3.5 fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers to 3.6. The number of workers killed in fires or explosions jumped from 113 in 2009 to 191 in 2010. Work-related transportation deaths increased from 1,795 to 1,857, suicides from 263 to 270. The number of construction-related deaths fell from 834 to 774—a probable reflection of a weak housing market and a generally rotten economy in 2010. Read more ..


Election Edge

New Scrutiny for Industries Backing Voter ID Laws

April 16th 2012

beer delivery

Some of America’s best known brands are dropping their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council at least partly in response to controversy over the group’s backing of voter ID laws. Coca-Cola quit on April 4 and Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Intuit, McDonalds and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation followed them out after a coalition of left-wing groups launched pressure campaigns. Nine states have passed strict voter ID requirements just since 2011, which opponents say could result in millions being unable to cast ballots in November.

But there’s been little attention paid to one major ALEC-affiliated sector behind several state legislators pushing these measures: the beer and wine industry.

Major players in beer and wine sit on an ALEC task force that crafted and approved voter ID model legislation in 2009. The industry’s major trade associations — the National Beer Wholesalers Association and Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America — are among them. Since 2007, the wholesalers have also pumped substantial cash into the campaigns of several ALEC politicians who have been authors or primary sponsors of voter ID bills in their states. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Tribal Payday Lender Sued by Federal Trade Commission

April 3rd 2012

Scott Tucker
Scott Tucker (credit: Level 5 Motorsports)

The Federal Trade Commission today took up a case that had thwarted state authorities for years, accusing an Internet payday lender with ties to Indian tribes of illegally deceiving borrowers.

The agency is asking a federal judge in Nevada to order AMG Services of Overland Park., Kan., to stop the deceptive practices and pay back borrowers who its says got cheated.

“The defendants have deceived consumers about the cost of their loans and charged more than they said they would, said Malini Mithal, the FTC’s assistant director of financial practices. “The FTC is trying to stop this deception and get refunds for consumers.”

While the company has won arguments in state courts that it has tribal sovereign immunity, allowing it to make loans even in states that restrict or forbid payday loans, that protection doesn’t apply to the federal courts. Court records suggest the business has made more than $165 million, charging interest rates as high as 800 percent on small loans. Borrowers have complained in droves about the lender’s tactics. Law enforcement authorities have received more than 7,500 complaints about the business, the FTC says. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

Illegal Ocean Dumping Persists Despite DOJ Crackdown

March 31st 2012

Coast Guard Inspection
Coast Guard Inspection

When a U.S. Coast Guard inspector boarded the M/T Chem Faros, a 21,145-gross-ton cargo ship that pulled into port in Morehead City, N.C., an oiler with the engine crew quietly handed him a note.

"GOOD MORNING SIR, I WOULD LIKE TO LET YOU KNOW THIS SHIP DISCHARGING BILGE ILEGALLY USING BY MAGIC PIPE,” the note said. “IF YOU WANT TO KNOW ILLEGAL PIPE THERE IN WORKSHOP FIVE METERS LONG WITH RUBBER.”

The crewman’s hand-scrawled note, passed that March day two years ago, triggered an inquiry that unmasked a wave of high-seas pollution and phony recordkeeping as the ship ferried cargo in Asia and the U.S. The crew had used the so-called magic pipe to divert oily waste overboard at least 10 times in six months. Eleven days before the inspection, the chief engineer ordered 13,200 gallons of oil-contaminated waste dumped into the ocean.

The ship’s owner, Cooperative Success Maritime S.A., was fined $850,000 and sentenced to five years’ probation after its guilty plea. And the chief engineer — after cooperating with authorities — was sentenced to one year of probation. “The oceans must be protected from being used as dump sites for waste oil or other hazardous substances,” said Maureen O’Mara, special agent-in-charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in Atlanta, in June 2010. A company attorney declined comment.

Read more ..

Broken Energy Policy

Obama Administration Made Loan to Solyndra while Insiders Foresaw Failure

March 29th 2012

Obama and Solyndra officials
President Obama meeting with Solyndra officials

On August 20, 2009, an Energy Department staffer examining a pending loan to a California clean energy start-up came to a startling conclusion: The company would run out of money by September 2011.

As part of the 2009 job-creating stimulus, the government has committed nearly $40 billion to clean energy projects. The first loan guarantee went to Solyndra Inc., a California solar firm backed by an Obama fundraiser. But instead of picking a winner, the government backed a loser. The firm failed, putting more than 1,000 people out of work and taxpayers on the hook for $535 million. Among questions now: Did the White House unduly influence the process? Did the Energy Department rush its first commitment, ignoring warning signs about the company's viability? Will this failed project cost Obama?

The Department of Energy was fully aware of the risks in backing Solyndra Inc., a start-up company that pocketed a half-billion dollar DOE loan but never turned a penny in profit before shutting its doors, concludes a former FBI agent hired to examine the company’s books. Read more ..


South Carolina on Edge

South Carolina Among other States Gets a Failing Grade for Integrity

March 23rd 2012

south carolina state capitol
South Carolina State Capitol

In response to South Carolina’s failing grade from the State Integrity Investigation, House Democrats there have proposed historic ethics reforms. South Carolina was ranked 45th out of 50 states, with a score of 57 percent. “It is time for South Carolina to get serious about ethics reform,” said Rep. Boyd Brown, (D-Winnsboro), in a press release that cited the investigation’s “scathing” assessment of South Carolina. “Corruption is plaguing our great state and it’s high time we do something about it. South Carolina is ripe for another ‘Operation Lost Trust’ and I refuse to stand idly by while that happens again.” Operation Lost Trust, a vote buying scandal that involved more than two dozen lobbyists and lawmakers, sparked a major ethics overall in South Carolina in the early 1990s, severely restricting gifts and campaign contributions from lobbyists.The new proposal includes term limits, a revamping of the State Ethics Commissions and a two-year ban on the revolving door between legislating and lobbying. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Obama Prepares for War with Sweeping Executive Order

March 20th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

Last Friday, March 16, President Barack Obama may have quietly placed the United States on a war preparedness footing, perhaps in anticipation of an outbreak of war between Israel, the West, and Iran. A newly-propounded Executive Order, titled "National Defense Resources Preparedness," renews and updates the president's power to take control of all civil energy supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all civil transportation, which is almost 97 percent dependent upon oil; and even provides the option to re-enable a draft in order to achieve both the military and non-military demands of the country, according to a simple reading of the text. The Executive Order was published on the White House website.

The timing of the Order -- with little fanfare -- could not be explained. Opinions among the very first bloggers on the purpose of the unexpected Executive Order run the gamut from the confused to the absurd. None focus on the obvious sudden need for such a pronouncement: oil and its potential for imminent interruption. If Iran was struck by Israel or the West, or if Iran thought it might be struck, the Tehran regime has promised it would block the Strait of Hormuz, which would obstruct some 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil, some twenty percent of the global supply, and about 20 percent of America's daily needs. Moreover, Tehran has promised military retaliation against any nation it feels has harmed it. The United States is at the top of the list. Read more ..


Labor on Edge

Plan to Cut Benefits for Injured Federal Workers Stirs Concern

March 18th 2012

jail door blue

In the space of a minute, federal prison worker Jason Unwin was twice attacked by a furious, muscle-bound inmate on Dec. 21, 2010.

Agitated after a disciplinary hearing, the inmate first punched one of Unwin’s colleagues in the face, knocking him unconscious. He then turned to Unwin, a correctional counselor at the United States Penitentiary in Florence, Colo. “I was hit square in the face,” said Unwin, 51.

With a bloodied Unwin in pursuit, the inmate walked off. Seconds later, with Unwin briefly distracted, the inmate “blindsided me. He hit me with a closed fist, very hard, on the left side of the head. I was knocked unconscious.”

Unwin, a Federal Bureau of Prisons employee for 16 years, hasn’t worked since. He doesn’t have a full range of motion in his right shoulder, he said, and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He has short-term memory problems, sleeps irregularly and faces seizure risks.

The saving grace: He is covered by a 96-year-old compensation program for injured federal workers. Under the Federal Employees Compensation Act of 1916 (FECA), he receives 75 percent of his former salary, tax-free; his monthly income is within a few hundred dollars of his previous salary.

Legislation pending in the U.S. Senate, however, ultimately would cut Unwin’s benefits and could affect many other government workers—especially those with modest incomes—in the future. The measure, championed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is included in a postal reform bill that may come up for a vote this month. Collins said it would stamp out abuses while saving money. Yet officials with federal employees’ unions say the legislation would unfairly punish victims of workplace violence and other traumatic injuries—and their families.

“It’s a terrible message we’re sending to a federal law enforcement officer,” said Joe Mansour, national workers compensation representative for the Council of Prison Locals, an affiliate of the American Federation of Government Employees. “People are going to lose their homes. People are going to lose their cars.” Under the proposal, compensation would be capped at 50 percent of pre-injury pay for FECA recipients at age 65. Now, benefits range from 75 percent for those with dependents to 66 2/3 percent for those without Read more ..


The Edge of Education

New Federal Discipline Data has More Bad News for Kern County schools

March 17th 2012

Education - Child at Blackboard

A newly released pool of federal data reveals that Kern County, California — whose schools were the subject of a recent Center for Public Integrity story — has exceptionally high rates of suspension and expulsions for minority students. The new federal information dovetails with the findings of the Center’s investigation last December, which showed that Kern County, an oil and farm region in the Central Valley, is California’s expulsion capital. In 2010-2011, Kern’s schools had four times the state average for expulsions and more than seven times the last known national average in 2006. The raw number of students expelled in sparsely populated Kern was even greater than the number expelled in Los Angeles, which has nine times the student body.

Parents in Kern complained about high rates of removal for children and about the process for challenging decisions, and some black parents told the Center they felt schools were too quick to oust their children. California state data analyzed by the Center demonstrated that the vast majority of Kern expulsions were not for “zero tolerance” violations that require expulsion, such as gun possession. The analysis showed that most of Kern’s expulsions were discretionary, and that the schools had unusually high rates of expulsion for defiance, disruption and obscenity. More than one in four expulsions statewide for obscenity or vulgarity took place in Kern. Read more ..


The Metal's Edge

Colombia Vows to Clean up Coltan Mining

March 16th 2012

Colombian Miners

Colombia is moving to curb illegal mining of the highly sought after mineral, colten. Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, travelled to the lawless southeastern corner of the country last weekend and declared his intention to designate the coltan-rich region a “strategic reserve, for national security reasons.” The mining industry there is currently controlled by what Mines and Energy Minister Mauricio Cárdenas called “shady interests” in a tweet on March 11. A ministry official said Monday that the government eventually hopes to auction off mining permits to legitimate companies, according to the Wall Street Journal. The groups Cárdenas was alluding to are right-wing paramilitaries and rebels-turned-drug dealers in the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, the FARC. As reported earlier this month, those armed groups have coerced the native Indians who live in the region to work the mines or bought their labor with free beer, food, and brand-name athletic shoes. He said that these groups are “a national security concern for us.”

The heavy, black, conductive mineral is used in everything from sophisticated personal electronics to precision weapons. It is used to improve the ability of microchip processors to function in extremely hot or cold temperatures. Unlike diamonds, the origins of which can be determined via geo-fingerprinting, there is no accurate test to trace coltan. This has made it an attractive new source of revenue for narco-terrorist groups like the FARC. Their illicit role in the trade may also become an economic concern for the Colombian government, which claims to control 5 percent of the world’s coltan reserves.

Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Satellite Image Reveals High Explosive Test Chamber at Iran's Parchin Site

March 14th 2012

Parchin building Iran

ISIS has identified in commercial satellite imagery a building on the Parchin site in Iran that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants to visit because it contains, or used to contain, a high-explosive test chamber.  The building is located on a relatively small and isolated compound within the Parchin military site and has its own perimeter security wall or fencing. 

A berm can be seen between this building and a neighboring one, which is consistent with a description of the compound in the November 8, 2011 IAEA Safeguards Report.  The compound is located more than four kilometers away from high-explosive related facilities also at the Parchin site which the IAEA visited in 2005.

The IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano recently noted that the IAEA has “information that that some activity is ongoing” at the Parchin site. When asked if he was concerned that Iran was cleansing the site, Amano said that the “possibility is not excluded…” and that “we have to go there.” If Iran is engaging in clean up work to hide evidence at the Parchin site then it could be occurring inside this building as well. Thus, the IAEA deserves international support to visit this site without delay to inspect the inside of this building and other locations in Parchin as well. Read more ..


Catholic Church on Edge

Fugitive Catholic Priest Sought for Alleged Sexual Assault of Minor

March 11th 2012

Procession of Jesus

Accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old Chicago girl, the Rev. Sleeva Raju Policetti fled Illinois nearly a decade ago to his native India, where the Roman Catholic archbishop of Hyderabad soon issued an order barring him from ministry.

In 2008, after a canonical trial, the Vatican took the rare and severe step of defrocking Policetti over the allegations, meaning he is no longer a priest.

But civil justice never caught up to the fugitive ex-priest, whose lawyers in India have fought efforts to extradite him to Chicago to face 20 felony counts of criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

And now it's apparently too late.

In recent days, Policetti's case took a dramatic turn when an attorney for Policetti's alleged victim indicated to Cook County prosecutors that she was no longer willing to pursue charges — a decision that would effectively force prosecutors to dismiss the case and abandon the years-long extradition effort. Read more ..


Edge of Mexico

Mexico's High-Tech Maquiladora Workers Demand Dignity and Improved Conditions

March 5th 2012

Mexican maquilador high tech worker

The two high-tech workers laughed when asked if they could afford the smartphones made by their colleagues on Mexican production lines. “No, no, no,” chuckled Maria and Alma, two Guadalajara workers who have labored for years in Mexico’s Silicon Valley. A cheap $20 cell phone has to make do for Maria, while Alma uses a similarly low-priced contraption she won on a five-dollar raffle ticket. “It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity, especially when you have kids,” Alma said.

The two women, who asked that their real names not be used because of possible employer retaliation, recently sat down to discuss their jobs and lives as factory workers in Mexico’s second largest city and one of the world’s most important centers in the electronics industry supply chain. An assembly-line worker, Maria makes about $10 for an eight hour shift six days a week. Although Maria said she gets all the benefits afforded by Mexican law, she must renew her work contract every two months. A quality control specialist, Alma has more responsibilities than Maria but gets the same amount of pay. A third woman who joined the conversation worked in the local high-tech industry until she was fired two years ago. Unlike Maria and Alma, the friend completed higher education training for a technician’s career but still maxed out her earnings at approximately $500 monthly after a dozen years in the industry. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

Long Delayed Diesel and Miner Health Study Finally Published

March 3rd 2012

Diesel Exhaust

A much-anticipated government study of more than 12,000 miners — whose publication was delayed by litigation from a group of mining companies — has found that exposure to diesel engine exhaust significantly increases the risk of lung cancer.

For the most heavily exposed miners, the risk of dying from lung cancer was three times higher than it was for those exposed to low doses. For non-smokers, the risk was seven times higher.

“[T]he findings suggest that the risks may extend to other workers exposed to diesel exhaust in the United States and abroad, and to people living in urban areas where diesel exhaust levels are elevated,” Joseph Fraumeni Jr., director of the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, said in a press release Friday morning. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

IBM’s Role in the Holocaust—What the New Documents Reveal

February 28th 2012

IBM and the Holocaust Expanded Edition

Newly-released documents expose more explicitly the details of IBM’s pivotal role in the Holocaust—all six phases: identification, expulsion from society, confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and even extermination. Moreover, the documents portray with crystal clarity the personal involvement and micro-management of IBM president Thomas J. Watson in the company’s co-planning and co-organizing of Hitler’s campaign to destroy the Jews.
                Buy IBM here.

IBM’s twelve-year alliance with the Third Reich was first revealed in my book IBM and the Holocaust, published simultaneously in 40 countries in February 2001. It was based on some 20,000 documents drawn from archives in seven countries. IBM never denied any of the information in the book; and despite thousands of media and communal requests, as well as published articles, the company has remained silent.

The new “expanded edition” contains 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State Department and Justice Department memos, and concentration camp documents that graphically chronicle IBM’s actions and what they knew during the twelve-year Hitler regime. On the anniversary of the release of the original book, the new edition was released on February 26, 2012 at a special live global streaming event at Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall, sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists together with a coalition of other groups.
 
Among the newly-released documents and archival materials are secret 1941 correspondence setting up the Dutch subsidiary of IBM to work in tandem with the Nazis, company President Thomas Watson's personal approval for the 1939 release of special IBM alphabetizing machines to help organize the rape of Poland and the deportation of Polish Jews, as well as the IBM Concentration Camp Codes including IBM’s code for death by Gas Chamber. Among the newly published photos of the punch cards is the one developed for the statistician who reported directly to Himmler and Eichmann.

The significance of the incriminating documents requires context. Read more ..


The Animal Edge

Hatem Yavuz is the King of Seal Killers

February 28th 2012

Hatem Yavuz

Every year in Namibia, 86,000 Cape Fur Seal pups are butchered to death and only one man has the contract to turn their fur into so-called fashionable apparel. The Turkish and Australia based company Hatem Yavuz named after the owner Hatem Yavuz controls roughly 60 percent of the world’s seal market and processes 130,000 seal pelts every year in his Istanbul factory. Yavuz also has a hand in the Canadian seal market and claims to be proud of what he does. In an interview that spurred a flurry of hate mail, Yavuz told 7 News in Australia that “it’s a job. If I don’t do it, someone else is going to do it.” He is called the King of Seal Killers.

Pat Dickens, founder of the Seals of Nam, a non-profit organization that has been campaigning to end Namibia’s annual seal cull on the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. A popular tourist attraction, every year between July and November the sands of the reserve are stained pink from the blood of seal pups as young as seven months old. Men with clubs and picks enter the seal colony early in the morning. The traumatized animals squeal and run away, often regurgitating their mother’s milk in terror. Their skulls are crushed and their throats slit. Several reports show that blows to their head often only render the animals unconscious. These remains are cleaned up before tourists show up in what is a heavily regulated area. Dickens has gone through all of the appropriate channels to appeal to the Namibian government to cancel its contract with Yavuz, which is valid until 2019, as it stands in direct contravention to the Animal Protection Act of 1962 that makes it unlawful to “overload, overdrive, override, ill-treat, neglect, infuriate, torture or maim or cruelly beat, kick, goad or terrify any animal.”

Boycott

He appealed to the Namibian ombudsman Adv. John Walters, which speech has since been followed up with a series of delay tactics. Several animal rights organizations have become involved and Jane Goodall and other celebrities have made public statements against this terrible practice. Meanwhile, the Humane Society released a report which shows that the so-called seal-culling industry, which only employs 81 people in Namibia, benefits the Namibian economy 300 times less than live seals and eco-tourism would. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Drug Lobby Pumped $9.4 Million to Conservative Groups in Election Cash

February 28th 2012

medicine and money

The drug lobby's trade association was a multimillion-dollar donor to nonprofit groups that were actively working to elect federal candidates during the 2010 election, an iWatch News analysis of documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service reveals.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, better known as PhRMA, doled out $9.4 million to 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit groups, some of which paid for ads that influenced races in the 2010 midterm election, records show.

In 2010, PhRMA gave about $20 million in “grants and other assistance” to more than 200 nonprofit organizations, including five politically active 501(c)(4) nonprofits, both liberal and conservative, which together received nearly half of the funds.

The groups were: the American Action Network, the American Future Fund, Americans for Tax Reform, America’s Families First, Inc. and the Citizens for Strength and Security Action Fund. PhRMA's largest gift in 2010 was a $4.5 million contribution to the American Action Network, a conservative 501(c)(4) that spent big money on a half-dozen high-profile U.S. Senate races and more than two dozen U.S. House races.

In 2010, American Action reported spending more than $26 million on ads to the Federal Election Commission. That was more than any other politically active nonprofit group, with the exception of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Overall, the American Action Network reportedly raised more than $30 million in 2010, meaning PhRMA alone was responsible for close to 15 percent of the group's funds. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

How Dirty Medical Devices Expose Patients to Infection

February 23rd 2012

Surgical Instruments

It seemed simple enough at the time. In 2009, John Harrison, a 63-year-old oil industry sales manager in Mission, Texas, had surgery to repair the rotator cuff in his right shoulder, a routine procedure that usually requires at most a single night’s stay in the hospital, followed by physical therapy. For Harrison, however, there was nothing routine about the ordeal that ensued. In the weeks following the surgery, his scar turned bright red, hot to the touch, and oozed thick fluid that looked “like butter squeezed from a bag.” Alarmed, Harrison’s wife Laura called The Methodist Hospital in Houston, where the surgery was performed. The doctor urged Harrison to immediately make the seven-hour drive back to Houston for an emergency checkup. That night, surgeons opened up Harrison’s shoulder and found that infection had eaten away part of his shoulder bone and rotator cuff. Screws and metal hardware surgeons placed in his shoulder had pulled loose. Sutures had come undone. Surgeons cleaned out Harrison’s shoulder, installed two drains and gave him antibiotics to battle the infection. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Super PACs Out-Raise Candidates, Thanks to Super Donors

February 22nd 2012

C Pac Convention 2012

Thanks to a small number of wealthy individuals, the outside spending groups known as “super PACs” that are working to put the four leading GOP candidates in the White House collectively raised more than the candidates themselves in January. Candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul raised a combined $21.1 million for the month, according to Federal Election Commission records, while the four primary super PACs backing them raised $22.1 million. Donors to candidates number in the thousands, but they may only give $2,500 per candidate, per election. Super PAC donors, thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and a lower-cour ruling, can give unlimited amounts. The funds can come from billionaires, corporations and labor unions. So far this election, the funds have been spent overwhelmingly on advertising disparaging competing candidates. Super PACs are prohibited from coordinating their activities with the candidates.

The average donation to a super PAC filing in January was $63,000. Two of the super PACs — “Winning Our Future,” supporting Newt Gingrich and “Endorse Liberty,” supporting Ron Paul — are dominated by a single donor. Of the $11 million Winning Our Future raised in January, $10 million — more than three-quarters of the group's total haul — came from billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife. That’s in addition to $1 million given by other Adelson family members to the PAC last year. Of the $2.4 million raised by the pro-Ron Paul super PAC "Endorse Liberty," $1.7 million — more than 70 percent — came from Peter Thiel, hedge fund manager, co-founder of PayPal and early Facebook investor. That’s on top of the $900,000 he gave last year. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Dutch Parliament Debates ICIJ’s Pacific Overfishing Investigation

February 18th 2012

Jack Mackerel

Members of the Animal Party asked the Dutch government Wednesday to ban catches of threatened jack mackerel that vessels from the Netherlands and other European countries have overfished in the South Pacific. "For years there have been meetings to bring to a halt the activities of big floating fish factories in whose nets whole soccer stadiums could fit," MP Anja Hazekamp of the Animal Party, said, according to the Dutch daily Trouw. “But there are still no binding fishing quotas established.” The parliamentary debate was sparked by a recent exposé by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which revealed that European, Asian and Latin American fleets have decimated the jack mackerel population in the once-rich waters of the southern Pacific. The stocks have declined from 30 million metric tons to less than 3 million in just two decades.

The bony, bronze-hued jack mackerel plays an important role in the marine ecosystem as food for bigger fish and is a key component of fishmeal for aquaculture. It can take more than 5 kilos of jack mackerel to raise a single kilo of farmed salmon. Fleets compete in a free-for-all in the southern Pacific, the ICIJ investigation found, because governments have failed since 2006 to create and ratify a regional fisheries management organization that can impose binding regulations. In the meantime, quotas are only voluntary. Read more ..


The Drug Wars

The Rise of Mexican Meth Labs may Pick a Winner in the Narcotics Business

February 16th 2012

Mexican Topics - mexican meth lab

Mexican authorities announced Feb. 8 the largest seizure of methamphetamine in Mexican history -- and possibly the largest ever anywhere -- on a ranch outside of Guadalajara. The total haul was 15 tons of pure methamphetamine along with a laboratory capable of producing all the methamphetamine seized. While authorities are not linking the methamphetamine to any specific criminal group, Guadalajara is a known stronghold of the Sinaloa Federation, and previous seizures there have been connected to the group.

Methamphetamine, a synthetic drug manufactured in personal labs for decades, is nothing new in Mexico or the United States. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has led numerous crusades against the drug, increasing regulations on its ingredients to try to keep it from gaining a foothold in the United States. While the DEA's efforts have succeeded in limiting production of the drug in the United States, consumption has risen steadily over the past two decades. The increasing DEA pressure on U.S. suppliers and the growing demand for methamphetamine have driven large-scale production of the drug outside the borders of the United States. Given Mexico's proximity and the pervasiveness of organized criminal elements seeking new markets, it makes sense that methamphetamine would be produced on an industrial scale there. Indeed, Mexico has provided an environment for a scale of production far greater than anything ever seen in the United States. Read more ..


America on Edge

California Makes History by Closing its Juvenile Prisons

February 12th 2012

Social Topics - prison cell northern ireland flickr

California, often a trendsetter, could make history if it approves Gov. Jerry Brown’s bid to close all state-run youth prisons and eliminate its state Division of Juvenile Justice. Much depends, though, on whether the state’s politically influential prison guards, probation officers and district attorneys can be convinced — or forced by legislators — to agree to Brown’s proposal. That won’t be an easy sell, due to both public-safety arguments and sure-to-surface haggling over just who pays to house juvenile offenders. owing to restructure government more efficiently, Brown, a Democrat, wants to close the last three of 11 youth prisons that have long been attacked by critics as “expensive failures.” If the state phases out the last three of its aging detention centers, all future young offenders would be held, schooled and treated by California’s 58 counties.

This is the second time since taking office last year that Brown has proposed closing the state juvenile division, which is part of its corrections system. The division’s responsibility has already been slashed dramatically from 10,000 wards in the mid-1990s to about 1,100 in state custody today. Their numbers may be few, but the cost for keeping those youth in state custody runs about $200,000-a-year for every ward. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Bain Execs Have Spent over $4.5 Million on Romney’s White House Runs

February 9th 2012

Politics - Ask Mitt

Of all the investments made by the super-wealthy partners at Bain Capital, perhaps none have a greater potential return than the one they have made in Mitt Romney.

Current and former Bain executives and their relatives have given about $4.7 million to organizations dedicated to making Romney the next president of the United States, according to an investigation. And they haven’t just come around lately. Some Bain associates have been filling Romney’s campaign coffers since 2004 when the former Massachusetts governor had early aspirations to become president, and long before he officially embarked on a run. Read more ..


Edge of Environmental Health

Landmark Lung Cancer Study Remains Unpublished Due to Industry and Congressional Interference

February 6th 2012

Energy / Environment - diesel exhaust

Publication of a landmark government study probing whether diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in miners — already 20 years in the making — has been delayed by industry and congressional insistence on seeing study data and documents before the public does. A federal judge has affirmed the right of an industry group and a House committee to review the materials and has held the Department of Health and Human Services in contempt for not producing all of them.

The much-anticipated study of 12,000 miners exposed to diesel fumes carries broad implications. If the research suggests a strong link between the fumes and cancer, regulation and litigation could ramp up — with consequences not only for underground mining, but also for industries such as trucking, rail and shipping. Exposure isn't limited to workers; people who live near ports, rail yards and highways also are subjected to diesel exhaust laced with carcinogens such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde. But for the time being, at least, the results of an $11.5 million investigation by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are under lock and key. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Democrat PACs and Non-Profits Lag GOP in Essential Fundraising

February 1st 2012

Politics - Bundles of Money

A handful of Democratic super PACs and nonprofits reported raising together just over $19 million last year, a paltry sum compared to the leading GOP groups.

The groups formed last year to help President Barack Obama win a second term and improve Democrats’ congressional fortunes,

The total is based on a joint press release the groups issued Tuesday evening and includes over $6.7 million for Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, started in early 2011 by two former White House aides, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney — a slow start toward their goal of roping in $100 million to spend this election year.

In the first half of last year, the two groups backing Obama raised over $5 million which underscores their lackluster results in the second half. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Feds Investigating Alleged Fraud at GE’s Former Mortgage Unit

January 24th 2012

Corporate Logos - General Electric

Federal authorities are investigating possible fraud at General Electric Co.’s former subprime mortgage arm amid increased public pressure to hold Wall Street accountable for its role in the financial crisis.

The FBI and the U.S. Justice Department are looking into potentially criminal business practices at Burbank, Calif.-based WMC Mortgage Corp. during the home-loan boom, according to four people with knowledge of the investigation. They declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

The government is asking whether WMC used falsified paperwork, overstated borrowers’ income and other tactics to push through questionable loans, two of the people said. They said the probe appears to be focusing on whether senior managers condoned improper practices that enabled fraudulent loans to be sold to investors.

“It’s mostly about: Did they knowingly sell mortgages into the secondary market that they knew were fraudulent?” said one person with direct knowledge of the investigation.

A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment, and the Justice Department did not return telephone calls.  Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama's Donors Get Gifts: White House Invites, Appointments and Contracts

January 19th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama working a crowd

As President Barack Obama ramps up his campaign for a second term, many of his top fundraisers are showing how money helps win influence and access to power in Washington.

Dozens of Obama’s elite donors — many of them wealthy business figures — have been appointed to advisory panels and commissions that can play a role in setting government policy. Others have been invited to a range of exclusive White House briefings, holiday parties and splashy social events.

And some have snagged lucrative government contracts that benefit their business interests or investment portfolios, an investigation has found. These fundraisers are known as “bundlers” because they solicit $2,500 con­tri­bu­tions from multiple friends, col­leagues and fam­ily members and provide “bundles” of checks to the campaign. The sum of contributions per bundler ranges from $50,000 to more than $500,000. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Inside The Muslim Brotherhood's Plan to Re-Invent Egypt

January 16th 2012

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood
Islamic Brotherhood

Given the Muslim Brotherhood's anti-Western outlook, Washington must prepare for the strong possibility that it will hold only limited influence with Egypt's next government.

The FJP was licensed on April 30, 2011, making it the second new party to be recognized by the Egyptian government following Hosni Mubarak's February 11 ouster. Initially, it sought to assuage fears of a post-Mubarak Islamist takeover by promising to run for fewer than 50 percent of the seats. But after its electoral alliance with the Wafd Party broke down in late October, the FJP announced that it would contest 77 percent of the seats.

In the first round of the elections, which began on November 28, the FJP's coalition won an estimated 73 of 150 seats (48.7 percent), and in the second round, which began on December 14, an estimated 79 of 172 seats (45.9 percent). Its margin of victory is expected to increase in the third round, which is taking place in traditional Brotherhood strongholds such as the Gharbiyah and Daqahliyah governorates. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Our Youngest Killers

January 16th 2012

Crime Topics - Kids Jail

One 16-year-old went looking for pot at a Brookline High School graduation party, then shot the guest of honor in the chest when he got a racial slur instead. The other 16-year-old stabbed a man 23 times inside his Springfield apartment, returning the next day to steal things from the victim’s home while his body lay nearby. Both crimes were horrific, but the punishments were strikingly different. The murderer in Springfield, Edgardo Rodriguez, accepted a plea deal for the 2004 killing of Joel Rivera Delgado, allowing him to potentially walk free within the next decade. The other teen, Antonio Fernandez, took his 2002 case to trial and received the harshest juvenile sentence Massachusetts permits — the harshest in the country, in fact — for shooting Perry Hughes: life in prison without the possibility of parole. Until then, Fernandez had never been charged with anything worse than stealing video games. Now, he’s sentenced to die in prison.

The two cases illustrate the profound inequities that have grown up in the juvenile justice system in the wake of a 1996 law aimed at cracking down on juvenile “super predators,” by requiring them to be tried in adult court where they face the maximum adult penalty for first degree murder, an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found. Before the change, juvenile killers could only be sentenced to serve until age 21 unless their case was transferred to adult court. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Outsider Rick Santorum and his Insider Corporate Money

January 16th 2012

Politics - Senator Santorum

Rick Santorum the presidential candidate casts himself as a Washington outsider, “one of the most successful government reformers in our history,” according to his campaign bio, “taking on Washington's powerful special interests from the moment he arrived in our nation’s capital.” But Rick Santorum the House and Senate member received more than $11 million in contributions from corporate and other special interest political action committees (PACs) over his career, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation.

Among the largest donors are giants from the telecommunications, tobacco, and banking industries, the analysis found. The Center examined contributions to the Pennsylvanian’s congressional, senatorial and 2012 presidential campaigns — as well as his “America’s Foundation” and “Fight PAC” leadership PACs, entities set up by Santorum to aid others in their political campaigns. Corporate PACs connected to telecommunications firms that became today’s AT&T Inc. poured more than $98,000 into Santorum’s campaign coffers, making the behemoth his top career patron. Those donations may have been rewarded with support for the industry; in 1996 Santorum was one of 91 Senators to approve the heavily lobbied rewrite of telecommunications law that deregulated the industry. Government watchdog group Common Cause decried the industry for “buying” the legislation. Read more ..


America on Edge

Tax Gift to the Rich

January 3rd 2012

Politics - K Street NW

Todd Dagres, a prominent venture capitalist and independent movie producer, earned $3.5 million in 2003, and paid not a cent in federal income tax.

The IRS challenged the math, and sent Dagres a bill for $981,980 in back taxes, plus $196,369 in penalties.

So Dagres lawyered up. His attorneys waived one lucrative tax break to exploit an even better one, and claimed victory in the case in March.

In the course of the dispute, Dagres offered five years of his tax returns as evidence in U.S. Tax Court. His testimony, tax forms and other documents offer a rare glimpse of how wealthy Americans work the angles to keep from paying taxes. Read more ..


The Gender Edge

Study Finds Most Paramedics are Victims of Abuse in the Workplace

December 29th 2011

Health/Medicine - Paramedics

More than two-thirds of paramedics surveyed have experienced verbal, physical or sexual abuse on the job, new research has found. Verbal abuse by patients and their friends or relatives, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) co-workers or bystanders, was the most commonly reported, followed by intimidation and physical abuse, the study found. "EMS providers can experience violence in the workplace as they perform their jobs in unpredictable environments and near people in crisis," said Blair Bigham, the lead investigator. "Anecdotal reports and workplace safety records have highlighted cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse, yet until now, there has been little scientific research. More research is needed to understand the impact of this workplace violence."

Bigham is an advanced care flight paramedic for York Region EMS and Ornge, and an associate scientist at Rescu, based at S. Michael's Hospital. Rescu is part of the Resuscitations Outcomes Consortium, a large, multinational research collaboration of 10 sites across the United States and Canada, studying how promising new tools and treatments can improve survival rates among people who suffer cardiac arrest or life-threatening traumatic injury outside of hospitals. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Whistleblowers Ignored, Punished by Lenders, Dozens of Former Employees Say

December 29th 2011

Finance - Wells Fargo

Darcy Parmer ran into trouble soon after she started her job as a fraud analyst at Wells Fargo Bank. Her bosses, she later claimed, were upset that she was, well, finding fraud. Company officials, she alleged in a lawsuit, berated her for reporting that sales staffers were pushing through mortgage deals based on made-up borrower incomes and other distortions, telling her that she didn’t “see the big picture” and that “it is not your job to fix Wells Fargo.” Management, she claimed, ordered her to stop contacting the company’s ethics hotline. In the end, she said, Wells Fargo forced her out of her job.

Parmer isn’t alone in claiming she was punished for objecting to fraud in the midst of the nation’s home-loan boom. iWatch News has identified 63 former employees at 20 financial institutions who say they were fired or demoted for reporting fraud or refusing to commit fraud. Their stories were disclosed in whistleblower claims with the U.S. Department of Labor or court documents. “We did our jobs. We had integrity,” said Ed Parker, former fraud investigations manager at now-defunct Ameriquest Mortgage Co., a leading subprime lender. “But we were not welcome because we affected the bottom line.” Read more ..


Broken Banking

Ex-WaMu Worker Claims he was Shunned for Refusing to Push Toxic Loans on Borrowers

December 29th 2011

Corporate Logos - Washington Mutual

In the case of the salesman who wouldn’t sell, the two sides have starkly different tales to tell. Greg Saffer says conscience and common sense prevented him from pushing the product his bosses wanted him to sell – “Option ARM” home loans that, he says, put homeowners at risk. “I’m not going to steer people into a loan program that might not be good for them just because it’s more profitable for the company,” he says.

JP Morgan Chase Bank counters that Saffer didn’t sell because he didn’t have the chops to close deals. “Rather than a paragon of virtue, Saffer was simply a guy who could not sell loans in an increasingly tough market,” the bank’s lawyers say in legal papers. JP Morgan is matched against Saffer because it bought Saffer’s ex-employer, Seattle-based Washington Mutual Bank, in September 2008, after regulators seized WaMu in what was the largest bank failure in U.S. history. Saffer charged in a lawsuit filed in 2009 in Los Angeles Superior Court that he was forced out of his job for refusing to take part in “fraudulent schemes.” In testimony in the lawsuit and in documents in  arbitration proceedings, he claims WaMu retaliated against him because he refused to push “toxic” Option ARMs and mislead borrowers about how the loans worked and how much they would cost. Read more ..


American Economy on Edge

Senate Committee Finds Most 'Trapped' Offshore Income is Already in U.S.

December 18th 2011

Money - Money Money Money

A select group of U.S. multinational corporations have been furiously lobbying for a tax holiday, they say, to bring more than a trillion dollars in so-called “trapped” foreign earnings back home and invest it in the American economy.

But a Senate report released Thursday shows the money is anything but trapped. Some of the richest firms have already brought hundreds of billions of dollars back to America, without paying U.S. taxes, and invested it in US banks, bonds, stocks and other assets. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations surveyed some of the best known U.S. multinationals and found that 27 of the cash-flush firms, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, had invested almost $250 billion in the United States. “Those foreign earnings are not trapped or locked offshore at all,” said Sen. Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan who chairs the subcommittee. “About half of the so-called offshore funds were actually onshore.” Read more ..


Nicaragua on Edge

Thousands of Sugar Cane Workers Die as Wealthy Nations Stall on Solutions

December 17th 2011

Nicaragua - cane_worker

Maudiel Martinez is 19 years old and has a shy smile, a tangle of curly black hair and a lean, muscular build shaped by years of work in the sugarcane fields. For most of his adolescence, he was healthy and strong and spent his days chopping tall stalks of cane with his machete.

Now Martinez is suffering from a deadly disease that is devastating his community along with scores of others in Central America, where it has decimated the ranks of sugarcane workers. The same illness killed his father and his grandfather and affects all three of his older brothers. “This disease eats our kidneys from inside us,” Martinez said. “We don’t want to die, and we feel grief because we already know that we’re hopeless.”

Martinez’ illness stands at the heart of a lethal mystery — and legacy of neglect by industry and governments, including the United States, which have resisted pleas for aggressive action to spotlight the malady and find a remedy. Wealthier nations are more focused on spurring biofuels production in the region’s sugarcane industry and keeping up the heavy flow of sugar to U.S. consumers and food manufacturers than the plight of those who harvest it. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

EPA Allowed Unsafe Handling of Asbestos, IG Says

December 17th 2011

Construction - Demonlition

The Environmental Protection Agency has allowed the use of unapproved methods to demolish buildings containing asbestos, threatening public health and possibly violating worker safety rules, the EPA’s inspector general has concluded.

In an “early warning report” to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that speaks to the urgency of the matter, Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. noted that asbestos is a human carcinogen “with no safe level of exposure.” Nonetheless, Elkins found, the agency allowed its own employees and contract workers to be exposed to the toxic, fire-resistant mineral — widely used in buildings after World War II — during tests in Texas and Arkansas in 2006 and 2007.

Elkins said his office’s preliminary research showed that the unsafe demolition methods — designed to save time and money — have been used more recently at the Hanford Superfund Site near Richland, Wash., a former Department of Energy nuclear weapons production site, and are under consideration at a DOE-owned uranium enrichment facility in Paducah, Ky. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Beirut Bank in Hezbollah Money Laundering Operation

December 15th 2011

Terrorism - lebanese canadian bank

Ledgers from the Lebanese Canadian Bank have revealed the covert operations of terrorist organization Hezbollah, according to a New York Times article. In February, the Obama administration accused the notoriously secretive bank of laundering money on the behalf of an international cocaine ring linked to Shiite militants Hezbollah.

Investigations by the Drug Enforcement Administration have exposed a global operation to conceal the source of illegal gains, with the Lebanese Canadian Bank at the center of activities. The findings appear to confirm the suspicions of  international law enforcement agencies, who believe that Hezbollah’s terrorist operations are funded by overseas loyalists involved in drug trafficking and a range of criminal activities.

A recent announcement by Federal prosecutors in Virginia revealed that a key player in the Lebanese Canadian Bank case had been formally charged with trafficking drugs and laundering money for Columbian cartels and deadly Mexican gang Los Zetas. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Management Gurus Claim They Were Blindsided by Toxic Culture at Countrywide

December 14th 2011

Corporate Logos - countrywide
Cynder Niemela

On her first day at Countrywide Financial Corp., Cynder Niemela gave a talk to a gathering of her new colleagues. Every company, she said, has its own culture. Each is a tribe with its own rituals and myths.

Niemela, a management guru who’d worked for Boeing and other big employers, told the group of executives that research showed it took 16 months for a worker to become fully part of a corporate “tribe.” That time would allow her, she added, to offer a fresh perspective on how things were done at Countrywide. Afterwards, she recalls, one of her new colleagues introduced himself and, with a knowing smile, said, “I can’t wait to see if you’re here 16 months from now.” She lasted 16 months, but not much longer.

Countrywide fired her, Niemela claimed, after she raised questions about fraud against customers and employee discontent with top management. The last straw, she alleged in an arbitration claim, came after she complained that higher-ups had revised and distorted one of her PowerPoint presentations in an effort to obscure the company’s problems with employee dissatisfaction and turnover. Read more ..



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