March 24th, 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday that Republicans may have helped Russia annex Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, delivering a surprisingly sharp attack just before lawmakers advanced a bill authorizing sweeping U.S. sanctions on Russia and $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine.
The 78-17 procedural vote in favor of the legislation spared President Barack Obama an embarrassing setback while he lobbies U.S. partners on a weeklong trip overseas to punish Moscow for its annexation of the Crimean peninsula. But Reid's tone suggested a compromise with the Republican-controlled House may prove difficult, prolonging Congress' inaction in the two weeks since Russian President Vladimir Putin's military intervention.
Reid focused his ire on the GOP senators who blocked the bill before lawmakers went on break March 14. He urged them to consider "how their obstruction affects United States' national security as well as the people of Ukraine" and said their delay of any congressional action "sent a dangerous message to Russian leaders."
"Since a few Republicans blocked these important sanctions last work period, Russian lawmakers voted to annex Crimea and Russian forces have taken over Ukrainian military bases," Reid said. "It's impossible to know whether events would have unfolded differently if the United States had responded to Russian aggression with a strong, unified voice."
The Nevada Democrat's charge came despite widespread bipartisan support for providing Ukraine with much-needed economic assistance and hitting Putin's government with sanctions. And GOP Senate aides noted the House has passed different legislation, meaning the Senate bill could not have become law before recess anyhow. They blamed Reid and Democrats for blocking the Senate from taking up the House legislation.
Reid "sounds completely unhinged," fired back Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "The House has acted, and is continuing to act, in a reasonable and responsible way to give the White House the tools it needs to hold President Putin accountable."
The Senate bill includes a proposal from one of Obama's fiercest critics, Republican Sen. John McCain, enabling the president to impose economic penalties on Russian government officials for corruption even within Russia's own borders. The broadness of the authorization is unprecedented for Russia, even if applying the sanctions would be at Obama's discretion.
But it also includes GOP-opposed reforms of the International Monetary Fund, which the United States, Europe and others are working with to stabilize Ukraine's economy. The IMF's 2010 reforms increase the power of emerging countries in the lending body and shift some $63 billion from a crisis fund to a general account it can use for economic stabilization operations around the world.
Republicans have long spurned the administration's attempt to ratify the IMF changes, saying they'd increase the exposure of U.S. taxpayers in foreign bailouts managed by the fund. Making the shift now, opponents such as Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio argue, also would marginally increase Russia's voting power over the fund's finances.
“We are deeply concerned that the Ukraine aid legislation reported by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee contains ‘reform’ provisions that would unnecessarily double the United States contribution to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), part of the largest proportional increase ever, yet ultimately undermine our influence in that body in a manner that provides no actual relief to Ukraine,” the five Senate Republicans wrote in a letter to Reid.
The Obama administration and Democrats counter that unless the U.S. approves the new rules, Washington will lose its influence at the IMF and hamper the body's ability to avert economic meltdowns in places precisely like Ukraine. The U.S. is the only major country that has yet to sign off.
With American officials warning that Russia could opt to expand further into Ukraine, McCain urged his colleagues to look beyond the IMF provisions. He stressed the need for Congress to pass the Senate bill quickly.
"If we do not send this message now," McCain said, "Putin will be encouraged to enact further acts of aggression against Crimea and in the region."
Reid interpreted the logjam differently. He said Republicans blocked the bill before Congress' one-week recess to "protect the anonymity of their big-money donors" such as the Koch brothers, two of America's wealthiest men who've strongly supported conservative causes. He was referring to an unsuccessful attempt by some Republicans to include an amendment to the bill halting new IRS regulations on groups claiming tax-exempt status.
"Republicans objected to moving forward with this aid package unless Democrats agreed to allow the Kochs and billionaires like them to continue to anonymously spend millions trying to buy America's democracy," Reid said. "It's hard to believe. But that's the truth."
CR Notes: (Hard to Believe is Correct)
Nevertheless, a majority of Senate Republicans joined Democrats in passing the cloture vote Monday evening, setting the stage for full Senate passage of the bill later this week.
House members are preparing to write their own Russia sanctions bill at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs committee Tuesday, supplementing the aid legislation they passed earlier this month. Neither includes any reference to the IMF.
March 24th, 2014
This may be where the true danger lies, not only for Russia's totalitarian schemes, but for the rest of the world.
The Hegelian Dialectic in use by the NWO functionaries, speaks to "manufactured crisis fomenting change," and could there be any worse manufactured crisis, than a country re-enacting Germany's aggressive takeover of certain European countries?
Instead of looking for a "mysteriously" missing flight, we perhaps should be looking more in this direction.....
BERLIN — Germany's foreign minister said after visiting Ukraine this weekend that he fears Russia may have opened "Pandora's Box" with its attempt to redraw national borders in Europe.
"We can't overlook the fact that Russia, with its action in Crimea, is flouting the central foundations of the peaceful order in Europe," Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.
"I'm very worried the unlawful attempt to alter recognized borders in our European neighborhood, 25 years after the end of the Cold War, will open Pandora's Box," he said.
Steinmeier said his impression from visiting Kiev and the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Saturday was that the situation was "anything but stable."
A planned monitoring mission by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could help avoid an escalation of the stand-off, he said.
Meanwhile, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Sunday that the European Union was united in its readiness to impose economic sanctions on Russia if the stand-off over Ukraine escalates — and that Moscow had much more to lose than the West.
"I don't think we are divided. None of us wants to escalate, but if Russia changes things unilaterally, then it must know that we won't accept it and that relations will be bad," Schaeuble said on German television in an interview.
"Russia has a lot more to lose in the medium term than the West, than Europe or the United States," he said.
March 23rd, 2014
"Organizing for America" is Obama's leading apparatchik website, which distributes "Heil Hitler" type Left-wing propaganda on a downright nauseating basis.
This latest "Flag of Gadsden" approach is a sticker campaign available to anyone who visits the "Organizing for America" (actually Obama)--Facebook page.
March 23rd, 2014
By JACK GILLUM
WASHINGTON (AP) - Police across the country may be intercepting phone calls or text messages to find suspects using a technology tool known as Stingray. But they're refusing to turn over details about its use or heavily censoring files when they do.
Police say Stingray, a suitcase-size device that pretends it's a cell tower, is useful for catching criminals, but that's about all they'll say.
For example, they won't disclose details about contracts with the device's manufacturer, Harris Corp., insisting they are protecting both police tactics and commercial secrets. The secrecy - at times imposed by nondisclosure agreements signed by police - is pitting obligations under private contracts against government transparency laws.
Even in states with strong open records laws, including Florida and Arizona, little is known about police use of Stingray and any rules governing it.
A Stingray device tricks all cellphones in an area into electronically identifying themselves and transmitting data to police rather than the nearest phone company's tower. Because documents about Stingrays are regularly censored, it's not immediately clear what information the devices could capture, such as the contents of phone conversations and text messages, what they routinely do capture based on how they're configured or how often they might be used.
In one of the rare court cases involving the device, the FBI acknowledged in 2011 that so-called cell site simulator technology affects innocent users in the area where it's operated, not just a suspect police are seeking.
Earlier this month, journalist Beau Hodai and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona sued the Tucson Police Department, alleging in court documents that police didn't comply with the state's public-records law because they did not fully disclose Stingray-related records and allowed Harris Corp. to dictate what information could be made public.
Revelations about surveillance programs run by the federal National Security Agency have driven a sustained debate since last summer on the balance between privacy and government intrusion. Classified NSA documents, leaked to news organizations, showed the NSA was collecting telephone records, emails and video chats of millions of Americans who were not suspected of crimes.
That debate has extended to state and local governments. News organizations in Palm Springs, Calif.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Sacramento, Calif., and Pittsburgh are among those that have been denied records about Stingrays or Stingray-like devices, including details of contracts that Harris has with government agencies.
In a response to a records request from the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper about Florida's use of cell-tracking technology, the state's top police agency provided a four-page, heavily censored document signed by a police investigator. The newspaper reported that the document referred to guidelines concerning the purchase of items and sought the department's agreement to the "provisions/content of the Non-Disclosure Agreement."
The Desert Sun of Palm Springs made a similar request to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, which said it had to maintain secrecy even though the newspaper found information online about cell site simulators.
And in Sacramento, the local sheriff's office told a TV station it would "be inappropriate for us to comment about any agency that may be using the technology" in light of a Harris nondisclosure agreement.
Many of the requests were part of an effort to investigate the devices by Gannett Co. Inc., which publishes USA Today and owns other newspapers and television stations around the country.
"I don't see how public agencies can make up an agreement with a private company that breaks state law," said David Cuillier, the director of the University of Arizona's journalism school and a national expert on public-records laws. "We can't have the commercial sector running our governments for us. These public agencies need to be forthright and transparent."
A representative for Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris Corp. declined to comment or elaborate on how the company's agreements comport with open records laws. Court documents in Hodai's case show Harris' agreement required the Tucson city government not to "discuss, publish, release or disclose any information" about its products without the company's written consent.
The agreement also required the city to contact Harris when it receives public-records requests about a "protected product," like a Stingray, so that the company can "challenge any such request in court." The police department declined to comment on Hodai's lawsuit.
He had sought Harris contracts and police emails about how the technology is used. Email records show a Harris contract manager advised a Tucson police sergeant on what records couldn't be released to the public; the manager relied on the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, which governs records of the executive branch of the federal government.
Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said there's often a distinction in public-records laws to protect bona fide trade secrets - such as circuit board diagrams - as opposed to broader information like agency policies governing a Stingray's use or purchase agreements. He said police in Florida have declined to tell judges about the use of Stingrays because of nondisclosure agreements.
A December 2013 investigation by USA Today found roughly 1 in 4 law enforcement agencies it surveyed had performed tower dumps, and slightly fewer owned a Stingray. But the report also said 36 additional agencies refused to provide details on their use, with most denying the newspaper's public-records requests.
Follow Jack Gillum on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jackgillum
Sunshine Week, promoting the importance of access to public information, runs from March 16-22
March 23rd, 2014
It began on January 26th, when a noted investment banker named Li Jie plunged to his death in Singapore.
Since then, the list has continually gotten longer and longer and longer; what do they know that we don't?
By Tamara El
Another banker has been found dead in a apparent suicide in Manhattan New York on the Upper East side. Kenneth Bellando, 28, is the latest in a string of suicide deaths by finance professionals, both in New York and around the globe.
The Levy Capital Partners employee was found dead in a near by backyard after jumping off of his six story building at around 10 pm on March 12. News investigators told other news sources and media outlets that the case is still technically under investigation, but there was no immediate suspicion of foul play and that he was found dead at the scene.
Bellando was a employee at Levy Capitol Partners and was previously employed as an investment bank analyst at JP Morgan and Paragon Capitol partners. He was raised in Long Island, attending and graduating from Georgetown University in D.C.
After graduation, he then returned to New York and launched his career in finance. Kenneth was the only person out of his family to work in the business world. His father John Bellando is chief operating officer and chief financial officer at Conde Nast and is listed just below famed editor Anna Wintour on the magazine company’s executive team bio page. The New York Post reports that Kenneth’s brother John worked at JP Morgan as the bank’s chief information officer.
Because of Kenneth’s role and involvement in risk exposure valuations, some of John Bellando’s emails were used as evidence in the Senate Finance Committee’s hearings about the 2012 ‘London Whale’ trading scandal. Kenneth’s friends have begun posting photos and condolences on his Facebook page since his March 12 death; including a picture of Kenneth, posing with his two sisters.
His death came the day after another banker killed himself by jumping in front of a commuter train in Long Island.
So far this year, there have been ten other apparent suicides by people who work in various financial roles around the globe, making Bellando’s death the 12th in two and a half months. Bellando is the youngest of the deaths, having only graduated from college in 2007.
There have been consecutive suicides among financial services employees since the beginning of 2014. They’ve occurred in London, the U.S., Singapore and Hong Kong.