July 10, 2015 archive
Jul 10 2015
Jul 10 2015
Last week the New York Tines reported that the US Chamber of Commerce was working to fight anti-tobacco measures in foreign countries:
The U.S. Chamber’s work in support of the tobacco industry in recent years has emerged as a priority at the same time the industry has faced one of the most serious threats in its history. A global treaty, negotiated through the World Health Organization, mandates anti-smoking measures and also seeks to curb the influence of the tobacco industry in policy making. The treaty, which took effect in 2005, has been ratified by 179 countries; holdouts include Cuba, Haiti and the United States.
Facing a wave of new legislation around the world, the tobacco lobby has turned for help to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with the weight of American business behind it. While the chamber’s global tobacco lobbying has been largely hidden from public view, its influence has been widely felt.
Letters, emails and other documents from foreign governments, the chamber’s affiliates and antismoking groups, which were reviewed by The New York Times, show how the chamber has embraced the challenge, undertaking a three-pronged strategy in its global campaign to advance the interests of the tobacco industry.
In the capitals of far-flung nations, the chamber lobbies alongside its foreign affiliates to beat back antismoking laws.
“We were surprised to read recent press reports concerning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position on tobacco products outside the United States,” David R. Palombi, a senior vice president at the company, said in a statement. “CVS Health’s purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with this purpose.” [..]
The campaign runs counter to efforts by some of the chamber’s members. Four health care companies that serve on its board – Anthem, the Health Care Service Corporation, the Steward Health Care System of Boston and the Indiana University Health system – all support antismoking programs. [..]
For CVS, which has 7,800 locations nationwide, the move is the latest step in rebranding itself as a health care destination, rather than a convenience store with a pharmacy. The company now operates nearly 1,000 walk-in clinics staffed by nurse practitioners.
Its executives have said that selling cigarettes is not consistent with its new strategy. The company has begun offering smoke cessation programs and recently helped conduct a smoke cessation study involving its employees and their relatives and friends.
“We believe the chamber has advocated for many important causes over the years, and we thank them for their leadership on these issues,” Mr. Palombi said. “Given the leadership position we took last year in removing tobacco products from our stores, however, we have decided to withdraw our membership in the chamber.”
Jul 10 2015
After six years of protecting them, former Attorney General Eric Holder triumphantly returned to his roots, the law firm where he defended Wall Street and the banking industry before his appointment as AG. As though this was ever in doubt.
Eric Holder, Wall Street Double Agent, Comes in From the Cold
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
Barack Obama’s former top cop cashes in after six years of letting banks run wild
Eric Holder has gone back to work for his old firm, the white-collar defense heavyweight Covington & Burling. The former attorney general decided against going for a judgeship, saying he’s not ready for the ivory tower yet. “I want to be a player,” told the National Law Journal, one would have to say ominously.
Holder will reassume his lucrative partnership (he made $2.5 million the last year he worked there) and take his seat in an office that reportedly – this is no joke – was kept empty for him in his absence.
The office thing might have been improper, but at this point, who cares? More at issue is the extraordinary run Holder just completed as one of history’s great double agents. For six years, while brilliantly disguised as the attorney general of the United States, he was actually working deep undercover, DiCaprio in The Departed-style, as the best defense lawyer Wall Street ever had.
Holder denied there was anything weird about returning to one of Wall Street’s favorite defense firms after six years of letting one banker after another skate on monstrous cases of fraud, tax evasion, market manipulation, money laundering, bribery and other offenses. [..]
In this light, telling reporters that you’re going back to Covington & Burling to be “engaged in the civic life of this country” seems like a joke for us all to suck on, like announcing that he’s going back to get a doctorate at the University of Blow Me.
Holder doesn’t look it, but he was a revolutionary. He institutionalized a radical dualistic approach to criminal justice, essentially creating a system of indulgences wherein the world’s richest companies paid cash for their sins and escaped the sterner punishments the law dictated.
The transcript can be read here
Eric Holder Returns as Hero to Law Firm That Lobbies for Big Banks
By Lee Fang, The Intercept
After failing to criminally prosecute any of the financial firms responsible for the market collapse in 2008, former Attorney General Eric Holder is returning to Covington & Burling, a corporate law firm known for serving Wall Street clients.
The move completes one of the more troubling trips through the revolving door for a cabinet secretary. Holder worked at Covington from 2001 right up to being sworn in as attorney general in Feburary 2009. And Covington literally kept an office empty for him, awaiting his return.
The Covington & Burling client list has included four of the largest banks, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Lobbying records show that Wells Fargo is still a client of Covington. Covington recently represented Citigroup over a civil lawsuit relating to the bank’s role in Libor manipulation.
Covington was also deeply involved with a company known as MERS, which was later responsible for falsifying mortgage documents on an industrial scale. “Court records show that Covington, in the late 1990s, provided legal opinion letters needed to create MERS on behalf of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and several other large banks,” according to an investigation by Reuters.
The Department of Justice under Holder not only failed to pursue criminal prosecutions of the banks responsible for the mortage meltdown, but in fact de-prioritized investigations of mortgage fraud, making it the “lowest-ranked criminal threat,” according to an inspector general report.
Jul 10 2015
Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when
we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.
This Day in History
Start of World War II’s Battle of Britain; Telstar satellite launched; Millard Fillmore becomes President; Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev killed; Singer Arlo Guthrie born; Cartoon voice Mel Blanc dies.
Something to Think about over
Everyone has a responsibility to not only tolerate another person’s point of view, but also to accept it eagerly as a challenge to your own understanding. And express those challenges in terms of serving other people.
Jul 10 2015
Torture authorizer and current FBI director, James Comey trotted out the latest “bogeyman” to justify unlocking encryption of private digital messages: ISIS. Apparently trying to scare people with kidnappers and child abusers failed.
(In) a preview of his appearance Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey is playing the ISIS card, saying that it is becoming impossible for the FBI to stop their recruitment and planned attacks. (He uses an alternate acronym, ISIL, for the Islamic State.)
“The current ISIL threat… involves ISIL operators in Syria recruiting and tasking dozens of troubled Americans to kill people, a process that increasingly takes part through mobile messaging apps that are end-to-end encrypted, communications that may not be intercepted, despite judicial orders under the Fourth Amendment,” Comey wrote on Monday in a blog post on the pro-surveillance website Lawfare.
While providing no specific, independently confirmable examples, Comey has claimed that FBI agents are currently encountering problems because of encrypted communications as they track potential ISIS sympathizers and radicals.
Comey has long argued that sophisticated encryption technology being implemented by tech giants, including Google and Apple, will make it harder and harder for the FBI to track its targets. Encryption scrambles the contents of digital communications, making it impossible for users without the “key” to read messages in plain language.
The major problem with Comey’s argument, giving law enforcement a backdoor key to private encrypted communications, would be an open door for hackers and criminals.
On Tuesday, the group – 13 of the world’s pre-eminent cryptographers, computer scientists and security specialists – released the paper (pdf), which concludes there is no viable technical solution that would allow the American and British governments to gain “exceptional access” to encrypted communications without putting the world’s most confidential data and critical infrastructure in danger. [..]
The authors of the report said such fears did not justify putting the world’s digital communications at risk. Given the inherent vulnerabilities of the Internet, they argued, reducing encryption is not an option. Handing governments a key to encrypted communications would also require an extraordinary degree of trust. With government agency breaches now the norm – most recently at the United States Office of Personnel Management, the State Department and the White House – the security specialists said authorities cannot be trusted to keep such keys safe from hackers and criminals. They added that if the United States and Britain mandated backdoor keys to communications, it would spur China and other governments in foreign markets to do the same.
Twenty years ago, law enforcement organizations lobbied to require data and communication services to engineer their products to guarantee law enforcement access to all data. After lengthy debate and vigorous predictions of enforcement channels going dark, these attempts to regulate the emerging Internet were abandoned. In the intervening years, innovation on the Internet flourished, and law enforcement agencies found new and more effective means of accessing vastly larger quantities of data. Today we are again hearing calls for regulation to mandate the provision of exceptional access mechanisms. In this report, a group of computer scientists and security experts, many of whom participated in a 1997 study of these same topics, has convened to explore the likely effects of imposing extraordinary access mandates. We have found that the damage that could be caused by law enforcement exceptional access requirements would be even greater today than it would have been 20 years ago. In the wake of the growing economic and social cost of the fundamental insecurity of today’s Internet environment, any proposals that alter the security dynamics online should be approached with caution. Exceptional access would force Internet system developers to reverse forward secrecy design practices that seek to minimize the impact on user privacy when systems are breached. The complexity of today’s Internet environment, with millions of apps and globally connected services, means that new law enforcement requirements are likely to introduce unanticipated, hard to detect security flaws. Beyond these and other technical vulnerabilities, the prospect of globally deployed exceptional access systems raises difficult problems about how such an environment would be governed and how to ensure that such systems would respect human rights and the rule of law.
This was a bad idea in 1997 and still a bad idea today.
Jul 10 2015
This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
July 10 is the 191st day of the year (192nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 174 days remaining until the end of the year.
In Dayton, Tennessee, the so-called “Monkey Trial” begins with John Thomas Scopes, a young high school science teacher, accused of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law.
The law, which had been passed in March, made it a misdemeanor punishable by fine to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” With local businessman George Rappalyea, Scopes had conspired to get charged with this violation, and after his arrest the pair enlisted the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to organize a defense. Hearing of this coordinated attack on Christian fundamentalism, William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate and a fundamentalist hero, volunteered to assist the prosecution. Soon after, the great attorney Clarence Darrow agreed to join the ACLU in the defense, and the stage was set for one of the most famous trials in U.S. history.
On July 10, the Monkey Trial got underway, and within a few days hordes of spectators and reporters had descended on Dayton as preachers set up revival tents along the city’s main street to keep the faithful stirred up. Inside the Rhea County Courthouse, the defense suffered early setbacks when Judge John Raulston ruled against their attempt to prove the law unconstitutional and then refused to end his practice of opening each day’s proceeding with prayer.
The ACLU had originally intended to oppose the Butler Act on the grounds that it violated the teacher’s individual rights and academic freedom, and was therefore unconstitutional. Mainly because of Clarence Darrow, this strategy changed as the trial progressed, and the earliest argument proposed by the defense once the trial had begun was that there was actually no conflict between evolution and the creation account in the Bible (a viewpoint later called theistic evolution). In support of this claim, they brought in eight experts on evolution. Other than Dr. Maynard Metcalf, a zoologist from Johns Hopkins University, the judge would not allow these experts to testify in person. Instead, they were allowed to submit written statements so that their evidence could be used at the appeal. In response to this decision, Darrow made a sarcastic comment to Judge Raulston (as he often did throughout the trial) on how he had been agreeable only on the prosecution’s suggestions, for which he apologized the next day, keeping himself from being found in contempt of court.
The presiding judge John T. Raulston was accused of being biased towards the prosecution and frequently clashed with Darrow. At the outset of the trial Raulston quoted Genesis and the Butler Act. He also warned the jury not to judge the merit of the law (which would become the focus of the trial) but on the violation of the act, which he called a ‘high misdemeanor’. The jury foreman himself wasn’t convinced of the merit of the Act but acted, as did most of the jury, on the instructions of the judge.
By the later stages of the trial, Clarence Darrow had largely abandoned the ACLU’s original strategy and attacked the literal interpretation of the Bible as well as Bryan’s limited knowledge of other religions and science.
Only when the case went to appeal did the defense return to the original claim that the prosecution was invalid because the law was essentially designed to benefit a particular religious group, which would be unconstitutional.