Memo to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch: More Indictments Like FIFA Please

[Skip the first minute which is a pitch to renew the Patriot Act]

Our new Attorney General of the United States, Loretta Lynch, made a big announcement today and I am not talking about another agreement with a criminal bank that agrees to pay a pithy multi-millio-dollar fine without admitting it did anything wrong.

At a press conference this morning, Lynch announced the unsealing of a new 47-count indictment charging 14  world soccer figures, including officials of FIFA, with racketeering, bribery, money laundering and fraud. Four of those accused, including two sports marketing companies, have already pleaded guilty and are likely to be cooperating. From the Washington Post,

Among the “alleged schemes,” said the Justice Department, were kickbacks to FIFA officials by executives and companies involved in soccer marketing and “bribes and kickbacks in connection” with “the selection of the host country for the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 FIFA presidential election.” FIFA is the French abbreviation for the international Federation of Football Associations, the global governing body of soccer.

Swiss prosecutors, in a related announcement, said they had opened criminal proceedings against unidentified individuals on suspicion of mismanagement and money laundering related to the awarding of rights to host the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The separate Swiss probe includes “electronic data and documents” seized at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, the Swiss prosecutor’s office said. Swiss police said they will question at least 10 FIFA executive committee members who took part in the World Cup votes in December 2010 that named Russia and Qatar as host nations for the next two tournaments.

/snip/

Those charged, the Justice Department said, “include U.S. and South American sports marketing executives who are alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments.”

“Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner — the current and former presidents of CONCACAF, the continental confederation under FIFA headquartered in the United States — are among the soccer officials charged with racketeering and bribery offenses,” the Justice Department said.

The indictment was unsealed after Swiss police arrested six members of FIFA’s governing body. The New York Times captured the moment.

 

The lobby of the Baur au Lac, a 171-year-old five-star hotel here in downtown Zurich, was serene in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Bundles of newspapers were tossed on the front doorstep. A cleaner wearing a black uniform buffed the marble floors. The concierge fielded a call from a guest asking whether a local pharmacy could deliver medicine.

Then, when its Swiss clocks struck 6, more than a dozen law enforcement officers in street clothes entered without a fuss through a revolving door at the front of the hotel. They headed straight to the front desk, where they presented government documents and demanded the room numbers of some of the most high-profile officials in soccer, who were staying at the hotel ahead of the annual meeting of FIFA, the sport’s global governing body.

Suddenly, the venerable Baur au Lac, a way station for musicians, artists and royalty, and, the hotel says, the place where the Nobel Peace Prize was born, was transformed into something akin to a crime scene. The concierge was instructed to call one executive’s room, and one of the most significant takedowns in international sports history was under way.

“Sir,” the concierge said in English, “I’m just calling you to say that we’re going to need you to come to your door and open it for us or we’re going to have to kick it in.”

/snip/

While the arrests went seamlessly, chaos ensued at the Baur au Lac’s front desk. Just minutes after news of the operation broke, the phone began to ring incessantly. At the same time, the officers began returning to the front desk to ask for access to other parts of the hotel.

“Sir, we don’t have any information — please call later,” the concierge said to a caller before slamming the phone down.

/snip/

After all the arrests were complete, a hulking man in a suit arrived at the front desk. He asked if anyone knew the whereabouts of one of the FIFA executives.

“His wife doesn’t know what to do or where he is,” the man said.

By 9 a.m., the hotel, which had hosted a wedding the night before, was blanketed by private security guards. Outside, reporters gathered and set up cameras for live television shots. Inside, the wives and girlfriends of the men who had been arrested sat together in an ornate lounge off the main foyer. The women crowded around a computer and watched an Internet stream of Walter de Gregorio, FIFA’s chief spokesman, as he addressed a news conference at the governing body’s headquarters just a few miles down the road.

As de Gregorio spoke about how, in his opinion, this was actually “a good day” for FIFA — because ridding the organization of corruption is a priority — the women leaned closer. One of them began to cry.

And now for my contribution. The basis for federal jurisdiction is the defendants allegedly conducted meetings in the United States, used US banks to wire money around, used the US postal service to communicate with each other as well as email and used phones to discuss their dirty business.

They obviously did not see this coming.

Conspicuously left out of the indictment is Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA. His freedom may be short-lived, however, as he has been the subject of much speculation that he ran the pay-to-play scheme.

With defendants expected to fall like dominoes for cooperation agreements to testify against others, both known and unknown to the grand jury, he may find that he has something to cry about.

Oh, and one more thing. His recent announcement that he would not revisit the decisions to award the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. may end up being, how can I say this diplomatically, ah yes, revisited.

Oh, and another question: Are the NFL owners, NBA owners and NCAA reaching for the Rolaids and calling their lawyers?

Will the NSA and or FBI be listening?

Seven officials arrested today:

1. Rafael Esquivel

2. Nicolas Leoz

3. Jeffrey Webb

4. Jack Warner

5. Eduardo Li

6. Eugenio Figueredo

7. Jose Maria Marin

FYI: John Oliver roasted Sepp Blatter on his HBO comedy show Last Week Tonight. Here’s most of it:

 

 

 

With Deadline in Sight, Senate Scrambles on Patriot Act

Sen. Dianne Feinstein pushes new legislation that would criminalize whistleblower activity on national security

By Nadia Prupis

As public outcry against government spying reaches a fever pitch, the U.S. Senate is scrambling to address the USA Patriot Act, key sections of which are currently speeding toward expiration.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday warned the Senate—which is on a weeklong Memorial Day recess—to pass legislation that would renew those provisions, such as Section 215, which are scheduled to sunset on June 1.

“The problem we have now is that those authorities run out at midnight on Sunday,” Obama said. “So I strongly urge the Senate to work through this recess and make sure that they identify a way to get this done.”

The Senate on Friday rejected the legislation, known as the USA Freedom Act, which would have ended the National Security Agency’s (NSA) authority to collect domestic phone records in bulk, but would have renewed Section 215 and other controversial provisions of the Patriot Act which are set to expire next week. The U.S. House passed the USA Freedom Act on May 14.

On Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s watch, lawmakers are set to reconvene on Sunday, May 31 to vote again on the USA Freedom Act, as well as on another deal proposed—and rejected—last week that would have temporarily extended the Patriot Act.

The Senate will also consider legislation introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), which would prohibit “unauthorized disclosures” by an “officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States” or any “recipient of an order” issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), who “knowingly comes into possession of classified information or documents or materials containing classified information” of the U.S.

As Kevin Gosztola writes at Firedoglake, Feinstein’s bill—modeled after the Espionage Act—”would not only save spying powers but also codify into law a provision that would expressly enable the government to criminalize any national security whistleblower who may choose to follow the footsteps of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.”

Observers say that the chances are slim that the Senate will embrace any of those bills after overwhelmingly rejecting two of them so recently—and that’s just what privacy advocates are hoping for.

The USA Freedom Act has gotten a lukewarm reception by digital rights organizations like Fight for the Future and the Electronic Frontier Foundation over what they say are insufficient reforms of the NSA’s spying powers.

Fight for the Future called the Senate’s rejection of the bill on Friday a “historic tactical win against surveillance.”

“Sunsetting the Patriot Act is the biggest win for ending mass surveillance programs,” Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future, a coalition of civil liberties and privacy rights organizations, said at the time. “We are seeing history in the making and it was because the public stood up for our rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association—and there’s no turning back now.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation explained the setup succinctly last week, with senior staff attorney Lee Tien writing in a blog post that the gridlock is “good news: if the Senate stalemate continues, the mass surveillance of everyone’s phone records will simply expire on June 1.”

“We commend every Senator who voted against reauthorizing the unconstitutional surveillance of millions of law-abiding Americans,” Tien wrote.

Congress should again reject renewing Section 215 on Sunday and instead “turn to addressing other surveillance abuses by the US government, including mass surveillance of the Internet, the secretive and one-sided FISA Court, and the problems of secrecy and over-classification that have created the environment that allowed such spying overreach to flourish,” he continued.

As ACLU legislative counsel Michelle Richardson wrote in an op-ed last Friday, “The question before Congress and the American people now is whether that provision should be renewed. The answer is a clear and resounding no.

“Voting for reauthorization of Section 215 now would not just be a missed opportunity for a serious debate about the role of government surveillance in our democracy; it would be an endorsement of the unconstitutional surveillance programs we already know exist, and a tacit endorsement of those we’re still in the dark about.”

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Mary Landrieu Bows To The Inevitable, Becomes DC Lobbyist

LANDPRESS
Former US Senator Mary Landrieu, who spent a long and undistinguished political career shilling for the energy industry, has joined DC lobbying firm Van Ness Feldman and will focus on serving the firm’s energy clients. Though Landrieu is banned from lobbying her former colleagues in Congress until 2017, she is free to lobby the executive branch and tell her paymasters the best way to work the Senate for maximum profit.

Though politicians becoming lobbyists has become commonplace, Landrieu’s move to Van Ness is particularly odious given her conduct in the Senate – something Landrieu actually celebrated in a press release announcing her sell-out move saying “I am proud to join Van Ness Feldman. I have always respected the firm and worked closely with them during my 18 years in the Senate.”

In exchange for then-Senator Landrieu “working closely” with them, Van Ness gave Landrieu a good deal of money:

In the 2014 election cycle, Van Ness gave more money to Landrieu in both total donations ($14,350) and from its PAC ($7,500) than to any other member of Congress; the former senator, who lost her seat in a December runoff, collected about 17 percent of the $129,800 the firm’s PAC and employees gave out…

In 2013, the firm also represented TransCanada Corp, the company in charge of building the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline if it gets final approval. Landrieu supported the construction of the pipeline while in the Senate, and even brought her Republican opponent’s (then-Rep. Bill Cassidy) bill to the Senate floor in what was viewed as a last ditch effort to potentially prevent her defeat (though the proposed route doesn’t run through Louisiana).

But to be fair, Landrieu shilled for numerous donors in the energy industry while serving in public office including Exxon Mobil, NextEra Energy, Chevron Corp and ConocoPhillips. Landrieu was an equal opportunity miscreant, she took money from the high and higher alike.

Then again, might there be a larger point worth pondering when one looks at the crooked trajectory of Mary Landrieu? Perhaps this is an opportune time to consider whether or not having career politicians necessitates a corrupt revolving door between industry and government. After all, what marketable skills does former Senator Landrieu have besides selling out the public interest?

Image via US Senate under public domain.

The Roundup for May 26th, 2015

Still waiting on those grades…

International Politics

Overall

– Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Colin Powell, joins The Real News to discuss the dangers of Syria ending up like Afghanistan, essentially no stable government

– Juan Cole: “What’s Wrong With Robert Kaplan’s Nostalgia for Empire

– The U.S. admits it blocked a treaty restricting proliferation of arms to protect Israel and its nuclear arsenal

– President Barack Obama: We must view how effectively we are using our assets against the Islamic State

Middle East

– An Israeli Defense Force soldier who criticized the occupation of Palestinian will be imprisoned by Israel

– A French official warned Syria and Iraq would be divided should anti-ISIL forces fail to be supported

– Iraqi forces, meanwhile, launched a new offensive to retake land under ISIS control (more…)

Over Easy: Bernie Sanders Launches Presidential Campaign in Burlington

On Tuesday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) kicked off his 2016 bid for US President with a speech in his home town of Burlington, Vermont, noting that “enough is enough” and heralding the event as the beginning of a “political revolution.”

Vox has a transcript of the speech. His beginning remarks include:

Today, here in our small state — a state that has led the nation in so many ways — I am proud to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America.

Today, with your support and the support of millions of people throughout this country, we begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.

Today, we stand here and say loudly and clearly that; “Enough is enough. This great nation and its government belong to all of the people, and not to a handful of billionaires, their Super-PACs and their lobbyists.”

Brothers and sisters: Now is not the time for thinking small. Now is not the time for the same old — same old establishment politics and stale inside-the-beltway ideas.

Senator Sanders highlighted the following issues:

-Income and Wealth Inequality

In America we now have more income and wealth inequality than any other major country on earth, and the gap between the very rich and everyone is wider than at any time since the 1920s.

-Economics and the Disappearance of the Middle Class

But it is not just income and wealth inequality. It is the tragic reality that for the last 40 years the great middle class of our country —once the envy of the world — has been disappearing.

-Citizens United

American democracy is not about billionaires being able to buy candidates and elections. It is not about the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other incredibly wealthy individuals spending billions of dollars to elect candidates who will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer. According to media reports the Koch brothers alone, one family, will spend more money in this election cycle than either the Democratic or Republican parties. This is not democracy.

-Climate Change

The debate is over. The scientific community has spoken in a virtually unanimous voice. Climate change is real. It is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating problems in the United States and around the world.

-Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

If we are truly serious about reversing the decline of the middle class we need a major federal jobs program which puts millions of Americans back to work at decent paying jobs.

-Raising Wages

Let us be honest and acknowledge that millions of Americans are now working for totally inadequate wages. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage and must be raised.

Senator Sanders also spoke on the following issues:

-Addressing Wealth and Income Inequality


-Reforming Wall Street

-Campaign Finance Reform

-Health Care for All

-College for All

-Protecting Our Most Vulnerable

In addition, he has a campaign website (“not paid for by billionaires”): https://berniesanders.com. For folks who happen to be at the website, but on the wrong page- or for folks who have gone looking for the hidden page at the website- there is a “404 Page Not Found” redirect. To see the message, go to https://berniesanders.com/wtf.

Bernie Sanders Has the Most Glorious 404 Error Page Ever

Read Bernie Sanders Full Text Presidential Campaign Speech
(more…)

Late Night FDL: One Way Out

Gregg Allman – One Way Out

Gregg is set to release his new solo album, Live: Back To Macon, GA, in August…

Gregg Allman has released a live version of One Way Out in a video clip.

It’s taken from upcoming release Live: Back To Macon, GA, recorded with his eight-piece solo band, to be launched on August 7.

Rounder Records say of the title: “Allman has long been a gifted, natural interpreter of the blues – his soulful and distinctive voice is one of the defining sounds in the history of American music.

“Live: Back to Macon, GA marks his first-ever official solo DVD release where he delivers ferociously high-energy and emotive performances.” The DVD includes additional interviews and a documentary feature.

Allman, who wound down the Allman Brothers Band in 2014 after a 45-year career, appears at the inaugural Ramblin’ Man Fair at Mote Park, Kent, on July 25-26.

What’s on your mind tonite…?

MENA Mashup: Conspiracies, Daesh, Iraq, and Syria

Here’s Col. Wilkerson on TRNN

In tallying up the clusterf*ck that is the MENA, we need to delve into the ‘spin’ we’re being spun by the MSM…!

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out today…

NYT Trumpets US Restraint Against ISIS, Ignores Hundreds of Civilian Deaths

The New York Times this morning has an extraordinary article claiming that the U.S. is being hampered in its war against ISIS because of its extreme — even excessive — concern for civilians. “American officials say they are not striking significant — and obvious — Islamic State targets out of fear that the attacks will accidentally kill civilians,” reporter Eric Schmitt says.

The newspaper gives voice to numerous, mostly anonymous officials to complain that the U.S. cares too deeply about protecting civilians to do what it should do against ISIS. We learn that “many Iraqi commanders, and even some American officers, argue that exercising such prudence is harming the coalition’s larger effort to destroy” ISIS. And “a persistent complaint of Iraqi officials and security officers is that the United States has been too cautious in its air campaign, frequently allowing columns of Islamic State fighters essentially free movement on the battlefield.”

The article claims that “the campaign has killed an estimated 12,500 fighters” and “has achieved several successes in conducting about 4,200 strikes that have dropped about 14,000 bombs and other weapons.” But an anonymous American pilot nonetheless complains that “we have not taken the fight to these guys,” and says he “cannot get authority” to drone-bomb targets without excessive proof that no civilians will be endangered. Despite the criticisms, Schmitt writes, “administration officials stand by their overriding objective to prevent civilian casualties.

But there’s one rather glaring omission in this article: the many hundreds of civilian deaths likely caused by the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. Yet the only reference to civilian deaths are two, ones which the U.S. government last week admitted: “the military’s Central Command on Thursday announced the results of an inquiry into the deaths of two children in Syria in November, saying they were most likely killed by an American airstrike,” adding that “a handful of other attacks are under investigation.”

Completely absent is the abundant evidence from independent monitoring groups documenting hundreds of civilian deaths. Writing in Global Post last month, Richard Hall noted that while “in areas of Syria and Iraq held by the Islamic State, verifying civilian casualties is difficult,” there is “strong evidence [that] suggests civilians are dying in the coalition’s airstrikes.

Over at Moon of Alabama, b goes further… (more…)

Senate Effort to Renew NSA Spying Powers Contains Provision to Stop Next Edward Snowden

Screen shot 2015-05-26 at 5.41.33 PM

Senator Dianne Feinstein has proposed legislation to protect the National Security Agency from losing dragnet surveillance powers when Patriot Act provisions expire. But her bill would not only save spying powers but also codify into law a provision that would expressly enable the government to criminalize any national security whistleblower who may choose to follow the footsteps of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

As first reported by journalist Marcy Wheeler, the provision in Feinstein’s bill [PDF] is modeled after the Espionage Act, which President Barack Obama’s administration has aggressively relied upon to prosecute a record number of whistleblowers. (Snowden was indicted under the Espionage Act.)

The provision would prohibit “unauthorized disclosures” by an “officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States” or any “recipient of an order” issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), who “knowingly comes into possession of classified information or documents or materials containing classified information” of the US.

A person could be criminalized if they disclosed any information connected to an application to the FISA Court, an order approved by the court or information acquired under a directive issued by the court.

Knowingly communicating, transmitting and making available information to an “unauthorized person,” such as a journalist, would be criminal. Someone who “knowingly removes such documents or materials without authority and with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location,” as Snowden did before providing documents to journalists, would be violating the law as well.

Making information available to a reporter could potentially result in someone going to jail for ten years. Retaining documents at an unauthorized location could potentially result in a one-year prison sentence.

A similar provision was included in a bill introduced by Senator Richard Burr over the weekend. The bill was also drafted to protect dragnet surveillance powers.

Both Burr, a Republican who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, and Feinstein, a Democrat and former chair of the Senate intelligence committee, are powerful senators who have traditionally supported anti-leaks measures, which Senator Ron Wyden blocked in 2012.

Feinstein accused Snowden in June 2013 of “violating” his oath to defend the Constitution. She unequivocally stated, “He violated the law. It’s treason.” When Burr found about what Snowden revealed on mass surveillance, he was not concerned about the programs but rather about how a contractor like Snowden had access to so much material.

Jesselyn Radack, an attorney who has represented a number of whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, and currently represents Snowden, reacted, “Feinstein is the latest member of Congress to offer a non-compromise ‘compromise’ to replace the already-compromised USA Freedom Act. Her bill would essentially retain Richard Burr’s odious Section 215 mini-Espionage Act, imposing 10-year penalties on people like my NSA whistleblower clients Edward Snowden, William Binney and Thomas Drake, who told us what the intelligence community was really doing with the call records program.”

“The most disturbing aspect is the prospect of Congress codifying the Justice Department’s draconian use of the century-old Espionage Act into law when there’s a lot of validity that the Department has unconstitutionally applied the Espionage Act to whistleblowers.”

The provision contains no clear and present danger standard, which means it would not matter if a person knew the disclosure of information would result in no harm. The government would be under no obligation to present any evidence that a release of information caused grave damage or harmed anyone during prosecution. This would likely violate the First Amendment. (more…)

John McCain Cites Islamic State As Bigger Threat Than Climate Change

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told host Bob Schieffer on Face The Nation, the Sunday political talk show on CBS, that President Barack Obama needs to focus on the Islamic State rather than climate change.

McCain responded to a question by Schieffer on what the Obama administration could do after the fall of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria to ISIS. He advocated for a “robust strategy” as the current one was not working:

We need to have a strategy. There is no strategy. And anybody that says that there is, I would like to hear what it is, because it certainly isn`t apparent now, and right now we are seeing these horrible — reports are now in Palmyra they`re executing people and leaving their bodies in the streets.

Meanwhile, the president of the United States is saying that the biggest enemy we have is climate change.

McCain’s reference to climate change stems from what President Obama told graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on May 20 when it came to the America’s security:

Denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces.

Criticism of the Obama administration on facing ISIS by McCain is not new as, on May 21, he called the loss of Ramadi “a significant defeat” when speaking on the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain is the chairman of the committee.

The White House admitted the fall of Ramadi was a “setback.” Yet White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the loss of the city is a part of the “back-and-forth” military campaign.
(more…)

Single Mother Who Worked for Brink’s Says She Was Fired for Participating in ‘Fight for 15′ Protests

Brink's Security Vehicle

Darletta Scruggs, a single mother in Chicago who worked for Brink’s, was fired a week after participating in the Fight for 15 protests on April 15.

On April 21, Scruggs felt something was wrong when her company phone was turned off. She then went to work only to be told by a security guard that she would not be allowed to enter the building where she worked.

The proper procedure for termination is supposed to include a letter in the mail informing the worker that he or she is on suspension.

“I received none of that and, apparently, that notice was placed on April 21. That is not proper procedure,” Scruggs told Firedoglake.

Brink’s is a firm providing “security-related services” for thousands of businesses from banks to fast-food businesses. Such services “include include money processing, long-distance transport of valuables, vaulting and other value-added solutions.” The company did not respond to an email request for a comment on Scruggs’ termination.

Scruggs joined Brink’s in August 2014 as a “route coordinator or route logistic manager.” Essentially, she described it as an office job where tasks included customer service, scheduling or termination, albeit with limited powers.

The position was salary-paid and Scruggs was considered management by the company.

Scruggs joined drivers for routes in spite of not being trained to do so. She began to understand the frustration other workers felt when doing routes.

“It made me sympathize a little more with what the drivers and messengers would complaining about,” Scruggs said.

Since August 2014, Scruggs told Firedoglake the company began to cut benefits to workers. In one instance, vacation time was no longer based on seniority and, as a result, employees had to “earn it as they worked.”

“We started to see morale in the workplace fall and definitely an increase of anger and discontent. Of course, upper management was not very sympathetic or concerned about the issue they were bringing up,” Scruggs said.

Scruggs said her bosses would initially say such removal of benefits came from corporate. Furthermore, they cited the economy as a reason why changes were implemented.

With morale deteriorating and benefits cut, Scruggs inquired with other workers about forming a union. She was told by a few workers a union was created a few years ago only to dissolve shortly after.

Yet, Scruggs pressed on and worked with other workers to create a union. She became aware of a nationwide April 15 walkout organized by SEIU’s “Fight for 15″ campaign and told other Brink’s employees about the planned action. Workers, she noted, were interested in joining and learning more.

Management warned Brink’s employees, including Scruggs, before April 15 about unionization efforts. (more…)