With a nod to Mike Maharrey and Alan Mosely of the SportsBall Podcast (it’s OKAY to like sports), I talk about how my recent return to watching the Green Bay Packers disgusted me. I also talk about how the corruption and commercialization of sports is akin to the corruption at the heart of the US government.
Episode 125 of the Liberty Weekly Podcast is Brought to you by:
Malta — Following Monday’s car bombmurder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the journalist leading the Panama Papers investigation into corruption within the government of Malta, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has offered a hefty reward to anyone with information about the killing.
“Outraged to hear that Maltese investigative journalist+blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia has been murdered this afternoon not far from her home with a car bomb,” Assangewrote on Twitter Monday night. “I issue a €20k reward for information leading to the conviction of her killers.”
Galizia, who POLITICO recentlyreferred to as a “one-woman WikiLeaks,” had been a thorn in the side of the Maltese government for the last two years. The journalist used information from thePanama Papers — the cache of 11.5 million internal documents from offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca that were leaked in 2015 — to expose corruption within Malta’s political class, as the Guardianhighlighted Monday:
“Her most recent revelations pointed the finger at Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, and two of his closest aides, connecting offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the government of Azerbaijan.”
Galizia, who was 53 and leaves behind a husband and three sons, published her final blog post barely half an hour before her death. One of the reporter’s sons, Matthew, took to Facebook following the murder,saying she was killed because of her refusal to back down:
“My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists. But she was also targeted because she was the only person doing so.”
Continuing, Matthew wrote that in the fight against corruption, “the last person left standing is often a journalist” which, ultimately makes them “the first person left dead.”
Matthew, who is also a journalist, said his mother’s death “is not tragic,” but rather that she was a casualty of war:
“Tragic is someone being run over by a bus. When there is blood and fire all around you, that’s war. We are a people at war against the state and organised crime, which have become indistinguishable.”
Washington, D.C. — It’s rare that we get a glimpse into how the machine actually operates, but POLITICO just gave us one. The findings of an investigation by the news agency, published Monday, reveal that congressional staffers may play a far larger role in greasing the engine of American government than one might assume. From thearticle by Maggie Severns:
“A POLITICO review of federal disclosures for 2015 and 2016 found that some senior aides regularly buy and sell individual stocks that present potential conflicts of interest with their work. A smaller number of staffers trade in companies that lobby Congress and the committees that employ them. In all, approximately 450 aides have bought or sold a stock of more than $1,001 in value since May 2015.
“That’s likely just the tip of the iceberg, since most congressional aides aren’t required to report their trades. Only those in positions earning more than $124,406 per year must reveal their investments. Of the 12,500 staffers working for lawmakers, committees and leadership offices, only about 1,700 make that much, according to data compiled by Legistorm and the Brookings Institution.”
Continuing, Severns writes that government watchdog groups take serious issue with this because congressional staffers “often have more of a hands-on role than the members [of Congress] themselves in crafting details of legislation that could have enormous consequences for individual companies.” Further, because “aides are rarely in the spotlight,” there’s “more potential for ethical lapses to go unnoticed.”
Members of the House and Senate, like administration officials in the executive branch, POLITICO points out, are held to far higher standards and scrutiny when it comes to stock market trading.
Just so it’s clear what we’re talking about, those “ethical lapses” Severns mentions come in the form of insider trading — using publicly unknown information to gain an advantage in the stock market.
Essentially, while members of Congress are forbidden from trading in companies that present conflicts of interest with their roles as legislators — and most ignore the stock market altogether to avoid any whiff of scandal — aides are left largely to their own ethical compasses when it comes to buying and selling stocks.
Toss this in with the fact that, as Severns notes, staffers are “the real experts on the intricacies of policies” and do most of the work on bills that will affect these companies directly, and it isn’t difficult to see how one could be tempted.
Ethics are one thing, Indiana University law professor Donna Nagy told POLITICO, but what about when those choices begin affecting how the country operates?
“It causes the public to question whether personal stock holdings are influencing legislative activity,” shesaid. “That doesn’t necessarily mean a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote, as it would a senator or member of Congress. Did personal stock holdings influence the speed or slowness with which a report is written? That’s something that would be in staffers’ control.”
Meredith McGehee, chief of policy at money and politics watchdog groupIssue One,pointed out to POLITICO that aides are in no way answerable to the public, unlike senators and representatives who must be elected:
“The staff level is actually more dangerous, because they don’t get scrutiny and they’re not accountable. If a member does it, he can get defeated. A staff person can wield enormous amounts of power that isn’t seen, and there’s really no way to hold that staff accountable.”
Craig Holman, lobbyist for watchdog groupPublic Citizen,says aides are on par with members in terms of legislative influence, adding that it’s the staff — the ones being tempted to buy and sell stock on insider tips — that the dealmakers want to see:
“The very senior staffers ought to be considered very much the same as members. These are policy-making individuals. They’re the people lobbyists want to meet with and influence. It’s their ability to affect public policy that matters, whether or not they receive votes or subject themselves to elections.”
If that sounds like a loophole or a flaw in the system, it’s one Congress is going out of its way to hide from the public. In the exhaustive review, which highlights cases of potential insider trading by staffers on both sides of the aisle, POLITICO noticed that even recent changes to rules have favored aides Again, from Severn’sarticle:
“In 2012, when Congress passed the Stock Act, leaders crowed that information about the investments of both lawmakers and senior staff would be available online in an easily searchable format. But a year later, Congress silently passed revisions to the bill that wiped out many of those data requirements.
“Information on lawmakers is still available online, but it cannot easily be searched or sorted by date or company traded. The requirement that aides’ disclosures be posted online was scrapped from the law, and today such information is available only in person at computer kiosks maintained by the House and Senate.
“Individuals seeking the information must log in using their name and other personal details. The documents they seek cannot be downloaded or otherwise taken out of the office in a digital format. They can be printed for 10 cents to 20 cents a page.”
Larry Noble, senior director at theCampaign Legal Center,toldPOLITICO there’s “little excuse for these barriers, especially in the digital age.” He also said the only logical conclusion is that Congress’ shielding of its staffers’ financial portfolios must be intentional:
“When you have to go to an agency or to Congress to have a document printed out, and you put your name down — all that is to deter people from doing it.”
As POLITICO details, the Security and Exchanges Commission seems content to look the other way, and the members themselves — the elected officials who employ these aides — have thus far failed to raise concern over the issue. Could all that be because everyone on Capitol Hill secretly understands that it’s really the staffers, as behind-the-scenes players, that get things done in Congress?
Baltimore — Charges against a Maryland man who has been sitting in jail since January have been dropped, it wasreported Wednesday, after video surfaced of a cop falsifying evidence in the case. From the Baltimore Sun:
“Baltimore police and prosecutors have launched investigations after being alerted to body camera footage that the public defender’s office says shows an officer planting drugs.
“The footage is from a January drug arrest. It shows an officer placing a soup can, which holds a plastic bag, into a trash-strewn lot. The officer can then be seen walking to the street, where he flips on his body camera.”
The cop then reenters the lot and pretends to find the can, out of which he pulls the bag full of white capsules. But the officer was apparently unaware that body cameras have a feature that records 30 seconds ofvideo, without audio, before the camera is activated, and it’s that silent half-minute that has him in hot water.
“We take allegations like this very seriously and that’s why we launched an internal investigation into the accusations,” police department spokesman T.J. Smithtold the Sun. “We are fortunate to have body-worn cameras which provide a perspective of the event.”
Not so fortunate is the unidentified man who’s been locked up for the last six months based on planted evidence. His bail had been set at $50,000, an amount he couldn’t pay. Immediately after the public defender’s office alerted prosecutors to the footage, all charges against the man were dropped.
A spokesperson for Baltimore’s state attorney’s office, Melba Saunders,called the video “troubling” and said the prosecutor in charge of the case “took immediate and appropriate actions by dropping the case and alerting his supervisor.”
The internal affairs division of the Baltimore Police Department is conducting an investigation into the officer in question.
Orange County, CA — On Wednesday, a former county clerk in southern California plead guilty to running a bribery scheme that forged case results in exchange for money — a scheme that netted him over a quarter of a million dollars in five years.
From a Los Angeles Timesarticle published on Thursday:
“Anaheim resident Juan Lopez, Jr., 36, admitted in a plea deal last week that from as early as 2010 until March 2015, he used his court computer system access to write fraudulent outcomes for more than 1,000 cases, including 69 misdemeanor driving under the influence cases and hundreds of traffic-related violations.”
Lopez, it seems, had a network of middlemen outside the courtroom who spread the word that case results could be bought. Defendants paid one of Lopez’s fixers, then the fixer brought the cash to the boss.
Using text taken from court documents, a Los Angeles Timesarticle from September 2016 painted a picture of what a typical exchange between a defendant and a middleman looked like.
Fixer: “I have a buddy. I’ve taken care of 15+ speeding tickets now. Super simple and way better than paying the court.”
Defendant: “I just give you the money and the ticket goes away?”
Fixer: “A few days after you give me the money, it’s like you never got the ticket.”
That same Los Angeles Times article noted that “with a few easy keystrokes,” Lopez could even make it “seem that people had served jail time” when they hadn’t.
With the money Lopez reaped from the scheme, authorities say he went on vacations, took trips to Las Vegas, and even opened a restaurant in Garden Grove, California.
“This is the most widespread scandal to hit Orange County’s legal system since the sheriff got sent to prison,” defense attorney Virginia Landry said after Lopez’s initial arraignment last year, referring to a sheriff who went down in a corruption case back in 2009. “This is a huge number of cases. It went on for such a long time under the noses of people working in the court.”
United States Attorney Eileen Decker had a few words to say at the time, as well. According to a press release:
“This defendant allegedly assumed the role of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys to line his pockets in a staggering abuse of his position. Very simply, he compromised the entire justice system in Orange County.”
And all this was accomplished by what authorities called “a low-level paper pusher who rarely saw the inside of a courtroom.”
Lopez is scheduled to be sentenced on September 22, when he’ll face a potential 20-year sentence.
Perhaps more than anything else, this case demonstrates how a government employee’s level of power within the system doesn’t necessarily affect their ability to game it.
Just yesterday, Anti-Mediareported on the case of a former assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, Tara Lenich — once a high-ranking deputy chief within the Violent Criminal Enterprises Bureau — who now faces federal charges for using government resources to spy on a love interest.
She wasn’t out for money. She was simply jealous and used her access to the surveillance state to spy on her own colleagues.
Lopez was just a clerk, and he made off with over a quarter of a million dollars. Lenich was a powerful attorney and was able to secretly target individuals of her choosing for surveillance. Both gamed the system in different ways and for different reasons. And both were successful — to a point.
Such is possible, it seems, within the endless gaps and shadows of bureaucracy.
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