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All articles with the "Corruption" tag.

Published: Mon, 26 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2017 04:15:38 -0400


Cindy McCain's Charities Are Plagued With Scandal and Corruption. Now Trump Wants to Make Her Human Rights Ambassador

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:30:00 -0400

(image) After "aggressively courting" her for the role, President Donald Trump has reportedly nabbed Cindy McCain to serve in his State Department as an ambassador-at-large for human rights. She would almost certainly concentrate on sex trafficking, which has been the main focus of her recent advocacy—and on which she has a track-record of spreading misinformation, promoting policies that make prostitution more dangerous, and partnering with people who use human trafficking as a cover for all sorts of rights-violating behavior. And this is just one of myriad red flags that the beer empress and senator's wife isn't quite as consistent or staunch a humanitarian as she's made out to be.

It turns out the "freedom, democracy, and human rights" institute launched by Cindy and Sen. John McCain is supported by large donations from entities known for persistent rights violations, including Saudi Arabia, a U.S. defense contractor selling smart bombs to the Saudis, and a Moroccan mining company occupying land in Northwest Africa.

As Elizabeth Nolan Brown explains, examining McCain's philanthropic record reveals a long history of personal abuse of nonprofit resources, shady connections, and shoddy work. For years, McCain has been playing the role of crony philanthropist, and now she is poised to bring her dubious advocacy to the highest levels of government.

Cindy McCain: Crony Philanthropist

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 09:40:00 -0400

After "aggressively courting" her for the role, President Donald Trump has reportedly nabbed Cindy McCain to serve in his State Department as an ambassador-at-large for human rights. She would almost certainly concentrate on sex trafficking, which has been the main focus of her recent advocacy—and on which she has a track record of spreading misinformation, promoting policies that make prostitution more dangerous, and partnering with people who use human trafficking as a cover for all sorts of rights-violating behavior. And this is just one of myriad red flags that the beer empress and senator's wife isn't quite as consistent or staunch a humanitarian as she's made out to be. It turns out the "freedom, democracy, and human rights" institute launched by Cindy and Sen. John McCain is supported by large donations from entities known for persistent rights violations, including Saudi Arabia, a U.S. defense contractor selling smart bombs to the Saudis, and a Moroccan mining company occupying land in Northwest Africa. In fact, examining McCain's philanthropic record reveals a long history of personal abuse of nonprofit resources, shady connections, and shoddy work. For years, McCain has been playing the role of crony philanthropist, and now she is poised to bring her dubious advocacy to the highest levels of government. Friends in Authoritarian Places McCain has been lauded for her work on human trafficking—appearing on numerous panels and giving high-profile interviews on the topic. But she didn't pick up the issue until 2013, when she suddenly emerged as a fully formed crusader against sexual exploitation. The bulk of Cindy McCain's anti-exploitation efforts are channeled through the Arizona government's Human Trafficking Task Force, which she co-chairs, and the McCain Institute for International Leadership, where she is chair of the Human Trafficking Advisory Council as well as one of the institute's most visible spokespeople. Housed within the Arizona State University (ASU) system, the McCain Institute was launched in 2012 with $8.7 million left over from the McCain/Palin presidential campaign fund. (The McCains also set up the McCain Institute Foundation to collect donations for the institute and pass them on to ASU in $500,000 annual increments.) Upon its launch, ASU President Michael Crow said the McCain Institute would be "guided by the values that have animated the career of Senator McCain—a commitment to sustaining America's global leadership role, promoting freedom, democracy and human rights, as well as maintaining a strong, smart national defense." Publicly, the institute's biggest issues are combatting "modern slavery," addressing human rights abuses abroad, using technology to solve humanitarian problems, and pushing a vague pro-development and democracy agenda globally in order to promote peace. In practice, this often looks like advocating for U.S. action in Syria and tougher penalties for prostitution while helping develop new digital surveillance technology and facilitate international business relationships. "I don't think very many people have the same kind of access around the world that McCain has. When you mention his name, you do get top-tier people wanting to be associated and be helpful." —McCain Institute Executive Director Kurt Volker The McCain Institute's top donors include a plethora of groups with far from stellar records or reputation when it comes to human rights. Many of these same entities were also donors to the Clinton Global Initiative. For instance, OCP S.A., a state-controlled Moroccan phosphate mining company that has given at least $100,000 to the McCain Institute. OCP controls more than 75 percent of the world reserves of phosphates—which have become a hot ingredient in fertilizer—including mines built during Spanish colonization of the West Sahara. It has been accused of mistreating indigenous Sahrawi mine workers, as well as propping up Moroccan control of the area. "All the tainted money that Morocco has gathered from taking away our rights [...]

Judge Orders Oakland Cop to Trial; Says He Was 'Like a Pimp' to Exploited Teen

Tue, 23 May 2017 08:00:00 -0400

The prostitution and sexual exploitation scandal that shook Oakland and nearby California police agencies last year could finally see an officer on trial. An Alameda County judge ruled last Thursday that there is sufficient evidence to try former Oakland Patrol Officer Brian Bunton on charges of felony conspiracy to obstruct justice and misdemeanor engaging in prostitution. Bunton, who just retired from the Oakland Police Department (OPD) in March, was "actually pimping her like a pimp would," Judge Thomas Rogers said of the teenager at the center of this case. Known as Celeste Guap in initial media reports, the girl was just 17 years old when Oakland cops started passing her between them—a few paying customers, most extorting sex in exchange for helping her avoid arrest—according to her testimony and a good deal of corroborating evidence. Bunton is accused of extorting sex from Guap in exchange for tips about local stings, giving her advice on how to better market herself in the sex trade, and encouraging other officers to get in touch with her. Now 19, Guap testified in court last week for the first time since officers were arrested on criminal charges last year. Here's how the East-Bay Times described it: The 19-year-old woman at the center of the sex scandal fidgeted and pulled on her hair in apparent nervousness as she testified....Her finger trembled as she identified Bunton in court. She vomited into a garbage can by the witness stand after describing a hotel room encounter with the defendant and then kept on testifying. In response to questioning from Bunton's lawyers, Guap admitted that Bunton had never explicitly demanded that she have sex with him in order to avoid arrest. But Judge Rogers didn't buy the defense's suggestion that this exonerated Bunton of wrongdoing. "When [Guap] said that there wasn't agreement, that was a legal conclusion," the judge said. "She knew what she was getting out of it. He knew what he was getting out of it." Guap told the court that she started having sex for money when she was 12, had sex with four Oakland police officers while underage, and was 18 when she met Bunton while he was on patrol. She testified that after around a month of texting, he showed up at a hotel room where she was working and she gave him a blow job, after which he warned her about a local sting operation. "Thank you, daddy, I appreciate it, I don't want to go to jail," Guap replied in the text. Even if Burton didn't verbally threaten to arrest Guap himself or sic his colleagues on her, she knew damn well he had the power to do either. The threat didn't need to be made explicit. It existed based on the very nature of their relationship; under no circumstances can someone meaningfully consent to sex with someone who has the power to take away your liberty if you refuse. Especially if also has a state-supplied weapon at his disposal. To make matters worse, there wasn't even a prostitution sting that night; Bunton had made it up. When Guap learned this, and came to suspect he was setting her up with other cops in his department, she threatened to turn over their texts to Internal Affairs. Bunton claimed he merely wanted to help keep her "off the streets." His attorney, Dirk Manoukian, argued to the court that Bunton did engage in prostitution but was innocent of conspiracy. Guap's exploitation by local police started in February 2015 with former Oakland officer Brendan O'Brien and allegedly extends to nearly 30 cops and other law enforcement officials in Oakland, San Francisco, and nearby cities. Since she came forward in August 2015: O'Brien committed suicide; 11 OPD officers were disciplined, with four ultimately fired, in an OPD internal investigation; four Richmond Police Department officers were fired; longtime Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent resigned and the city cycled through two more chiefs in a little over a week; and Guap was sent by law-enforcement to addiction treatment in Florida and subsequently jailed on—then cleared of—felony ass[...]

Chicago Alderman Tells Property Owners to 'Come Back to Me on Your Knees' or Face Zoning Changes

Fri, 19 May 2017 12:41:00 -0400

When the Double Door, a bar and music venue in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, violated the terms of its lease in 2016, the club's owners ended up in court with the owner of the property where it was located. The property owners wanted to evict the club, and a judge agreed that they were allowed to do that. It was a private dispute between two businesses, the sort of thing that is routinely settled by the legal system. Or at least it was routine until the local city alderman got involved in the fight. In the months after a court ordered the Double Door to vacate the property at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., Alderman Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) tried to pressure the building's owners into letting the club stay, then attempted to change the zoning rules for the property to limit what businesses could occupy the space, potentially costing the building's owners thousands of dollars in future rent payments. When Brian Strauss, one of the property owners, confronted Moreno about his actions, the alderman threatened to prevent Strauss from being able to get any new tenants in the building for three years, and told Strauss to "come back to me on your knees" when he was ready to negotiate. Project Six, a Chicago-based political watchdog group, this week published the explosive story of Moreno's interference with the eviction of the Double Door club, including video of the confrontation between Strauss and Moreno where the city alderman appears to threaten the property owner. (Read the whole thing here.) In his efforts to prevent the club from being removed, Moreno appears to be invoking what is known locally as "aldermanic privilege," a long-standing but unofficial policy in Chicago city politics that allows individual alderman to make unilateral decisions within their own wards. Even though the practice has no basis in law—and, frankly, seems not only ripe for corruption but actually meant to encourage it—Project Six details how it allows individual alderman to make determinations about zoning changes and permitting for all businesses within their wards. "The practice creates an environment in which alderman act as gatekeepers to the residents and businesses of their wards, with essentially no checks and balances," Project Six reporters Faisal Khan and Kelly Tarrant explain. "The power and influence that Chicago's elected officials hold over city residents and businesses is immense. Some aldermen themselves have even compared their power to the powers of Medieval lords in charge 'of their individual fiefdom.'" In the dispute between Strauss and the owners of the Double Door, Moreno may have had another reason to get involved. Campaign finance records uncovered by Project Six show that the club's owners donated more than $7,500 to Moreno since 2013, including an "in-kind" donation of $5,000 for hosting a campaign event for the alderman. The owners of the property, meanwhile, have not donated to Moreno. That shouldn't matter, of course, because things like zoning decisions should exist outside the realm of politics. But when a single elected official can decide how any property within his jurisdiction is used, the two are inevitably going to become muddled. Moreno's proposed zoning change has not yet been approved by the city council, but it would restrict future commercial establishments on street level and make it harder for the building's owners to renew residential leases on other floors. The change would affect only a single property and would leave the rest of the surrounding neighborhood untouched. It's not clear whether the city council will approve the change, but the real purpose of the proposal seems to be threatening the building's owners. So-called "spot zoning" like that has been successfully overturned in court, but only after long and costly legal battles. Apparently not satisfied with making those implicit threats, Moreno also explicitly threatened Strauss, according to video obtained by Project City and CBS Chicago. This isn't the[...]

Oklahoma Cop, Police Chief Forced Out For Arresting City Councilman's Son

Fri, 12 May 2017 17:30:00 -0400

The next time officials in Vian, Oklahoma, post an ad for a new police chief, they might want to mention that law and order in their little town does not apply to them. Vian's last chief, Ted Johnson, and former officer Lindsey Green resigned earlier this week after city officials berated and threated to fire Green for arresting Joshua Smith, the son of city councilman E.O. Smith. This is not first time the city fathers have forced out officers for arresting politically connected residents. It is not even the first time they have sacked lawmen for arresting Smith. "She did what she was supposed to do," Chief Johnson said before resigning himself, "and by law, she didn't do anything wrong. She was only doing her job." Any reprimand of Green, the chief said, was inappropriate. On May 2 Green, the city's first female office and the department's officer of the month for March, stopped Smith for driving without a valid license. She had been tipped off by another officer who had previously ticketed Smith for the same offense. Green arrested Smith and took him to the local jail. Rather than a citation for bravery, City Attorney Larry Vickers, Jr. confronted her in a rage. "The city attorney contacted me, yelling, saying you had no reason to arrest him," Green told local CBS affiliate KSFM in an interview. "He ordered me to drop the ticket and that he [Joshua Smith] be released from jail immediately." Vickers, according to Green, contended that she had made an illegal arrest. "They're trying to say that probable cause for pulling him over was wrong. That I went off another officer's word," Green said. Green insisted she was simply following procedure. Under orders from Mayor Dennis Fletcher jailers released Smith after 15 minutes behind bars, local television station KSFM reported. Rather than be fired, Green turned in her resignation. Instead of expressing regret over the whole affair, the department posted a comment on Facebook saying Green had resigned to "further her career" and that the department wished her "all the best in her future endeavors." For his part, Fletcher told local media there was no discussion among Vain officials about firing Green. "We are looking at hiring an outside agency to review the findings and to investigate whether or not there was any misconduct with the officers," he said. Vickers, Fletcher and officials with the Vian Police Department did not respond to Reason's request for comment. Eleven years earlier, Vian officer Steve Brackett pulled Smith's car over for a cracked windshield. During the course of the traffic stop, Smith called on another relative, uncle James Smith—also a city councilman at the time—to see if he could smooth things out. Smith's uncle arrived at the scene shortly afterward, and allegedly threatened Brackett's job. Brackett then arrested Smith, too, for interfering with the issuance of a citation to his nephew. A Sequoyah County district attorney, however, declined to file charges, saying Smith's actions, while inappropriate, weren't criminal. Immediately after the arrest, Smith put firing of the city's police chief on the agenda for the next city council meeting, but then failed to turn up for that meeting. The chief kept his job. A year later Smith voted in favor of a successful motion to fire Brackett, citing citizen complaints that had been filed, an action that caused the entire Vian Police Department to quit in protest. Sheriff's deputies filled in until new officers could be hired. The Vian City Council has scheduled a special meeting this Tuesday for Vickers to present evidence to the council on the propriety of Green's actions. The city council will then decide on whether to go ahead with an investigation of Green. Regardless of what they decide Green remains defiant about the arrest. "The law is for everybody. It doesn't matter who your dad is," she says. She couldn't possibly have been speaking about Vian.[...]

Prostitution-Ring-Running Cop Sees Court, But Police Who Extort Sex Often Go Unpunished

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 15:30:00 -0400

It's been an astounding week for abuses of power and sexual violence committed by state agents. In New York City alone, one former cop is on trial for running for running a prostitution ring, another was sentenced to federal prison for soliciting child pornography from mothers he met online, and three others have been indicted on suspicion of trading gun permits for sex, travel, and cash. The first, former officer Michael Rizzi, was with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for nine years before retiring due to disability. He's now accused of running an upscale prostitution service and its 50 related websites. Meanwhile, former NYPD officers Paul Dean, Robert Espinel, and Gaetano Valastro were indicted Tuesday for conspiracy to commit bribery, in conjunction with the aforementioned gun-permitting plot. "Getting a gun license in New York can be a lengthy and intensive procedure, which includes getting approval from the NYPD," notes The Daily Beast's Katie Zavadski. An industry of "expeditors" popped up to help clients speed through the process, sometimes aided by crooked cops looking to make a buck by pushing applications along from the inside. All the men charged Tuesday were implicated by alleged co-conspirators who have pleaded guilty, including ex-NYPD licensing division sergeant David Villanueva and former expeditor Frank Soohoo, according to the U.S. attorney's office. NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said an internal review flagged more than 400 gun licenses as suspicious. Of the around 200 already reviewed, 100 led to permits being suspended. In a related complaint, former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney John Chamberswith was also indicted for bribery. Head south to Atlanta, Georgia, and arrests continue in a police take-down of two escort services, Atlanta Gold Club Escorts and Lipstick and Shoes Escorts, that also ensnared Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Christopher Quinn in January. Quinn was caught on camera paying for and having sex with a woman who worked for one of the escort agencies. For weeks after his mid-January arrest, Quinn remained employed with and working at the district attorney's office. He eventually resigned at the end of February because "he did not want to subject this office to any more controversy," the county district attorney told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. By the end of March, Quinn had found a new position as an assistant district attorney with the South Georgia Judicial District. Head further south (and far west), to the U.S. territory of Guam, and we have former police officer Paul John Santos. Santos was found guilty this week of criminal sexual conduct, bribery, and official misconduct after threatening to arrest a sex worker if she didn't have sex with him. "The defendant was a police officer put in position of trust by the public, by individuals he is supposed to be protecting and serving," but "his actions show the exact opposite of that," Assistant Attorney General Matt Heibel said in a sentencing hearing, requesting Santos receive 30 years in prison. The judge sentenced him to 21 years. That sort of punishment for sex-predator cops is rare. Kate Mogulescu, who heads up the Legal Aid Society of New York's s human trafficking advocacy program, recently talked to Gothamist about this issue. She said her organization repeatedly hears from sex workers "about inappropriate policing, coercive policing. We have inappropriate sexual conduct during the course of arrest, officers who want to take photos of clients on their personal cell phones." While police abuse against men tends to be more public, investigation and anecdote suggest that it's just as common with women—it just tends to take different forms. "The way the police engage women, especially Black women and sex workers, creates a culture of violence," Jacqueline Robarge, of Batlimore women's organization Power Inside, told Truthout in a piece published this we[...]

Actually, It’s Totally Fine That Obama Is Being Paid $400,000 to Give a ‘Wall Street Speech’

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:10:00 -0400

Since word got out that former President Barack Obama would be paid $400,000 to speak at a healthcare conference sponsored by Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street investment firm, the condemnation from liberal commentators has been almost unanimous. But there's actually nothing wrong with Obama giving the speech—and the controversy over it illustrates the silly nature of Democrats' (and increasingly Republicans) anti-Wall Street rhetoric and bromides about making "too much money," and their fundamental misunderstanding of why voters just weren't that into Hillary Clinton. Many of the arguments against Obama's $400,000 speech go like this: it'll "undermine everything he believes in," Matthew Yglesias wrote at According to Yglesias, the former president should have rejected the speaking opportunity because progressives' "Achilles heel" was the perception of corruption. Yglesias also argued ethical rules would never be enough to "prevent the government from being suborned by special interest" and dispel the idea of the private-public sector revolving door. The opposition to Obama's speech among the Democratic base is fueled by two sentiments propagated by Democrats for years—that there was something wrong with Wall Street (a metonym for the finance industry) as a whole, and that there was such a thing as making enough money. Bernie Sanders' insurgent campaign and persistent popularity was built on these ideas. Sanders often railed about Wall Street (but rarely about the Federal Reserve or how regulatory capture distorts industries) as well as billionaires and the "1 percent" as a class (n.b., an income of less than $500,000 a year puts an individual in the top 1 percent of income earners, so Sanders' "moral and political war on billionaires" is far broader than he often lets on). Despite trafficking in thoroughly debunked economic nonsense, Sanders' rhetoric was popular. Obama's Wall Street challenges both those notions—that Wall Street as a concept is a problem and that someone other than the worker can say when he or she's had enough money. Obama is drawing a $400,000 a year pension and signed a $12 million book deal. It's no one's right to tell him when he's made enough money except him or his family. Sanders has been particularly good at inoculating himself from the dissonance between his rhetoric and his actions. "How many yachts do billionaires need?" Sanders tweeted last week. "How many cars do they need? Give us a break. You can't have it all." Of course, in America you can have it all. Or at least you can try. Sanders has never really had a career outside of government and is on his third home. No one can determine how many homes Sanders "needs" but him—his government job is fair play. Millions of voters rejected Clinton returning to government service after appearing to "cash out" on it. In a democratic system, popular outrage can be the ultimate ethical rule. Political parties look to separate the distrust of government that might exist among thier supporters from those government officials on "their side." Many voters happily oblige. Yet it doesn't matter which particular creature is living in the swamp so long as the swamp is there. Government attracts corruption because government accumulates power. The most effective cure for corruption is limiting the power government has over the affairs of free people. Donald Trump played on this during the campaign—pointing out in the Republican primary that he was the only one to have ever bought a politician so he knows what to do about it. The claim is belied by his expansive view of government powers. Such power invites corruption. Limited government is not an end in to itself. The constitution limits government power in order to limit government abuse; the two can not be disentangled, irrespective of anyone's personal feelings about this swamp creature or that. Obama's $400,000 speech has l[...]

Stripper Licensing Fees Pocketed by Palm Beach County Employee for Years

Tue, 04 Apr 2017 07:28:00 -0400

In Palm Beach County, Florida, all topless dancers are required to register with county officials and obtain an Adult Entertainment Work Identification Card (AEIC), at the cost of $75 per year. The regulation is ridiculous for a lot of reasons, but at least applicants—many of whom are paid exclusively in cash—were able to pay the government-ID fee with cash, too, making things a little more convenient and a little less privacy-invading. But not anymore, thanks to the alleged actions of one sticky-fingered government employee. "She would just take the cash and not record it in the logs and then we also found that she was altering some of the logs and records," said John Carey, Palm Beach County Inspector General. The "she" here is Anita Pedemey, 54, who had been employed with Palm Beach County for more than 20 years. Since 2013, Pedemy was an administrative assistant with the county Public Safety Department. According to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for Palm Beach County, Pedemy "diverted" at least $28,875 (and possibly an additional $3,305) from county coffers between October 2013 and mid-November 2016. The money came from both adult-entertainer fees—approximately 70 percent of which were paid in cash—and court-ordered payments intended for a crime Victims Services Fund. Pedemey was one of several staffers responsible for processing these applications and payments and passing on relevant paperwork and funds. Instead, Pedemey would often pocket cash payments, according to OIG's investigation. Pedemey herself confessed as much to her boss, Palm Beach County Director of Public Safety Stephanie Sejnoha, at the start of the investigation, although the amount she admitted to taking is less than what OIG believes to be the actual amount. After taking the cash, Pedemey "was deleting the record and shredding the files," said Sejnoha. Emails from this time period show Pedemey requesting contact info for local strip clubs and emailing them reminders about the licensing requirements. By way of explanation, she told a colleague that it had "been very slow" at the adult-entertainer ID processing desk. The OIG investigation revealed how Pedemey would alter daily-activity reports to omit records associated with missing money before she submitted the paperwork to accounting. Because she manipulated reports but left the underlying database unaltered, the county still received records of adult-entertainment ID applications even if accounting never received their payments, which means that at least most applicants whose money was taken were still legitimately registered with the county. At least, as far as OIG can tell. Once an ID applicant is entered into the database, any changes are automatically tracked by system software and reported in a master Daily Payment Activity report; checking these reports against those Pedemey submitted to accounting allowed OIG to get at the scope of the missing money. But ID cards can be printed and issued without ever saving the transaction in the AEID database, according to Benjamin Perez, the county's ISS Systems Integrator. This means that it's possible Pedemey printed cards for people and collected their money without ever entering them into the system, a possibility backed up by surveillance footage OIG reviewed. "We believe Ms. Pedemey's diversions of funds may be much greater than what can be determined by the review of [Public Safety Department] records alone," OIG reported. Going forward, people applying for adult-entertainment permits will be required to pay the fee with a credit card or money order instead of cash, Sejnoha said. Demanding strippers be licensed in the first place is a problem, though. There's no legitimate public-safety or consumer-protection element to the requirement—strip club patrons don't care if the woman wriggling on their laps is properly permitted. Government [...]

Chicago Bleeds Population for Second Year in a Row

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:30:00 -0400

For a second year in a row, the metropolitan Chicago area lost more residents than it gained. Not only that, the losses are increasing. Those are the latest figures released from the U.S. Census. The greater Chicago area (not just the city, to be clear) lost 19,570 in 2016. The area saw a net loss of 11,324 people the previous year. Chicago is the only metropolis among the top 10 cities in America to lose population. Given the massive dysfunction of the operations of the City of Chicago, it's easy to find something to blame or explain the losses that fits your pre-existing political attitudes and be absolutely correct. It's got serious violent crime problems and serious police abuse issues. Chicago and the state of Illinois force massive tax burdens onto its citizens and then direct that money both to powerful union and private sector crony interests. All of these various reasons have been blamed by citizens heading elsewhere. The Chicago Tribune has been asking them: By most estimates, the Chicago area's population will continue to decline in the coming years. Over the past year, the Tribune surveyed dozens of former residents who've packed up in recent years and they cited a variety of reasons: high taxes, the state budget stalemate, crime, the unemployment rate and weather. Census data released Thursday suggests the root of the problem is in the city of Chicago and Cook County: The county in 2016 had the largest loss of any county nationwide, losing 21,324 residents. Experts say the pattern goes beyond just the Chicago region. For the third consecutive year, Illinois lost more residents than any other state in 2016, losing 37,508 people, according to U.S. census data released in December. Last year, a specialized study on the migration habits of wealthy people worldwide noted that Chicago was a massive outlier among American cities in that it was losing rich people. The report predicted that a notable outward migration of millionaires is a canary-in-a-coal-mine warning that others will soon follow suit. That seems to be the case now. The new report indicates that close to half of the people who left Cook County last year—more than 9,000 of them—were African American. Of course, some of those African-American folks are probably wealthy, too, but it's also very clear that these are people looking for economic opportunities that they aren't able to find in Cook County. Another interesting detail gleaned from the report: Immigration to America declined, even in major cities, over the last decade. But most of these cities continued to grow due to population increases among native residents. That didn't happen to Chicago. Reason has written extensively about Chicago's many problems, from its inability to rein in police misconduct, its inability to manage its public employee pensions in an economically sound fashion, its inability to stand up to teachers' unions demands even as they bankrupt the school system, even its tendency to cheat its citizens with corrupt, crony-driven red-light camera systems and revenue-driven plastic bag taxes. We have a special tag for stories about Chicago's municipal operations, and it's not to highlight how great they are. Read more Chicago-based Reason writing here.[...]

Feds Indict Philly DA Seth Williams on Charges of Corruption, Stealing from His Mother

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:00:00 -0400

Federal prosecutors have indicted Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, a Democrat first elected in 2009, on 23 counts related to allegations of official corruption and fraud. Williams is accused of accepting gifts and bribes in exchange for favors of a professional nature, as well as for stealing more than $20,000 from his mother, who was in a nursing home. According to The Inquirer, Williams rejected a plea deal earlier this week, and is scheduled to surrender to authorities today. The indictment describes two separate relationships Williams allegedly had with business owners he performed favors for. The first business owner (identified as pre-paid phone card seller Mohammad N. Ali) allegedly gave Williams nearly $11,000 worth of gifts and, including a Louis Vittion bag, an all-expenses paid trip to the Dominican Republic with "royal service" access to a private beach and personal butler for Williams and his girlfriend, a custom sofa, a $500 dinner, a Burberry watch, a Burberry purse for Williams' girflriend, plus $9,000 in cash and checks. In return, the indictment alleges that, among other things Williams sought to assist Ali "in limiting security screening by law enforcement authorities at the United States border when attempting to return to the United States after foreign travel," specifically trying to help him avoid secondary screening when Ali would travel through the Philadelphia airport. Williams allegedly sought to pressure an unidentified police official into helping, and offered to write a letter in support of Ali to appropriate authorities—the feds say the official did nothing wrong, and The Inquirer is working on identifying them. Williams is also accused of trying to help secure a better plea deal for a friend of Ali's who pled guilty on charges not specified in the federal indictment. Very shortly after Ali texted Williams for help and Williams responded that he'd look into it, the district attorney sent a second text message asking "April?", a reference to a potential second trip to the Dominican Republic. "I am merely a thankful beggar and don't want to overstep my bounds in asking… but we will gladly go," Williams wrote in a follow-up text. Ali ultimately texted Williams again the day before his friend was supposed to show up in court. The friend wanted a "slightly better" plea deal in order to avoid doing jail time outside of the city of Philadelphia. Williams told Ali to give him "at least a week to help a friend" next time. The second allegedly illicit relationship described in the indictment was between Williams and business owners The Inquirer identified as Michael Weiss and his brother Bill, co-owners of a Philadelphia bar. Michael Weiss' gifts and other bribes to Williams allegedly included multiple round-trip tickets to Florida and San Diego, a trip to Las Vegas, and a used 1997 Jaguar plus insurance payments, as well as $900 in cash. The indictment estimates the values of the gifts at about $13,600. For Weiss, Williams appointed him a special advisor to the district attorney, giving him an official badge and leather holder and writing a letter of appointment backdated several months at Weiss' request. Williams also allegedly tried to help Weiss with a matter in front of the liquor board in California in relation to his ability to continue to be associated with establishments that hold liquor licenses after a 2010 conviction. According to the indictment, in emails to his political action committee to cover the cost of the badge and leather holder Williams made it clear the appointment was made for Weiss' fundraising prowess. Williams allegedly texted Weiss asking if he had flashed his badge lately, and later hit Weiss up for a cash loan, blaming his money problems on his girlfriend not paying her bills. Finally, the federal indictment als[...]

The Community Development Block Grant Program Is Awful and Should Be Cut

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 12:15:00 -0400

Yes, President Donald Trump's budget is awful for all the reasons Nick Gillespie explained earlier: This isn't a reduction in the size of government. It's a trick shifting money away from domestic spending to jack up military spending. But a certain amount of "Oh no, we've chosen guns over butter!" outrage should inspire spit takes from people who pay attention to how federal spending actually plays out in the real world. In particular, a lot of media attention is focused on how Trump's budget proposal eliminates the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Here's how CNN anchor Jake Tapper described it in a Tweet (while linking to New York Times reporting): On chopping block: $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds programs like Meals on Wheels — Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 16, 2017 The big problem here is that "We help fund Meals on Wheels" is how the government sells the CDBG program, but how it actually operates in the cities and communities that get the money is far different. The CDBG program is chock full of cronyism and corruption and should be eliminated. Much like the corrupt city redevelopment agencies, what actually ends up happening is that this money gets funneled by politicians to friends with connections for various projects that aren't really about helping the poor at all. Type "Community Development Block Grant corruption" into Google and the very first match is this critique of the program by the Reason Foundation from 2013. Victor Nava described the program as a breeding pit for "waste, fraud, and corruption." Nava's piece focuses on corrupt CDBG expenditures in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He notes: [I]n June, HUD found that the City of Pine Bluff, Arkansas improperly spent nearly $200,000 in CDBG funds and failed to properly document an additional $279,000 in expenditures. The city is accused of spending more than 20% of CDBG funds on "administrative costs", purchasing properties without redeveloping them, disbursing funds to contractors before receiving bids, and not following federal project documentation guidelines. Instances like this happen all too often when it comes to the CDBG program, as private interests jockey for every last bit of taxpayer money from the hands smarmy local politicians who are in charge of distributing it. Cuts to the CDBG program, while welcomed, won't end the cronyism and corruption inherent in the program. The best solution is to just eliminate the program. The latest cuts bring us halfway there, so now is the time to just go all the way and end the crony capitalism once and for all. The money often is not going to Meals on Wheels or even to the neediest communities. As a Reason Foundation analysis also from 2013 shows, wealthier communities get the larger chunks of the money, particularly counties that—what a coincidence!—are in proximity to Washington, D.C. Here's an example of how this grant money is actually used: In 2011, Comstock Township, Michigan decided to grant Bell's Brewery $220,000 in CDBG funds to help pay for a two-year expansion project. This is an even more blatant crony capitalist use of community development subsidies. The brewery benefits from the government subsidies at taxpayers' expense, but it also benefits from a financial advantage over competing breweries—such as the Arcadia Brewing Company one town over in Battle Creek and even alternative products such as liquor made by Big Cedar Distilling Inc. down the road in Sturgis, neither of which are receiving any block grant money. Other small craft breweries may struggle to compete with a brewery like Bell's when the government is subsidizing its expansion. Tad DeHaven has a list of some of the projects that have snagged CDBG funds [...]

Preet Bharara’s Crusade to Clean Up New York Politics Is Redundant, Counterproductive, and Curiously Selective

Mon, 06 Mar 2017 16:00:00 -0500

The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, is a tax-and-spend bleeding-heart liberal who ordinarily would be way, way down on the list of people that this center-right columnist would want to spend any time or energy defending. So give the Obama-Trump-Schumer U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, some credit. With his open-ended, leaky, and so far inconclusive yearlong investigation into "corruption" by the mayor and his administration, he's achieved the nearly impossible task of turning de Blasio into a sympathetic figure. Our story begins back in April of 2016, when The New York Times reported that in the preceding month the mayor "learned of a federal corruption investigation into top Police Department officials. The inquiry revolved around two of Mr. de Blasio's big-money political supporters and appeared to extend into his fund-raising efforts more broadly." "Mayor de Blasio's Campaign Fund-Raising Scrutinized in U.S. Corruption Inquiry," was a typical Times headline, one of dozens, heavily reliant on anonymous sources, that have appeared over the past year in various New York outlets. A December 2016 Times article headlined "Grand Juries Said to Hear Testimonies on Inquiries Into de Blasio Fund-Raising" reported that the inquiries "could wrap up in a matter of weeks." Alas, no such luck. The mayor and his top aides have, meanwhile, racked up millions of dollars in legal fees on outside lawyers to defend against the investigation. The lawyer representing the mayor, Barry Berke of Kramer Levin, has tangled with Bharara on a series of white-collar criminal cases and recently got a federal judge in Manhattan, P. Kevin Castel, to order regular updates on federal investigations into unauthorized leaks to the press of grand jury information in insider trading cases. The vague cloud of suspicion cast anonymously over the mayor and some of his aides that have been named in the press coverage risks violating at least five of their Sixth Amendment rights—to confront their accusers, to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, and to be informed of the nature of the accusation against them. That amendment isn't just there to allow guilty criminals convenient ways to get out of jail. It exists to provide protection against these sorts of extended whisper campaigns that wind up smearing reputations even before any charges are filed. Beyond the civil liberties issues, even as a practical matter, if Bharara's goal is educating the electorate or cleaning up New York politics, his tactics are redundant, counterproductive, and curiously selective. Redundant, because it was clear to anyone paying attention even before the federal probe that de Blasio's governing mode involved shaking down anyone who wanted anything from the city. When the Collegiate School wanted approval to construct a new school building, the city demanded a related payoff of at least $50 million for "affordable housing." The furniture company West Elm was somehow prevailed upon to cough up $65,000 worth of furniture for the residential quarters of de Blasio's taxpayer-owned mayoral mansion. Counterproductive, because rather than luring honest opponents of de Blasio into the mayoral race, the federal probe has served as a deterrent. The uncertainty about its outcome has frozen the race as potential candidates await either prosecutorial action or an all-clear signal. And the warning that city campaign fundraising is going to be under a federal criminal investigative microscope isn't exactly encouragement for anyone considering getting involved in raising or giving political money in New York City for any office. Curiously selective, because if you had to name the single New York politician most known for aggressive fundraising from people[...]

34 Lawmakers Want Trump to Sanction Venezuela

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 18:02:00 -0500

(image) Some 34 U.S. lawmakers from both parties have sent President Donald Trump a letter urging him to address Venezuelan officials' corruption and human rights abuses with sanctions, the Associated Press reports. The letter was co-written by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–Florida), the former chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Sen. Robert Menendez (D–New Jersey), a ranking member of the foreign relations subcommittee that oversees Latin America.

The letter calls for a comprehensive probe into accusations of drug trafficking and support for terrorist organizations by Tareck El Aissami, the vice president of Venezuela. It also describes military officials profiting off the crisis by trafficking much-needed food. The allegations were partially inspired by an earlier Associated Press investigation into corruption in the Venezuelan government and the rapidly deteriorating state of the country.

The lawmakers call for increased funding for pro-democracy and civil society works in the Latin American country, as well as for the Treasury Department to issue regulations to prevent U.S. companies from violating the Foreign Corruption Practices Act, which prohibits Americans from paying bribes to foreign officials. According to the AP, U.S.-based global food traders Archer Daniels Midland Co., Bunge Ltd., and Cargill have already stopped selling to Venezuela.

U.S. relations with the socialist-led Latin American country are rocky. The AP notes that in 2014, then–President Barack Obama sanctioned Venezuelan government officials who were accused of violating protestors' rights. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, in turn, has condemned U.S. foreign policy, especially America's military interventions in the Middle East. In 2015, Reuters reported that Maduro accused the United States of harassment at a United Nations human rights forum.

What little Trump has said about Venezuela suggests he too may take a hard-line stance. On the campaign trail he once proclaimed that "Venezuelans are good people, but they have been horribly damaged by the socialists in Venezuela and the next president of the United States must show solidarity with all the oppressed people in the hemisphere."

Maduro says he has yet to formulate an opinion on the new American president, however. "There's been a brutal hate campaign against Trump all over the world," he said at a news conference in January, according to Bloomberg. "I say let's wait and see. All I'll say is that he won't be worse than Obama."

He might change his tune if Trump pursues sanctions.

FBI's Insider Trading Strategist Faces Criminal Inquiry Over Leaks to Press

Mon, 06 Feb 2017 16:00:00 -0500

A New York-based FBI agent who played a leading role in a string of recent insider trading prosecutions is under criminal investigation for what federal prosecutors, in a recent court filing, call "unquestionable misconduct by an agent of the Government…improper and inexcusable." It's the sort of story that ordinarily might be splashed across the front pages of The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal—except that in this case, the misconduct of which the FBI agent, David Chaves, is suspected was leaking grand jury information to the Times and the Journal. A lawyer for Chaves did not return a call seeking comment. A January 30, 2017, court filing by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, said Chaves' lawyer had told the government that Chaves "would assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination." The alleged misconduct could cast further doubt on Bharara's campaign against "insider trading," a campaign that was already significantly set back by a 2015 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that had the effect of overturning at least nine convictions. It could fuel already substantial public and congressional concern, stemming from the presidential election and the probes of Hillary Clinton's emails and of Russian political interference, about lack of professionalism by the FBI related to disclosure of investigative information. Two of the figures apparently affected by the unauthorized leaks, professional golfer Phil Mickelson and investor Carl Icahn, who is an adviser to President Trump on regulatory matters, are celebrities. News organizations that receive such leaks tend to minimize the significance of unauthorized disclosure of information by government officials, but lawyers take it seriously. The attorney general of Pennsylvania resigned last year after she was caught leaking grand jury information. There's also a strand of poetic justice, or hypocrisy, in the whole situation: as the government was accusing stock traders of making money illegally from unauthorized leaks of market-moving information, the government itself was illegally leaking unauthorized information about its own activities. Chaves was a regular on the speaking circuit. His biography at the University of Connecticut's graduate program in risk management says, "Special Agent David A. Chaves is a senior FBI Official assigned to the New York Division. He serves as the securities fraud program manager for the most visible securities cases prosecuted over the last decade. He is widely recognized as the chief strategist in coordinating these complex white collar investigations and for infiltrating corrupt participants in the hedge fund industry through the use of sophisticated techniques, undercover operations, and wire taps." He spoke in June at a session on "The FBI on Wall Street" at a conference of the National Investor Relations Institute. Chaves is the only FBI agent or prosecutor named as under investigation or accused of misconduct in the government's January 30 court filing. But a 2014 Wall Street Journal article about Mickelson and Icahn cited plural sources: "people briefed on the probe." A 2014 New York Times article covering similar ground used the same plural formulation: "people briefed on the investigation." The disclosure about Chaves came in a filing in which Bharara asked U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Kastel not to dismiss a criminal case against a Las Vegas gambler, William "Billy" Walters, as a remedy for the government's misconduct. The situation may also affect individuals other than Walters or Chaves. The Second Circuit is scheduled to hear an argument on March 24 in the case of David Ganek, who is sui[...]

Are 'Russian Hacks' the New 'WMDs'?

Tue, 20 Dec 2016 08:30:00 -0500

The Russians have hacked our democracy! At least, that's been the chorus from much of the American media following anonymous reports on a secretive CIA assessment of the 2016 presidential election. Even President Obama has started to beat the drums of "cyberwar," announcing last Friday that the U.S. must "take action" against the Russian government for "impacting the integrity of our elections." This is some tough talk given the very tenuous evidence offered so far about Russia's alleged influence. Obviously, it is crucial that America maintain a fair electoral process—flawed though "democracy" may be—and the prospect of a foreign power deliberately sabotaging this can strike a primal fear in Americans' hearts. Yet this kind of mass anxiety can also be opportunistically stoked by government operatives to further their own agendas, as history has demonstrated time and again. Responsible Americans must therefore approach claims made by unnamed intelligence officials—and the muddying media spin on them—with clear eyes and cool heads. And we must demand that these extraordinary claims be backed by appropriate evidence, lest we allow ourselves to be lead into another CIA-driven foreign fiasco. So, let's start by separating reporting from spin. What, exactly, is being claimed here? Back in October, the Obama administration publicly accused the Russian government of hacking into American political organizations in order to influence the presidential election. In early December, The Washington Post went a step further, reporting on a secret CIA assessment that Russia intervened specifically to help Donald Trump win. Citing only anonymous "officials briefed on the matter," the Post wrote that "individuals with connections to the Russian government" provided Wikileaks with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta emails, exposing the party's sordid underbelly to the world. The next week, another gaggle of unnamed intelligence officials would tell NBC News that the rascally Vladimir Putin personally directed the hacks. Later reports scaled back some of these claims. Reuters, for instance, cited more unnamed intelligence officials who claimed that other intelligence bodies dispute the CIA's conclusions. Russia might have hacked us, they think, but we can't know that it was specifically to help Donald Trump. Then The Washington Post rustled up yet another batch of unnamed officials, who cited an internal memo from CIA Director John Brennan claiming that FBI Director James Comey is on the same page. Neither the FBI nor the CIA has publicly commented upon such stories, and they refuse to brief congressional intelligence panels on the hacks. Meanwhile, Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange broke the site's longstanding prohibition against discussing sources to deny that Wikileaks received the explosive leaks from the Russian government. There are quite a few problems with the claims made by this veritable army of unnamed intelligence agents, as we'll soon discuss. And media commentators often confused the situation further with muddying rhetoric and bombastic leaps of logic. Somewhere along the way, earlier campaign paranoia that Russia could hack into voting machines morphed into the rhetorically useful but epistemologically questionable soundbite that "Russia hacked our election." Consider the Clinton supporters. Rather than doing some soul-searching about their candidate's revealed corruption and amazing tone-deafness to the concerns of the American working class, these petty partisans prefer to just blame Putin instead. Indeed, Clinton herself took to the podium to declare that the Russian president "has a personal beef" with her.[...]