Sunday, May 24, 2015

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces.[1] The holiday, which is observed every year on the last Monday of May,[2] originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans — established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.[3] By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.[1] It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.

Annual Decoration Days for particular cemeteries are held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer in some rural areas of the American South, notably in the mountain areas. In cases involving a family graveyard where remote ancestors as well as those who were deceased more recently are buried, this may take on the character of an extended family reunion to which some people travel hundreds of miles. People gather on the designated day and put flowers on graves and renew contacts with relatives and others. There often is a religious service and a picnic-like "dinner on the ground," the traditional term for a potluck meal in which people used to spread the dishes out on sheets or tablecloths on the grass. It is believed that this practice began before the American Civil War and thus may reflect the real origin of the "memorial day" idea.[4]

Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.[5]

Saturday, May 23, 2015

AP's Own Report Undermines Claims Of "Ethics Concerns" Around Nonprofit Exemptions

The Associated Press suggested it was unethical for then-first lady Hillary Clinton to push for tax breaks for those who donated to nonprofit organizations while the William J. Clinton Foundation was soliciting donations for the Clinton administration's presidential library -- but its own article later undermined those claims, outlining how the proposed measure had been building momentum since 1997, three years prior to the alleged conflict of interest. In fact, as the AP admitted, the proposal in question would provide no "direct" benefit to the foundation. 

Hillary Clinton endorsed a plan proposed by the Clinton administration to provide tax breaks to "private foundations and wealthy charity donors" while she was first lady, according to a May 22 report from the AP:

As first lady in the final year of the Clinton administration, Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsed a White House plan to give tax breaks to private foundations and wealthy charity donors at the same time the William J. Clinton Foundation was soliciting donations for her husband's presidential library, recently released Clinton-era documents show.

The AP suggested that the "blurred lines between the tax reductions proposed by the Clinton administration in 2000 and the Clinton Library's fundraising were an early foreshadowing of the potential ethics concerns that have flared around the Clintons' courting of corporate and foreign donors for their family charity before she launched her campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination."

But the AP's own article went on to undermine its allegations of a conflict of interest that "blurred the lines" between the proposed tax reductions and donations to the Clintons' nonprofit. As a spokesperson for Bill Clinton's office explained, the "administration was not trying to incentivize giving to the foundation, but instead was spurred by a 1997 presidential humanities committee that urged tax breaks for charities to aid American cultural institutions," meaning that the proposal was born from a committee three years prior to the timeline the article used to suggest a conflict of interest.

As The New York Times wrote at the time, the nonpartisan committee had made the recommendations because "cuts in public, private and corporate spending on the arts and humanities [were] undermining cultural and educational institutions in the United States." Funding from donations to nonprofits accounted for "90 percent of the nation's cultural financing," and the proposed tax measures would have helped fund cultural institutions that the federal budget would no longer be able to support.

And as the AP's report later explained, quoting former economic adviser to Bill Clinton, Gene Sperling, not only were the nonprofit tax reductions "'developed at the Treasury Department, endorsed by experts and designed to encourage all forms of charitable giving'" but the foundation also "would not have benefited directly by the tax proposals" at all, and any indirect benefits would also have helped "many other U.S. charities."

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Opinions Populism could divide the Grand Old Party

If Republicans are baffled by Hillary Clinton’s persistent lead in the polls despite months of bad publicity, they need only examine the tensions on display in their party over the past few days.

It would be hard to conceive of a worse stretch for Clinton than a period that began with scrutiny of her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state and moved to saturation coverage of the Clinton Foundation’s fundraising. Let’s stipulate first that her trustworthiness has taken a hit. In addition, it should always be said that polls this early are not predictive of next year’s election and that Clinton’s nearly universal name recognition helps her numbers.

Nonetheless, there was the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Monday, showing Clinton ahead of both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio by six points, Scott Walker by 10 and Rand Paul by three.

The New York Times/CBS News poll, released a day later, showed what the GOP is up against: Only 29 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the Republican Party, while 43 percent had a positive view of the Democrats. 

The survey also documented a steady but little-noticed trend: Americans are becoming less conservative. In the fall of 2010, the Times/CBS poll found, there were twice as many self-described conservatives as liberals: 19 percent of Americans called themselves liberal, 38 percent called themselves conservative. In the latest poll, liberals stood at 25 percent, conservatives at 33 percent. In less than five years, a 19-point margin has shrunk to eight points.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

AP, Review-Journal Miss Jeb Bush's Yucca Mountain Flip-Flop

The Associated Press and Las Vegas Review-Journalreported that GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush spoke out against the proposal to bury nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain, without mentioning Bush's ties to a nuclear industry group that actively supports the project.

Speaking in Nevada on May 13, Bush told a group of reporters that Yucca Mountain will not likely become the permanent storage location for the nation's nuclear waste. The Associated Press story quoted Bush saying the project "stalled out" and reported that he "said the waste dump shouldn't be 'forced down the throat' of anyone." And according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Bush also said "we need to move to a system where the communities and states want it."

What the AP and Review-Journal left out, however, is that Bush is currently listed as a member of a nuclear industry group called the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy), which has long advocated for Yucca Mountain -- and continues to do so. As recently as February 24, CASEnergy published a blog postdeclaring Yucca Mountain a "scientifically safe and sound option" for storing nuclear waste permanently, and "a critical component" of the nation's shift to nuclear energy.

Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston first detailed Bush's ties to the pro-Yucca industry group in March, in a blog post in which he wrote that Bush "was once part of a front group for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the main lobbying entity behind siting a repository at Yucca Mountain." Ralston further noted that Bush "signed letters opposing interim waste sites," specifically pointing to a November 2006 letter that said Senate legislation backing interim storage sites would constitute "a step backward in the long-standing federal policy to establish a permanent disposal facility."   

Ralston also astutely predicted that Bush might have to address the controversial topic when he spoke to the Clark County (NV) GOP on May 13.

The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository project, which would sit about 100 miles from Las Vegas, has long faced opposition from state and local government in Nevada, American Indian tribes, and the majority of southern Nevadans, who are concerned about the project's threat to public safety.

When Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was running for president in 2008, the New York Sun similarly reported that McCain said Yucca Mountain could be "unnecessary" -- while ignoring his previous support for it. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Amtrak’s budget reduced by Republican Congress

Less than a day after the deadly crash, House Republicans voted to chop $260 million from Amtrak’s budget, saying the reduction was necessary to stay under the cuts Congress and the president agreed to four years ago.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How many Iraq questions are we supposed to believe Jeb Bush misheard

Jeb Bush's answer that, "knowing what we know now," he would have invaded Iraq is causing a bit of a stir. It's not just a former Bush aide saying he told her he misheard the question, it's also political reporters going "he must have misheard, right? Surely he wouldn't say that." But Bush has been consistent in his support for war in Iraq. It would be a much bigger surprise if he'd said anything critical of his brother's war.

In 2013, Bush told Candy Crowley that "I think people will respect the resolve that my brother showed, both in defending the country and the war in Iraq." Why would we expect him now to lose respect for his brother? That wouldn't be a show of resolve worthy of the Bush name.

In 2014, Bush argued that the United States should keep 5,000 to 10,000 troops in Iraq as it has kept troops in South Korea since the Korean War. But more, he specifically said that "we should never say that we're leaving because it's important for a political campaign or it's important for domestic purposes. To leave, to do it in the right way based on our security interests is fine. But to do so simply because it is politically expedient is the wrong thing to do." So too would saying, because it is politically expedient, that he would make a different choice on Iraq knowing what we know now be the wrong thing to do.

During this campaign, in recent month, Bush has similarly called for the U.S. to "reengage with some small force level who can help continue to train the Iraqi army, to be able to provide some stability."

That's quite a record of Jeb Bush going on the record in favor of military intervention in Iraq. He thinks his brother showed resolve in Iraq. He thinks the U.S. should have ignored the differences between South Korea and Iraq and treated Iraq like South Korea, and that opposing military action because it's politically expedient is the wrong thing to do. And he thinks President Obama should be sending more troops now. So, when he's asked "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion," why would his answer change?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Republican objections effectively neutered a bill to care for military war dogs

Two years ago when I attended a reunion of my old Desert Storm-era Army unit, Co. B 326th Engineer Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, we were looking at where our old barracks once stood. The old cockroach-infested buildings had been torn down to make way for the new buildings now under construction. One of my fellow veterans who worked in construction on post told us the story that did not leave a dry eye amongst us, even with our hardened veteran hearts.

The story goes like this: The day demolition was to start, the military police (MPs) received a man at the front gate. He was in tears, and he had driven all night to get to Ft. Campbell before demolition of the 326th barracks began. He had to find the remains of the dog he went to Vietnam with, came home with, and buried at Ft. Campbell, before the demolition began. The MPs got him to the site of the barracks, the civilian construction workers stopped working, and they searched the battalion area for the remains of his dog. They never did find the remains—either his memory was faulty about where the remains were or too much earth had already been moved during construction.

Jump below the fold for more.

While I cannot verify this story as true and I heard it third hand, this story, like many war stories, likely has an element of truth to it but it also may just be an amalgamation of other  tales that got taller as the years went on.

But if I were to pick the one element of truth to this story, it would be the man's devotion to his dog, even in death. This loyalty is no wonder, because it is estimated that each military working dog (MWD) or contract working dog (CWD) saves the lives of between 150 and 200 service members. Military working dogs are highly trained animal counterparts to service members:

The dogs carry out a wide range of specialized duties for the military teams to which they are attached: With a sense of smell 40 times greater than a human’s, the dogs are trained to detect and identify both explosive material and hostile or hiding humans. The dogs are twice as fast as a fit human, so anyone trying to escape is not likely to outrun [a military working dog].
But what happens when a dog can no longer work due to age or injury? First, contrary to popular opinion, MWDs are not considered equipment by the military. Retired Col. Douglas Miller, the Department of Defense Military Working Dog program manager, discusses this "equipment" issue rather emphatically:
"We do not ever treat them like equipment," he said, "because you don’t feed and care for equipment, you don’t offer it 24-hour access to veterinary care." And, Miller added, "there is a bond, there is a relationship between that handler and that dog. That dog doesn’t go anywhere without his handler. It’s a team."
But even the best teams may not stay together—a handler may become injured, or may rotate to another duty station, or may leave the military. The MWD may have multiple handlers during his or her career. When it comes time for the dog to be retired, there is a process:
The dog is first put under review. This is an involved but expedited process that includes input from veterinarians, behaviorists, and guidance of that dog’s home station’s kennel master — the person familiar with that dog’s entire career. When it’s determined that the dog is in good health and is of suitable temperament for life as a house dog, the military reviews the candidates who want to adopt the dog — often times there is a long list of the dog’s former handlers who are ready and willing to take him home. ("Home" in this case being a private residence.)
This is where things get a little tricky, because when a handler adopts his MWD, the handler is responsible for transporting the dog to his or her residence, no matter where in the world the dog is, which can be incredibly difficult and expensive for a former handler. In 2012, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina, drafted the Canine Members of the Armed Services Act.
First, it would have required retired (and often far-flung) MWDs to be transported back to Lackland [Air Force Base in Texas] — or another suitable location — to be put up for adoption. Second, it would have established a veterinary-care system for retired MWDs. And third, it would have reclassified MWDs as “canine members of the armed services” rather than “equipment,” allowing dogs that performed great acts of courage or merit to be recognized and decorated for their service.
The veterinary care system would not have used any federal money. While it would have been run by the Department of Defense, it would have relied on a private network of nonprofit veterinary providers.
But that wasn't frugal enough for the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to a Senate staffer who asked to remain anonymous to avoid complicating future negotiations over this issue, "Republican objections" effectively neutered the bill.

Who is the villain in all of this? It's not known for sure, but it is assumed that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is responsible for revising the bill in such a way that it made essentially a toothless amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Bill.

This leaves the former handlers who have a personal bond with these dogs on the hook for any veterinary care. Charlsie Hoffman, a Marine, adopted Baddy, her MWD, when he was retired and after she was discharged from the Marine Corps.

At every turn, Hoffman chose to keep Baddy alive. She stopped counting when her veterinary bills crossed the $35,000 mark. From a distance, it’s tempting to say that Hoffman should have given up earlier — that the costs outweighed the benefits or that she was putting her own needs above Baddy’s. But that’s not how these relationships work in real life — especially not for military working dogs and their handlers.

“Having an MWD as a partner is so much more profound than having a pet,” Hoffman explains. “They work for you so selflessly. The amount they do for this country is humbling. And they do it all without asking for anything in return. You want to go the extra mile for them because you know they would do the same for you. So early on, I decided I’d rather go into debt with Baddy alive than be alive and know that I put Baddy down because I couldn’t afford to take care of him. The idea that money would decide whether Baddy lived or died was unfathomable. I could never accept that.”

Loyalty. These dogs are loyal to their handlers, and their handlers, in return, are loyal to them. These dogs did not volunteer for military service. They did not volunteer for dangerous duty. In fact, they do not even know that what they do is dangerous. They do their jobs not for devotion to duty, not for their country, but for their handlers' approval, love, and affection. It is often said that you can judge a country by how it treats those who are most vulnerable. Military war dogs are vulnerable, with only their handlers to protect them after retirement. It is time for our government to step up and aid those who adopt these animals. The amount of money it would cost to provide veterinary care to this group of veterans for their animals is barely a drop in the bucket when compared to the amount of money pissed away by corporate tax breaks and loopholes, pointless weapons systems, and a bloated military industrial complex.

Skelos expected to be out as majority leader Monday

ALBANY – Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos will cease to be the head of the Senate Republicans on Monday. The only question is whether he pulls the plug on his leadership reign on his own, or whether his fellow Senate Republicans depose him, Republicans said Sunday.

The betting by every Republican who discussed the matter was that Skelos will take the voluntary route.

Senate Republicans have scheduled an 11 a.m. private meeting for Monday at the Capitol, at which time Skelos is going to be told – unless he voluntarily steps down – that he no longer has the support of the 32-member GOP conference.

As “if Skelos will go” fully morphed on Sunday to “when Skelos will go,” the real fight was centered on who would be his successor. Still up the air Sunday evening was whether the new Republican leader will be Sen. John DeFrancisco of the Syracuse area or Sen. John Flanagan of Suffolk County. Both men were due to meet sometime Sunday to discuss a unity plank in order to restore the conference’s usual ability to work together across geographic, philosophical and age differences.

Under one scenario Republicans floated, DeFrancisco would be the majority leader and Flanagan the deputy majority leader, though with stronger powers than now exist for the number two legislator in the Senate.

But Flanagan forces have been insisting the he has the backing of enough senators to keep the majority leader’s post.

“I don’t think either has it nailed down yet,” a Republican said Sunday.

A number of Republicans interviewed Sunday – all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the fragile nature of the discussions – insisted they believe Skelos is not going ahead with a threat made Friday that he would quit his Senate seat in addition to his leadership post unless he retained his majority leader title. 

If Skelos quit his seat, which he has held since 1984, that would leave the Republicans with 31 votes in the 63-member chamber while Senate Deputy Leader Tom Libous, a Binghamton-area Republican, has been too sick to travel from his second home in Florida, where he is battling cancer.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

GOP source tells NY1’s Zack Fink that Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is refusing to step down from his post.

If forced too, Skelos would resign entirely from the narrowly divided chamber, leaving just 31 Republicans, plus Democrat Simcha Felder who sits with the GOP. Meanwhile, the health of Sen. Tom Libous remains very much in question.

Should anything happen to Libous, who is under indictment for lying to the FBI, Republicans would be left with 31 members, requiring them to potentially strike a deal with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference.

The move seems more like a end-stage Hail Mary than anything else as support dries up for Skelos to remain leader: Legislative seats for lawmakers accused of corruption are often viewed as bargaining chips for potential plea deals (See Scarborough, William this week).

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Senate Republican To Back Motion To Oust Skelos

Western New York Republican Sen. Robert Ortt will back a motion that would oust Dean Skelos as majority leader and submit a resolution of his own if necessary, he said in a statement. 

Ortt, a freshman elected to replace retired Sen. George Maziarz, is among the seven lawmakers in the chamber who have publicly called on Skelos to resign as leader while he faces corruption charges. 

“Senator Skelos has done a lot of good work for New York State. But, one thing I learned fighting in Afghanistan is that being a leader means doing what’s best for the people you serve, not yourself, even if it’s painful or unpopular,” Ortt said in a statement. 

The move comes a day after Senate Democrats unsuccessfully sought to hold a vote on a resolution removing Skelos as majority leader of the chamber. 

Democrats have indicated they will make similar efforts in the coming legislative session days to raise the issue of Skelos remaining at the post following his arrest earlier this week. 

But Republicans in the state Senate and around the state are growing increasingly anxious with Skelos remaining in power. 

“The Senate Conference is bigger than one individual,” Ortt said. “We have critical issues facing us in New York, and we need a leader who can effectively advocate for Upstate New York without the cloud surrounding the current Senate leadership.”

A resolution submitted by Ortt removing Skelos could be a publicly awkward moment for Senate Republicans and require some lawmakers who are yet to take a position publicly on the issue to come forward.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The likelihood that Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos stays on as the head of the conference in the coming weeks amid corruption charges is less than 50 percent, according toformer Gov. David Paterson. 

State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long, a longtime ally of the Senate Republicans, joined the calls for Skelos to step down from his leadership post. 

Freshman WNY GOP Sen. Robert Ortt says the state needs a Senate leader – not Skelos – “whose sole focus is on the needs of New Yorkers.” (That makes four Republican senators calling on Skelos to step aside). 

Rep. Chris Gibson: “Look, in America, you’re innocent until proven guilty, but (what) really should be the focus of Dean Skelos’ activity right now is on preparing for a vigorous defense.”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Skelos, Son Charged With Fraud And Extortion

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his 32-year-old son Adam Skleos have been charged with six counts of fraud and extortion, according to a complaint released by federal investigators on Monday. 

The 43-page complaint alleges the elder Skelos sought to “monetize” his official position in order to influence public policy on behalf of a company that employed Adam Skelos while also leaning on members of the real-estate community for campaign donations. 

Skelos is accused of backing favorable legislation that benefited real-estate developers tied to the case as well as helping arrange for a favorable contract in Nassau County that was directed to AbTech, which employed Adam Skelos. 

The charges outlined in the complaint come after Skelos and his son surrendered to federal authorities earlier this month. Both men are named as co-defendants in the case that comes just months after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested on corruption charges. 

Senate Republicans are due to meet privately at the Capitol this afternoon, where the charges are expected to be discussed. 

The case against Skelos, a Long Island Republican who has led the Senate GOP conference since 2008, relies on a cooperating witness identified as a developer and another is an executive at AbTech, the Arizona-based company that employed his son. 

Investigators relied as well on wire tapped phone calls of both his phone as well as Adam’s cell phone. 

Both men are accused of using a disposable or “burner” cell phone and used “coded language” in order to communicate. 

At one point, Adam Skelos is overheard in a wire tap that “It’s like [expletive] Preet Bharara is listening to every [expletive] phone call.”

The investigation stretched back to 2010, just before Senate Republicans gained a full majority in the chamber, accusing Skelos of taking official action on votes as well as efforts to include favorable legislation into the state budget. 

The complaint alleges Skelos directly asked to send its insurance title work to his son and alleges the lawmaker would “punish member of the real estate community” if they didn’t contribute enough campaign money. 

Company officials at AbTech were under the impression that if they “took care” of Skelos, then he would “take care of them” in kind, according to the complaint. 

In emails, Skelos directed witnesses cooperating with the federal government to direct where company money would go, which was funneled through various LLC subsidiaries. 

Skelos was “personally lobbied” on the extension of rent control regulations by the company in 2011. Skelos, in turn, backed legislation that year that was considered “crucial” to the success of one of the developers involved, including the expansion of the 421-a real-estate abatement. 

The developer, identified as “Developer-1″ in the complaint, is likely part of Glenwood Management, a firm that has significant investment in AbTech and has ties to prolific campaign donor Leonard Litwin. 

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement called the charges “deeply disturbing.”

“I cannot imagine him continuing to serve as leader as he deals with the cloud of corruption now effecting the top two Senate Republican leaders,” she said in a statement. “There are many pressing issues that must be addressed during the remainder of the legislative session and the Senate Republican Majority must ensure that this body is not bogged down in scandal.”

Federal prosecutors are expected to outline the charges against Skelos and son later today at a news conference. 

U S v Skelos 15 Mag 1492 (filed).pdf by Nick Reisman

Friday, May 1, 2015

Dean Skelos, New York Senate Leader, and His Son Are Said to Face Arrest Next Week

Dean G. Skelos, the leader of the New York State Senate, and his son are expected to be arrested on federal corruption charges next week, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The expected arrests, coming roughly three months after federal bribery and kickback charges led Assemblyman Sheldon Silver to step down as speaker, would signal an extension of the investigation into allegations of political corruption in Albany, and would almost certainly further upend the legislative session.

It is not known if Mr. Skelos, a Republican from Long Island who was first elected to the Senate in 1984, will resign his leadership post as did Mr. Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, but he is sure to face questions about his ability to lead the chamber in light of the investigation.

The charges against Senator Skelos, 67, and his son, Adam, 32, are expected to be detailed in a criminal complaint and are likely to include conspiracy, extortion and solicitation of bribes, one of the people said. The charges could be announced as early as Monday. 

They have been at the center of a federal inquiry that has examined a range of matters, including the younger man’s business dealings, according to some of the people who are familiar with questions that have been asked by investigators.

All of the people who spoke to The New York Times about the investigation and the pending arrests did so on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the matter.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Clinton Cash Author Peter Schweizer's Anti-Clinton Haiti Conspiracy Falls Apart

Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer's conspiracy that Bill Clinton's speaking fees influenced State Department grants in Haiti has fallen apart. 

In his forthcoming book, the Republican activist and consultant alleges that Hillary Clinton's State Department "was quick to send taxpayer money" through a program called the Haiti Mobile Money Initiative (HMMI) to the company of Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien, who had allegedly helped arrange paid speeches for Bill Clinton that amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars around the same time. But Schweizer's allegation is undermined by numerous errors.

BuzzFeed reports today that "Bill Clinton was not paid for several speeches as reported in a forthcoming book about his family's foundation, spokespeople for the former president said."

Schweizer writes in Clinton Cash that while Secretary Clinton's State Department awarded O'Brien's company money to build a mobile system in Haiti, "O'Brien was in turn making money for the Clintons":

In the months following the earthquake, the Clintons began pushing the idea of a wireless mobile phone money-transfer system for Haiti. The idea was to enable friends and relatives to send money directly to people in the quake-ravaged country. Hillary's USAID was quick to send taxpayer money via a grant; it also organized the effort. The Bill Gates Foundation also came on board. The Haiti Mobile Money Initiative also offered incentive funds to companies who would establish mobile money services in the country.

The initiative's big winner was Digicel, a mobile phone company owned by Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien. Digicel received millions in US taxpayer money for its TchoTcho Mobile system. (TchoTchomeans "pocket money" in Creole.) The USAID Food for Peace program, under direct control of the State Department through Cheryl Mills, chose the TchoTcho system for its money transfers. Haitians were given cell phones and a free TchoTcho account. When Haitians used the system, they paid O'Brien's company millions in fees. They also became users of O'Brien's TchoTcho program.


O'Brien was in turn making money for the Clintons.

O'Brien arranged at least three lucrative speeches in Ireland, for which Bill was paid $200,000 apiece, as well as a speech in Jamaica. Bill's October 9, 2013, speech at the Conrad Hotel in Dublin was his third in three years, "and was mostly facilitated by billionaire Irish tycoon Denis O'Brien," noted Irish Central. "Last year Clinton delivered the keynote address at the Worldwide Ireland Funds annual conference in Cork. ... The year before he was flown over to Ireland on O'Brien's private jet to deliver a speech at the Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin Castle."

The timing of these paid speeches is also notable. The Haitian Mobile Money Initiative (HMMI) was announced in June 2010. Three months later, on September 29, Bill gave a speech at Dublin castle sponsored by O'Brien. The next day, Digicel filed notice of its intent to compete for HMMI contracts. In January of the following year, Digicel became the first company to be awarded funds for participation in HMMI.

On October 8, 2011, Bill gave a speech for the Global Irish Economic Forum, again facilitated by O'Brien. The following day, Digicel was awarded $100,000 through HMMI, which it was to split with fellow cell provider Voila. Two weeks later, Clinton gave a speech in Jamaica for $225,000 on "Our Common Humanity." The speech was sponsored by Whisky Productions, in partnership with O'Brien's Digicel.

On December 2 of the same year, USAID paid the first installment of what would eventually be more than $2 million of taxpayer money into O'Brien's Digicel Foundation, based in Jamaica. According to government databases, Digicel had never received taxpayer money before.

But BuzzFeed wrote that "according to Clinton spokesperson Matt McKenna, neither the former president nor the Clinton Foundation was paid for two of the three speeches Clinton gave in Ireland, and that while the Foundation did receive a donation following his Sept. 29, 2010 speech, Clinton himself was not compensated."

BuzzFeed identified two other significant Schweizer errors undermining his conspiracy: "Additionally, the Kingston speech appears to have occurred in October 2010, not October 2011, a full year before Digicel's contract was awarded ... Schweizer's contention that Digicel had not received USAID grants prior to its involvement with Clinton also appears to be incorrect. According to federal records, Digicel received more than $29,000 in contracts from USAID in 2007 and 2008." Schweizer worked for the Bush White House from 2008-2009.

Schweizer also significantly underplayed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's role in HMMI (Schweizer simply wrote: "The Bill Gates Foundation also came on board").

The Gates Foundation provided the majority of award money to Digicel. It stated in 2012 that "HMMI is funded by $10 million in awards plus additional funds for related activities from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as $5 million in technical and management assistance from USAID."

Also, USAID makes clear that the timing of the HMMI grants was not related to Clinton's speeches. USAID wrote on its website that Digicel received money "for reaching the transaction milestones," which was only "awarded after a detailed verification process was completed."

The source for Schweizer's bogus claim that Clinton got paid for the speeches is murky. Secretary Clinton's 2010 and 2011 public financial disclosure reports do not list any speech income related to Ireland and Bill Clinton (2012 was Clinton's final disclosure year, as she left the State Department in early 2013). 

Schweizer does cite by name an Irish Central article -- but that does not report Clinton "was paid $200,000 apiece" for the Ireland speeches. Rather, it states: "According to The Irish Times, the average speaking fee for Clinton last year was close to $200,000, although accounts filed in the US reveal he has charged far more than this at some corporate speaking engagements." In other words, Irish Central was merely noting Clinton's reported speaking fee average, not what he was actually paid.

The collapse of Schweizer's Haiti conspiracy should serve as another warning to media outlets covering his research. The errors are not surprising given Schweizer's shoddy work related to Clinton Cash and elsewhere.

House Republicans Want To Block Predatory Lending Protections For American Troops

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are pushing legislation to block predatory lending protections for American soldiers, under pressure from the banking lobby.

GOP lawmakers tucked the deregulation item into the National Defense Authorization Act -- a major bill setting the military's funding, along with a number of other controversial terms on Guantanamo Bay and other issues. If the banking item is enacted, it would impose a one-year delay on new Department of Defense rules meant to shield military families from abusive terms on payday loans and other forms of high-interest credit. The bill is being considered Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee.

The military has been struggling with the financial impact of predatory lending on service members for years. A 2014 report issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau documents a host of abuses targeting troops. One family that took out a $2,600 loan ended up paying back $3,966.84 over the course of a year. Another borrower spent $1,428.28 to pay off a $485 loan in just six months. Thousands of service members receive short-term, high-interest loans each year.

In 2006, Congress passed legislation imposing a 36 percent cap on interest rates for payday loans, auto title loans and tax refund anticipation loans to military families. Lenders responded by slightly tweaking the terms of their loans to avoid the limits. Since the law applied to payday loans with terms of 91 days or less, and amounts of $2,000 or less, credit companies were able to shirk the rules with 92-day loans, or loans of $2,001.

Big banks were even more creative, issuing "deposit advance products" -- functionally almost identical to payday loans, but with a different name and with effective annual interest rates of around 300 percent. Congress responded to these tricks in 2012 by passing another law directing the Pentagon to fix these loopholes, and new rules were finalized in September of last year.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

NBC News Just Admitted The NY Times' Story Based On Clinton Cash "Doesn't Hold Up That Well," Here's Why

NBC News has conceded that the flimsy anti-Clinton allegations contained in a New York Times report fail to deliver on the hype surrounding them. The Times report was based in part on a chapter from discredited conservative author Peter Schweizer's Clinton Cash, and a series of facts surrounding the story's allegations supports NBC's negative conclusion.

The Times story suggested that donations to the Clinton Foundation may have influenced Hillary Clinton's State Department, when they signed off on the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian company with uranium mining claims in the U.S., to Rosatom, a Russian atomic energy agency. Alleging that individuals who had previously donated to the Clinton Foundation may have benefited from the deal, the Times' reporting has been used as the springboard for commentary hyping the supposed connection, despite the lack of evidence.

But the April 24 First Read column on admits, "upon reflection, that Times article doesn't hold up that well 24 hours after its publication."

Indeed, a series of facts supports NBC's conclusion and unravels the innuendo in the Times piece:

  • Ian Telfer, who was Uranium One's chairman at the time it was being taken over by Rosatom, did donate money to the Clinton Foundation. However, he told the Financial Post that he committed those funds to the Foundation in 2008, "before Uranium One had any negotiations with the Russians, and the donations he has made since then were part of that initial pledge." Hillary Clinton also did not become secretary of state until 2009.
  • Frank Giustra, a Canadian businessman who the Times noted also donated to the Clinton Foundation and who owned the predecessor to Uranium One before its sale to the Russians, sold his personal stake in the company in 2007. The proposed sale of Uranium One occurred in 2010. Giustra himself released a statement criticizing the Times' reporting, calling it "wildly speculative, innuendo-laced," and inaccurate, and noting that contrary to the Times' claim that Bill Clinton had flown with him to conclude a stage in the Uranium deal, "Bill Clinton had nothing to do with" that purchase.
  • The State Department only had one vote on the nine-member Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) that approved the deal. Other agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Energy, Commerce, and Justice, also weighed in.
  • The chairman of the CFIUS is the Treasury secretary, not secretary of state.
  • Rosatom had to get approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is an independent agency outside of the secretary of state's influence.
  • Utah's local nuclear regulator also had to sign off on the deal, as it involved mills in the state.
  • Former assistant secretary of state Jose Fernandez, who was the State Department's principal representative on CFIUS, said, "Secretary Clinton never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter."

Other media outlets have found that this and additional allegations in Schweizer's book about donations to the Clinton Foundation are unpersuasive. Time magazine noted that Schweizer's allegation about Uranium One "is based on little evidence," and "offers no indication of Hillary Clinton's personal involvement in, or even knowledge of the deliberations," while CNN's Chris Cuomo noted that the "the examples that have come out so far in [The New York Times] were not that impressive." ABC News reported that Clinton Cash "offers no proof that Hillary Clinton took any direct action to benefit the groups and interests that were paying her husband," while Fox News' Ed Henry noted "there's a lot that's murky" in Schweitzer's claims.

Even Times writer Patrick Healy admitted that the allegations are "not smoking guns."

Dick Cheney is the worst President of MY lifetime': Obama rips into his Republican enemies in Correspondents' Dinner speech

President Barack Obama lashed out at the Republicans as he delivered his speech in front of Hollywood stars, journalists and politicians at the White House Correspondents' Dinner last night.

Taking to the stand, Obama, 53, received mixed responses as he ripped into John Boehner, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.

Of his first target, House Speaker Boehner, he said: 'The presidency has aged me. I look so old, John Boehner has invited [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu to speak at my funeral.'

His comment was in relation to 65-year-old Boehner’s controversial decision in January to invite the foreign head of government to address Congress without first consulting the White House.

John Boehner

'The presidency has aged me. I look so old, John Boehner has invited [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu to speak at my funeral.' 

Dick Cheney

'A few weeks ago, Dick Cheney said I'm the worst president of his lifetime... Which is interesting because i think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime.'

Michele Bachmann

'Just this week Michele Bachmann actually predicted that I would bring about the biblical end of days. Now, that's a legacy.'

Jeb Bush  

'Look, I understand. It's an honest mistake. It reminds me when I identified myself as American back in 1961.'

(In relation to Bush having identified himself as Hispanic on a voter registration form in 2009).

Ted Cruz 

'Galileo thought the earth revolved around the sun. But Ted Cruz believes the earth revolves around Ted Cruz.'

Rick Santorum

'Rick Santorum said he would not attend the same-sex marriage of a friend or a loved one.' Gays and lesbians across the country replied 'that's not going to be a problem'.