News the mainstream media "forgets" to talk about

"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?" Gandhi

Friday, October 31, 2014

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Coke spends big against your right to know

Tell Coca-Cola to Stop Funding Anti-Labeling Campaigns

What do Monsanto and Coke have in common? They’ve both spent millions of dollars to keep you in the dark about the foods you buy.

After the narrow defeat of a ballot initiative to label genetically engineered foods in Washington State the public learned that Coca-Cola had secretly contributed more than $1.5 million to the campaign against GE labeling in the state. Coca-Cola also contributed more than $1.7 million to defeat GE labeling in California the year before, making the company one of the largest contributors to the defeat of state labeling efforts.

More than a quarter of a million people have joined us in pressuring Coke to stop funding opposition to state labeling initiatives, and to get on the side of consumers in supporting national, mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods. But now Coke has spent more than they ever have—over $2 million—to fund the opposition in Oregon and Colorado.

Sign the petition to tell Coca-Cola to stop funding efforts to block the labeling of genetically engineered foods: 


Frankenfoods Fight at the Crossroads

It's time to #votefood

Thursday, October 30, 2014

KBR Iraq Fraud Case Gets to Supreme Court

Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court

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Robert MacLean isn’t the only reason the Project On Government Oversight is closely watching the Supreme Court this term. (MacLean’s oral argument is on Tuesday, November 4.) Another case on the Court’s calendar has major implications for federal whistleblowers and the ability of the government to recover defrauded funds—a nearly nine-year-old False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit accusing Halliburton and KBR of defrauding the government and endangering the health of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Benjamin Carter, who worked for KBR (then a subsidiary of Halliburton) in Iraq in 2005, claims the company falsely billed the government by instructing employees to submit timesheets showing they worked 12-hour days on water testing and purification services when no such work had been done. As a result, he contends, troops and other personnel were exposed to contaminated potable and non-potable water.

Carter made news when he testified before Congress about his experiences in Iraq. “Our men and women overseas deserve the best our taxpayer dollars can buy, and it saddens me to report that we’re falling short on something as simple and essential as providing them with clean, safe water,” he told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee at a January 2006 hearing.

Carter’s lawsuit, originally filed in 2006, kept getting dismissed for procedural reasons. Finally, in March 2013, a federal appeals court ruled the case could go forward, setting up the Supreme Court showdown. The specific issues the Supreme Court will decide are: Whether Carter filed his lawsuit within the legally mandated time limit, and whether his lawsuit is barred because another lawsuit making similar allegations had been filed earlier.

The latter issue involves the FCA’s first-to-file rule, which bars lawsuits that raise the same facts as a previously filed lawsuit. The rule is intended to encourage whistleblowers to promptly alert the government of wrongdoing and to discourage the filing of meritless, copycat lawsuits. A few weeks before Carter filed his lawsuit, another former KBR employee who worked in Iraq, Todd Thorpe, filed a lawsuit alleging employees at other bases performing different services were similarly instructed to bill the government for 12-hour days regardless of the actual number of hours they worked. Thorpe’s lawsuit was dismissed in 2010 before the court could rule on the merits. Nonetheless, KBR and Halliburton would like the Court to broadly interpret the first-to-file rule so that Thorpe’s lawsuit bars later actions filed by Carter, Peter Duprey, and others alleging timecard fraud by KBR or Halliburton.

The Carter, Thorpe, and Duprey cases involve the Army’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) III support services contract, about which POGO has written extensively over the years. The far-reaching LOGCAP III contract has been mired in controversy ever since it was awarded to KBR in December 2001. At the time, it was pointed out that KBR/Halliburton’s former chairman and CEO was Vice President Dick Cheney. Since then, there have been repeated allegations of fraud, waste, or abuse on the LOGCAP III, on which the government has spent $38 billion.

Not under consideration by the Supreme Court, but an issue worthy of discussion, is government intervention in FCA lawsuits. The government declined to intervene in the Carter, Thorpe, and Duprey lawsuits. Government intervention in FCA cases means a smaller monetary recovery for the plaintiff whistleblower, but it also greatly increases the government’s ability to hold contractors accountable.

Furthermore, the law states that lawsuits must remain under seal (not publicly disclosed) “for at least 60 days” while the government decides whether to intervene, but in practice it usually takes longer—much longer in some cases. For Thorpe and Duprey, it was more than four years after they filed their lawsuits when the government notified them it would not intervene. Incredibly, the government informed Duprey that, after all that time, it had not completed its investigation into his claims and thus was “not able to make a fully informed decision regarding intervention.”
While sealing and delays are often necessary, at a certain point these measures become an unnecessary restriction on the public’s right to know about potential health or safety threats—like the water contamination problem Carter alleges in his lawsuit. POGO also worries about the effect these measures have on the continued viability of the False Claims Act, which is already under unrelenting attack from the business community. As of January 2011, more than 1,300 False Claims Act lawsuits were stuck in legal limbo awaiting the government’s intervention decision. (The Justice Department has not yet responded to POGO’s request for more recent False Claims Act/qui tam lawsuit statistics.)

Even though it declined to intervene in his case, the government has assisted Carter in the form of two amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs submitted to the Supreme Court by U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. Back in May, Verrilli urged the Court to reject KBR and Halliburton’s appeal. Last week, he petitioned the Court to uphold the appellate court’s ruling and allow Carter’s lawsuit to proceed. Verrilli also requested to take ten minutes of Carter’s time at oral argument, scheduled for January 2015.

For the better part of a decade, Ben Carter has been trying to get the merits of his case before a judge and jury. We hope the Supreme Court finally gives him that chance.

Image from Flickr user Pete Jordan.
By: Neil Gordon
Investigator, POGO
Neil Gordon, Investigator
 Neil Gordon is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Neil investigates and maintains POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.

What's your, really!

When robocalls from scammers started driving people crazy, we heard about it long before it made the headlines. We heard about it from people like you.
Your input helped us launch a national campaign -- still going strong -- to get the phone companies to implement technologies to screen out the scam calls.
But new problems in the marketplace emerge all the time. You are on the front lines. We need to hear about the latest problems you've encountered, so we can take action.
There are lots of things that bother us. We think families are getting snowed under by student loan debt. The cable bill keeps going up. And we're disturbed by all that sugar that's added to our food!
But maybe different things are bothering you lately. Maybe you switched credit cards to get a "reward" that turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. Did you buy a fancy gadget that never worked as advertised? Did you have to fight to get a simple insurance claim paid?
We will review your story, think about reasonable ways to address the problem for everyone, and incorporate your ideas into our work. We won't always launch a big national campaign for you, and we can't intervene in a specific dispute you may be having with a company, but your experience will improve our advocacy.
Chris Meyer, Vice President, Consumers Union,
Policy and Action from Consumer Reports

Investigate the Fed

New tape recordings provide an alarming glimpse of the New York Federal Reserve and the way it goes about regulating the biggest Wall Street banks. Bank supervisors sound intimidated and reluctant to take a stand on a problematic Goldman Sachs deal and an inadequate patchwork of conflict of interest policies. Instead of pursuing their inquiry or demanding changes in bank practices, they downplay their concerns and let the matter slide.

Join Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown in Calling for an Investigation.

The New York Fed is a key part of the Federal Reserve, acting as the on-the-ground supervisor of the major Wall Street banks. According to an internal New York Fed report, written in 2009 but revealed recently, bank supervisors in the pre-crisis years ”saw issues but did not respond,“ were not ”willing to stand up to banks and demand both information and action,“ and were excessively deferential to the banks they regulated.

Five years later, a whistleblower’s tape recordings reveal a disturbingly similar pattern of inappropriate deference to regulated banks. A still more recent official report adds fuel to the fire by criticizing the New York Fed for sloppy oversight of the JPMorgan Chase office responsible for the $6.2 billion “London Whale” disaster.

Tell Congress to Hold Hearings on the Goldman Sachs Tapes and the New York Fed supervision process.

The financial crisis could never have happened without the passivity of federal bank regulators. And no agency’s failure was more pivotal than that of the Fed, which had the authority to crack down on the abusive lending that drove the financial system and the economy over the cliff, but repeatedly failed to exercise it.

Senators Warren and Brown are right: there should be hearings on the Fed tapes and the problem of supervisors still being too soft on big banks. Please stand with us in joining their call.

Thank you for your attention and support.
Jim Lardner
Americans for Financial Reform

Speaking Truth to Truthers

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Less than 1% of Patriot Act’s “Sneak and Peek” Delayed Notice Warrants are Used against Terrorism

(photo: Getty Images)

Federal law enforcement has increasingly used a key provision of the Patriot Act (pdf) to pry into people’s lives without having to tell them. This practice has been justified under the guise of counterterrorism, but government statistics show that less than 1% of all “sneak and peek” actions involve suspected terrorists.

Under section 213 of the Patriot Act, law enforcement agencies can carry out sneak-and-peek warrants, which allow agents to “secretly enter, either physically or virtually; conduct a search, observe, take measurements, conduct examinations, smell, take pictures, copy documents, download or transmit computer files, and the like; and depart without taking any tangible evidence or leaving notice of their presence.” Suspects can be informed of the search later.

The provision was added to the Patriot Act because, the FBI claimed, it was important not to tip off terrorism suspects during cases.

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) found after reviewing reports released by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts that only 51 sneak-and-peek requests during 2013 were for terrorism out of 11,129 total requests that year. The biggest reason for the warrants was to investigate drug crimes (9,401 requests), EFF reported.

 “The numbers vindicate privacy advocates who urged Congress to shelve Section 213 during the Patriot Act debates,” Mark Jaycox at EFF wrote. “Proponents of Section 213 claimed sneak and peek warrants were needed to protect against terrorism. But just like we’ve seen elsewhere, these claims are false.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff


Shell Todd Energy, has been caught drilling illegally in New Zealand waters.

Official documents show Shell failed to get permission to drill two wells in the oil and gas region off the North Island’s West Coast.

While the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) criticised Shell’s action there have been no consequences and the Government has defended Shell’s flouting of the law.

There is now only one month left for the EPA to bring a prosecution. They must act now.

Industry disregard for safety and environmental regulations with offshore drilling increases the chance of accidents.

Such a cowboy attitude is unfortunately what we’ve come to expect from oil drillers but this must not be tolerated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Unless it wants to be known as a toothless regulator, prepared to look the other way when big oil comes to town, it must prosecute.

Send a message now telling the Environmental Protection Authority to prosecute Shell.