Category Archives: Law

Panama Papers law firm founders arrested


Once in a while a single event provides a juncture between two ongoing stories we’ve been following.

First up, the legislative coup that ousted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the subsequent criminal indictments filed against the coup participants as the result of a massive bribery investigation.

The second story is the Panama Papers leaks, the documents proving the existence of and participants in a vast network of “black flag” operation concealing a great deal of the planet’s wealth.

From teleSUR English:

The two founders of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were arrested on Saturday, the attorney general’s office said, after both were indicted on charges of money-laundering in a case allegedly tied to a wide-ranging corruption scandal in Brazil.

Firm founders Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca were detained because of the risk they might try to flee the country.

Attorney General Kenia Porcell told reporters on Saturday that the information collected so far “allegedly identifies the Panamanian firm as a criminal organization that is dedicated to hiding assets or money from suspicious origins.”

Mossack Fonseca is also at the center of a separate case known as the Panama Papers, which involved millions of documents stolen from the firm and leaked to the media in April 2016.

The fallout from the leaks provoked a global scandal after numerous documents detailed how the rich and powerful used offshore corporations to hide money and potentially evade taxes.

Fonseca, a former presidential adviser in Panama, has previously denied that the firm had any connection to Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht, which has admitted to bribing officials in Panama and other countries to obtain government contracts in the region between 2010 and 2014.

Germans impose fracking rules, ban chemical use


Chemical fracking, the use of chemically infused high pressure water to blast apart layers of underground shale to free trapped oil and gas, is the rule in the U.S., despite mounting evidence that some of those chemicals are toxic and are invading local water supplies.

But not in Germany, thanks to new legislation that bans chemical fracking and sets new limits of fracking using water alone.

Still, that won’t solve that earthquake problem.

From Deutsche Welle:

A new legislative package on the use of fracking in Germany went into effect on Saturday, following much heated debate.

The legislation largely bans a particularly controversial form of fracking and imposes stricter rules on fracking overall. The German parliament and the 16 German states had approved the laws in June and July of 2016 after years of push-and-pull over environmental concerns and economic interests.

For environmentalists, the new laws don’t go far enough: They want a complete ban on all types of fracking. “If we want to meet the climate goals set in Paris, we need a clear ban on every type of oil and gas fracking,” said Kai Niebert, the chairman of Deutscher Naturschutzring, an umbrella organization for German environmentalist groups.

Fracking – short for hydraulic fracturing – is a method used  for extracting fossil fuels. A mix of water, sand and chemicals is pushed into the ground at high pressure to press out gas or oil. It allows the extraction of previously out-of-reach resources, but also poses environmental risks.

The new German laws distinguish between “conventional fracking” and “unconventional fracking.”

Unconventional fracking is used when gas or oil is found not just embedded in rock strata, but bound to the stone. In these cases, the fossil fuel often no longer has gaseous or liquid form. Extremely high pressure and high amounts of fracking liquid – often containing highly toxic chemicals – are needed to extract the fuel.

That practice is now banned in Germany until at least 2021, with the exception of up to four test drillings for scientific purposes. The German parliament is set to reassess the ban in four years’ time.

Will Trump’s National Security Advisor depart?


Before he became National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn had been a controversial figure. Under Barack Obama he had served as the country’s top military spook, right up until he was canned for inflammatory Islamophobic prouncements.

But mere vulgar blatherings were no big deal to a man known for making a few himself. Indeed, they became valuable assets.

Back in November, after Trump’s win, CNN reported:

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has been asked to serve as Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, has, on his verified Twitter account, interacted with far right and anti-Semitic figures, maligned the Muslim faith, and shared unfounded news stories.

A CNN KFile review of Flynn’s Twitter account finds that the retired lieutenant general, who once served as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, tweeted routinely with members of the so-called alt-right movement, going so far as to endorse a book by one controversial figure who regularly makes offensive comments.

Flynn faced criticism in July when he retweeted an anti-Semitic message. Flynn said the retweet was an accident and deleted the message.

Has Flynn crossed over a line in the sand?

Maybe, but it’s more likely Flynn is headed to the altar of Trumpism as a sacrificial lamb.

The reason?

Allegations of secret per-inauguration talks with the Kremlin.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

A top White House aide sidestepped repeated chances Sunday to publicly defend embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn following reports that he engaged in conversations with a Russian diplomat about U.S. sanctions before Trump’s inauguration.

The uncertainty comes as Trump is dealing with North Korea’s apparent first missile launch of the year and his presidency, along with visits this week from the leaders of Israel and Canada.

Trump has yet to comment on the allegations against Flynn, and a top aide dispatched to represent the administration on the Sunday news shows skirted questions on the topic, saying it was not his place to weigh in on the “sensitive matter.”

Pressed repeatedly, top policy adviser Stephen Miller said it wasn’t up to him to say whether the president retains confidence in Flynn.

“It’s not for me to tell you what’s in the president’s mind,” he said on NBC. “That’s a question for the president.”

But wait, there’s some context to consider

Compared to Richard Nixon’s track record, pre-election talks with Russia amount to chump change.

Consider Tricky Dick and H.R. Haldeman, his soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff.

Nixon and his 1968 campaign allies conducted secret negotiations with a nation the U.S. were currently fighting on the battlefield, actively pushing the North Vietnamese government to hold off on peace talks until after the election.

Nixon then campaigned as the peace candidate against then-Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey, promising he had a secret plan to end what was proving to be an ever costlier and bloodier morass, with most of the rest of the world aligned against the U.S. government’s relentless pursuit of an unwinnable and morally reprehensible desire to impose its will and control over an Asian nation.

The secret talks with Hanoi were rumored but unreported during Nixon’s subsequent impeachment hearings.

Haldeman ended up doing time in federal prison for conspiracy and obstruction of justice, stemming from the coverup of a secret funding-and-bugging operation to ensure a Nixon reelection win four years later the Hanoi talks.

Talk about your interfering with a presidential.

So in that context, Flynn’s alleged talks with the Kremlin on behalf of an already openly Putin-friendly candidate, while illegal and possibly criminal, didn’t cost additional U.S. citizens their lives, as did Nixon’s push to delay peace talks.

Trump’s travel ban’s impact at the doctor’s office


While folks rightly invoke human rights and basic human decency to oppose the Trumpster’s travel ban, there are also purely pragmatic reasons for opposition.

On of those reasons is simple: An extreme travel ban could result in longer lines at the doctor’s office.

John Burkhardt and Mahshid Abir, two physician/academics from the University of Michigan medical school, explain in this essay from  The Conversation, an open source academic journal written for lay readers:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Feb. 9 upheld the restraining order on President Trump’s immigration ban. A key argument used by the States of Washington and Minnesota was the negative impact of the ban on higher education, but an important corollary is the impact on medical care in the U.S. While the world waits for a final decision on the matter, potentially from the Supreme Court, it’s critical to look at the potential ramifications of the ban.

Regardless of the ultimate ruling, the travel ban has already had significant consequences for people from the seven targeted majority Muslim countries and American citizens. Doctors are among those people directly affected – and that has big implications for health care delivery in U.S. hospitals, particularly those in rural America and inner-city safety net hospitals.

Physicians who are citizens of these nations who were traveling outside the country at the time of the ban have been detained or refused access to the U.S.

Larger-scale, lasting effects of a ban on the graduate medical education system are likely to be even more severe and may further strain an already overstretched health care system and affect the care of communities across the U.S. Indeed, the president of the American Medical Association already has written a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, explaining how the ban could affect those who are already underserved by limiting doctors from other countries.

As physicians involved with educating and training the next generation of doctors, we see dire consequences for health care delivery in our country if the travel ban is reinstated.

Even though the ban has been temporarily lifted, the timing could not be worse for international applicants hoping to train in the U.S. While new resident physicians typically begin on July 1, the match process that allots positions occurs much sooner. On Feb. 22, residency program directors must submit their rank list of which applicants they would like to have in their program.

Therefore, without clear signs that travel for foreign applicants will be possible by July, program directors who want to protect their training program from staffing shortages may decide against ranking these applicants. The loss of a single incoming class of international medical graduates will significantly decrease the number of residents in training and physician capacity in hospitals and health care systems across the U.S.

Graduates from outside the United States constitute 26 percent of the U.S. graduate medical training. These foreign medical graduates usually fill resident training positions that are left vacant after medical schools match U.S.-based students to residency programs.

Therefore, foreign graduates typically do not take spots away from graduates of American medical schools, but instead provide medical care in hospitals that will otherwise be understaffed. These include rural hospitals around the country, where it is especially hard to recruit physicians, and safety net hospitals serving the poor.

Even if all current residency positions could be filled with U.S. medical school graduates and eliminate the need for any additional resident physicians from outside the U.S., the projected demand for physicians in the near future will still not be met.

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Trump’s new orders aim to criminalize protest


We are not surprised, given his growing and deep unpoularity.

From MintPress News:

Executive orders signed by President Donald Trump set in motion an agenda for escalating the criminalization of citizens, who engage in protest. This agenda will likely have a disproportionate impact on Black Lives Matter activists, immigrant rights activists, and Native Americans engaged in protest against pipeline projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The executive order aimed at “preventing violence” against police officers calls for a review of existing laws. Following the review, recommendations are to be made to Trump for legislation to protect the safety of police.

“If warranted,” the review may propose “legislation defining new crimes of violence and establishing new mandatory minimum sentences for existing crimes of violence against federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement officers, as well as for related crimes.”

Such legislation would be particularly useful for law enforcement interested in suppressing dissent against police brutality and direct action in general.

It also would fit into a trend developing as a result of Republican lawmakers, who have introduced anti-protesting legislation in several states. This includes making it a felony punishable up to five years to march on highways and increasing penalties for individuals who “obstruct” oil and gas equipment during environmental protests.

Massive deportation raids sweep the country


The courts may have barred his “no entry” scheme, but that hasn’t stopped Donald Trump from rounding up immigrants already in the U.S.

Hundreds of folks learned that Friday.

From the Independent:

“Panic” and “terror” is said to be running through immigrant communities in the US following raids carried out across at least six states as part of Donald Trump’s pledge to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented migrants in the first large-scale enforcement of Mr Trump’s executive order to take action against the estimated 11 million people living illegally in the US.

Raids took place this week in and around New York, Los Angeles, North Carolina, South Carolina, Atlanta and Chicago, immigration officials confirmed – with more than a third of those detained in the Los Angeles area being deported to Mexico.

Officials said the raids targeted known criminals but reports from immigrant rights groups claim that law-abiding citizens were also targeted in a departure from Obama-era crackdowns which focused solely on law-breaking illegal “aliens”.

Headline of the day: Red state Trump rage


From the London Daily Mail:

‘Do your job!’ Angry protesters drown out leading Republican congressman – in deep-red Utah! – as they wave signs reading ‘DISAGREE’ and complain that he won’t investigate Trump’s conflicts of interest

  • House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz tried to face down an angry crowd when he hold a town hall meeting in his district
  • Constituents blasted him for failing to sufficiently investigate President Donald Trump and on a local lands issue
  •  He faced chants of ‘Do your job!’ and ‘Vote him out’
  • Chaffetz met privately with Trump this week
  • He joined a letter with the leading Democrat on his committee criticizing Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway for touting Ivanka Trump’s products from the White House 
  • ‘I would like to know why if Trump is too despicable for your 15-year-old daughter, why is he fine for me?’