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Israeli Police Break Into Media Office In East Jerusalem, Attack Locals and Visitors

By Saed Bannoura – IMEMC & Agencies – April 02, 2010

The Israeli Police attacked on Thursday Wadi Hilwa Media Center, in Silwan’s Wadi Hilwa neighborhood, in occupied East Jerusalem, and violently attacked employees and visitors, leading to several injuries, the Palestine News Network (PNN) reported.

Fakhri Abu Diab, head of the Committee for Defending the Lands and Properties of Silwan, said that Jawad Siyam, head of the center was wounded in his shoulder and back, while employee Ramadan Al Banna, and resident Ahmad Al Natsha suffered eye injuries, while two women, visiting the center, were violently pushed around by the police.

The police also kidnapped Yazan Siyam, 14, while he was at the center and violently attacked his younger brother, Ali, as he followed the soldiers crying, while they dragged his brother.

Abu Diab slammed the Israeli attack, especially since the soldiers were accompanied by extremist Jewish settlers.

Speaking from his hospital bed at the Al Makassid Hospital in East Jerusalem, Jawad Siyam, said that the attack is “barbaric” , and that when he asked the police about a warrant, the police and the settlers said “we are the law here, nothing is above us”, and started attacking and insulting every person who was there.

On Thursday at dawn, the Israelis invaded Al Bustan neighborhood and kidnapped five residents identified as Khalaf Odah, 62, Mohammad Odah, 38, Hammouda Siyam, Sa’id Zaytoun, and Daoud Siyam.

Khalad, Mohammad and Hammouda were released on bail, while the remand of the Sa’id and Daoud was extended until Sunday for further interrogation.

Abu Diab stated that Silwan is subject to frequent Israeli military and settler attacks, and that the provocative acts of the police and fundamentalist settlers are meant to terrify the residents to force them out of their homes and lands.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Illegal Occupation | Comments Off on Israeli Police Break Into Media Office In East Jerusalem, Attack Locals and Visitors

Israel army ‘routinely’ fires on Palestinian journalists

Ma’an – 01/04/2010

Bethlehem – Reporters Without Borders has deplored the frequency of alleged press freedom violations by the Israeli military, whose forces the Paris-based press freedom group says routinely fire on Palestinian journalists.

At least eight journalists were injured by shots fired by Israeli soldiers during March in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

“The incidents continue with complete impunity,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The IDF soldiers involved are rarely punished and, less still, disowned by the superiors, who endorse the use of violence against media personnel. It is time this stopped.”

In the most recent incident, Falestin TV journalist Harun Amayra was injured in the foot by a shot fired by an Israeli soldier while he was covering a peaceful demonstration marking Earth Day in Badras, a village to the west of Ramallah, on 30 March. Around 10 demonstrators were also injured by Israeli gunfire. Amayra was hospitalized in Ramallah.

A crew working for satellite TV station Al-Quds were blocked for several hours by Israeli troops at the Qalandiya checkpoint on 25 March while on their way to present a live broadcast from Jerusalem. After interrogating presenter Raed Fathi, the soldiers banned him from entering the city for a week.

Falestin TV reporter Harun Amayra and cameraman Najib Sharoneh were doing a report in the village of Badras on 19 March when Israeli soldiers accosted them, hit them and then detained them for nearly four hours.

The same day, Israeli soldiers banned journalists from entering the village of Ni’lin, near Ramallah, where the reporters had wanted to cover the weekly protest against Israel’s West Bank barrier.

An Israeli soldier fired a tear-gas grenade at photographer Nasser Al-Shouyoukhi of The Associated Press during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian youths on 17 March in Hebron. Rubber-coated bullets and tear-gas canisters were also fired at photographer Issam Al-Rimawi while he was covering events at the Qalandiya checkpoint.

Israeli soldiers fired rubber bullets at three Palestinian photographers – Mahmoud Alyan and Mahfouz Abou Turk (who both work for the daily Al-Quds) and Ahmed Al-Gharabli of Agence France-Presse – while they were covering clashes between soldiers and Palestinian youths outside the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on 5 March.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture | Comments Off on Israel army ‘routinely’ fires on Palestinian journalists

Israeli gunmen invade Palestinian buildings

Press TV – April 1, 2010

Armed Israeli settlers.‎

Armed Israel settlers have invaded Palestinian-owned buildings and lands designated by the Palestinian Authority for the construction of the first centrally-planned Palestinian town called Rawabi.

Around 60 settlers associated with the group “Youth for the Land of Israel” attempted to take over the area hanging Israeli flags on the buildings. They also conducted prayers there.

The incident occurred on Wednesday, near the central West Bank town of Bir Zeit.

Meir Bertler, one of the settlers involved in the invasion, told the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahranoth, “We want to create a Jewish territorial sequence from Ofra to Ateret, and we know that the Palestinians plan to create a similar building sequence.”

Although the Oslo Accord — signed on September 13, 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington— forbade expansion of illegal settlements, Israel has built hundreds of such settlements and is still building them on occupied Palestinian lands in the West Bank and Jerusalem al-Quds.

Over 500,000 Israelis are currently living in settlements labeled illegal by the United Nations and the Fourth Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | 1 Comment

At D.C. conference, Goldstone has a defender at the top of his game

By Chase Madar on March 31, 2010

The panel on the Goldstone Report was, as expected, one of the highlights of the 104th conference of the American Society of International Law held last week in the basement of the Ritz-Carlton in Washington DC.

(The other highlights? Harold Koh, the State Department’s top lawyer, unveiled the legal rationale for targeted killings via drone aircraft in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Professor Antony Anghie’s showcased lecture on the centrality of imperialism to the history of international law; Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning at State, informed us that the age of power wielded over others is nearly gone; what the youngsters now talk about is wielding power with others. Callooh callay!)

But the Goldstone Report. It may be too much to call it the most controversial international legal document of the year, as the report went down quite smoothly in most of the world. But not in Israel or the United States, whose governments have condemned the inquiry as irredeemably biased against the Israeli Defense Forces. The ASIL panel would deal with this issue of alleged bias.

The panel was really a debate, ably moderated by Lucy F. Reed, president of ASIL. Defense of the report was mounted by Omar Dajani, a former legal advisor to Palestian peace talk team, corporate litigator at Sidley & Austin, and now a professor at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. The report was attacked by Abraham Bell, former clerk at the Supreme Court of Israel and a law and economics scholar University of San Diego. Dajani argued that the report is a very conservative document, upholding strictly construed norms and categories of international law, “toeing the line” against those who would rewrite the laws of war to the advantage of the IDF. Bell argued that the report is a “radical” document, bending international law past the breaking point.

Bell did the best he could, but I think Dajani carried the day. He was lucid, calm and argued with the appropriate degree of passion. Bell could really only nitpick, cast vague aspersions on the report’s “tone,” and talk about how tough it is to wage asymmetric war against a weaker, worse-armed enemy. (Dajani however evinced no such self-pity.) Bell denied, weirdly, that Gaza is under occupation.

Questioners were pretty evenly divided between supporters and critics of the report.

One questioner, a ponytailed gentleman from University of Tennessee, found it horribly unfair that Israel should be the target of so many General Assembly resolutions. Is there a double standard operating at the UN? Yes there certainly is, Dajani quickly responded, and this double standard is at the Security Council, where the US automatically vetoes any resolution against Israel. This leaves the General Assembly as the only forum for motions against Israeli violations of international norms. And these General Assembly motions are not much of a consolation prize, as the real power resides in the Security Council—a fact lost on most of the general public, and on many lawyers too.

Another questioner, Daniel Joyner of University of Alabama, asked Bell what Gaza’s status was, if it is indeed “unoccupied territory”—is it sovereign territory like Switzerland? Is it terra nullius like Antarctica? For it can only be one or the other. Bell’s response was curt and legalistically absurd: “Gaza’s status is… not occupied.”

“Right, except for its airspace and its borders and often its land,” Dajani quickly chimed in.

For his part, Dajani made no such auto-goals. It was nice to see that the Goldstone report had a defender on the top of his game.

Was this ASIL conference panel a new departure into real fairness and evenhandedness? Not really. Joyner, who has been to seven or eight of these ASIL confabs, told me that this crowd—highly educated, many of them non-American—has generally, but by no means unanimously, been open to international law arguments against Israel’s colonial domination of Palestine.

As for the related question of “lawfare,” it popped up throughout the conference. Not the neocon condemnations all legal challenges to Israel and America’s uses of force, but rather lawfare advocacy on the other side: folks eager to bend, rewrite and “update” the laws of war to the benefit of the American imperial project and its client states. There was Harold Koh justifying targeted killings via UAVs (drones) in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There was young Ganesh Sitaraman, of Harvard lamenting that international lawyers are not sufficiently “engaging” with this marvelous new technique of counterinsurgency warfare.

All to be expected, for the waging of lawfare is as old as international law itself; one could even argue that lawfare is the beating heart of international law. Let us not forget that the great Grotius, august 17th century father of international law, was also Huig de Groot, a picaresque shyster whose first legal treatise was a fast-talking apologia for Dutch privateers. The ASIL conference reaffirmed again and again the inherent two-facedness of international law. Yes it is quite true that international law has at times stood tall against overweening power. But at least as often international law lubes and legitimates the actions of the strong against the weak.

Chase Madar is a lawyer in New York.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, War Crimes | 1 Comment

The criminal NSA eavesdropping program

By Glenn Greenwald | April 1, 2010

While torture and aggressive war may have been the most serious crimes which the Bush administration committed, its warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens was its clearest and most undeniable lawbreaking.  Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker yesterday became the third federal judge — out of three who have considered the question — to find that Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program was illegal (the other two are District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor and 6th Circuit Appellate Judge Ronald Gilman who, on appeal from Judge Taylor’s decision, in dissent reached the merits of that question [unlike the two judges in the majority who reversed the decision on technical “standing” grounds] and adopted Taylor’s conclusion that the NSA program was illegal).

That means that all 3 federal judges to consider the question have concluded that Bush’s NSA program violated the criminal law (FISA).  That law provides that anyone who violates it has committed a felony and shall be subject to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each offense.  The law really does say that.  Just click on that link and you’ll see.  It’s been obvious for more than four years that Bush, Cheney, NSA Director (and former CIA Director) Michael Hayden and many other Bush officials broke the law — committed felonies — in spying on Americans without warrants.  Yet another federal judge has now found their conduct illegal.  If we were a country that actually lived under The Rule of Law, this would be a huge story, one that would produce the same consequences for the lawbreakers as a bank robbery, embezzlement or major drug dealing.  But since we’re not such a country, it isn’t and it doesn’t.

Although news reports are focusing (appropriately) on the fact that Bush’s NSA program was found to be illegal, the bulk of Judge Walker’s opinion was actually a scathing repudiation of the Obama DOJ.  In fact, the opinion spent almost no time addressing the merits of the claim that the NSA program was legal.  That’s because the Obama DOJ — exactly like the Bush DOJ in the case before Judge Taylor — refused to offer legal justifications to the court for this eavesdropping.  Instead, the Obama DOJ took the imperial and hubristic position that the court had no right whatsoever to rule on the legality of the program because (a) plaintiffs could not prove they were subjected to the secret eavesdropping (and thus lacked “standing” to sue) and (b) the NSA program was such a vital “state secret” that courts were barred from adjudicating its legality.

Those were the arguments that Judge Walker scathingly rejected.  All of the court’s condemnations of the DOJ’s pretense to imperial power were directed at the Obama DOJ’s “state secrets” argument (which is exactly the same radical and lawless version, as TPM compellingly documented, used by the Bush DOJ  to such controversy).  From the start, the Obama DOJ has engaged in one extraordinary maneuver after the next to shield this criminal surveillance program from judicial scrutiny. Indeed, their stonewalling at one point became so extreme that the court actually threatened the Obama DOJ with sanctions.  And what TPM calls the Obama DOJ’s “Bush-mimicking state secrets defense” has been used by them in one case after the next to conceal and shield from judicial review a wide range of Bush crimes — including torture, renditions and surveillance.  As the Electronic Frontiers Foundation put it:  “In Warrantless Wiretapping Case, Obama DOJ’s New Arguments Are Worse Than Bush’s.”

That’s why this decision is such a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration:  because it is their Bush-copying tactics, used repeatedly to cover up government crimes, which the court yesterday so emphatically rejected.  And it’s thus no surprise that media accounts tie the Obama administration to the cover-up of this program at least as much as the Bush administration.  See, for instance:  Charlie Savage and James Risen in The New York Times (“A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the National Security Agency’s program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration’s effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush”); Time (“The judge’s opinion is pointed and fiercely critical of the Obama Administration’s Justice Department lawyers” and “The judge claims that the Obama Administration is attempting to place itself above the law“).  The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also previously condemned the Bush/Obama “state secrets” position as abusive and lawless.

In December, 2005, The New York Times revealed that the Bush administration had been doing for years exactly that which the law unambiguously said was a felony:  eavesdropping on the electronic communications of Americans (telephone calls and emails) without warrants.  We knew then it was a crime.   Three federal judges have now concluded that it was illegal.  And yet not only do we do nothing about it, but we stand by as the Obama administration calls this criminal program a vital “state secret” and desperately tries to protect it and the lawbreakers from being subject to the rule of law.  This decision may make it more difficult for the Obama administration to hide behind sweeping secrecy claims in the future, but it won’t negate the fact that we have decided that our leading political officials are completely free to commit crimes while in power and to do so with total impunity.

* * * * *

One related note:  back when Judge Diggs Taylor ruled that the Bush NSA program was unconstitutional, law professors Orin Kerr and Ann Althouse (the former a sometimes-Bush-apologist and the latter a constant one) viciously disparaged her and her ruling by claiming that she failed to give sufficient attention to the Government’s arguments as to why the program was legal.  Althouse was even allowed to launch that attack in an Op-Ed in The New York Times. But as I documented at the time, the argument made by these right-wing law professors to attack Judge Taylor was grounded in total ignorance:  the reason the court there didn’t pay much attention to the legal justifications for the NSA program was because the Bush DOJ — just like the Obama DOJ here — refused to offer any such justifications, insisting instead that the court had no right even to consider the case.

That’s why I find it darkly amusing that, today, the same Orin Kerr is solemnly lecturing The New York Times that Judge Walker here did not consider the merits of the claims about the program’s legality because the Obama DOJ argued instead “that Judge Walker couldn’t reach the merits of the case because of the state secrets privilege.”  Kerr is wrong when he says that this ruling does not constitute a decision that the Bush NSA program was illegal — it does exactly that, because the plaintiffs offered evidence and arguments to prove it was illegal and the Obama DOJ (like the Bush DOJ before it) failed to offer anything to the contrary — but he ‘s right that Judge Walker did not focus on the merits of the defenses to the NSA program because the Obama DOJ (like the Bush DOJ) refused to raise any such defenses.  But exactly the same thing was true for Judge Taylor when she ruled three years ago that the NSA program was illegal, which is why the right-wing attacks on her judicial abilities back then (led by Kerr and Althouse) were so frivolous and misinformed.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | Comments Off on The criminal NSA eavesdropping program

Israelis to build apartments in NYC

Buyers group to construct eight-story building, 14 flats in Morningside project near Columbia University

Dotan Levi, 03.30.10

After conquering popular areas in Israel, the Israelis have begun implementing the buyers group concept abroad. A recently formed buyers group is planning to build an apartment building near Columbia University in New York City at a total investment of $6.5 million.

The group bought the land, located on 116th Street and 8th Avenue at the entrance to the university, from an official receiver for $1.2 million. The land was purchased before the global financial crisis for $3.2 million.

The group was organized by Eldad Levy, an Israeli businessman living in New York. Levy, one of the owners of the Centrock Group, has built a model similar to the one of Israeli buyers groups, which will provide the buyers in New York with legal protection.

For example, a group member who stops funding the project will be dispossessed of his or her apartment and it will be sold to a different investor. In addition, the land has been purchased by a designated company founded specifically for the project. Each of the investors holds shares of the company and the ownership over the land.

The project will be managed by Levy, who has been elected as the group’s representatives.

The project, named Morningside, includes an eight-story building with 14 apartments. So far, seven Israelis have bought 10 apartments in the project and the remaining four will be marketed to additional investors.

The apartments have two to four rooms. Investors are paying some $480,000 for a three-room apartment measuring 85 square meters (915 square feet) in size, and according to Levy its real price in the market is valued at $650,000.

The project is expected to be completed in about two years, and most Israelis bought the apartments for investment purposes. According to Levy, due to its proximity to the university, a three-room apartment in a similar location could be rented out for $3,000 a month, reflecting a return of 5 to 6%.

Levy says he chose to market the project to Israelis due to their familiarity with the concept of buyers groups. “Similar activity of buyer groups is almost nonexistent in New York,” he noted.

Copyright © Yedioth Internet. All rights reserved.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | 2 Comments

Honest in the Worst Way

By Philip Giraldi | April 01, 2010

When the beefsteak mine bonds salesman J. Frothingham Waterbury in the W.C. Fields movie The Bank Dick wanted to unload his worthless paper he put his hand on his heart and said with a straight face, “I want to show you I’m honest in the worst way.”  Well, Frothingham Waterbury had nothing on today’s masters of the sharp deal former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and ex head of the Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.  The problem with the two gentlemen and many others who have formed the detritus of both Republican and Democratic administrations over the past twenty years is that they sometimes fail to understand where private interests end and the public interest begins. They and others like them are a valuable commodity to large private contractors because they can exploit their former positions to obtain access to colleagues who remain in government.  They also give a measure of credibility to their new employers based on their former status, which can be used to sell goods and services.  The relentless pursuit of the fast buck obscures that there is a public trust that is being betrayed.  Because the American people want to believe in the integrity of the message being conveyed by the Chertoffs and McConnells it is easy to forget that they are really just salesmen offering wares that may not actually be needed.

If the public wonders how the US government has gotten so big and expensive they might well look at the huge security industry that has grown dramatically enabled by senior managers like McConnell and Chertoff moving between government jobs and the private sector, often a revolving door that spawns fat government no-bid contracts.  Did Dick Cheney get rich with Halliburton because he was a business genius or because he was put in a position where his government contacts could be exploited to bring in the cash even when the American taxpayer had no need of what was being purveyed?  How did people like Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle become multi-millionaires?

McConnell has surfaced most recently, in the Washington Post, in a lengthy opinion piece warning about the cybersecurity threat.  Now, I’ll admit that I don’t know much about cyber-terrorism, but I would bet that McConnell’s argument that the US is facing something like a new Pearl Harbor is just a tad overstated.  It is essentially the same argument that has been played and replayed over the past nine years by those who want big government and large budgets.  What McConnell does understand very clearly is that if the United States government spends some hundreds of billions of dollars in protecting the country against cyber attack, his company, Booz Allen Hamilton, will get a very large slice of that pie.  Booz is currently one of the largest government contractors and it is already advising clients on cybersecurity, which makes the article in the Washington Post pretty much free advertising combined with special pleading.

McConnell cites two instances of cyber-threat, one the hacking of Google late last year “emanating from China” and an attack in 2008 that compromised the security of 2,500 companies.  McConnell would like to see a huge government-funded effort to deal with the threat both preemptively and through deterrence.  Now I am sure McConnell knows perfectly well that al-Qaeda does not have a cyber division and that a computer or information threat does not actually kill anyone.  Cyber attack is primarily an economic weapon, used to steal valuable information, often somewhat akin to vandalism when it interferes with the ability of systems to communicate and exchange information.  And there are commercially available defenses against it that already exist.  If you can hack into a system there are ways to build walls to prevent that.  Companies that have identified cyber threats can go out and buy software and engage IT experts who can and do protect their systems.  It is just a matter of weighing risk and providing protection that is commensurate.  A massive government program to involve the private sector would make everyone buy into the same level of security, which is just not needed in most cases. And the key word is “buy.” It would also make McConnell and Booz Allen even richer.

And then there is Michael Chertoff.  Chertoff seized the bully pulpit in the wake of the Christmas underwear bomber, writing op ed pieces and appearing all over the media to advocate the use of expensive scanners at airports to prevent such incidents.  There were only two problems with the hype.  First, tests revealed that the scanners would not necessarily have detected the device used by the bomber and second, Chertoff’s company The Chertoff Group had a consulting relationship with the company Rapiscan Systems that made the scanners.  Which means that Chertoff, who appeared to be providing disinterested expert advice, would benefit personally if the scanners are placed in airports.  It was reported last week that Chertoff has also decided to become a board member at BAE Systems, a top defense contractor that has defrauded the US government. The British company has agreed to pay $447 million in fines to the American and British governments to settle charges of corruption, including an alleged $2 billion bribing of Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar, who was Ambassador to the US at the time.

McConnells and Chertoffs have always been around.  During the Civil War contractors in Philadelphia made army boots out of cardboard and uniform jackets that fell apart after being worn once or twice.  Trying to make money off of government contracts goes back even farther than that with Cicero having prosecuted corrupt governors who robbed the treasury of the Roman Republic.  Today’s snake oil vendors will always be with us, particularly as both Republicans and Democrats appear to be enamored of the war on terror which will apparently go on forever and everywhere.  As it is global and terror is a tactic you can bet it will never end until it bankrupts the United States, which just might come sooner than most people think likely.

What is lacking is any restraint on the activity of the promoters of the war economy.  The salesmen for total war would not be so dangerous if they were not portrayed as experts and given a platform to parlay their former government positions into private gain.  A skeptical media would be nice, asking hard questions about what financial interests former senior government officials might have.  But we are long past the point where we might expect the media to do its job or do anything at all but promote the long war, which presumably sells newspapers and ad time on television.  It would also be nice to stop senior government officials from setting up their own companies like The Chertoff Group that then turning around to do contracting with the government.  That’s not only unseemly, it involves potential conflict of interest and could lead to more serious forms of corruption.  It would be far better to close the revolving door completely and send the Chertoffs and McConnells off to a comfortable retirement somewhere where they would no longer be reaching into in the taxpayers’ pockets to fund scanners we don’t need and a new global conflict, which, if the pattern holds true to form, will no doubt be dubbed the war on cyber.

Read more by Philip Giraldi

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Corruption, Militarism | Comments Off on Honest in the Worst Way

NSA Wiretap Program Declared Illegal

Marc Ambinder | The Atlantic | March 31, 2010

The National Security Agency broke the law when it wiretapped two American lawyers working for the El-Haramain Charity Foundation, an judge ruled Wednesday.

The government has not decided whether to appeal this long-awaited decision, as it touches on subjects ranging from the state secrets privilege to the breadth of President Bush’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program.”

The ruling is a major symbolic victory for civil libertarians, although its effects on future cases will be limited, and no more information about the program will be disclosed. El-Haramain v. Obama has bounced back and forth from District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, the chief judge for federal courts in Northern California, to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected a government motion to dismiss it entirely. Another important victory for civil libertarians: Vaughn held that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act should be given more weight than the state secrets privilege.

For months, the government argued that the charity could not possibly establish, using unclassified information, that it had been spied upon. It argued that even though the TSP had been revealed, it could not turn over other evidence in the case without jeopardizing national security. Several judges have seen the evidence and disagreed. People familiar with the case believe that the evidence relates to the mechanism by which the surveillance program was carried out: perhaps a third country, or private contractors, assisted the NSA.

So,  the Justice Department asserted the “state secrets privilege” and refused to provide the plaintiffs with classified evidence that would show whether or not the charity had actually been wiretapped.

Of course, this was a bit of a game, because the government accidentally gave the plaintiffs a number of classified documents which proved conclusively that the charity’s phone lines were tapped by the National Security Agency.

Still, it was up to the charity to establish that its communications were intercepted solely on the basis of the public record — and that the wiretapping was, on its merits, illegal.  The judge agreed today that both thresholds had been reached. Some civil libertarians wanted him to order a full trial, which would have revealed more about the program. This, Walker did not do. Still, his ruling, if it stands, will serve as a check on the unconstrained use of executive power.

Walker, an inventive and creative judge who is also presiding over the trial about the legality of the gay-marriage-banning Proposition 8, was clearly skeptical of the government’s contentions and its legal tactics.

Still, he went out of his way to give the government a chance to make its case. And he did not declare the use of the state secrets privilege to be invalid, which may be one reason why the government might decide not to appeal the ruling.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | Comments Off on NSA Wiretap Program Declared Illegal

Regulator seeks to rein in energy market trading by big Wall Street firms

By David Cho | Washington Post | April 1, 2010

The nation’s commodities regulator is proposing to limit the vast amounts of oil, natural gas and other vital goods the world’s biggest investment firms can buy and sell, seeking to eliminate the unfettered access these companies have had to energy markets for 20 years.

The rule would also force this highly lucrative trading into daylight, requiring for the first time that the public be told which companies have special permission to trade commodities with virtually no constraints.

By reversing course, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, under its activist chairman, Gary Gensler, is trying to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a few large businesses. For example, a single firm, the United States Oil Fund, was able to gain the rights to nearly one-fourth of all the publicly traded crude oil scheduled for delivery during one month last spring, the fund’s head said in an interview.

Advocates of the commission’s proposal have said the influx of Wall Street money has led to violent price swings. In 2008, the price of a barrel of crude oil leapt to a record of more than $147 and within months crashed to below $34. This volatility not only disrupts household budgets but also makes it hard for food manufacturers, airlines and other companies to get the goods they need when they need them, the advocates said.

Traditionally, commercial companies were the main players on the commodities markets, buying contracts for oil, for example, that guaranteed future delivery on a specific date for a locked-in price. But Wall Street banks eventually discovered that they could trade these contracts like financial securities and make money without ever taking delivery of the goods. Before long, the banks won exemptions from federal trading restrictions and were able to speculate on unlimited amounts.

If a majority of the five-member panel approve the commission’s latest proposal, the rule would dramatically scale back the exemptions given to firms such as Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley. Although the government keeps the identities of the firms private, financial analysts have figured out some of them.

Separately, the Senate is considering a broad overhaul of the financial oversight system that in part would regulate for the first time the trading of commodities contracts in private transactions, which occur away from the established exchanges and are known as “over the counter.” The legislation would force nearly all of the trading onto public exchanges, undercutting the financial advantage firms get from their ability to keep the prices they pay secret.

This shadow world of private deals exists beyond the purview of regulators, and federal officials estimate that the value of these deals is many times that of transactions conducted on open exchanges. If big financial firms win the right to continue trading huge amounts of oil, natural gas and other goods in private deals, they would simply move their business off the exchanges and maintain their dominance, some commission officials warn.

No company has benefited more than Goldman Sachs, market analysts say. During the financial crisis, when most of the firm’s other business activities were suffering, commodities trading produced “particularly strong results,” according to its annual report. Goldman does not disclose how much it earned from these trades. But along with its bonds and currency divisions, commodities activities generated about half of its net revenue of $45 billion in 2009, Goldman reported.

Financial analysts estimated that these activities in typical years account for about a tenth of the firm’s revenue. The analysts added that the commodities division is one of the bank’s crown jewels, noting that many of Goldman’s top executives emerged from that operation, including chief executive Lloyd Blankfein… Full article

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | Comments Off on Regulator seeks to rein in energy market trading by big Wall Street firms