Thursday, September 21, 2017

Big Pharma, Big Medicine, Tiny Deaths

The Pills Are In Children Everywhere:

When Penny Mae Cormani died in Utah, her family sang Mormon hymns — “Be Still My Soul” — and lowered her small coffin into the earth. The latest victim of a drug epidemic that is now taking 60,000 lives a year, Penny was just 1.
Increasingly, parents and the police are encountering toddlers and young children unconscious or dead after consuming an adult’s opioids.
Eighty-seven children died of opioid intoxication in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from just 16 in 1999. By comparison, gunshot wounds kill four or five times as many children each year.
Er...let's pause on that mind-numbing statistic for a moment as well, shall we? How sick of a culture is this in America when your benchmark for child-related deaths is "Hey, preschoolers OD'ing on heroin sucks, but at least it ain't like the number of toddlers coming in with gunshot wounds."
But at hospitals like Primary Children’s in Utah, drug overdoses now outstrip gun injuries among young people.
“There are no pill parties happening in preschools,” said Dr. Jennifer Plumb, the emergency doctor who recently treated four opioid-sick toddlers in a night. “These kids aren’t making a choice because they are trying to get high on a substance. It’s that the pills are everywhere.”
Unlike infants born with addiction, these children are coming across heroin and other drugs in the days and years after birth.
The knee-jerk reaction, of course, is to blame the parents/caretakers for allowing the children to stumble upon the opioids or heroin needles and charge them with manslaughter or worse.

But the people who should really be going to prison in this country are the Big Pharma executives and their MD's (i.e. the drug cartels and their pimps) for unleashing this terrifying plague on America. If anything else were killing 60,000 people a year, we'd be at "war" with it and its causes, and locking up people left and right.

Because we chalk up drug addiction and overdosing in individual terms, and blame the person for their own "moral" failings, we lose sight of the true criminals here, in this case the corporate and professional drug dealers and pushers in this country.

You want to stop this opioid/heroin rampage of death in this country? And allow 200+ toddlers and infants to live each year? Send the medical doctors, pharmaceutical reps, Big Pharma CEO's and their employees to the freaking Big House, right alongside the other street pushers and dealers, diddlers and murders. 

Think that's hyperbole? You'd be amazed at how facing a prison sentence concentrates the mind.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

You Are Not An Equifax "Customer"

Equifax's Maddening Unaccountability:

Last week, Americans woke up to news of yet another mass breach of their personal data. The consumer credit reporting agency Equifax revealed that as many as 143 million Americans’ Social Security numbers, dates of birth, names and addresses may have been stolen from its files — just the kind of information that allows for identity theft and other cybercrimes.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of the number of times in recent years that I’ve been informed by a corporation of such a breach. “We regret to inform you ….” I don’t doubt that companies regret these things, but I don’t think they care that much either. To them it means just a few days of bad press and at most a fine that amounts to a minuscule portion of their profits. With penalties like that, why would companies bother to make things better?
Exactly, and you'll note the professor who writes this does not refer to us as Equifax "users" or Equifax "customers" as the mainstream media did in its coverage of this debacle. 

Why? Because we never agreed to "use" their services. I've never once signed a piece of paper agreeing to let these clowns both A. have access to all my personal data, and B. determine whether or not I get a loan. And guess what? Neither did you. 

Worse, not only is their cybersecurity lax and outdated, given all the personal information they store on our credit histories, but the information they have on you (us) is outdated as well. The last time I checked a report from Equifax it had my employer listed as roller skating rink I worked at back in the 1980's...and it's 2017.

But let's forget about the fact that these people, like insurance companies, don't actually provide anything in terms of a product or a service. The worst part of this this story is how upper management, upon discovering the breach, quietly sold stock in the company before announcing said breach to the public. 
Along with news of the breach came reports that three Equifax executives sold $2 million worth of stock shortly after the breach was discovered in July. In their defense, Equifax said that the executives were not aware of the breach — and that the amount was only “a small percentage of their Equifax shares.” It’s almost as if the company is saying: Come on, would we engage in insider trading for a mere $2 million?
Ha ha...apparently they've been hanging with upper management over at Wells Fargo.

Just FYI: insider trading is still considered to be a crime, and these three jerkoffs belong behind bars. 

And please, let's stop "fining" these companies for "mistakes" made. It's not a "mistake" when they compromise your data willingly, maintain false information on you purposely, and then profit from your history based on something you never even agreed to: it's called identity theft, embezzlement, and fraud.  

Think I'm being hyperbolic? Go and gather personal information (Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, loan numbers, etc.) on some random people without their consent, maintain it on your flimsy pc at home, and then when some hacker breaches your computer and steals that information, just refer to the people whose identities you stole as "customers" or "users" of your service, and promise never to do it again. 

Sure, and I'll see you in prison (but we won't see anyone from upper management at Equifax there).

UPDATE: Why Private Credit Agencies Should Be Put Out Of Business:
That’s because we are not the customers of credit reporting companies, but the product. These private institutions hoover up our data, often without our knowledge and consent, and then sell it off to banks, landlords and even prospective employers. The companies rake in some $10 billion in revenue every year. They wield enormous power to ruin our lives — if not through a data breach, then through errors on our credit reports. One in four consumers has an error on his credit report that could affect his scores, yet it can be very difficult to correct the record.
Although they call themselves bureaus, there is nothing governmental about what these private companies do. We let them take on a role that can have outsize consequences. And the free market doesn’t work here, because none of us can refuse to be a part of this system and opt out if we don’t like how we’re being treated. There’s no legal right to ask Equifax to remove your data from its registries or to stop it from getting more in the future.
It really is astonishing. Not only do you NOT give them the right to collect this data, you can't even legally compel them to stop doing it (no matter how inaccurate it is, and no matter how much their data walls are breached and your information stolen). 

So what's the alternative? As usual, the rest of the world is way ahead of the United States.
In at least 40 other countries — including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — credit reporting can be done by a public credit registry. It is usually operated by a central bank that already oversees the financial institutions that feed information into the reports. These reports tend to be more accurate because the operators have a legal right to demand data from banks as well as a mandate to ensure it’s correct and that errors are fixed. Data on late payments and defaults are erased once a consumer has settled up.
These private companies should be shuttered. Period. I may not have (yet) a legal way to compel them to stop collecting my personal data, but I can guarantee you there is no constitutional or legal right that allows them to do so.

Friday, September 1, 2017

More Reports of Looting

Not in Wells Fargo:

Nearly a year after Wells Fargo’s fraudulent account scandal burst into public view, the bank said it had turned up more than a million additional accounts that customers may not have authorized.
The news set off a fresh wave of criticism from those frustrated by the bank’s slow pace in coming clean about its misdeeds.
“Every time we get one of these announcements, the pressure rises,” said Nancy Bush, a banking industry analyst who runs NAB Research. “How many customers, and how many employees within Wells Fargo, are coming to the conclusion, ‘I don’t need to be associated with this’?”
The findings brought the number of potentially unauthorized accounts to 3.5 million — a nearly 70 percent increase over the bank’s initial estimate.
Wells Fargo agreed last September to pay $185 million to settle three government lawsuits over the bank’s creation of sham accounts. Thousands of employees, trying to meet aggressive sales goals, had created accounts in customers’ names without their knowledge. Workers who met the bank’s sales targets received bonuses — and those who did not risked losing their jobs.
Is there no end to their criminal behavior at Wells Fargo? Is there no end to their obfuscation, that they "accidentally discovered" another 1.4 MILLION fraudulent accounts set up to fleece their customers, but you know hey, "at least the underlings were fired and we paid a fine, we promise never to pinch our customers again."
“We are working hard to ensure this never happens again and to build a better bank for the future,” Timothy J. Sloan, Wells Fargo’s chief executive, said in a statement announcing the review’s results. “We apologize to everyone who was harmed.”
No one cares, Tim. Just as members of organized crime don't get to "apologize" for their crimes, pay a fine, promise "never to do it again" and then go home, you and your ilk belong in solitary confinement, along with the rest of upper management (current and past golden parachutes) who ordered what is turning out to be the heist of the century.
One of the bank’s fiercest critics, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, laid into it with a scathing statement: “Unbelievable. Wells Fargo’s massive fraud is even worse than we thought.”
The scandal over the accounts — and the corporate culture that allowed them to go undetected for so long — toppled Wells Fargo’s previous chief executive, John G. Stumpf, and ignited an outcry from customers, lawmakers and regulators that is still roiling the bank. Several investigations by the Justice Department and state attorneys general remain in progress.
A coalition of 33 consumer groups sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to bring Wells Fargo executives back to Capitol Hill — where Mr. Stumpf was roasted last year by unhappy lawmakers, shortly before he stepped down under pressure — to answer new questions about the bank’s abuses. The bank “may have intentionally misled” lawmakers in its previous testimony, they said. Ms. Warren, who is a member of the Senate Banking Committee, also called for the committee to hold a new hearing.
So in addition to fraud, embezzlement, and robbery of its customers, Wells upper management apparently perjured themselves in front of congress earlier in the year. It will be cruel irony, however, if the executives who ordered this massive looting of their customers end up going to prison, not for the robberies and thefts themselves, but for lying to congress.
Wells Fargo has made sweeping changes in the wake of the scandal, including overhauling its executive lineup, replacing key members of its board, revamping its internal controls and risk management, and emphasizing to its bank branch workers that it wants them to focus on customer service, not sales.
Again, no one cares. As I've said time and time and time again on this blog, until these people are faced with criminal charges and imprisonment, as any good member of the mob might be, these kinds of Big Banking heists will never stop.

You know what the difference is between street gangs like Crips/Bloods, organized crime like the Mafia, and Wells Fargo?

Not one damn thing.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Meet The New Boss (Same As The Old Boss)

Trump Administration Moves to Expand Deportation Dragnet to Jails:

The Trump administration is working with like-minded sheriffs from around the country on a plan to channel undocumented immigrants from local jails into federal detention, according to several sheriffs involved in the discussions. If it succeeds, it could vastly expand the dragnet that has already begun to transform immigration enforcement in the United States.
The plan is intended to circumvent court decisions that have thus far limited the role of local law enforcement in immigration. It involves a legal move regarding detainers, which are requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to local sheriffs or police departments to hold people who are suspected of being in the country illegally, even after they have posted bail, finished their jail sentence or otherwise resolved their criminal cases.
A handful of sanctuary cities refuse to honor detainers on ideological grounds, but a larger number of sheriffs who otherwise support the Trump administration have also turned down detainers because courts have found that they violate the Fourth Amendment.
The legal move, in which sheriffs would essentially serve as contractors for ICE, is intended to protect sheriffs from such court battles, which have sometimes resulted in costly payouts. Some legal advocates for immigrants, though, expressed doubt that courts would view it as being different from current practices.
Let's pause for a moment to note a couple of things. First, there is absolutely NOTHING new being proposed here that isn't already being done or has been done during the past eight years under the Obama administration. ICE "holds" have been common, really, going back to the W. Bush administration. 

Second, while some holds are found to violate the 4th amendment, this is only related to the time the person is being held versus the crime for which they have been arrested. In other words, let's say a defendant is arrested for DUI and ICE puts a hold on him. If ICE doesn't come to pick him up before he bonds out on the DUI, the jail can't hold him; that would violate the 4th. But in most cases, they do get them before bail/bond is met and they then disappear into the vast morass of federal detention. Again, nothing new.
Since Mr. Trump was inaugurated, ICE has issued roughly 11,000 detainers a month, a 78 percent increase over the previous year. The agency declined to make data available on the number of detainers that are currently declined by sheriffs and other local departments.
That's because the resistance to Trump's presidency is causing most sheriffs and local departments to balk at these detainers (and not just "Sanctuary City" departments either). And even assuming all 11,000 detainers were being enforced, it would still pale in comparison to the roughly 33,000 immigrants per month being detained and deported during the Obama years (meaning the Trump administration is actually detaining and deporting FEWER immigrants than Obama did...gasp, I know).
Sheriffs are seen as particularly important allies in immigration enforcement. They operate 85 percent of the nation’s jails and have ready access to the most desirable candidates for deportation: undocumented immigrants with criminal records or charges. Immigration arrests that are made in jails are also safer and require fewer resources.
Under the proposed legal tactic, ICE and the sheriff would sign a contract that pays the sheriff’s department a daily fee to hold the immigrant until ICE can take the person into custody. The legal argument is that the arrangement effectively makes the immigrant a detainee of ICE, not the sheriff’s department, and allows the sheriff to hold the person on a noncriminal charge.
Again, not only is this not new, it was pioneered under the Bush administration's "SECURE Communities" program of 2008, and amped up under the Obama administration (Obama briefly changed the name of Secure Communities to Priorities Enforcement Program when he pretended to end it in 2014, but the program never went out of existence). 

The feds began paying local jails and private prison companies between $80-$120 per day, per immigrant, to hold individuals for unspecified amounts of time. Despite the resistance, the per diem payments are manna from heaven for local Sheriff's and jailers since the average cost to hold someone is $30/day. Cashing the Federal check for $120/day means a profit margin of +400%. Good times, indeed.

Critics refer to this as the "Shadow Private Prison Industry" that has been soaking tax payers for over a decade now, and running more than 3 million immigrants through jails and detention facilities on their way to deportation. Essentially, what the Trump administration is doing is trying to catch up with what Obama and Bush did, hitting that magic number of 400,000 deportations every year. And so far, because of Trump's unpopularity and the so-called "resistance" to his presidency among local law enforcement, they are failing miserably (well, if you can call not rounding up and deporting a half million people a year "failure").

I get the politics of this. Trump ran on "building a wall," and implying that we weren't doing anything about illegal immigration, and he'd the be "deporter in chief," and Mexican rapists, and so forth. It was one of his signature issues, even though there was zero factual evidence behind it (Obama banishing 400,000 immigrants a year is a pretty tough nut to crack, they are finding out). So they have to appear to be "winning" on this issue.

But the reality, again, is that nothing has changed, these policies are mere continuations of what Obama and Bush did, and in fact Trump is detaining and deporting fewer immigrants than previous administrations. 

"Fake news" or whatever, facts are stubborn things.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dumb & Dumber III: The Settlement

Settlement Reached in Torture Case:

A settlement in the lawsuit against two psychologists who helped devise the Central Intelligence Agency’s brutal interrogation program was announced on Thursday, bringing to an end an unusual effort to hold individuals accountable for the techniques the agency adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Lawyers for the three plaintiffs in the suit, filed in 2015 in Federal District Court in Spokane, Wash., said the former prisoners were tortured at secret C.I.A. detention sites. The settlement with the psychologists, Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell, came after a judge last month urged resolving the case before it headed to a jury trial in early September.
The plaintiffs — two former detainees and the family of a third who died in custody — had sought unspecified punitive and compensatory damages. The terms of the settlement are confidential, and it is unclear whether a financial payout was involved. The parties agreed to a joint statement in which the psychologists said that they had advised the C.I.A. and that the plaintiffs had suffered abuses, but that they were not responsible.
Speaking by phone after the settlement was announced, Dr. Mitchell said he found it “regrettable that one guy died and those other guys were treated badly,” adding: “We had nothing to do with it. We’re not responsible for it. They say we are, but in my view they’re wrong.”
And yet you settled anyway, doc. Just like accepting a pardon indicates a level of culpability and guilt, settling a law suit implies a degree of responsibility on behalf of the defendants. So I guess that's as close as we'll ever come to seeing Dumb and Dumber get their just deserts in this entire sordid manner.

I will say this, however: the articles have referred to them both as "Dr's" Jessen and Mitchell, implying they are still practicing psychologists, but according to this statement, the APA stripped them of their designation and ability to ever practice psychotherapy again several years ago. As uneasy and incredulous as this settlement is, at least they'll never set foot near a patient again. 

Now if their degree-granting institutions (mail order though they probably were) would strip them of their graduate degrees, we can take out the "doctor" salutation completely and refer to these clowns for what and who they are: dumb and dumber.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Thin Gray Line

46 Georgia Correctional Officers Sentenced for Drug Smuggling:

One by one, dozens of Georgia correctional officers have gone from being guards to being the guarded.
The last of 46 one-time prison guards will be sentenced this week for using their uniforms and badges to smuggle what they believed to be cocaine and methamphetamine for the inmate Ghost Face gang. They are now prisoners themselves, much like the men and women they were once paid to watch.
The operation — much of it captured on video — is one of the biggest corruption scandals ever to hit Georgia’s prison system.
Once federal and prison agents started looking, “one institution would lead to another institution,” Erskine said. Federal authorities launched an elaborate sting operation in which an informant offered prison guards cash for moving what they believed to be drugs. Many took them up on it.
Only two of the officers avoided prison, getting probation instead. The rest have already received sentences ranging from 18 months to 9 1/2 years in a federal penitentiary. The last of the 46 officers is to be sentenced Thursday.
Prosecutors said there is no doubt the guards knew what they were getting into.
“It’s troubling that so many officers from state correctional institutions across Georgia were willing to sell their badges for personal payoffs from purported drug dealers,” U.S. Attorney John Horn said when the arrests were announced.
Horn said the officers “betrayed the institutions they were sworn to protect.”
They certainly did, but their motivations (i.e. mens rea) are dismissed rather blithely in the article, and by federal authorities.
Georgia’s correctional officers make between $27,936 and $41,296 a year. This year, they got a significant pay bump. But those supporting a family on a correction officers’ salary may still make so little money that they qualify or Medicaid or fall below the federal poverty level.
And while there was no single reason offered for what led the officers to agree to team up with a prison gang, money was at the root of the problem.
[However], authorities had little sympathy for those who became caught up in the arrests.
“It’s greed that put them into this. They knew they were breaking the law. Period,” said Clay Nix, who is head of the criminal division of the Georgia Department of Corrections’ internal affairs unit. “This woke everybody up to the problem we had.”
I'm not sure "greed" is an explanatory factor when we're talking about scores of people making (median) $35,000 a year who have families to feed, some of whom are on medicaid, and all of whom work 40 hours a week guarding, in some cases, the most dangerous convicts around. Unlike law enforcement officers, where potentially anyone you come in contact with could do you harm, in corrections everyone you come in contact with could do you harm. Shouldn't that warrant more than $35,000 a year?

Low pay doesn't excuse breaking the law (although the way this "sting" went down, issues of entrapment are certainly in play on appeal), but to dismiss the temptation to make a little extra scratch to help pay the rent or buy food as simple "greed" is shortsighted.

And incidentally, even though this particular operation was about enticing them to move drugs into the prisons, it's not just narcotics that inmates want.
So far this year, DOC has seized almost 5,000 cell phones from inmates. Just since July 1, corrections officials have found 750 wireless devices in prisons.
The criminal charges and shaming photographs of officers who helped inmates posted just inside prison entrances have done little to slow the problem.
It’s the money, officials say.
Then here's a simple solution: pay them more.

The black market in prison has everything...drugs, cell phones, cigarettes, alcohol, sex, you name it. If it can be brought in for black market purposes, it will be. And while it's mostly about money, the issue of coercion is never mentioned in the article.

Coercion is rather easy to apply in that world. Prison gangs have long tentacles in the community, and it doesn't take too many degrees of separation for an inmate to get the address and family information of these CO's and use it to blackmail them into contraband running. "That's a pretty wife and kids you got there, Officer Smith, it'd be a shame if something happened to them while you were here at work." Etc. That kind of shit goes on in prison every single day, which makes it rather surprising the reporter never explored said angle.

Regardless, it's been well documented in the penological literature over the years that systems who pay their correctional officers more have lower levels of corruption (e.g., and ironically, the federal system). Period. You want to crack down on corruption in corrections? Pay them more.

Sure you'll always have a few bad apples who will do these things, but you certainly won't have scores of officers being tempted by corruption if we pay them the worth of the work they are being asked to provide.

Lock 'em up and throw away the key comes with a pricetag. And frankly, I'd rather pay these officers more money, than spend it on running sting operations and ultimately incarcerating them, which is a helluva lot more expensive in the end.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wells Fargo: Organized Crime (And "Baby Seal Clubbers")

While the rest of the nation was (rightly) transfixed on the terrorist attacks in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend, this little gem spilled out regarding my favorite group of mobsters, er, big bankers, Wells Fargo:

Wells Fargo has already admitted to charging people for overdrawing bank accounts that they didn't have and for car insurance that they didn't need. Now, it's being accused of ripping off vulnerable mom-and-pop businesses.

For several years, Wells Fargo's merchant services division overcharged small businesses for processing credit card transactions, a lawsuit alleges. Business owners who tried to leave Wells Fargo were charged "massive early termination fees," according to the lawsuit filed in US District Court. 

The "overbilling scheme" targeted less sophisticated businesses by using "deceptive language" in a 63-page contract designed to confuse them, the lawsuit filed on August 4 claims. The lawyer filed court documents to seek class action status.

The latest controversy centers on Wells Fargo Merchant Services, a joint venture that is 60% owned by Wells Fargo and 40% controlled by First Data (FDC).

A former employee of the Wells Fargo (WFC) business told CNNMoney that he was instructed to target these small businesses.

"We used to be told to go out and club the baby seals: mom-pop-shops that had no legal support," he said in an interview. The former Wells Fargo employee spoke on the condition of anonymity, but CNNMoney verified that he worked for Wells Fargo Merchant Services.

The former Wells Fargo employee told CNNMoney that when he worked there, from 2011 to 2013, it was nearly impossible for business owners to leave the merchant agreement. "God would have had a hard time" escaping the contract, he said. "It really was like a shady used car deal."
It was exactly like a shady used car deal, just like most of Wells Fargo's business practices going back the past 15 years.

Just before vacation, my last post was on yet another revelation regarding Wells Fargo's criminal actions (and that post has all kinds of links regarding WF's criminal actions I and others have been documenting since the Great Recession meltdown nearly a decade ago). It's like you can't even go away for a few days to relax and boom, another WF scheme or heist comes to light.
The overbilling allegations are the latest black eye for Wells Fargo. Nearly a year ago, the bank admitted it created some two million potentially unauthorized bank and credit card accounts. Wells Fargo recently said an ongoing review of earlier accounts is likely to reveal many more fake accounts.

Wells Fargo has taken countless steps to try to fix its broken culture, including reforming the unrealistic sales goals that were at the heart of the scandal. The bank has also replaced its senior management and conducted an exhaustive internal investigation that uncovered red flags going back to 2004.
Sure, "replaced its senior management," but no one ever went to prison for these crimes, and despite having shelled out billions in "fines" to former investors and the government itself, not one mid-level or senior executive ever did time in the joint for what has amounted to massive rip off and extortion of its customer base for nearly 15 years.

BTW, if you "club baby seals" you can expect to do 5-10 years of hard time for animal cruelty and various violations of the Endangered Species Act. We guarantee prison time for crimes like this to DETER people from breaking the law.

But club mom and pop small business owners with extortion (er, "fees" to do business)? Shake down your auto loan customers? Steal people's homes out from under them via foreclosure fraud? Just pay your fine and carry on. 

Again, this past weekend brought into broad daylight the vileness, bigotry, and hatred of the "alt-right" and its attendant Nazis, Confederates and other disciples of losing hateful causes. And we are rightly appalled.

But honestly, when you get right down to it, do you know what the difference is between the Nazi white supremacists in Charlottesville this weekend, and the upper management at Wells Fargo for the past 15 years?

There is no difference. Criminals are criminals, and sociopaths are sociopaths. And no amount of fancy clothes, or suits, or sham pedigree credentials can distinguish between the two.