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Despite a longstanding criticism of the Koch Brothers for their largely successful attempts to thwart policies to deal with climate change, progressive magazine Mother Jones validated a publication closely tied to the brothers and their business interests - the Washington Free Beacon.

In an article written by Nick Baumann labeling the outlet "kind of good," Mother Jones informs readers that the Free Beacon is a journalistically credible ideologically driven news outlet that was formed to offer opposition to liberal partisan outlets such as Talking Points Memo and Think Progress.

The origin story of the Free Beacon told in the article is an interesting though thoroughly incomplete one. Left out of the story is that the Free Beacon was setup as the communications arm of the Center for American Freedom (CAF) not solely to tell conservative stories but serve clients of Orion Strategies where Free Beacon publisher Michael Goldfarb was a partner at the time.

Goldfarb, quoted largely uncritically in the piece, has been a professional lobbyist for some years and has served foreign governments as well as major corporations. According to Politico, Charles and David Koch are among the list of clients of Orion Strategies and though a spokesman for the Kochs tried to distance the the fossil fuel oligarchs from CAF, the connections would only deepen with the passage of time.

One of the most effective Koch Brothers-backed ventures is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Until recently the group was both stunningly influential and exceedingly well hidden. In some cases ALEC would offer "model legislation" on behalf of businesses such as Koch Industries that would be copied word for word and passed into law in state legislatures around the country.

But once exposed to the sunshine ALEC and the affiliated companies started suffering a backlash particularly when it became clear that the Koch-backed organization was trying to undermine efforts to combat climate change.

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Last month the seemingly unending and ever-expanding political vortex known as Bridgegate sucked in yet another major figure in New Jersey politics and government, James P. "Jamie" Fox.

A story in the Bergen Record revealed that a subpoena from federal investigators to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey demanded information related to former Port Authority Chairman David Samson's travel records and any communication he had with current Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox, previously the registered lobbyist for United Airlines.

United Airlines accounts for 70% of the flights at Newark Liberty International Airport which relies on transportation systems managed in part by the Port Authority. During Fox's tenure as a lobbyist for United the airline setup special flights for Samson nick-named “the chairman’s flight” which provided Samson privileged flights to South Carolina where he has a home.

While Samson was receiving special favors from United Airlines the Port Authority was reviewing a multi-billion dollar proposal to extend PATH service from Newark Penn Station to the airport. The proposal was ultimately adopted and will provide considerable benefit to the airport and its largest carrier, United Airlines.

Documents received under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) show that Jamie Fox filed as a registered lobbyist for United Continental Holdings Inc. and served as the firm's lobbyist for a period of years. Fox is a long time political insider in New Jersey - this is his second time as Transportation Commissioner and he previously served as the Chief of Staff to Governor Jim McGreevey. In between his government posts he has been extremely active in lobbying with records going back over a decade.

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Cross-posted on Blue Jersey

As the Christie for President 2016 bus hits heavy traffic some of us longtime Christie observers are finding glory in the evening. All the old critiques - shady travel arrangements, irresponsible public statements, possible pay to play violations - once sequestered in dirty Jersey newsrooms and blogs - have escaped their local confinement into the national consciousness. Chris Christie has grown and matured to become the nation's fake reformer.

So while we can commiserate with our fellow Americans getting a first long look past the image to the real Chris Christie and being reasonably horrified, we also, due to knowing what we know, have the benefit of appreciating the finer points of the insanity of a Christie presidential run.

One tidbit that only a close observer of the 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial race is likely to appreciate is Team Christie's current push back against Jeb Bush detailed in yesterday's Washington Post. The Post story comes amid a slew of bad news for Governor Downgrade as Republican donors and supporters slowly back away and recognize they need to find a better candidate to have any hope in 2016.

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It has been awhile since America did something really stupid abroad, too long for some. From the gang of Very Serious People who brought you the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq comes Quagmire 2: Ukrainian Boogaloo. Complete with Tom Friedman groupthink and the neoconservative chorus, this war will not only cost lots of money and lives it has the added benefit of risking a nuclear showdown with Russia.

But wait, there's more...

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Though we live in the age of austerity, at least concerning the 99%, the Department of Defense gets around $600 billion a year. More funds than any other military in the world. More funds than the next ten highest spending countries combined.

So what happens to all that money once it enters the Pentagon? No one can really say.

For the last 20 or so years the Department of Defense has not been able to properly audit its finances leaving many in Congress and elsewhere unconvinced that it ever will. Trillions are already estimated to have been wasted.

In a recent renewed push to get some kind of sense of the ocean of taxpayer funds sloshing around the DoD abyss Congress has demanded that DoD be ready for an audit in 2017. The Pentagon's finance chief is already trying to manage expectations.

“Meeting this goal has been more of a challenge than I expected,” said Robert Hale, undersecretary and chief financial officer for the DOD. “We’ve made more progress in the last few years than any other period.”...

“We understand, after 20 years of unauditable financial statements, Congress is skeptical” about DOD progress, Hale said.

Not all of this opacity is due to the flexibility needed to fund war operations. Much of the failure to present books that could be audited is due to waste, fraud and abuse. The GAO lists the Pentagon as high risk for fraud and waste as DoD is currently spending approximately $2 billion per day.

The hypocrisy in DC is pretty astounding. No one, particularly Tea Party Republicans, can shut up about government waste and fraud, yet they continue to give $600 billion a year to a department that is so fiscally mismanaged it has not been able to perform a substantive audit for a generation.

Photo by David B. Gleason under Creative Commons license

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On Tuesday night Ras Baraka won Newark's mayoral election all but formally ending the Cory Booker era. With the power of grass roots and union support Baraka overcame Booker's chosen establishment backed successor Shavar Jeffries. Though Booker has already gone on to continue hyping himself in the US Senate, his legacy in Newark has yet to be cleansed.

One of the signature achievements of Mayor Booker was a press coup where he announced on Oprah that Facebook Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg was giving Booker and his cronies $100 million to help Newark's struggling school children. The donation came around the release of The Social Network, a film critical of Zuckerberg and was widely seen as a transparent attempt to bolster Zuckerberg's public image.

Ultimately the ACLU of New Jersey would win a lawsuit against Booker to force emails between Facebook and Booker hacks to become public. In the emails Facebook COO Sherly Sandberg warned Team Booker that the people of Newark were not being looped in to the process and that a lack of "building community support" was one of her concerns. She was right to worry.

As has now been reported,a good deal of the $100 million has been siphoned off by Booker loyalists. In fact, between 2010 and 2012 over $20 million of Facebook's gift and matching funds was sucked into Team Booker's corrupt vortex. Instead of going to help the children of Newark the money went to the juiced in hacks and crass business interests that have been trying to bulldoze public education throughout America.

During the next two years, more than twenty million dollars of Zuckerberg’s gift and matching donations went to consulting firms with various specialties: public relations, human resources, communications, data analysis, teacher evaluation. Many of the consultants had worked for Joel Klein, Teach for America, and other programs in the tight-knit reform movement, and a number of them had contracts with several school systems financed by Race to the Top grants and venture philanthropy. The going rate for individual consultants in Newark was a thousand dollars a day. Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County, observed, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”
Not surprisingly, there has not been any discernible improvement in Newark's education system due to Facebook's $100 million gift. Actually, there has not been much improvement period during the Booker era. Some charter schools even diminished their reputations when they were caught cheating on tests.

So looks like Mark Zuckerberg and friends got suckered by skilled political operators and their related business partners. Or maybe that was always the deal - in exchange for some good press and favors to be repaid later Zuckerberg made a stealthy political contribution to further Cory Booker's political career.

Having influence with a mayor isn't cool. You know what's cool? Having a US Senator in your pocket.

Photo by indeedous under Creative Commons license.

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When it comes to politics Americans don't seem to agree on much these days. But one thing we do all recognize is that the presidency of George W. Bush was a disaster. So disastrous even Republicans have been keeping their distance. For instance, neither Republican presidential candidate in 2008 or 2012 wanted to be publicly associated with Bush nor claimed to be in the Bush tradition because they understood how deeply unpopular Bush was among every swath of the electorate.

Though it was a presidency riddled with corruption and incompetence the most stupid and sinister of the Bush policies was the unprovoked invasion of Iraq in 2003. An aggressive war that left thousands of Americans dead, tens of thousands seriously wounded, and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians obliterated. All to neutralize weapons of mass destruction that were not there and known not to be there.

Needless to say, George W. Bush is lucky he was once president of the most powerful nation on earth or he might find himself on trial for war crimes.

So while Americans of all parties try to forget Bush and the Bush presidency like a painful traumatic memory, Jake Tapper over at CNN has decided to try and rehabilitate Bush's image by putting together a piece celebrating Bush's compassion for people he sent into an abysmally stupid war.

The piece, called Biking With Bush, tries to show the softer side of Bush, a man of good will and charity. At one point Tapper actually references General Eisenhower sending troops into battle to get a human moment "beyond the talking points." Bush, not surprisingly, used the opportunity to bang home his message of duty and service, associating his presidency with the sacrifice of soldiers who "don't want to be felt sorry for."

Yes, the butcher of Baghdad would like you to know he is a man of true compassion and a great advocate for veterans crippled by his wars of aggression. That's some hard hitting journalism Jake. What would we do without you?

It is no surprise that Bush agreed to this complimentary interview, what still makes no sense is why was CNN interested? Not only does no one want to hear about Bush anymore, but the piece itself is worthless. Other than a highlight real at the George W. Bush Presidential Library the story has no appropriate forum. It sheds no light on Bush the man nor the effect of his policies. It has zero news value. The only effect the piece can even aspire to have is to try and rub some of the blood off of Bush's hands, not a worthy pursuit for a news organization.

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Tue Apr 22, 2014 at 09:45 AM PDT

The Neocon Money Machine

by DSWright

In 2003 writer Eli Lake declared that the neoconservatives were the "most influential wing in the current administration," and that those empowered neoconservatives were chiefly responsible for the expedited time table to launch what would become the disastrous Iraq War. A war that would, among other things, bring Barack Obama to power as the American public near-universally rejected not just the blunders and false promises that sold the war, but the ideology underpinning it. Americans no longer saw trying to bring "democracy" by the barrel of a gun to every corner of the world as a good idea, let alone a duty worth killing and dying for.

Despite the public rejection of neoconservatism, the ideology continues to permeate throughout Washington policy circles. The results of national elections and the blood of thousands of American soldiers, sailors, and marines can not wipe away the sepsis. But why?

One answer could be those that fund the "movement." Eccentric billionaires and foreign governments are willing to fund neoconservative institutions and individuals regardless of how poorly regarded the ideology has become among the American people.

Take for example Michael Goldfarb, founder of The Washington Free Beacon. Goldfarb was paid by the governments of Georgia and Taiwan to lobby for their interests as a partner at Orion Strategies. Part of that meant lobbying for maintaining and increasing US power projection in Eurasia and East Asia.

As a lobbyist for foreign governments Goldfarb was forced to disclose some of his politicking on behalf of those foreign governments with American journalists. The press contact lists for story pitches from Goldfarb could act as a roll call of neoconservative journalists in Washington, some of whom ended up working at the Free Beacon. The mixture of foreign money and domestic journalism is an odd brew, though from all accounts legal.

Then there are the neoconservative think tanks that, despite public disgust with neoconservative ideas, continue to be well funded. The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) is a good case in point. Even after the Iraq War catastrophe FDD has been amply funded by the rich and unhinged.

According to tax information uncovered by reporter Eli Clifton, FDD has received millions from right wing billionaires Paul Singer and Sheldon Adelson. Singer was a prominent Bush donor and ally while Adelson is perhaps most known for spending over one hundred million dollars to try and defeat Barack Obama in 2012, though he may be most noteworthy for claiming last year that the US government should "drop an atomic bomb on Iran."

Adelson then imagined what might happen if an American official were to call up an Iranian official, say €œwatch this, and subsequently drop a nuclear bomb in the middle of the Iranian desert.

"Then you say, €˜See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all, and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes€™," Adelson said.

Other donors, also revealed by Clifton, show that wealthy ideologues are FDD's true constituency.

So with a group of deranged billionaires and foreign governments paying the bills it seems the neoconservatives in D C can continue to promote wars of aggression no matter how unpopular US military involvement in places like Syria, Iran, or Ukraine are with the American people.

The neocons don't need popular support - they probably know after Iraq they may never have it again - they just need a foothold in the halls of power to lobby and maybe some nice write ups from a mainstream media willing to ignore who is funding their agenda and why.

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Let us run a thought experiment to clarify a position that Mr. Linker espouses that, appears to me, to justify discrimination against the LGBT community

Relatively recently a new group of immigrants have come to North America and settled in the United States. These people, known as the Inbonis, have lived for thousands of years in the Amazon jungle never interacting with the outside world. They have a well established religion that dates back centuries and is encapsulated in the Sacred Text - a book that lays out the laws brought to them through revelation to legendary Inbonis figures by their all powerful monotheistic deity which roughly translates into English as "God."

The Inbonis are a pleasant and generally reasonable people. They have many similar prohibitions against murder, rape, theft and fraud in their culture that other cultures do. They believe in fair dealing, treating others with respect, and only using violence as a last resort.

They seek to live by their Sacred Text as best they can and consider perfection and beauty to be achieved when fully embracing the rules and principles detailed in the Sacred Text which primarily focus on being compassionate and performing good works while alive. After death the Inbonis believe they live on after being judged by God for their faith and conduct while alive. If they are judged to have lived a good life, as enumerated by the laws in the Sacred Text, their souls may live on in eternity with God and their loved ones in paradise.

But the Inbonis also have one somewhat unique prohibition - it is forbidden to be left handed.

Being left handed is explicitly banned in the Sacred Text. Examples: "For if one wants to be a child of God, they must praise him with their right hand high." "To sit by God's right hand in his great house in the after-life his people shall favor their right hands for labor and worship." "No child of light shall favor the left hand, that is the way to darkness." "And if a man favor his left hand, as with his right, he shall have committed abomination: he shall surely be put to death." There is little doubt left handedness is forbidden.

It is said that at one time someone showing favor for their left hand, even once, would receive a death sentence among the Inbonis. But relatively recently in their long history a majority of Inbonis, including those in their clergy, emphasize other parts of the Sacred Text that highlight God's instructions to forgive those who have made mistakes and committed wrongs.

Therefore, the common cultural practice among the Inbonis today is to merely banish those who refuse to renounce the practice of favoring their left hands. The Inbonis clergy reasonably point out that it is possible for those who favor their left hand to live and work favoring their right hand even though it may not be their natural preference. Inbonis caught favoring their left hands are given numerous opportunities to be forgiven if they atone for their immoral behavior and promise to become right handed.

After the Inbonis immigrated to North America and decided to settle in the United States they promised to follow all laws and be good American citizens. By all accounts they have been - serving their communities with charitable acts, protecting freedom in the armed forces, and finding no difficulty in following most laws and customs in America - except for one, the open and horrifying toleration for left handedness.

The sight of the left handed living and working in and around their communities has caused disgust and distress among the Inbonis. The open display of left handedness on television and the internet creates havoc in Inbonis homes as faithful Inbonis parents agonize over preventing their children from seeing images of the left handed. The seemingly endless assault on their religion and culture has led the Inbonis to flee to more insulated communities where the mainstream American culture of pervasive toleration of left handedness can not poison their children's minds and jeopardize their eternal souls.

The Inbonis community worry that if Inbonis children are exposed to a culture that says being left handed is acceptable more Inbonis may become left handed and lose their opportunity to live within the Ibonis community as well as join God in the afterlife. Not only might families break apart, but otherwise good men and women will lose their chance to pass judgement by God and live forever in paradise.

The stakes could not be higher.

So today the Inbonis are going on the offensive to save their faith, community and families. They are now the majority of the population in the state of Wyoming. The majority of legislators and the governor of the state have been elected running on Inbonis values especially the threat of left handedness. The "Raise Your Right Hand" slate swept the polls last election cycle and has now passed a law to restrict the left handed.

The new law will allow any individual, group, or private business to refuse to serve the left handed if “it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Private employers can continue to fire left handed employees on account of their being left handed. Stores may deny the left handed goods and services because they are left handed. Hotels can eject the left handed or deny them entry in the first place. Businesses that provide public accommodations—movie theaters, restaurants—can turn away the left handed at the door. And if someone who is left handed sues for discrimination, they won’t just lose; they’ll be forced to pay their opponent’s attorney’s fees.
While some in the Inbonis community believe the law goes too far many do agree on general principle that the Inbonis have the right to protect their "religious liberty" and not be forced to accept the left handed into their community against their will.

After all, the Sacred Text could not be clearer that being left handed is wrong and not to be tolerated by all faithful Inbonis people. This is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years and is integral to the culture and history of the Inbonis people.

So, one might ask Mr. Linker, why shouldn't the Inbonis be able to discriminate against the left handed?

---------------
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Editorials from two of the most well established newspapers in the world - the Guardian and the New York Times - have now called for clemency for Edward Snowden and recognized him as a legitimate whistleblower. The case for the current indictment by the US Department of Justice that labels Snowden a spy and a thief has lost all moral credibility. The DOJ is now seen in America and around the world as out of step with our common values.

Correspondingly, it should be said, that while many people believe the NSA has gone too far and are uncomfortable with the ever expanding Surveillance State - including the author of the Patriot Act- they also fear that granting clemency to Edward Snowden would set a dangerous precedent and encourage future American intelligence operatives that found fault with the level of legal protections of other programs to disobey their orders to keep state secrets secret. They fear granting clemency would promote permissiveness and would subsequently (and genuinely) damage US national security.

Yet there is a solution to both problems.

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Here we go again.

According to a piece in Politico Magazine former Secretary of State and likely 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had some harsh words related to progressives in her $400,000 speeches for Goldman Sachs and friends. Clinton decided to use her speaking opportunity before the super rich to attack those criticizing Wall Street and its numerous criminal practices.

Ordinarily these masters of the universe might have groaned at the idea of a politician taking the microphone...

But Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring, according to accounts offered by several attendees, declaring that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish.

Foolish, as in you don't get paid $400,000 for saying it? Why criticize Goldman Sachs when you can get paid $400,000 for talking to them the way they like?
Striking a soothing note on the global financial crisis, she told the audience, in effect: We all got into this mess together, and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it. What the bankers heard her to say was just what they would hope for from a prospective presidential candidate: Beating up the finance industry isn’t going to improve the economy—it needs to stop.
It seems Wall Street has found its candidate, not surprising given that Bill Clinton did more to deregulate Wall Street than Ronald Reagan. It was President Clinton after all who pushed for breaking Glass-Steagall and fired his own CFTC Commissioner, Brooksley Born, to help ensure derivatives were not regulated. The 2008 financial crisis could appropriately be called the Clinton Crash.

Not surprisingly Clinton's point man on deregulating Wall Street was a former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Robert Rubin.

And now Hillary is signaling a return to the good old days for Wall Street after taking $400,000 of their money. Can we afford a second Clinton Crash?

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Mon Dec 09, 2013 at 11:19 AM PST

Chris Christie’s Lobbying Records

by DSWright

Originally posted on Firedoglake.

Documents obtained by Firedoglake under New Jersey's Open Public Records Act (OPRA) detail New Jersey Governor and popular contender for the Republican Party's 2016 Presidential nomination Chris Christie's career as a registered lobbyist.

In February 1999 Christie joined his longtime friend and still close political advisor Bill Palatucci as a registered lobbyist in the state of New Jersey. Christie filed reports with New Jersey's Election Law Enforcement Commission as a legislative agent through 1999 into 2001 when he sent a notice of termination in September of 2001 thereby removing his status as a registered legislative agent. Palatucci would remain a registered lobbyist after that time.

Christie and Palatucci were the registered legislative agents for various business and political interests that would become major players and supporters when Christie became governor. Some of their clients would become fixtures in the headlines associated with corruption, others key allies in promoting Governor Christie's legislative agenda.

The Bernie Madoff Connection

According to the book Double Down one of the reasons Mitt Romney and team were hesitant to take further action to recruit Chris Christie as their nominee for Vice President of the United States were unsettling facts concerning Christie's lobbying career in relation to infamous convicted ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff.

Disclosed in the lobbying records is proof that in the year 2000 Christie did work as a legislative agent for the Securities Industry Association of which Madoff was a member, ultimately serving as a director and two-term board member. The level of Madoff's personal involvement in Christie and Palatucci's work on his association's behalf is not known. Any communication between Christie and Madoff is not subject to OPRA requests.

What is known is that Palatucci and Christie worked in opposition to New Jersey Assembly Bill 1489 which sought to amend the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act "to include securities in the definition of covered merchandise under the act." Including securities in the Consumer Fraud Act may have made it more difficult for financiers like Bernard Madoff to commit securities fraud.

Christie and Palatucci and all those opposing the bill were successful and efforts to include financial securities in the Consumer Fraud Act failed with the defeat of A.1489.

(more after the jump)

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