* OBAMA TO GRANT BANKS ROBOSIGNING IMMUNITY IN SHOWDOWN WITH BREAKAWAY AGs
By Gustav Wynn, OpEdNews.com
Without considering the guilt or innocence of the five major banks involved, the Obama Administration is poised to let Wall Street off the hook for foreclosures where as many as one million borrowers were “harmed” by robo-signing practices.
In a three-author article, the Wall Street Journal was abuzz concerning the impending settlement which will grant immunity for innumerable counts of robo-signing violations in exchange for loan “haircuts”. Quoting HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, the Journal glowingly describes the deal as the largest principal reduction of the crisis, promising a million borrowers a share of some $19 billion in relief on their loans:
“As part of the proposed settlement, Mr. Donovan said, a “number of families” who were harmed by foreclosure-processing mistakes would be directly compensated by banks.”
* U.S. AG ERIC HOLDER, DOJ HEAD LANNY BREUER LINKED TO BANKS ACCUSED OF FORECLOSURES
By Scot J. Paltrow, OpEdNews.com
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, were partners for years at a Washington law firm that represented a Who’s Who of big banks and other companies at the center of alleged foreclosure fraud, a Reuters inquiry shows.
The firm, Covington & Burling, is one of Washington’s biggest white shoe law firms. Law professors and other federal ethics experts said that federal conflict of interest rules required Holder and Breuer to recuse themselves from any Justice Department decisions relating to law firm clients they personally had done work for.
Both the Justice Department and Covington declined to say if either official had personally worked on matters for the big mortgage industry clients. Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said Holder and Breuer had complied fully with conflict of interest regulations, but she declined to say if they had recused themselves from any matters related to the former clients.
Reuters reported in December that under Holder and Breuer, the Justice Department hasn’t brought any criminal cases against big banks or other companies involved in mortgage servicing, even though copious evidence has surfaced of apparent criminal violations in foreclosure cases. […]
* U.N. ASKED TO PROBE U.S. EFFORT TO SQUELCH SPAIN TORTURE PROBE
By Rachel Roubein, McClatchy Newspapers
Two legal rights groups on Thursday asked the United Nations to investigate allegations that Spanish and U.S. officials collaborated to quash criminal probes into whether the Bush administration authorized illegal killings and torture of terrorism suspects.
The request, made to the U.N.’s special rapporteur for judicial independence, accused the United States of interfering with Spain’s justice system in three different criminal cases. The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights asked that the U.N. demand that both governments refrain from meddling in court cases.
“When arguably the leading human rights country in the world is engaged in torture and then gives impunity to those torturers, it sends a pretty bad message,” said Michael Ratner, the Center for Constitutional Rights’ president emeritus. […]
* TWO LESSONS FROM THE MEGAUPLOAD SEIZURE
By Glenn Greenwald, Salon
Two events this week produced some serious cognitive dissonance. First, Congressional leaders sheepishly announced that they were withdrawing (at least for the time being) two bills heavily backed by the entertainment industry — the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House – in the wake of vocal online citizen protests (and, more significantly, coordinated opposition from the powerful Silicon Valley industry). Critics insisted that these bills were dangerous because they empowered the U.S. Government, based on mere accusations of piracy and copyright infringement, to shut down websites without any real due process. But just as the celebrations began over the saving of Internet Freedom, something else happened: the U.S. Justice Department not only indicted the owners of one of the world’s largest websites, the file-sharing site Megaupload, but also seized and shut down that site, and also seized or froze millions of dollars of its assets — all based on the unproved accusations, set forth in an indictment, that the site deliberately aided copyright infringement.
In other words, many SOPA opponents were confused and even shocked when they learned that the very power they feared the most in that bill — the power of the U.S. Government to seize and shut down websites based solely on accusations, with no trial — is a power the U.S. Government already possesses and, obviously, is willing and able to exercise even against the world’s largest sites (they have this power thanks to the the 2008 PRO-IP Act pushed by the same industry servants in Congress behind SOPA as well as by forfeiture laws used to seize the property of accused-but-not-convicted drug dealers). This all reminded me quite a bit of the shock and outrage that arose last month over the fact that Barack Obama signed into law a bill (the NDAA) vesting him with the power to militarily detain people without charges, even though, as I pointed out the very first time I wrote about that bill, indefinite detention is already a power the U.S. Government under both Bush and Obama has seized and routinely and aggressively exercises.
I’m not minimizing the importance of either fight: it’s true that SOPA (like the NDAA) would codify these radical powers further and even expand them beyond what the U.S. Government already wields (regarding SOPA’s unique provisions, see Julian Sanchez’s typically thorough analysis). But the defining power that had everyone so up in arms about SOPA — shutting down websites with no trial — is one that already exists in quite a robust form, as any thwarted visitors to Megaupload will discover. There are two points worth making about all of this: […]
* JULIAN ASSANGE: THE ROLLING STONE INTERVIEW
By Michael Hastings, Rolling Stone
It’s a few days before Christmas, and Julian Assange has just finished moving to a new hide-out deep in the English countryside. The two-bedroom house, on loan from a WikiLeaks supporter, is comfortable enough, with a big stone fireplace and a porch out back, but it’s not as grand as the country estate where he spent the past 363 days under house arrest, waiting for a British court to decide whether he will be extradited to Sweden to face allegations that he sexually molested two women he was briefly involved with in August 2010.
Assange sits on a tattered couch, wearing a wool sweater, dark pants and an electronic manacle around his right ankle, visible only when he crosses his legs. At 40, the WikiLeaks founder comes across more like an embattled rebel commander than a hacker or journalist. He’s become better at handling the media – more willing to answer questions than he used to be, less likely to storm off during interviews – but the protracted legal battle has left him isolated, broke and vulnerable. Assange recently spoke to someone he calls a Western “intelligence source,” and he asked the official about his fate. Will he ever be a free man again, allowed to return to his native Australia, to come and go as he pleases? “He told me I was fucked,” Assange says.
“Are you fucked?” I ask. […]
* THE PRICE OF APPLE
By James Kwak, Baseline Scenario
Last week, This American Life ran a story about the Chinese factories that produce Apple products (and a lot of the other electronic devices that fill our lives). It featured Mike Daisey, a writer and performer who traveled to Shenzhen, China, to visit the enormous factories (more than 400,000 people work at Foxconn’s, according to the story*) where electronic products are churned out using huge amounts of manual labor.
I’m sure that most of us already realized, on an intellectual level, that the stuff we buy is made by people overseas who, in general, have much less than we do and work harder than we do, under tougher working conditions. It’s harder to ignore, however, listening to Daisey talk about the long shifts (up to thirty-four hours, apparently), the crippling injuries due to repetitive stress or hazardous chemicals, the crammed dormitories, and the authoritarian rules. At one point an interviewee produces a document, produced by the Labor Relations Board (with the name of the Board on it): it’s a list of “troublemakers” who should be fired at once.
The question that Ira Glass asks at the end is how we should feel about all of this. Although Apple is at the center of the story—at one point Daisey shows his iPad to a man whose hand was destroyed by a machine that makes the iPad, and he called it a “thing of magic”—they seem to do a reasonable job of policing their suppliers and insisting on improvements to working conditions, at least compared to other companies. But still the number of violations doesn’t go down from year to year. […]
* MR. DAISEY AND THE APPLE FACTORY (RADIO)
Source: This American Life
Host Ira Glass speaks with an Apple device about its origin. (2 minutes)
Mike Daisey performs an excerpt that was adapted for radio from his one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” A lifelong Apple superfan, Daisey sees some photos online from the inside of a factory that makes iPhones, starts to wonder about the people working there, and flies to China to meet them. His show restarts a run at New York’s Public Theater later this month. (39 minutes)
What should we make of what Mike Daisey saw in China? Our staff did weeks of fact checking to corroborate Daisey’s findings. Ira talks with Ian Spaulding, founder and managing director of INFACT Global Partners, which goes into Chinese factories and helps them meet social responsibility standards set by Western companies (Apple’s Supplier Responsibility page is here), and with Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times who has reported in Asian factories. In the podcast and streaming versions of the program he also speaks with Debby Chan Sze Wan, a project manager at the advocacy group SACOM, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, based in Hong Kong. They’ve put out three reports investigating conditions at Foxconn (October 2010, May 2011, Sept 2011). Each report surveyed over 100 Foxconn workers, and they even had a researcher go undercover and take a job at the Shenzhen plant. (15 minutes)