Tuesday, August 6, 2013

  • A Domestic Surveillance Scandal at the DEA? Agents Urged to Cover Up Use of NSA Intel in Drug Probes

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    The U.S. Department of Justice has begun reviewing a controversial unit inside the Drug Enforcement Administration that uses secret domestic surveillance tactics — including intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency — to target Americans for drug offenses. According to a series of articles published by Reuters, agents are instructed to recreate the investigative trail in order to conceal the origins of the evidence, not only from defense lawyers, but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges. "We are talking about ordinary crime: drug dealing, organized crime, money laundering. We are not talking about national security crimes," says Reuters reporter John Shiffman. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, says this is just the latest scandal at the DEA. "I hope it is a sort of wake-up call for people in Congress to say now is the time, finally, after 40 years, to say this agency really needs a close examination."

  • Chevron to Pay $2 Million for 2012 Refinery Fire in Richmond, CA; 200 Arrested at Protest

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    It was one year ago when a massive fire at a Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, sent toxic smoke billowing into the air about 10 miles northeast of San Francisco. In the aftermath, more than 15,000 people sought medical treatment for respiratory problems. On Monday, Chevron pleaded no contest to six criminal charges related to the fire and agreed to submit to additional oversight over the next few years and pay $2 million in fines and restitution as part of a plea deal with state and county prosecutors. Two days earlier, thousands of people marched to condemn safety issues at Chevron’s plant and to call for renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. "The community of Richmond does not deserve and will not stand for these kinds of toxic releases that impact our health and safety and also impact the sustainability of our planet," says Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. Last week, the Richmond City Council voted to file suit against Chevron, citing "a continuation of years of neglect, lax oversight and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspection and repairs.”

  • California City Threatens to Use Eminent Domain to Stop Bank Foreclosures

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    A town in California is making headlines on how it is tackling its foreclosure crisis. In Richmond, almost half of the city’s residential mortgage holders are underwater. In a major development last week, Richmond became the first city in the country to offer to purchase mortgages of distressed homeowners from Wall Street banks and other lenders. Under a plan approved by the city council in April, the city can also use its eminent domain authority to purchase loans in order modify them and allow families to avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes. "The banks sold our community predatory loans, and now they have no solution they’re presenting for this crisis," says Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. "We are stepping in by taking these troubled loans off the hands of the banks, and we’re paying them fair market value for these loans. And then we’re working with the homeowners to refinance and modify loans in line with current home values. We call on the banks to voluntarily sell us these loans, and if they don’t cooperate, we will be considering eminent domain."

  • A Dream Foreclosed: As Obama Touts Recovery, New Book Reveals Racist Roots of Housing Crisis

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    As President Obama heads to Phoenix today to tout the "housing recovery," journalist Laura Gottesdiener examines the devastating legacy of the foreclosure crisis and how much of the so-called recovery is a result of large private equity firms buying up hundreds of thousands of foreclosed homes. More than 10 million people across the country have been evicted from their homes in the last six years. Her new book, "A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home," focuses on four families who have pushed back against foreclosures. "The banks exploited a larger historical trajectory of discrimination in lending and in housing that has existed since the beginning of this country. The banks intentionally went into communities that had been redlined, which meant that the Federal Housing Administration had made it a policy to not lend and not to guarantee any loans in minority neighborhoods all throughout most of the 20th century that didn’t supposedly end until well into the 1960s," Gottesdiener says. "And they exploited that historical reality and pushed the worst of the worst loans in these communities that everyone knew were unpayable debts — that Wall Street knew."

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