Big Banks Paid Hillary Clinton Nearly $1.6 Million To Speak In 2013

Big Banks Paid Hillary Clinton Nearly $1.6 Million To Speak In 2013

By Greg Gordon, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton earned nearly $10 million in speaking fees in 2013, including almost $1.6 million from major Wall Street banks, she disclosed Friday as she released eight years of personal income tax returns.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, collected $13.2 million in speaking fees that year, the only year for which the couple had not previously disclosed their income from the talk circuit since leaving the White House. That included a $700,000 fee from Amway to the former president for a speech in Japan.

The totals brought the couple’s combined post-White House speaking income to more than $150 million, an off-the-charts sum when compared with the earnings of other U.S. politicians.

On their tax returns for the years 2007 through 2014, the Clintons’ reported combined income of $139 million. Hillary Clinton said in a statement that she and her husband paid $43.9 million in federal income taxes and $13.6 million in state and local taxes in those years, for an effective total tax rate of 45.8 percent.

The Clintons gave $15 million in charitable contributions over the past eight years, she said.

“We’ve come a long way … and we owe it to the opportunities America provides,” Clinton said.

Hillary Clinton’s income from Wall Street is noteworthy because, in 2014 and 2015 as the presidential campaign drew near, she gave $750,000 to $1.5 million in speaking fees from big banks to the Clinton Foundation, while keeping a $280,000 donation from Deutsche Bank.

During the first months of her campaign, she has sought to emphasize a theme of helping Americans at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

In 2013, however, she accepted $1,575,000 from Wall Street banks that have been blamed for their roles in the 2008 financial crisis, including $675,000 from Goldman Sachs, and $225,000 each from UBS Wealth Management, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank.

The Clintons also disclosed that UBS Wealth Management paid a $175,000 speaking fee to Bill Clinton in May 2013. Together, UBS paid the couple $1.9 million for speeches since 2011.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that shortly after taking office as secretary of state in 2009, Hillary Clinton intervened in negotiations with the Swiss government to release long-confidential information on the UBS accounts of thousands of American citizens suspected of evading U.S. taxes. Clinton’s intervention resulted in a settlement providing for the release of information on 4,450 accounts, not the 52,000 sought by the Internal Revenue Service, the Journal reported.

There is no evidence that UBS sought to reward the Clintons with speaking fees for Hillary Clinton’s role in the settlement, but the appearance created by their acceptance of the money could dog her for the rest of her campaign.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is joined onstage by her husband former President Bill Clinton after she delivered her “official launch speech” at a campaign kick off rally in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City, June 13, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Soda Shouldn’t Be Called ‘Diet,’ Advocacy Group Says

Soda Shouldn’t Be Called ‘Diet,’ Advocacy Group Says

By Greg Gordon, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Citing research suggesting that diet soft drinks and other artificially sweetened products actually contribute to weight gain, a new advocacy group is asking federal regulators to investigate whether manufacturers including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have engaged in false or misleading advertising.

The California-based group, U.S. Right to Know, plans to file citizen petitions Thursday calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to stop those companies from branding artificially sweetened products with the word “diet.” McClatchy obtained copies of the petitions.

“Consumers are using products — Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi — that are advertised to make us think they assist in weight loss, when in fact ample scientific evidence suggests that this is not true, and the opposite may well be true,” says the petition to the Food and Drug Administration.

The American Beverage Association, speaking for the Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., and other soft-drink makers, strongly disputed the assertions in the petition. It said numerous studies showed “that diet beverages are an effective tool as part of an overall weight management plan.”

Only last fall, the beverage association, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group joined in an alliance with the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation for a program to fight obesity by decreasing beverage calories in the American diet. As part of the effort, the soft drink makers agreed to step up the sales of lower-calorie drinks.

The petitions to be filed Thursday call for sweeping inquiries into the marketing of products that contain any artificial sweeteners, not just those with the most popular sugar substitute, aspartame, which is used in more than 5,000 products.

Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi contain aspartame, which has been mainly sold under the brand name NutraSweet and is consumed worldwide. Last year, Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi ranked third and seventh, respectively, in U.S. carbonated soft-drink sales, according to Beverage Digest.

Safety controversies have clouded the use of a number of artificial sweeteners for decades, especially NutraSweet and its predecessor, saccharin. But Gary Ruskin, Right to Know’s executive director and a longtime associate of consumer advocate Ralph Nader, said he thought his group was the first to call for investigations into possible deceptive marketing.

It’s unclear whether conflicting research on the sweeteners’ effect on weight is sufficiently settled for the regulators to take action.

The petitions point to a number of studies in recent years that have challenged the belief that ingesting noncaloric sweeteners helps with weight loss.

Among them:

  • A 2010 review of scientific literature, published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, that concluded “research studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may contribute to weight gain.”
  • A 2010 review in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity that found large epidemiological studies “support the existence of an association between artificially sweetened beverage consumption and weight gain in children.”
  • A two-year study of 164 children, published in 2005 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, that found overweight kids and others who gained weight drank more diet sodas than normal-weight children.
  • A nationwide study, called Growing Up Today, of more than 10,000 children ages 9 to 14 that found that, for boys, intakes of diet soda “were significantly associated with weight gains.”

Also of particular note is an Israeli study published last fall in the journal Nature. It found that mice given the three most popular sweeteners developed bacterial changes in their guts that caused glucose intolerance, which in humans raises the risk of diabetes.

The researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, found similar effects in a number of people who ate artificially sweetened foods for a week.

James O. Hill, executive director of the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, said he accepted the findings in the mice portion of the study but disputed the methodologies of the one-week human trial.

“When it comes to weight, I am absolutely convinced that there’s no way they (artificial sweeteners) are causing weight gain,” he said in a phone interview. “Drinking diet sodas or using noncaloric sweeteners, in my opinion based on my review of the literature and my research, is not something people should worry about.”

Hill acknowledged receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from the American Beverage Association to finance a controlled study that found people who drank diet sodas lost more weight on a managed diet than those who drank water, but he said the industry group had no role in the study design.

Berna Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the international industry’s Calorie Control Council, contended that the Israeli study’s conclusion was “inappropriate and unjustified.”

Right to Know’s Ruskin, in its petition, acknowledged the conflicting research results, but cited evidence that “industry-funded studies in biomedical research are less trustworthy than those funded independently.”

Neither the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling, nor the Trade Commission, which polices advertising claims, would comment on the petitions.

However, trade commission spokesman Peter Kaplan said the agency “is vigilant in combating deceptive advertising, and deceptive health claims in particular are a priority of the agency.”

The agency’s 32-year-old advertising standard requires advertisers to have “a reasonable basis” to substantiate their claims or implied claims.

The petition to the FDA could thrust the agency back into one of the bigger controversies in its decades of food safety regulation: its decisions in the early 1980s to approve the use of aspartame, first as a food additive and then in diet soft drinks.

The FDA’s Public Board of Inquiry had voted 2-1 to keep aspartame off the market on the grounds that it had caused brain cancer in laboratory rats.

However, President Ronald Reagan’s choice to serve as food and drug commissioner, Arthur Hull Hayes, used his authority to overturn the board, handing a bonanza to the company that patented the product, the Chicago-based G.D. Searle & Co. There’s long been speculation that a pivotal player in the decision was Searle’s chairman at the time, Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as U.S. defense secretary under President Gerald Ford and again under President George W. Bush, overseeing U.S. troops during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Searle sold its NutraSweet subsidiary in 1958 to Monsanto, which later sold it to a Boston private equity company.

Despite a host of research studies and the publication of several books linking aspartame to health problems ranging from cancers to neurological ailments, the FDA has stood by its position that the sweetener is safe, except for people who suffer from a rare disease known as phenylketonuria, a developmental illness.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Watchdog Groups: Ex-Lawmakers Find Easy Ways Around Lobbying Curb

Watchdog Groups: Ex-Lawmakers Find Easy Ways Around Lobbying Curb

By Greg Gordon, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Under a law that took effect seven years ago, retired U.S. senators such as Republicans Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas were constrained from lobbying their former congressional colleagues for two years after leaving office.

But congressional watchdogs contend that these and numerous other members have capitalized on a long-standing loophole in federal ethics laws to join a seemingly endless migration into the lucrative world of lobbying even during the proscribed period. They participate extensively in the lobbying process and just avoid speaking directly to their ex-colleagues about those subjects, the watchdogs say.

Much of the job of lobbying entails advance work and strategizing, and veteran senators can easily advise underlings on what to say during visits to their former colleagues, said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen. The group sought tighter restrictions when the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act was crafted, but its appeals got nowhere in the House of Representatives, he said.

As a result, the law is “easily evaded by simply doing lobbying activity without actually making a lobbying contact,” Holman said.

Of 104 former members of Congress or top congressional aides whose “cooling off” periods are due to lapse during the first session of the new Congress, 29 already hold jobs in government relations, public affairs or serve as counsel at firms that lobby, according to a new joint study by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation.

Thirteen of the 29 are even registered as lobbyists, which they can be so long as they don’t contact ex-colleagues for two years (one year in the House), the groups found.

“The cooling-off period is the critical time in which a lawmaker still has very, very close connections with his colleagues in Congress,” Holman said. “After two years it may start fading somewhat. Within those first two years, it’s almost as if they’ve never left Congress.”

Hutchison serves as counsel to the firm of Bracewell and Giuliani, co-founded by former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York. The firm has a sizable portfolio of lobbying clients, from Chicken of the Sea International to Chesapeake Energy Corp. What work Hutchison does behind the scenes is not clear.

A spokeswoman for the firm did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

After leaving the Senate two years ago, former Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut joined the rapidly expanding law firm of Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman as senior counsel. In June 2013, the firm announced that Clarine Nardi Riddle, a former Connecticut attorney general who served as Lieberman’s chief of staff for a decade before he retired from the Senate, would be joining the firm to lead a new lobbying practice.

Riddle is a registered lobbyist. Lieberman is not.

DeMint left Congress to become president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research center that frequently circulates papers and policy blueprints among Washington decision makers. The job now pays him over $637,000 per year, according to the foundation’s federal tax return.

Holman maintained that DeMint and other ex-senators in similar roles, such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, should register as lobbyists.

But Heritage spokesman Wesley Denton said the foundation is a “a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan research and educational institution” and its affiliated lobbying arm is Heritage for Action, an entirely separate grass-roots lobbying entity that has two registered lobbyists.

Daschle, who left Congress in 2004, exemplifies another loophole, said Holman. He has never registered as a lobbyist while working with the law firm DLA Piper, saying he spends less than 20 percent of his time lobbying, one registration threshold.

“Yet we see his name show up over and over in the White House logs, so we know he’s lobbying,” Holman said.

Last October, Daschle and the law firm of Baker Donelson announced that he would be joining that firm to lead a new lobbying shop, The Daschle Group.

Johanna Burkett, a spokeswoman for Baker Donelson, said Daschle “provides strategic counsel to a number of leading companies, but does not and has never lobbied.”

The new unit, she said, includes several “advisers” who have registered. Will Daschle also register?

“It’s impossible to predict the future,” Burkett said, “but Sen. Daschle will always make professional decisions based on what is best for his clients.”

Photo: Tobym via Flickr

Pentagon Watchdogs Scrutinize States’ Push Toward Online Voting

Pentagon Watchdogs Scrutinize States’ Push Toward Online Voting

By Greg Gordon, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Nevada’s election chief says the state’s much-ballyhooed new system for electronically delivering absentee ballots to troops and other citizens overseas isn’t an “online” voting system, even if it offers those abroad the option of emailing marked ballots to county clerks.

But his boss, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, described the system differently in testimony to Congress last year, boasting that it would allow voters abroad “to request, mark and deliver a ballot to their county without the need of a printer or a scanner.”

The office of Pentagon Inspector General Jon Rymer is taking a hard look at systems like Nevada’s to see whether they’re violating a prohibition on the use of Defense Department grant money to create online voting systems, a spokeswoman for Rymer said. The prohibition was spurred by concerns that those systems are vulnerable to hackers.

Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, California Rep. Susan Davis, wrote to Rymer last June requesting “a full and thorough investigation” to determine whether they’re designed to return votes electronically.

So far, the inspector general’s office said, Rymer has ordered only an “assessment” of whether grant recipients are skirting the rules — a review not previously disclosed.

At Wilson’s and Davis’ request, the inspector general’s office also is examining how an obscure Pentagon unit, whose task is to facilitate absentee voting overseas, spent $85 million in research funding from 2009 to 2013, Rymer’s office said.

The Pentagon’s Federal Voting Assistance Program gave much of that money in grants to states and counties for voting system upgrades in what has become a race to capitalize on technology that makes it easier for troops stationed overseas to cast their ballots. About 30 states, most of which received grants from the program, have developed some form of online voting.

The problem is that numerous cybersecurity experts warn that votes cast over the Internet, including through email, are vulnerable to vote tampering or even large-scale schemes to rig elections. Another drawback is that they do not create a verifiable paper trail in the event of a recount, as do many state electronic voting systems.

When Hurricane Sandy battered New Jersey eight days before the 2012 election, an emergency order by New Jersey’s secretary of state allowing voters to email or fax their ballots broke a state law barring Internet voting and “made voting severely vulnerable,” a new report by the Constitutional Rights Group at Rutgers University’s law school concluded.

In 2004, Congress stopped Pentagon funding for online voting until the National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded it was secure. The agency has yet to issue an all-clear signal, stating in 2012 that secure Internet voting is not yet feasible.

Some states have seemed to ignore the red light, and the Voting Assistance Program under its former director, Bob Carey, was accused of encouraging them — allegations Carey has denied.

The program said Friday that “there is no directive from Congress that expressly prohibits online voting” until the National Institute of Standards and Technology “signs off,” but that it has “expressly” barred use of grant money for that purpose because of the lack of federal security standards.

Voting system vendors and a number of states easily circumvented its initial prohibition, imposed in 2012, on use of grant money to electronically return marked ballots. It cost nothing to email the ballots or little for states to buy an added feature providing for their electronic return.

After voting integrity groups protested and members of Congress took interest, new leaders of the Voting Assistance Program incorporated tougher language in grants awarded since last year. Applicants now are required to certify that they not use grant money “to develop a system for the electronic return of a marked ballot” nor “use the system components developed with grant funds after the award ends” for casting ballots electronically.

Even so, Miller, a Democrat who is now running for Nevada attorney general, told Congress in November 2013 that his state’s system copies one in Montana and is designed to “facilitate” the online return of a ballot. Developed in-house with a $386,500 Pentagon grant, it uses troops’ encrypted Common Access Cards for security and allows them to use an electronic digital signature to register, obtain and sign absentee ballots, which they can either send via their own email accounts or print and mail to county clerks.

John Sebes, chief technology officer for the California-based Open Source Election Technology Foundation, said that email is “the most convenient and least secure transport mechanism,” and that there are multiple ways for hackers to tamper with the process.

However, Scott Gilles, who runs the Election Division in Miller’s office, said officials of the Voting Assistance Program approved the system and that it is “well within the boundaries of the law as well as the boundaries of the grant.” Program officials said that Nevada’s system is in compliance.

Gilles said the state also allowed emailed ballots under its previous system, and that at least 2,000 absentee voters transmitted their votes via email during the 2012 elections.

He said his office was merely carrying out the wishes of the Nevada legislature, which in 2011 authorized email voting for absentees and in 2013 allowed electronic signatures of affidavits — a necessity for online absentee voting.

However, it was Miller’s office that requested the legislative action. In 2011, Gilles told the legislature: “We foresee expanding the current process and creating a type of portal” for online voting.

“The key step is our office creating this portal where they can receive and send ballots electronically,” he said at the time.

Gilles said no expert has certified that Nevada’s system is secure, but “we haven’t had any problems with it.”

However, it’s unclear whether election officials would know if a hacker had tampered with the results.

Sebes said the biggest vulnerability occurs at the point where electronic documents arrive at an election data center.

Even if there is no mischief, he said, election officials advocating email voting are asking for “a whole new different type of trust.”

“We’re now trusting computer people with the election outcome, and that’s kind of a weird thing to do, at least for most Americans.”

Photo via Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

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House Democrats Seek Probe Of Motorola’s Radio Contracts

House Democrats Seek Probe Of Motorola’s Radio Contracts

By Greg Gordon, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Three senior House Democrats on Tuesday asked the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog to investigate allegations, raised in a McClatchy series, that Motorola’s contracting tactics have led state and local governments to squander millions of dollars on the company’s pricey two-way emergency radio systems.

“If the allegations in the McClatchy articles are true, millions of federal tax dollars may have been wasted, and millions more are at risk,” Reps. Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo of California and Diana DeGette of Colorado wrote Inspector General John Roth.

“We therefore ask that you initiate an investigation to determine whether the abuses described in the McClatchy articles occurred and if so, whether (Homeland Security) grants were involved,” they wrote.

The three members of the House of Representatives urged Roth to propose changes “to prevent a recurrence of these abuses” if the department’s grants are found to have helped finance any of the contracts in question.

Waxman is the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Eshoo and DeGette are the ranking minority members on the committee’s communications and technology subcommittee and the oversight and investigations subcommittee, respectively.

Motorola’s public safety arm, known as Motorola Solutions Inc. since the Illinois-based company split in two in 2011, has for years controlled an estimated 80 percent or more of the market for emergency communications equipment.

In seven stories published in March, McClatchy described how the company has used close relationships with state and local contracting officials, police and fire chiefs and county sheriffs, as well as an array of marketing strategies, to effectively lock in business in all but a smattering of public safety agencies in the nation’s 20 biggest cities. For many years, Motorola froze out rivals by embedding proprietary software in its equipment so it wouldn’t interact with other brands.

Motorola Solutions said in a statement that it “complied with applicable laws and regulations, and competes fairly for our customers’ business by offering them superior products and solutions.”

“We offer solutions and products that achieve cost savings for the taxpayer, improve safety for communities and enable quick implementation for local agencies,” the company said.

Motorola said that it has served public safety around the globe for more than 85 years, that it sells products that “enable seamless communications,” and that it is the company’s state-of-the-art technology “that has allowed us to maintain our customers’ loyalty.”

Photo via WikiCommons

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Inaction Feeds Crisis Over Mississippi River, Environmentalists Say

Inaction Feeds Crisis Over Mississippi River, Environmentalists Say

By Greg Gordon, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Decades of shortsighted decisions by industry and government have put the Mississippi River’s future at risk, and degradation at its southern Louisiana delta is contributing to “the greatest land loss on the planet,” a five-state environmental coalition warned Wednesday.

As much as $50 billion will be needed to secure Louisiana’s port system, but “there is no hope in the current budget of the United States. Zero,” said Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who addressed a diverse group of political, environmental and private-sector leaders at a conference in Washington on the river’s future.

Despite a $14 billion federal infusion after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the state in 2005, Landrieu said, southern Louisiana is losing land masses the size of the nation’s capital to the Gulf of Mexico every year.

“New Orleans is going to be very close to being under water,” she said. “If you don’t have wetlands around you and a healthy delta, you just can’t live there.”

The conference, sponsored by America’s Wetland Foundation, laid out the findings of forums attended by more than 400 government, nonprofit and private-sector leaders over a 12-month period in Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, all cities that are in states whose economies depend heavily on the river.

Attendees spoke of galvanizing a coalition of mayors up and down the river to muster enough clout to win a massive federal financial commitment to save the river and the Gulf Coast, especially in southern Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi.

Among the findings from the forums:

—The construction of locks and dams along the river to control flooding and facilitate shipping has resulted in a glut of silt along its northern stretches, reducing the flow of crucial, nutrient-containing sediments to the delta and impairing the growth of wetlands that shield the coast.

—Agricultural runoff has polluted the river with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that are running into the Gulf of Mexico, contributing to an oxygen-depleted zone that can’t support marine life.

—Levees along the river have severed its connections to floodplains, reducing their water-retention capabilities and exacerbating floods and droughts.

However, building a coalition to address those and other threats has been difficult because interests are localized, various regions bear the consequences of inaction unequally and the states have lacked a systemic view to motivate action, the forum found.

Environmentalists back a plan to divert the silt that’s flowing beyond the Outer Continental Shelf back to shore, but they need money.

Landrieu has proposed allotting a portion of the federal royalties that oil and gas companies pay for Gulf of Mexico mineral leases to address the problem, perhaps $2 billion annually.

R. King Milling, the wetland foundation’s chairman, said after the meeting that he thought mayors in cities along the river “are beginning to coalesce” and that trade groups “are beginning to panic” over the impact of droughts and floods.

Ultimately, he told McClatchy, he hopes that a broad coalition will “come to Washington and say, ‘Look, we have a crisis. And you’ve forgotten about it.’’’

Photo: Jason Paris via Flickr

FBI Chief Mourns Loss Of Life To ‘Madman With Warped View’

FBI Chief Mourns Loss Of Life To ‘Madman With Warped View’

By Greg Gordon, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Mourning three recent killings outside Jewish sites in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, by “a madman with a warped view of what America should look like,” FBI Director James Comey called Monday for stronger reporting of hate crimes and increased education to help prevent them.

“There are jurisdictions that fail to report hate-crime statistics,” Comey said, without naming any cities, counties or states. “Other jurisdictions claim there were no hate crimes in their community, a fact that would be welcome if true.”

“We must continue to impress upon our state and local counterparts in every jurisdiction the need to track and report hate crim,” he added.

Comey made the comments in a speech to a national conference of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group on which he heaped praise for helping to train tens of thousands of law enforcement officers about civil rights laws and hate crimes. He also credited the league for “tracking and exposing domestic and international terrorist threats.”

“If this sounds a bit like a love letter to the ADL, it is,” Comey said, hailing the group’s crusade for fairness and equality for over a century.

Comey opened his speech by lamenting the events two weeks earlier in Overland Park, Kansas, where a white supremacist is accused of opening fire outside two Jewish centers, killing three people.

“He targeted individuals who were strangers to him, for no other reason than that he believed they were Jewish,” Comey said.

“The loss of these three people — the loss to their families, their friends and their communities — underscores the reality we face,” he said. “We confront individuals here at home and abroad who seek to steal life. They seek to inflict great harm, and no one is immune: no race, no religion, no ethnicity, no way of life.

“And so we must do everything in our power — in government, in law enforcement and in society — to stop them. We must do everything in our power to educate people about diversity and the strength that comes from our differences.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation requires all local and state law enforcement agents who undergo training at the bureau’s academy, on a Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia, to take a course on civil rights and hate crimes sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League.

Comey said he would continue to require new FBI agents to tour the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, “so they can see and hear and feel, in a palpable, nauseating and gut-wrenching way, the consequences of the abuse of power on a massive scale.”

He said he would also direct new agents to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, to remind them “of the need for fidelity to the rule of law.” He paraphrased King in saying that “when evil people burn and bomb, good people must build and bind.”

For every attack on someone because of “who and what they are,” Comey said, there are a thousand stories of people who worked to create, not destroy.

“That is why we must never be indifferent or complacent” in the face of hate crimes, he said. “Why we must never remain silent.”

Photo: O.maloteau via Flickr

Motorola Defends Contracting Practices, Dismisses McClatchy Stories As Containing ‘Innuendo’

Motorola Defends Contracting Practices, Dismisses McClatchy Stories As Containing ‘Innuendo’

By Greg Gordon, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Motorola Solutions Inc. is rejecting as “innuendo” a series of stories in which McClatchy examined the company’s decadeslong dominance of the nation’s emergency communications market.

Published on March 30, the stories described multiple ways in which city, county and state officials have favored Motorola with noncompetitive contracts, including from at least nine of the nation’s 20 largest cities. The firm has reaped billions of dollars in annual revenues amid a nationwide push to avoid a repeat of the radio failures of Sept. 11, 2001.

In a statement, the company called it “very disturbing that a news organization would cast suspicion of any Motorola contract with a government entity that did not fit a generic, competitive-bid model, and at the same time cast aspersions on the integrity of the government entities with which we do business.”

Motorola issued the statement and sent a letter to The Sacramento Bee, a McClatchy newspaper, which published an editorial Sunday challenging policymakers to ask hard questions about how the firm has preserved an estimated 80 percent share of the public safety radio market.

Motorola said that various “legally available” contract vehicles that forgo competitive bids enable governments to “procure in a manner that can achieve cost savings for taxpayers, and enable faster implementation, which can be an important consideration for equipment that can serve as a lifeline for first responders.”

The company did not address concerns about its radio prices — as much as $7,500 apiece.

McClatchy also reported that foundations for the firm and its former parent donated more than $25 million over a recent six-year period to nonprofits with law enforcement- and firefighting-related missions, aiding a constituency that has backed its products.

The company called it “very disturbing that a news organization would question a law-abiding company’s community citizenship.”

“Motorola’s employees and shareholders are deeply proud of the investments our Foundation makes to better the communities where we operate,” it said, adding that the donations “further the invaluable partnership we have with the public safety community.”

In addition, the company defended former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who responded to radio outages from Hurricane Katrina by spearheading a push for a new statewide radio system and a separate high-speed broadband data-delivery network for first responders.

Motorola won both contracts, which could generate $300 million. Months after leaving office, Barbour registered as a Motorola lobbyist, McClatchy reported.

Barbour, a Republican, showed “tremendous leadership … throughout the rebuilding of the devastated areas of Mississippi,” the company said.

“Leaders like Governor Barbour personally understand how the public safety community relies on survivable, interoperable communications during disasters and crises,” the company said. “That kind of leadership and experience is invaluable to us and the first responders Motorola Solutions serves every day across the country. We are proud to have Governor Barbour on our team.”

Photo: JonJon2k8 via Flickr

GM Consumers Complained For Years About Ignitions

GM Consumers Complained For Years About Ignitions

By Greg Gordon, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Consumers made at least 133 warranty claims with General Motors about defects in the ignitions of its cars from June 2003 to June 2012, while the company continued to deny any defects, congressional investigators have found.

Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California released a summary of the findings shortly before GM’s new chief executive, Mary Barra, was due to testify to a House subcommittee Tuesday afternoon about the emerging scandal over the company’s failure to act. The company did not act even while failures of the switch led to crashes that killed 13 people when airbags failed to deploy. In February, GM began issuing recall notices for 2.6 million of those cars — including Chevrolet Cobalts and HHRs, Saturn Ions and Skys, and Pontiac G5s and Solstices — due to the defects.

“To this day, GM has not reported the vast majority of these incidents to (the) National Highway Traffic Administration or revealed them to the public,” Democratic staffers for the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee reported in a memo released Tuesday.

In testimony prepared for delivery to the panel, Barra said she had no explanation for why it took so long for the safety defect to be “announced.”

“But I can tell you that we will find out,” Barra said. “When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators and with our customers.”

Barra has asked Anton Valukas, a former U.S. attorney in Chicago, to conduct an internal investigation of the company’s actions, and she said in her prepared testimony that “he has free rein to go where the facts take him, regardless of the outcome.”

Separately, David Friedman, acting chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told the subcommittee that he and his staff “are deeply saddened” by the loss of life stemming from GM’s defective switch. He said that based on a review of his agency’s actions, “we know that the agency examined the available information multiple times using consumer complaints, early warning data, special crash investigations, manufacturer information about how air bags function and other tools.”

However, he said, the agency “did not find sufficient evidence of a possible safety defect or defect trend that would warrant opening an investigation.”

“GM had critical information that would have helped identify this defect,” Friedman said.

On Sunday, the subcommittee, chaired by Republican Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, said its review of 200,000 pages of NHTSA records showed that the agency knew of multiple fatal crashes and other evidence that the ignition switch defect disabled airbags, but took no action.

 Siemens PLM Software via Flickr