Puppet MastersS

Snakes in Suits

SAC Capital first large Wall Street firm in generation to confess insider trading, slapped on wrist with $1.2 billion fine

The hedge fund titan Steven A. Cohen sat at the center of his vast trading floor on Monday, buying and selling stocks. In a sign of his enduring influence on Wall Street, he did business with major banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.

Just last week, Mr. Cohen appeared relaxed courtside at Madison Square Garden while watching the New York Knicks defeat the Milwaukee Bucks in their season opener. And he will soon be closely monitoring the auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's, which are selling about $80 million worth of art from his vaunted collection, including two Warhol paintings and a Cy Twombly sculpture.

For the 57-year-old billionaire, it is business as usual.

But on Monday, federal prosecutors announced that Mr. Cohen's firm, SAC Capital Advisors, had agreed to plead guilty to insider trading violations and pay a record $1.2 billion penalty, becoming the first large Wall Street firm in a generation to confess to criminal conduct. The government has also forced SAC to terminate its business of managing money for outside investors.

Heart - Black

Post 9/11, CIA and Pentagon forced doctors to become torturers, new study charges

© Shane T Mccoy/PAAn al-Qaida detainee at Guantanamo Bay in 2002: the DoD has taken steps to address concerns over practices at the prison in recent years.
The Guardian UK headline on November 4 reconfirms the outlaw depravity of the US after 9/11 in terms of torture, "CIA made doctors torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, taskforce finds: Doctors were asked to torture detainees for intelligence gathering, and unethical practices continue, review concludes."

One of things that the "Change" slogan of the 2008 Obama campaign meant to many ethical people who uphold standards of international law and decency is that those responsible for torture under the Bush administration would be held accountable. No such efforts were made under a president who boasts of his assassination list.

The Guardian UK reported:
Doctors and psychologists working for the US military violated the ethical codes of their profession under instruction from the defence department and the CIA to become involved in the torture and degrading treatment of suspected terrorists, an investigation has concluded.

The report of the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres concludes that after 9/11, health professionals working with the military and intelligence services "designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees".

Medical professionals were in effect told that their ethical mantra "first do no harm" did not apply, because they were not treating people who were ill.


Guy Fawkes Day: Why 'V for Vendetta' is more important than ever

V for Vendetta
© Superior Pics
Warning: major spo
ilers below

Every Nov. 5 for the past few years, I've sat back with a few friends to watch V for Vendetta. While ostensibly we did this to commemorate Guy Fawkes Day, which marks the anniversary of British revolutionary Guy Fawkes's attempt to blow up the Parliament in 1605, we really did it because everyone else was doing it, and we were bored.

But this Nov. 5, I expect I'll be a bit more alert when I watch V. Why? Because the movie's lessons are more important now than ever before.

Originally a graphic novel by Alan Moore, V for Vendetta is set in a dystopian England where a revolutionary wearing a Guy Fawkes mask sets out to destroy a fascist party called Norsefire by convincing citizens to stand up and rule themselves.


Armies and police are being privatized around the world and business is booming

Private Security
© Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty ImagesAn American private security guard pushes back Iraqi demonstrators in Baghdad.

In a world where budgets are tight, and bottom lines daunting, it makes sense that governments around the world have to do more with less, or they just have to do less. Surprisingly, one part of the state apparatus that most countries seem happy to outsource is one of its most fundamental - security. At home, cash-strapped American cities, and even communities, are turning to private forces to protect public order. And a report out of the UN on Monday shows that the private security industry is experiencing a global economic boom that many of its customers would love - the shadowy industry is growing at 7.4 percent a year and is on target to balloon to a $244 billion global market by 2016.

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. is the world's biggest spender on private security, totaling $138 billion a year, thanks in large part to a spike in demand during the concurrent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the report, last year the Pentagon spent $44 billion on mercenaries in the two countries combined and in 2011 the U.S. spent $3 billion alone on a five-year deal for private protection for the U.S. embassy building in Baghdad. But, as the American military presence diminishes, much of the outsourced security work is transitioning to police work, with protection of oil company assets abroad also on the rise.

Outside of war zones, contractors have flocked to the perilous shipping routes off the Somali coast that are particularly high risk because of pirates. More than 140 private companies now patrol those waters. The ongoing shift towards private forces poses huge regulatory issues, particularly the registering and licensing of private contractors and the absence of internationally binging legal codes, according to the report. The UN itself is a major employer of private security firms and the report warned "there is a risk that, without proper standards and oversight, the outsourcing of security functions by the United Nations to private companies could have a negative effect on the image and effectiveness of the United Nations in the field."


Hollywood deployed to convince Americans to sign up for Obamacare

© Occupy Corporatism

The California Endowment is providing $500k in grant monies to the Hollywood, Health and Society (HHS) program at the University of Southern California (USC) Norman Lear Center (NLC) to teach "TV writing staffs on the politically contentious law and to track health care plot-lines in existing shows."

Indeed, the "18-month grant will be used to inform television writers, producers, and others involved in television programming on Obamacare facts and implementation information in California and nationwide."

On prime-time television, plot lines will be written to encourage young Americans to enroll in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

The HHS has been effective in the past of coercing Americans with directed plot lines in specific television shows to guide the audience into supporting a predisposed goal or belief system about a particular agenda.

Martin Kaplan, principal investigator for the HHS and director of the NLC said: "Our experience has shown that the public gets just as much, if not more, information about current events and important issues from their favorite television shows and characters as they do from the news media and online resources. This grant will allow us to ensure that industry practitioners have up-to-date, relevant facts on health care reform to integrate into their storylines and projects."

Phone interviews and "in-person briefings" with staff "from various television shows, produce online resources, organize subject-matter expert panels, air public service announcements, and track Obamacare-related depictions on primetime and Spanish-language television."

Arrow Down

Where's the outrage about the monarchy's extravagant expenses?

Diamond Jubilee Celebrations
© Rex FeaturesWell-wishers file home in the rain after the Queen's balcony appearance during the diamond jubilee celebrations last year.
There's quite a view from the chamber in City Hall where the London assembly meets to scrutinise the mayor. Occasionally during one of Boris Johnson's more vague and waffling answers at mayor's question time, my eyes wander to admire the fine vista of the north side of the Thames, and come to rest upon one of London's most ancient buildings - the Tower of London.

The tower was, of course, the place where enemies of the monarch were once imprisoned. Judging from the reaction from some sections of the media to a short blog post I wrote bemoaning the reaction of some politicians to the royal christening, there are some who'd like the tower to be bought back into use for this very purpose.

The story originally ran in the Evening Standard. Unsurprisingly, it caused the Daily Mail to froth over with faux-outrage. Conservative MP Bob Neill accused me of being "out of touch", proving once again that no one fawns over royalty quite like a Tory. Still, it's nice to see Neill standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves. The Huffington Post ran the story as the main headline on its front page, asking readers if they agreed with me.

The media reaction demonstrates once again how monarchy infantilises us by creating a semi-mystical institution that is supposedly above criticism. The expectation is that we should suspend our critical faculties, nod, smile and say how bloody marvellous the whole thing is. No thanks. Opinion polling consistently shows that 20-25% of the British people want a democratic alternative to hereditary monarchy. That's millions of people who deserve to have their voices heard.

Snakes in Suits

Paranoid NSA chief Keith Alexander rejects calls to limit agency's power

© Susan Walsh/APKeith Alexander, second left, with deputy Chris Inglis, director of national intelligence James Clapper, and deputy attorney general James Cole.
Alexander goes before House committee and claims reports of NSA collecting millions of phone calls were 'absolutely false'

The director of the National Security Agency forcefully and emotionally rejected calls to curtail his agency's power on Tuesday, as legislation to reform the US security services was introduced in Congress against the backdrop of a growing diplomatic crisis.

General Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, speaking "from the heart" before a Tuesday hearing of the House intelligence committee, said the NSA would prefer to "take the beatings" from the public and in the media "than to give up a program that would result in this nation being attacked."

Alexander spoke hours after bills came before the House and Senate judiciary committees that would end the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records, sponsored by Congressman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, and Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.

The program, performed under authorities claimed under the Patriot Act - which Sensenbrenner helped draft in 2001 - was first revealed in June by the Guardian from material leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.


Best of the Web: Napolitano: Is Obama a dupe or a totalitarian, megalomaniacal liar?

© Greg Groesch
When German Chancellor Angela Merkel celebrated the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Berlin in 2008, she could not have imagined that she was blessing the workplace for the largest and most effective gaggle of American spies anywhere outside of the United States.

It seems straight out of a grade-B movie, but it has been happening for the past 11 years: The National Security Agency (NSA) has been using Mrs. Merkel as an instrument to spy on the president of the United States. We now know that the NSA has been listening to and recording her cellphone calls since 2002.

In 2008, when the new embassy opened, the NSA began using more sophisticated techniques that included not only listening, but also following her. Mrs. Merkel uses her cellphone more frequently than her landline, and she uses it to communicate with her husband and family members, the leadership of her political party, and her colleagues and officials in the German government.

Take 2

Tom Hanks quips: 'Four more years' for Obama

© Alex Brandon
Conspiracy theorists, be on alert. Hollywood icon Tom Hanks may not have been joking when he said he wanted President Obama to run for a third term - over the prohibitions of the Constitution.

Mr. Hanks, who's starring in the soon-to-be-released "Captain Phillips" and was in Washington, D.C., this week for a premiere showing at the Newseum, declared his choice for president for 2016: Mr. Obama, The Hill reported.

"I'm voting for Barack Obama, 2016," he said. "Yes I am. Four more years."


Sean Penn: Commit tea partyers, Ted Cruz 'by executive order'

© AP
If it weren't for the tea party, Congress would work well, Hollywood actor Sean Penn said during a recent appearance on CNN with host Piers Morgan. And he also said tea partyers should be forcibly committed for mental health treatment.

Really, the tea party is to blame for nearly all of the issues facing Congress, he said, as Politico reported.

"I think they have - there's a mental health problem in Congress," Mr. Penn said. "This would be solved by committing them by executive order, I think. Because these are our American brothers and sisters, we shouldn't be criticizing them, attacking them. ... This is a cry for help.

Mr. Morgan encouraged Mr. Penn to continue: "You literally commit what, people like Ted Cruz?"