RickB

Free thinker who seeks truth in all that we see, especially when it comes to government policies.

FCC loses key ruling on Internet `neutrality’

(AP)   WASHINGTON – A federal court threw the future of Internet regulations into doubt Tuesday with a far-reaching decision that went against the Federal Communications Commission and could even hamper the government’s plans to expand broadband access in the United States.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC lacks authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks. That was a big victory for Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable company, which had challenged the FCC’s authority to impose such “network neutrality” obligations on broadband providers.

Supporters of network neutrality, including the FCC chairman, have argued that the policy is necessary to prevent broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against certain Web sites and online services, such as Internet phone programs or software that runs in a Web browser. Advocates contend there is precedent: Nondiscrimination rules have traditionally applied to so-called “common carrier” networks that serve the public, from roads and highways to electrical grids and telephone lines.

But broadband providers such as Comcast, AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. argue that after spending billions of dollars on their networks, they should be able to sell premium services and manage their systems to prevent certain applications from hogging capacity.

Tuesday’s unanimous ruling by the three-judge panel was a setback for the FCC because it questioned the agency’s authority to regulate broadband. That could cause problems beyond the FCC’s effort to adopt official net neutrality regulations. It also has serious implications for the ambitious national broadband-expansion plan released by the FCC last month. The FCC needs the authority to regulate broadband so that it can push ahead with some of the plan’s key recommendations. Among other things, the FCC proposes to expand broadband by tapping the federal fund that subsidizes telephone service in poor and rural communities.

In a statement, the FCC said it remains “firmly committed to promoting an open Internet and to policies that will bring the enormous benefits of broadband to all Americans” and “will rest these policies … on a solid legal foundation.”

Comcast welcomed the decision, saying “our primary goal was always to clear our name and reputation.”

The case centers on Comcast’s actions in 2007 when it interfered with an online file-sharing service called BitTorrent, which lets people swap movies and other big files over the Internet. The next year the FCC banned Comcast from blocking subscribers from using BitTorrent. The commission, at the time headed by Republican Kevin Martin, based its order on a set of net neutrality principles it had adopted in 2005.

But Comcast argued that the FCC order was illegal because the agency was seeking to enforce mere policy principles, which don’t have the force of regulations or law. That’s one reason that Martin’s successor, Democratic FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, is trying to formalize those rules.

The cable company had also argued the FCC lacks authority to mandate net neutrality because it had deregulated broadband under the Bush administration, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005.

The FCC now defines broadband as a lightly regulated information service. That means it is not subject to the “common carrier” obligations that make traditional telecommunications services share their networks with competitors and treat all traffic equally. But the FCC maintains that existing law gives it authority to set rules for information services.

Tuesday’s court decision rejected that reasoning, concluding that Congress has not given the FCC “untrammeled freedom” to regulate without explicit legal authority.

With so much at stake, the FCC now has several options. It could ask Congress to give it explicit authority to regulate broadband. Or it could appeal Tuesday’s decision.

But both of those steps could take too long because the agency “has too many important things they have to do right away,” said Ben Scott, policy director for the public interest group Free Press. Free Press was among the groups that alerted the FCC after The Associated Press ran tests and reported that Comcast was interfering with attempts by some subscribers to share files online.

Scott believes that the likeliest step by the FCC is that it will simply reclassify broadband as a more heavily regulated telecommunications service. That, ironically, could be the worst-case outcome from the perspective of the phone and cable companies.

“Comcast swung an ax at the FCC to protest the BitTorrent order,” Scott said. “And they sliced right through the FCC’s arm and plunged the ax into their own back.”

The battle over the FCC’s legal jurisdiction comes amid a larger policy dispute over the merits of net neutrality. Backed by Internet companies such as Google Inc. and the online calling service Skype, the FCC says rules are needed to prevent phone and cable companies from prioritizing some traffic or degrading or services that compete with their core businesses. Indeed, BitTorrent can be used to transfer large files such as online video, which could threaten Comcast’s cable TV business.

But broadband providers point to the fact that applications such as BitTorrent use an outsized amount of network capacity.

For its part, the FCC offered no details on its next step, but stressed that it remains committed to the principle of net neutrality.

“Today’s court decision invalidated the prior commission’s approach to preserving an open Internet,” the agency’s statement said. “But the court in no way disagreed with the importance of preserving a free and open Internet; nor did it close the door to other methods for achieving this important end.”

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_tec_internet_rules;_ylt=AmZVeIueSxSMQqNOmFW4bRZbbBAF;_ylu=X3oDMTNhczdxajYzBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwNDA2L3VzX3RlY19pbnRlcm5ldF9ydWxlcwRjY29kZQNtb3N0cG9wdWxhcgRjcG9zAzIEcG9zAzIEc2VjA3luX3RvcF9zdG9yaWVzBHNsawNmY2Nsb3Nlc2tleXI-

The Cheney-Like Secrecy of the Obama White House

(The Nation) Those of us who proposed the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney for violating his oath of office and engaging in a Nixon-on-steroids spree of high crimes and misdemeanors began to recognize the abusive nature of the previous administration when Cheney refused to release details of the industry insiders with whom he met to craft energy policies.

The refusal of the Bush-Cheney administration to permit public review of White House visitor logs detailing who was meeting with the vice president’s energy task force during the very first weeks of their tenure was a deliberate decision made to cloak dirty dealing by officials who were determined to serve corporate rather than public interests.

It also provided an early indicator that darker and dirtier deeds would eventually be done by Cheney and his compatriots. And they were.

So what should we make of the news that the Obama administration is now refusing to release White House visitor logs that detail meetings between members of the new administration and health-care industry insiders?

As Sharon Theimer, of The Associated Press, notes:

(The) administration’s multibillion-dollar deals with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies have been made in private, and the results were announced after the fact. Both industries promised Obama cost savings in return for an expanded base of insured patients; beyond that, the public is in the dark about details.In some ways, it resembles what his party criticized President George W. Bush for doing with oil and gas companies as Vice President Dick Cheney wrote a national energy plan in the early days of the Bush administration.

As the Bush White House did, the Obama White House is refusing to release visitor logs that would let people see everyone going in and out during the thick of discussions over major national policies.

There is a lot of talk about the fact that Obama has broken a campaign promise.

That’s serious.

But far more serious is the perpetuation of practices of official secrecy that characterized the Bush-Cheney den of iniquity.

When administrations begin to enjoy the benefits of operating in the dark, they become disinclined to end the practice. They also begin to buy into the fantasy that keeping details from Congress and the people is the only way to get things done, as did Obama White House spokesman Reid Cherlin when he tried to explain away a lack of transparency by saying: “Here’s what’s happening: Groups that have steadfastly opposed reform in the past are coming to the table and making concessions — because they know we can’t wait another year to pass health insurance reform.”

Actually, bad players are embracing bad compromises because they have made bad deals with the White House.

And, make no mistake, more bad things will happen.

Only whack jobs who believe that Barack Obama was birthed in Jakarta could imagine that this administration might ever be as corrupt as its predecessor. Bush and Cheney achieved Warren Harding levels of official crookedness.

However, bad-but-not-quite-Cheney-bad is an unacceptable standard.

Official secrecy, especially when it involves meetings by White House aides and representatives of corporate interests that face government regulation, is corrosive. It warps the official agenda and undermines the system of checks and balances — making the legislative branch a weak second to a unitary executive.

Barack Obama promised when he sought the presidency to usher in a new era of openness and transparency. “We’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies,” candidate Obama declared at a Pennsylvania campaign stop two months before the 2008 election.

Now, he is doing the opposite.

Worse yet, he is perpetuating the foul practices of the most corrupt administration in American history.

The Cheney-Like Secrecy of the Obama White House

This portion is not part of original story, but was posted as a comment and is worth reading.

Not sure if most people understand that they are breaking the law in more than one way and a provision in the Social Security Act is one of them.

Sec[42 U.S.C. 1395] Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize any Federal officer or employee to exercise any supervision or control over the practice of medicine or the manner in which medical services are provided, or over the selection, tenure, or compensation of any officer or employee of any institution, agency, or person providing health services; or to exercise any supervision or control over the administration or operation of any such institution, agency, or person.

https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title18/1801.htm

Torture Inc. Americas Brutal Prisons

(ICH)   Savaged by dogs, Electrocuted With Cattle Prods, Burned By Toxic Chemicals, Does such barbaric abuse inside U.S. jails explain the horrors that were committed in Iraq?

They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4 . It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realise that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

The prison guards stand over their captives with electric cattle prods, stun guns, and dogs. Many of the prisoners have been ordered to strip naked. The guards are yelling abuse at them, ordering them to lie on the ground and crawl. ‘Crawl, motherf*****s, crawl.’

If a prisoner doesn’t drop to the ground fast enough, a guard kicks him or stamps on his back. There’s a high-pitched scream from one man as a dog clamps its teeth onto his lower leg.

Another prisoner has a broken ankle. He can’t crawl fast enough so a guard jabs a stun gun onto his buttocks. The jolt of electricity zaps through his naked flesh and genitals. For hours afterwards his whole body shakes.

Lines of men are now slithering across the floor of the cellblock while the guards stand over them shouting, prodding and kicking.

Second by second, their humiliation is captured on a video camera by one of the guards.

The images of abuse and brutality he records are horrifyingly familiar. These were exactly the kind of pictures from inside Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad that shocked the world this time last year.

And they are similar, too, to the images of brutality against Iraqi prisoners that this week led to the conviction of three British soldiers.

But there is a difference. These prisoners are not caught up in a war zone. They are Americans, and the video comes from inside a prison in Texas

They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4 that will be broadcast next week.

Our findings were not based on rumour or suspicion. They were based on solid evidence, chiefly videotapes that we collected from all over the U.S.

In many American states, prison regulations demand that any ‘use of force operation’, such as searching cells for drugs, must be filmed by a guard.

The theory is that the tapes will show proper procedure was followed and that no excessive force was used. In fact, many of them record the exact opposite.

Each tape provides a shocking insight into the reality of life inside the U.S. prison system – a reality that sits very uncomfortably with President Bush’s commitment to the battle for freedom and democracy against the forces of tyranny and oppression.

In fact, the Texas episode outlined above dates from 1996, when Bush was state Governor.

Frank Carlson was one of the lawyers who fought a compensation battle on behalf of the victims. I asked him about his reaction when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last year and U.S. politicians rushed to express their astonishment and disgust that such abuses could happen at the hands of American guards.

‘I thought: “What hypocrisy,” Carlson told me. ‘Because they know we do it here every day.’

All the lawyers I spoke to during our investigations shared Carlson’s belief that Abu Ghraib, far from being the work of a few rogue individuals, was simply the export of the worst practices that take place in the domestic prison system all the time. They pointed to the mountain of files stacked on their desks, on the floor, in their office corridors – endless stories of appalling, sadistic treatment inside America’s own prisons.

Many of the tapes we’ve collected are several years old. That’s because they only surface when determined lawyers prise them out of reluctant state prison departments during protracted lawsuits.

But for every ‘historical’ tape we collected, we also found a more recent story. What you see on the tape is still happening daily.

It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realise that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

In one horrific scene, a naked man, passive and vacant, is seen being led out of his cell by prison guards. They strap him into a medieval-looking device called a ‘restraint chair’. His hands and feet are shackled, there’s a strap across his chest, his head lolls forward. He looks dead. He’s not. Not yet.

The chair is his punishment because guards saw him in his cell with a pillowcase on his head and he refused to take it off. The man has a long history of severe schizophrenia. Sixteen hours later, they release him from the chair. And two hours after that, he dies from a blood clot resulting from his barbaric treatment.

The tape comes from Utah – but there are others from Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Arizona and probably many more. We found more than 20 cases of prisoners who’ve died in the past few years after being held in a restraint chair.

Two of the deaths we investigated were in the same county jail in Phoenix, Arizona, which is run by a man who revels in the title of ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff.’

His name is Joe Arpaio. He positively welcomes TV crews and we were promised ‘unfettered access.’ It was a reassuring turn of phrase – you don’t want to be fettered in one of Sheriff Joe’s jails.

We uncovered two videotapes from surveillance cameras showing how his tough stance can end in tragedy.

The first tape, from 2001, shows a man named Charles Agster dragged in by police, handcuffed at the wrists and ankles. Agster is mentally disturbed and a drug user. He was arrested for causing a disturbance in a late-night grocery store. The police handed him over to the Sheriff’s deputies in the jail. Agster is a tiny man, weighing no more than nine stone, but he’s struggling.

The tape shows nine deputies manhandling him into the restraint chair. One of them kneels on Agster’s stomach, pushing his head forward on to his knees and pulling his arms back to strap his wrists into the chair.

Bending someone double for any length of time is dangerous – the manuals on the use of the ‘restraint chair’ warn of the dangers of ‘positional asphyxia.’

Fifteen minutes later, a nurse notices Agster is unconscious. The cameras show frantic efforts to resuscitate him, but he’s already brain dead. He died three days later in hospital. Agster’s family is currently suing Arizona County.

His mother, Carol, cried as she told me: ‘If that’s not torture, I don’t know what is.’ Charles’s father, Chuck, listened in silence as we filmed the interview, but every so often he padded out of the room to cry quietly in the kitchen.

The second tape, from five years earlier, shows Scott Norberg dying a similar death in the same jail. He was also a drug user arrested for causing a nuisance. Norberg was severely beaten by the guards, stunned up to 19 times with a Taser gun and forced into the chair where – like Charles Agster – he suffocated.

The county’s insurers paid Norberg’s family more than £4 millions in an out-of-court settlement, but the sheriff was furious with the deal. ‘My officers were clear,’ he said. ‘The insurance firm was afraid to go before a jury.’

Now he’s determined to fight the Agster case all the way through the courts. Yet tonight, in Sheriff Joe’s jail, there’ll probably be someone else strapped into the chair.

Not all the tapes we uncovered were filmed by the guards themselves. Linda Evans smuggled a video camera into a hospital to record her son, Brian. You can barely see his face through all the tubes and all you can hear is the rhythmic sucking of the ventilator.

He was another of Sheriff Joe’s inmates. After an argument with guards, he told a prison doctor they’d beaten him up. Six days later, he was found unconscious of the floor of his cell with a broken neck, broken toes and internal injuries. After a month in a coma, he died from septicaemia.

‘Mr Arpaio is responsible.’ Linda Evans told me, struggling to speak through her tears. ‘He seems to thrive on this cruelty and this mentality that these men are nothing.’

In some of the tapes it’s not just the images, it’s also the sounds that are so unbearable. There’s one tape from Florida which I’ve seen dozens of times but it still catches me in the stomach.

It’s an authorised ‘use of force operation’ – so a guard is videoing what happens. They’re going to Taser a prisoner for refusing orders.

The tape shows a prisoner lying on an examination table in the prison hospital. The guards are instructing him to climb down into a wheelchair. ‘I can’t, I can’t!’ he shouts with increasing desperation. ‘It hurts!’

One guard then jabs him on both hips with a Taser. The man jerks as the electricity hits him and shrieks, but still won’t get into the wheelchair.

The guards grab him and drop him into the chair. As they try to bend his legs up on to the footrest, he screams in pain. The man’s lawyer told me he has a very limited mental capacity. He says he has a back injury and can’t walk or bend his legs without intense pain.

The tape becomes even more harrowing. The guards try to make the prisoner stand up and hold a walking frame. He falls on the floor, crying in agony. They Taser him again. He runs out of the energy and breath to cry and just lies there moaning.

One of the most recent video tapes was filmed in January last year. A surveillance camera in a youth institution in California records an argument between staff members and two ‘wards’ – they’re not called prisoners.

One of the youths hits a staff member in the face. He knocks the ward to the floor then sits astride him punching him over and over again in the head.

Watching the tape you can almost feel each blow. The second youth is also punched and kicked in the head – even after he’s been handcuffed. Other staff just stand around and watch.

We also collected some truly horrific photographs.

A few years ago, in Florida, the new warden of the high security state prison ordered an end to the videoing of ‘use of force operations.’ So we have no tapes to show how prison guards use pepper spray to punish prisoners.

But we do have the lawsuit describing how men were doused in pepper spray and then left to cook in the burning fog of chemicals. Photographs taken by their lawyers show one man has a huge patch of raw skin over his hip. Another is covered in an angry rash across his neck, back and arms. A third has deep burns on his buttocks.

‘They usually use fire extinguishers size canisters of pepper spray,’ lawyer Christopher Jones explained. ‘We have had prisoners who have had second degree burns all over their bodies.

‘The tell-tale sign is they turn off the ventilation fans in the unit. Prisoners report that cardboard is shoved in the crack of the door to make sure it’s really air-tight.’

And why were they sprayed? According to the official prison reports, their infringements included banging on the cell door and refusing medication. From the same Florida prison we also have photographs of Frank Valdes – autopsy pictures. Realistically, he had little chance of ever getting out of prison alive. He was on Death Row for killing a prison officer. He had time to reconcile himself to the Electric Chair – he didn’t expect to be beaten to death.

Valdes started writing to local Florida newspapers to expose the corruption and brutality of prison officers. So a gang of guards stormed into his cell to shut him up. They broke almost every one of his ribs, punctured his lung, smashed his spleen and left him to die.

Several of the guards were later charged with murder, but the trial was held in their own small hometown where almost everyone works for, or has connection with, the five prisons which ring the town. The foreman of the jury was former prison officer. The guards were all acquitted.

Meanwhile, the warden who was in charge of the prison at the time of the killing – the same man who changed the policy on videoing – has been promoted. He’s now the man in charge of all the Florida prisons.

How could anyone excuse – still less condone – such behaviour? The few prison guards who would talk to us have a siege mentality. They see themselves outnumbered, surrounded by dangerous, violent criminals, so they back each other up, no matter what.

I asked one serving officer what happened if colleagues beat up an inmate. ‘We cover up. Because we’re the good guys.’

No one should doubt that the vast majority of U.S. prison officers are decent individuals doing their best in difficult circumstances. But when horrific abuse by the few goes unreported and uninvestigated, it solidifies into a general climate of acceptance among the many.

At the same time the overall hardening of attitudes in modern-day America has meant the notion of rehabilitation has been almost lost. The focus is entirely on punishment – even loss of liberty is not seen as punishment enough. Being on the restraint devices and the chemical sprays.

Since we finished filming for the programme in January, I’ve stayed in contact with various prisoners’ rights groups and the families of many of the victims. Every single day come more e-mails full of fresh horror stories. In the past weeks, two more prisoners have died, in Alabama and Ohio. One man was pepper sprayed, the other tasered.

Then, three weeks ago, reports emerged of 20 hours of video material from Guantanamo Bay showing prisoners being stripped, beaten and pepper sprayed. One of those affected is Omar Deghayes, one of the seven British residents still being held there.

His lawyer says Deghayes is now permanently blind in one eye. American military investigators have reviewed the tapes and apparently found ‘no evidence of systematic abuse.’

But then, as one of the prison reformers we met on our journey across the U.S. told me: ‘We’ve become immune to the abuse. The brutality has become customary.’

So far, the U.S. government is refusing to release these Guantanamo tapes. If they are ever made public – or leaked – I suspect the images will be very familiar.

Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo – or even Texas. The prisoners and all guards may vary, but the abuse is still too familiar. And much is it is taking place in America’s own backyard.

Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article8451.htm

Do the crime, pay for the time, as in $90 a day

This undated photo released by the Metropolitan Corrections Center shows a jail AP – This undated photo released by the Metropolitan Corrections Center shows a jail cell at the facility …

(AP Via Yahoo) A one-night stay? Ninety dollars. Need to see a doctor? Ten bucks. Want toilet paper? Pay for it yourself.

In the ever-widening search for extra income during desperate economic times, states across the nation are embracing a new idea: making inmates pay their debt to society not only in hard time, but also in cold, hard cash.

In New York, GOP Assemblyman James Tedisco introduced a bill that would charge wealthy criminals $90 a day for room and board at state prisons.

Dubbed the “Madoff Bill,” after billion-dollar Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, the legislation is designed to ease the $1 billion annual cost of incarcerating prisoners.

“This concept says if you can afford it, or even some of it, you’re going to help the beleaguered taxpayers who play by the rules,” Tedisco said.

Several other states and some cities have gone to great lengths to squeeze money from inmates.

In Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Sheriff Joe Arpaio calls himself America’s toughest sheriff and makes prisoners sleep outdoors in 100-degree-plus heat.

Earlier this year, he announced that inmates would be charged $1.25 per day for meals. His decision followed months of food strikes staged by convicts who complained of being fed green bologna and moldy bread.

In Iowa’s Des Moines County, where officials faced a $1.7 million budget hole this year, politicians considered charging prisoners for toilet paper — at a savings of $2,300 per year. The idea was ultimately dropped, after much derision.

A New Jersey legislator introduced a bill similar to New York’s, this one based on fees charged by the Camden County Correctional Facility, which bills prisoners $5 a day for room and board and $10 per day for infirmary stays — totaling an estimated $300,000 per year.

In Virginia, Richmond’s overcrowded city jail has begun charging $1 per day, hoping to earn as much as $200,000 a year. In Missouri‘s Taney County, home to Branson, the sheriff says charging inmates $45 per day will help pay for his new $27 million jail.

Prisons and jails took some of the biggest cuts this summer when legislators took machetes to their state budgets, trying to slash their way out of an economic morass exacerbated by dwindling tax revenues. But to civil rights advocates — and some law enforcement officials — trying to raise money by charging inmates makes no sense.

“The overwhelming number of people who end up in prison are poor,” said Elizabeth Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “The number of times in which these measures actually result in a lot of money coming in is very small.”

Alexander also says such efforts only amount to political window dressing. “They allow someone to look tough on crime instead of being effective,” she said.

Collecting the fees covers a wide spectrum. In Richmond, they are deducted from a prisoner’s personal account — which contains whatever money relatives send and any cash the suspect had when arrested. In Arizona, sheriff Arpaio, who makes inmates wear pink underwear to increase the humiliation factor, also taps prisoner accounts. Inmates who have no money still receive food, the sheriff says.

Other authorities slap the prisoner with a bill upon release from prison. But it’s often hard to collect. In Kansas, Overland Park officials acknowledged collecting only 39 percent of fees. In Missouri’s Jackson County, officials discovered they spent more money trying to collect fees than they actually received from inmates.

In some cases, it’s prisoners’ families who shoulder the financial burden.

“It’s the spouses, children and parents who pay the fees. They are the people who contribute to prisoners’ canteen accounts,” said Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights, which successfully opposed an effort earlier this year in Georgia to bill prisoners $40 per day.

The money was to be collected by seizing cash in their jail accounts or by filing lawsuits. The proposal also would have denied parole to those who could not make payments after being freed.

“It makes no sense to release people with $25, a bus ticket and $40,000 in reimbursement fees,” she said. “Saddling people with thousands of dollars in debt is contradictory to helping someone become a functioning member of society.”

In recent years, as get-tough sentencing and drug penalties increased, the nation’s prison population skyrocketed. Chain gangs returned to states including Arizona and Alabama. Premium cable was eliminated in federal prisons. New York killed an inmate program that paid tuition for college-degree programs.

But trying to make prisoners pay to serve time is a wasted effort, civil rights advocates say. “This is a dry a well,” Alexander said. “They’re not going to solve this (economic) problem by going down it.”

Asked if she had heard about Des Moines County’s proposal to charge inmates for toilet paper, Alexander laughed.

“I did not,” she replied. “That’s a good metaphor for the whole effort.”

Spitzer: Federal Reserve is “a Ponzi scheme, an inside job”

(RAW STORY)    The Federal Reserve — the quasi-autonomous body that controls the US’s money supply — is a “Ponzi scheme” that created “bubble after bubble” in the US economy and needs to be held accountable for its actions, says Eliot Spitzer, the former governor and attorney-general of New York.

In a wide-ranging discussion of the bank bailouts on MSNBC’s Morning Meeting, host Dylan Ratigan described the process by which the Federal Reserve exchanged $13.9 trillion of bad bank debt for cash that it gave to the struggling banks.

Spitzer — who built a reputation as “the Sheriff of Wall Street” for his zealous prosecutions of corporate crime as New York’s attorney-general and then resigned as the state’s governor over revelations he had paid for prostitutes — seemed to agree with Ratigan that the bank bailout amounts to “America’s greatest theft and cover-up ever.”

Advocating in favor of a House bill to audit the Federal Reserve, Spitzer said: “The Federal Reserve has benefited for decades from the notion that it is quasi-autonomous, it’s supposed to be independent. Let me tell you a dirty secret: The Fed has done an absolutely disastrous job since [former Fed Chairman] Paul Volcker left.

“The reality is the Fed has blown it. Time and time again, they blew it. Bubble after bubble, they failed to understand what they were doing to the economy.

“The most poignant example for me is the AIG bailout, where they gave tens of billions of dollars that went right through — conduit payments — to the investment banks that are now solvent. We [taxpayers] didn’t get stock in those banks, they didn’t ask what was going on — this begs and cries out for hard, tough examination.

“You look at the governing structure of the New York [Federal Reserve], it was run by the very banks that got the money. This is a Ponzi scheme, an inside job. It is outrageous, it is time for Congress to say enough of this. And to give them more power now is crazy.

“The Fed needs to be examined carefully.”

Spitzer resigned as governor of New York in March, 2008, after news reports stated Spitzer had paid for a $1,000-an-hour New York City call girl.

At the time, Spitzer had been raising the alarm about sub-prime mortgages. In the wake of the economic meltdown triggered last fall by sub-prime loans, some observers have suggested that Spitzer may have been targeted by law enforcement because of his high-profile opposition to Wall Street financial policies.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast wrote that federal agents’ revealing of Spitzer’s identity as a call-girl customer was no coincidence.

Palast wrote that the principle of “prosecutorial discretion” is often used to keep the names of high-profile persons out of the media when they are tangentially linked to a criminal investigation. In the case of Spitzer, the Justice Department chose not to invoke prosecutorial discretion.

Funny thing, this ‘discretion.’ For example, Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, paid Washington DC prostitutes to put him in diapers (ewww!), yet the Senator was not exposed by the US prosecutors busting the pimp-ring that pampered him.

Naming and shaming and ruining Spitzer – rarely done in these cases – was made at the ‘discretion’ of Bush’s Justice Department.

Spitzer recently told Bloomberg News that President Obama’s regulatory reforms of the financial sector are “irrelevant” because regulatory agencies have not been enforcing corporate laws to begin with.

“Regulatory agencies already had the power to do everything they needed to do,” he said. “They just affirmatively chose not to do it.”

The following video was broadcast on MSNBC’s Morning Meeting, Friday, July 24, 2009:

http://rawstory.com/08/news/2009/07/25/spitzer-federal-reserve-is-a-ponzi-scheme-an-inside-job/

Drive to legalize marijuana rolls on in California

(CNN) OAKLAND, California… Richard Lee greets students, shopkeepers and tourists as he rolls his wheelchair down Broadway at the speed of a brisk jog, hailing them with, “Hi. How ya doin’?”

Marijuana activist Richard Lee is a local celebrity in the small district of Oakland, California, called Oaksterdam.

Marijuana activist Richard Lee is a local celebrity in the small district of Oakland, California, called Oaksterdam.

In this nine-block district of Oakland, California, called Oaksterdam, Lee is a celebrity.

Oaksterdam is Lee’s brainchild, a small pocket of urban renewal built on a thriving trade in medical marijuana. The district’s name comes from a marriage of Oakland and Amsterdam, a city in the Netherlands renowned for its easy attitude toward sex and drugs.

Lee is the founder of Oaksterdam University, which he describes as a trade school that specializes in all things marijuana: how to grow it, how to market it, how to consume it. The school, which has a curriculum, classes and teachers, claims 3,500 graduates.

Lee also owns a medical marijuana dispensary, a coffee house, a large indoor marijuana plantation, and a museum/store devoted to the cause of legalizing marijuana.

“I really see this as following the history of alcohol. The way prohibition was repealed there,” Lee says, adding that he believes he is close to achieving his mission.

Lee is organizing a petition drive to place a marijuana legalization measure on the ballot in 2010, and he thinks the measure stands a good chance of being approved by voters.

A recent California Field Poll showed that more than half the people in the state, where marijuana for medical use was approved more than a decade ago, would approve of decriminalizing pot.

The state’s faltering economy is one reason why. If legalized, marijuana could become California’s No. 1 cash crop. It could bring in an estimated $1 billion a year in state taxes.

Democratic State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is spearheading a cannabis legalization bill in the California Assembly. He believes the state’s need to increase tax revenues will work in his bill’s favor.

“I think it’s a seductive part of the equation,” he says.

Ammiano says there are a number of ways legalized pot could be marketed, “It could be a Walgreens, it could be a hospital, a medical marijuana facility, whatever could be convenient. Adequate enforcement of the rules. Nobody under 21. No driving under the influence.”

Even California’s Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, says legalizing marijuana deserves serious consideration.

“I think we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana,” Schwarzenegger says.

But Ammiano says selling a legalized marijuana bill to his fellow legislators remains a delicate matter.

“If we held the vote in the hallway, we’d have it done,” Ammiano says. “But people are necessarily cautious. They are up for re-election.”

And that is why Lee believes voters will approve a marijuana initiative long before the state Assembly acts. Sitting under grow lights in a warehouse filled with hundreds of marijuana plants, Lee sums it up this way: “For some people cannabis is like a religion. As passionate as some people are about their religions and freedom to think what they want and to worship as they want.”

But all of that is baloney to Paul Chabot. He is president of the Coalition for a Drug Free California. He says voters should not be fooled by promises of big bucks flowing to the state from marijuana taxes.

“It’s their way of sort of desensitizing our communities, our state and our nation to a drug problem that we clearly need to put our foot down on, and say, ‘No more. Enough is enough.’ ”

Chabot points out that California’s medical marijuana law has been poorly regulated, and he expects more of the same if marijuana becomes legalized for everyone.

But a substantial number of Californians seem to believe that no amount of enforcement is going to make pot go away — and that it’s time for the state to begin taking a cut of the action.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/07/24/california.marijuana/index.html?iref=werecommend

First Blood Diamonds, Now Blood Computers?

(TIME)   When the film Blood Diamond came out in 2006, people were startled at the alleged origins of the precious stones from areas of bloody conflict and began asking whether the jewels on their fingers cost a human life. Will consumers soon find themselves asking similar questions about their cell phones and computers?


Men sift through buckets of dirt while looking for gold at an abandoned industrial mine in Mongbwalu, Congo.
Men sift through buckets of dirt while looking for gold at an abandoned industrial mine in Mongbwalu, Congo
Spencer Platt / Getty

In a report released earlier this week, Global Witness claims that multinational companies are furthering a trade in minerals at the heart of the hi-tech industry that feeds the horrendous civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). (Global Witness is the same nongovernmental organization that helped expose the violence that plagues many of the sources of diamonds.) However, the accused companies, with varying degrees of hostility, deny any culpability, saying Global Witness oversimplifies a complex economic process in a chaotic geopolitial setting. (See pictures of diamonds set on onyx and black enamel.)

The provinces of North and South Kivu in the eastern DRC are filled with mines of cassiterite, wolframite, coltan and gold — minerals needed to manufacture everything from lightbulbs to laptops, from MP3 players to Playstations. Over the past 12 years of armed conflict in the region, control of these valuable natural resources has allegedly become a lucrative way for warring parties to purchase munitions and fund their fighting. The Global Witness report claims to have followed the supply chain of these minerals from warring parties to middlemen to international buyers. (How the world must act on Congo — Now.)

By the time metals reach electronics companies, they may have changed hands as many as seven times. This means that without a clear supply history, when a consumer sets her cell phone to vibrate, a function enabled through the mineral wolframite, it is virtually impossible for her to know whether she is using wolframite mined in the eastern DRC, the site of horrific fighting and killing. More than 5 million people have been killed since the conflict began in 1996, some through direct abuse, others through the political and economic chaos that the conflict has created. Armed groups frequently force civilians to mine the minerals, extorting taxes and refusing to pay wages. The report quotes one miner from South Kivu: “We are their meat, their animals. We have nothing to say.” (See pictures of the civil war in Congo.)

According to Global Witness, although the Congolese army and FDLR rebel groups have been warring on opposite sides for years, they are collaborators in the mining effort, at times providing each other with road and airport access and even sharing their spoils. Researchers say they found evidence that the mineral trade is much more extensive and profitable than previously suspected: one Congolese government official reported that at least 90% of all gold exports from the country were undeclared. And the report charges that the failure of foreign governments to crack down on illicit mining and trade has undercut development endeavors undertaken by the international community in the war-torn region.

The study, Faced with a Gun, What Can You Do?, raises questions about the involvement of nearly 240 companies spanning the mineral, metal and technology industries. It specifically fingers four main European and Asian companies as open buyers in this trade: Thailand Smelting and Refining Corp. (owned by British Amalgamated Metal Corp.), British Afrimex, Belgian Trademet and Traxys. And it questions the role of others further down the manufacturing chain, including prominent electronics companies Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Dell and Motorola. Even though the companies may be acting legally, Global Witness criticizes their lack of due diligence and transparency standards at every level of their supply chain.

British Amalgamated Metal Corp. (AMC) firmly denies the accusations, citing its standing objective to improve visibility so that warring parties do not benefit from trade. “We are disappointed with the number of inaccuracies and omissions in the report and are concerned that all the facts should be properly represented in a balanced way,” AMC said. The company statement went on to say, “We are concerned that Global Witness’ approach will lead to a de facto ban on the trade which we do not believe is in either the short term or the long term interests of the Congo either economically, politically or socially.”

Traxys CEO Mark Kristoff told TIME that his company suspended trade in the DRC in May 2009 until there is a clearer road map for cooperation among companies, the U.N. and governments for a plan of social action. He added that Traxys’ $50 million in trade in the DRC is equivalent to 1% of the company’s total business. Afrimex told TIME via e-mail that its last shipment from the DRC took place in September 2008 and all such transactions have since ceased. “Any link between Afrimex’s past mineral-trading and armed groups remain wholly unfounded,” the statement said. “We remain at a loss to understand why Afrimex is still being mentioned by Global Witness.” Global Witness spokesperson Amy Barry said, “Just because they have claimed to stop sourcing at this point doesn’t change the fact that they were sourcing during our research. So we still think that the evidence we uncovered is worth bringing to the public’s attention.”

Other companies were less confrontational. In a statement, Hewlett-Packard said, “We are helping to address this serious concern through voluntary measures. Ensuring that electronics manufacturing does not contribute to human-rights violations in the DRC takes co-operation and commitment within every layer of the supply base.”

Some of the companies named in the report defend their business in the DRC by noting that their practices abide by the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct or the ethical principles of the International Tin Research Institute. Global Witness calls for higher standards in these industry guidelines to successfully monitor trade systems in conflict areas. “I don’t think there’s an obvious or easy answer” to the supply-chain problem, says Global Witness spokesperson Barry. “We are absolutely not calling for companies to pull out because we acknowledge it is a legitimate source of livelihood.” The group’s chief Congo researcher, Carina Tertsakian, puts it this way: “This is a question of will. If the companies are serious about trading in a way that is clean, they have the means to do it.”

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1912594,00.html?xid=rss-topstories

9/11 Commission members act to finally wrap it up

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Key members of the original 9/11 Commission are banding together to rekindle the sense of urgency felt after the 2001 attacks and pressure the government to act on the commission’s unfinished business.

Former 9/11 Commission co-chairs Lee Hamilton, left, and Thomas Kean, in file photo, are leading new group.

Former 9/11 Commission co-chairs Lee Hamilton, left, and Thomas Kean, in file photo, are leading new group.

The new group, headed by 9/11 Commission co-chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, said Congress has adopted about 80 percent of the recommendations, made five years ago in the commission’s landmark report, but has left troublesome security gaps.

“I’m worried that 20 percent [of the recommendations] haven’t been addressed,” Kean said. “I’m also worried that among the 80 percent, things aren’t fully done.”

Among what they described as unfinished business failings were:

• Failure to enforce national standards for state driver’s licenses and other IDs, which the 9/11 Commission said are as important to terrorists as weapons.

• Lack of a system to determine if visitors to the United States leave the country.

• Lack of the ability of police, firefighters and others to communicate.

• No reform of a system that places oversight of the Department of Homeland Security in the hands of more than 80 congressional committees and subcommittes, sapping the department’s time and energies.

“Some of our recommendations were just flatly turned down,” Hamilton said, citing one designed to revamp congressional oversight. He called the current system “an absurdity.”

Congress mandated the original 9/11 Commission, but the new bipartisan National Security Preparedness Group has no official status and is relying on the prestige of its members to give it clout.

Members include former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former U.S. Attorneys General Edwin Meese III and Richard Thornburgh, and former Energy Secretary E. Spencer Abraham.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano introduced the NSPG at an event at Homeland Security headquarters.

“I look forward to a very vigorous relationship with this group to provide advice, to provide thought and to help us as we continue to move forward,” Napolitano said.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit organization formed in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, brought the group together to address policy challenges.

The NSPG said it also will focus on the evolving threat of terrorism. Kean said that the threat of cyber attacks has increased since the 9/11 Commission issued its report.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/07/25/new.antiterror.group/index.html?iref=werecommend

Attorney General warns prosecutors after Stevens debacle

(Reuters) U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had some pointed words for prosecutors on Wednesday after the fumbling of the corruption case against former Republican Senator Ted Stevens that the government ultimately had to drop because evidence was withheld from the defense team.

JUSTICEHe warned government lawyers at a conference that the case had threatened to undermine the Justice Department’s credibility for providing defendants all the material against them as required by law.

“Our adversarial system for criminal trials can only result in justice if the discovery process is conducted by the government fairly, ethically, and according to the rule of law,” Holder said at a National Black Prosecutors Association luncheon in Memphis.

He said that the agency was reviewing its compliance and that “we will correct any errors and we will see to it, once again, that justice is our primary goal.”

In October a federal jury found Stevens guilty of seven counts of lying on a Senate disclosure form to conceal $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil executive and other friends.

In one of his first decisions after being confirmed as President Barack Obama’s chief law enforcement officer, Holder ordered the case against the long-time Alaska senator be abandoned after a review showed that prosecutors did not turn over to the defense information that could have helped Stevens’ case.

Stevens was the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate before he lost his seat in the 2008 election — a loss some conservative Republicans have blamed on the prosecution. Democrat Mark Begich won the seat in a narrow victory.

http://blogs.reuters.com/frontrow/2009/07/22/attorney-general-warns-prosecutors-after-stevens-debacle/

Minn. man killed by deputy after day of swimming

(AJC) KASOTA, Minn.—A plainclothes sheriff’s deputy shot and killed an unarmed 24-year-old man wearing only swim trunks after an argument ensued when he confronted the man for erratic driving, authorities and witnesses said Tuesday.Le Sueur County Sheriff’s investigator Todd Waldron, 37, shot Tyler Heilman after the two scuffled Monday in Kasota, a town about 60 miles southwest of Minneapolis, when Heilman returned from a day of swimming with friends. Those who saw the argument said it wasn’t clear the man he was fighting with was a law enforcement officer.

“This ain’t right,” said Heilman’s father, Mark Heilman. “I think the cop just freaked … Why didn’t he just say ‘Freeze’ or something? Or shoot him in the leg? He shot to kill … I think he just flipped.”

Authorities said Waldron was working another case and driving an unmarked sport utility vehicle on Monday when he saw Heilman driving a car erratically, and at times speeding, so he followed him. At one point, Heilman drove his car off the road and up an embankment.

BCA investigators believe Waldron fired four shots. Skoogman said Waldron was not in uniform, but he had a sheriff’s badge on his belt. Waldron was not working undercover, and Skoogman said authorities are investigating whether the deputy identified himself.

Witnesses give a similar account. Kris Hoehn, who was in the car with Heilman and other friends, said the group was on its way back from a day of swimming at the

Minnesota River when they noticed an SUV following them. Hoehn acknowledged the vehicle may have swerved some, and he said Heilman drove up a sledding hill at one point.Hoehn said the group didn’t know Waldron was a deputy. When they arrived at the apartment complex, Waldron asked Heilman for a driver’s license, and then the two started arguing, Hoehn said. He said Heilman and the deputy ended up wrestling on the ground.

Heilman ended up on top of Waldron, but got up and “that’s when he seen the badge—as he’s getting up,” Hoehn said. “Then came the gunshots, just as my buddy’s hands were going up.

KASOTA, Minn. — A plainclothes sheriff’s deputy shot and killed an unarmed 24-year-old man wearing only swim trunks after an argument ensued when he confronted the man for erratic driving, authorities and witnesses said Tuesday.

Marc Chadderdon of the Nicollet County Sheriff's Office photographs the scene of a shooting in the yard of an apartment building Monday, July 20, 2006, in Kasota, Minn.  (AP Photo/Mankato Free Press, John Cross)

Marc Chadderdon of the Nicollet County Sheriff’s Office photographs the scene of a shooting in the yard of an apartment building Monday, July 20, 2006, in Kasota, Minn. (AP Photo/Mankato Free Press, John Cross)

Bullet holes are shown Tuesday July 21, 2009 in an apartment window where Tyler Heilman, 24, was reportedly fatally shot Monday in Kasota, Minn. A plainclothes sheriff's deputy shot and killed an unarmed 24-year-old man returning from a day of swimming with friends after an argument ensued when he confronted the man for erratic driving, authorities and witnesses said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Elizabeth Flores)

Bullet holes are shown Tuesday July 21, 2009 in an apartment window where Tyler Heilman, 24, was reportedly fatally shot Monday in Kasota, Minn. A plainclothes sheriff’s deputy shot and killed an unarmed 24-year-old man returning from a day of swimming with friends after an argument ensued when he confronted the man for erratic driving, authorities and witnesses said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Elizabeth Flores)

Kris Hoehn stands as if he were pointing a weapon in Kasota, Minn. on Tuesday, July 21, 2009 as he demonstrates what he witnessed when he saw his best friend Tyler Heilman, 24, gunned down by plainclothes police officer Todd Waldron. The sheriff's deputy shot and killed the unarmed 24-year-old man who was wearing only swim trunks after an argument ensued when Waldron confronted Heilman for erratic driving, authorities and witnesses said Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Elizabeth Flores)   MBO TV is soft out

Kris Hoehn stands as if he were pointing a weapon in Kasota, Minn. on Tuesday, July 21, 2009 as he demonstrates what he witnessed when he saw his best friend Tyler Heilman, 24, gunned down by plainclothes police officer Todd Waldron. The sheriff’s deputy shot and killed the unarmed 24-year-old man who was wearing only swim trunks after an argument ensued when Waldron confronted Heilman for erratic driving, authorities and witnesses said Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Elizabeth Flores) MBO TV is soft out

Le Sueur County Sheriff’s investigator Todd Waldron, 37, shot Tyler Heilman after the two scuffled Monday in Kasota, a town about 60 miles southwest of Minneapolis, when Heilman returned from a day of swimming with friends. Those who saw the argument said it wasn’t clear the man he was fighting with was a law enforcement officer.

“This ain’t right,” said Heilman’s father, Mark Heilman. “I think the cop just freaked … Why didn’t he just say ‘Freeze’ or something? Or shoot him in the leg? He shot to kill … I think he just flipped.”

Authorities said Waldron was working another case and driving an unmarked sport utility vehicle on Monday when he saw Heilman driving a car erratically, and at times speeding, so he followed him. At one point, Heilman drove his car off the road and up an embankment.

Investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension believe Waldron fired four shots. Bureau spokesman Andy Skoogman said Waldron was not in uniform, but he had a sheriff’s badge on his belt. Waldron was not working undercover, and Skoogman said authorities are investigating whether the deputy identified himself.

Witnesses give a similar account. Kris Hoehn, who was in the car with Heilman and other friends, said the group was on its way back from a day of swimming at the Minnesota River when they noticed an SUV following them. Hoehn acknowledged the vehicle may have swerved some, and he said Heilman drove up a sledding hill at one point.

Hoehn said the group didn’t know Waldron was a deputy. When they arrived at the apartment complex, Waldron asked Heilman for a driver’s license, and then the two started arguing, Hoehn said. He said Heilman and the deputy ended up wrestling on the ground.

Heilman ended up on top of Waldron, but got up and “that’s when he seen the badge — as he’s getting up,” Hoehn said. “Then came the gunshots, just as my buddy’s hands were going up.

“It was too late. … We had no idea who he was. If we would have known he was a cop, none of this would’ve happened,” said Hoehn, 24.

Hoehn said Heilman was gasping for breath and said, “I’m done, man. I’m done.” He staggered a few feet and fell, face down, on the grass.

It wasn’t clear if alcohol played a role in the argument. Tyler Heilman was treated for alcohol abuse while in high school, but his father said he had kicked the problem, though he still drank a little bit. Hoehn said the group of friends had been drinking “a little” on Monday, but not enough to affect Heilman’s driving. Authorities are conducting an autopsy, which will include toxicology tests.

Summoned by a friend who heard about the shooting, Heilman’s father arrived at the scene moments later to find the area sectioned off by police tape, and his son lying on the ground as firefighters attempted to revive him. Heilman said his son was shot twice in the chest while another bullet grazed his right side, and he made the sign of the cross on his forehead a few times.

“I just knelt down by his head, brushed his head, brushed his scar,” Heilman said in a telephone interview, noting that his son had brain surgery in May to remove a blood clot.

Skoogman said Waldron suffered non-life-threatening injuries, but did not elaborate. The incident — from the time Waldron started following Heilman to the shooting — lasted less than 20 minutes, he said. There was no weapon found on Heilman or in his car, Skoogman said.

Waldron, who has been a deputy with the department for 10 years, has been placed on standard paid administrative leave, and the investigation could take six to eight weeks, Skoogman said. The BCA said Waldron has never been disciplined. Waldron’s resume indicates he also worked as a jailer with the department. He was promoted to investigator in 2004 and focuses on narcotics, sexual assaults and robberies, Skoogman said.

Waldron also served as a patrol officer with three small-town police departments and has a degree in law enforcement from Minnesota State University, Mankato. He’s taken several continuing education training courses, including training in use of deadly force, according to his personnel records.

A working phone number for Waldron could not be found and his parents, whose house he visited on Tuesday, declined comment.

Heilman acknowledged his son had gotten into past trouble for stealing and getting into fights, but said he had no serious problems in the last five years. Court records show Tyler Heilman has more than a dozen convictions in recent years, mostly from 2004-2006, and mostly for traffic and alcohol violations. He pleaded guilty to burglary in 2004 and also has a petty misdemeanor drug conviction and a misdemeanor assault conviction. His most recent conviction was in 2008 for driving with a suspended license.

http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/minn-man-killed-by-deputy-after-day-of-swimming-97314.html

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