Tag Archive | corruption

Trump takes office in violation of anti-corruption norms

trump-crossing-the-delaware

There are many things unprecedented about the incoming Trump presidency, not the least of which being the fact that the United States has never before been led by a billionaire with business interests spanning the globe. Only time will tell how Donald Trump ultimately ends up balancing his global business empire with running the U.S. government – but so far it is not looking promising.

In fact, as Richard Painter, former ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, has pointed out, he may be in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clause on day one of his presidency. This clause is one of the most critical conflict of interest provisions for all U.S. government officials. Basically, it is intended to ensure that nobody holding a position of trust with the United States government can receive payments from foreign governments, whether gifts or a salary or profits.

As Painter explained recently on Democracy Now:

If you have somebody who’s making profits from dealing with foreign governments or companies controlled by foreign governments, that person must dispense with those profits, cannot receive that money, while holding any position of trust with the United States government. That applies to every U.S. government employee, including the president. And so, what this means is that, for Donald Trump, if he’s going to hold onto these business enterprises, which present a whole range of other conflict of interest problems, to satisfy the Constitution, at a bare minimum, what he’s going to have to do is get the foreign government money and money from foreign government-controlled corporations out of his business enterprise. And this includes foreign diplomats staying at the hotels at government expense, foreign governments having big parties in his hotels and canceling reservations at the Four Seasons, going over to the Trump Hotel, to curry favor. All of that is unconstitutional.

Trump has responded to these criticisms by assuring the public that he would donate hotel profits from foreign governments to the United States Treasury and let his children manage all operations. This however isn’t enough to keep him on the right side of the Constitution, as law professor Erwin Chemerinsky explains:

In a word, Trump’s proposed solutions are laughable. So what if he donates “profits” from foreign governments to the United States Treasury? All he has to do is accept money from a foreign government and he’s already in violation of the emoluments clause – it doesn’t matter whether it constitutes a profit, or where the money ultimately ends up.

Focusing on profits, moreover, ignores the countless ways that his businesses can benefit from foreign governments that would never show up on a balance sheet. For example, it was widely reported that Trump lobbied a British political ally to oppose a wind farm project because it might ruin the view from his golf course in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Besides, Trump on Wednesday again refused to reveal his tax returns and declared that the American people do not care about them. A pledge to turn over profits is meaningless without detailed accounting.

While his global business holdings may render his conduct as president unconstitutional, his incoming administration’s nepotism and conflicts of interests also pose serious challenges to international norms, and may render the United States in violation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. As a state party to this convention, the United States has agreed to prevent conflicts of interest and corruption – including through “revolving-door practices,” such as placing corporate chieftains in charge of government regulatory agencies.

In particular, according to the convention:

Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, endeavour to adopt, maintain and strengthen systems that promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest.

Each State Party shall endeavour, where appropriate and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to establish measures and systems requiring public officials to make declarations to appropriate authorities regarding, inter alia, their outside activities, employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits from which a conflict of interest may result with respect to their functions as public officials. …

Preventing conflicts of interest by imposing restrictions, as appropriate and for a reasonable period of time, on the professional activities of former public officials or on the employment of public officials by the private sector after their resignation or retirement, where such activities or employment relate directly to the functions held or supervised by those public officials during their tenure.

The United States has long flouted these international obligations by allowing the corporate-government revolving door to swing freely and lucratively, but the violations of international norms will likely reach extraordinary new levels under Trump.

The advocacy group Transparency International, for one, is raising concerns that the practices that Trump is pursuing are exactly what “leaders in highly corrupt countries do.” As the organization recently tweeted out, “#Trump appointing his son-in-law as senior adviser looks a lot like #NEPOTISM to us!”

The group produced a video driving the point home in dramatic fashion:


Another Transparency International video outlines the conflicts of interest of his top cabinet picks and the likely corruption that will ensue:


While there is nothing new about conflicts of interest and corruption in the U.S. government (as reported by Compliance Campaign among others for years) the graft will likely dramatically worsen under Trump. In the past, the corruption has always been obscured by a veneer of legitimacy that masks the profiteering by the oligarchy running the government, but that mask is about to be removed.

But with the sleaze, fraud and vice about to be unleashed on the world, the United States may become more internationally isolated, possibly hastening the end of U.S. hegemony around the world. This might not ultimately be such a bad thing, as opening the global system to a more multilateral balance of power could end up being a net positive for the world, and U.S. isolation could help bring this about.

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Monsanto feels the heat on global day of protest

Hundreds of cities across the world held marches Saturday in a first-of-its-kind global demonstration against one of the world’s most powerful (and hated) corporations, Monsanto.  According to organizers, more than two million people participated in 436 cities in 52 countries.

With a focus on the health dangers of the genetically-modified foods that Monsanto has pioneered – including increased rates of cancer, infertility and birth defects – the demonstrations also sought to bring attention to the undue influence that this company wields over the political system, especially in the U.S.

As the movement explains on its website, “In the United States, the FDA, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the population, is steered by ex-Monsanto executives, and we feel that’s a questionable conflict of interests and explains the lack of government-led research on the long-term effects of GM products.”

This conflict of interest is perhaps best exemplified by the current Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA, Michael Taylor, who has spent his career benefiting from the lucrative revolving door between the food industry and the government agencies that purportedly regulate it.

An attorney for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1970s, and then in the 80s, a private lawyer at the D.C. law firm King & Spalding, where he represented Monsanto, Taylor returned to government as Deputy Commissioner for Policy for the FDA from 1991 to 1994. He then went back to private industry as Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto from 1998 until 2001.

When President Obama appointed him to the FDA in 2010, Taylor was a Senior Fellow at the think tank Resources for the Future, working on issues related to agricultural assistance in Africa.

As April Short explains at Alternet,

Ex-Monsanto executives run the United States Food and Drug Administration, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the American public.

This obvious conflict of interest could explain the lack of government-led research on the long-term effects of GM products. Recently, the U.S. Congress and president together passed the law that has been dubbed “Monsanto Protection Act.” Among other things, the new law bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds.

The pro-Monsanto “Farmer Assurance Provision, Section 735,” rider was quietly slipped into Agricultural Appropriations provisions of the HR 933 Continuing Resolution spending bill, designed to avert a federal government shutdown. It states that the department of agriculture “shall, notwithstanding any other provisions of law, immediately grant temporary permits to continue using the [GE] seed at the request of a farmer or producer [Monsanto].”

Obama signed the law on March 29. It allows the agribusiness giant to promote and plant GMO and GE seeds free from any judicial litigation that might deem such crops unsafe. Even if a court review determines that a GMO crop harms humans, Section 735 allows the seeds to be planted once the USDA approves them.

Because policies enacted by corrupt governments often serve special interests such as Monsanto at the expense of the interests of the general public, the revolving door practice so prevalent among Monsanto executives and federal agencies in Washington is prohibited by international law.

As a state party to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the United States has agreed to taking measures to prevent conflicts of interest and corruption in both the public and private sphere.

In particular,

Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, endeavour to adopt, maintain and strengthen systems that promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest.

Each State Party shall endeavour, where appropriate and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to establish measures and systems requiring public officials to make declarations to appropriate authorities regarding, inter alia, their outside activities, employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits from which a conflict of interest may result with respect to their functions as public officials. …

Preventing conflicts of interest by imposing restrictions, as appropriate and for a reasonable period of time, on the professional activities of former public officials or on the employment of public officials by the private sector after their resignation or retirement, where such activities or employment relate directly to the functions held or supervised by those public officials during their tenure.

The U.S. has long disregarded these provisions of the UN Convention against Corruption, and in certain cases, such as the cozy corporate-government relationship with Monsanto, has taken the cronyism to another level. As revealed by the WikiLeaks “Cablegate” expose of 2010, Monsanto and other biotech companies enjoy an extremely comfortable status within the State Department, with U.S. diplomats routinely lobbying on their behalf with foreign governments.

According to a report based on an extensive analysis of the WikiLeaks cables, just published by Food and Water Watch,

The U.S. State Department has launched a concerted strategy to promote agricultural biotechnology, often over the opposition of the public and governments, to the near exclusion of other more sustainable, more appropriate agricultural policy alternatives.

The U.S. State Department has lobbied foreign governments to adopt pro-agricultural biotechnology policies and laws, operated a rigorous public relations campaign to improve the image of biotechnology and challenged commonsense biotechnology safeguards and rules — even including opposing laws requiring the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.

The report, Biotech Ambassadors: How the U.S. State Department Promotes the Seed Industry’s Global Agenda, further explains,

The State Department worked especially hard to promote the interests of Monsanto, the world’s biggest biotech seed company in 2011. Monsanto appeared in 6.1 percent of the biotech cables analyzed between 2005 and 2009 from 21 countries. The State Department exercised its diplomatic persuasion to bolster Monsanto’s image in host countries, facilitate field-testing or approval of Monsanto crops and intervene with governments to negotiate seed royalty settlements.

U.S. embassies have attempted to burnish Monsanto’s image. The consulate in Munich, Germany, promised Monsanto that it would seek “even-handed” treatment of Monsanto’s core business by Bavarian officials, where farmers’ resistance to adopting biotech crops affected its brand. The embassy in Slovakia sought to “dispel myths about GMOs and advocate on behalf of Monsanto.”

In 2009, the embassy in Spain asked for “high level U.S. government intervention” at the “urgent requests” of Monsanto and a pro-biotech Spanish official in order to combat opposition to GE crops.

The State Department has even gone so far as to force other nations to accept biotech crop and food imports against their will. Working with the U.S. Trade Representative to promote the export of biotech crops, the State Department has used the full weight of U.S. diplomacy – with both carrots and sticks – to force nations that do not want these imports to accept U.S. biotech foods and crops.

As the March Against Monsanto puts it,

For too long, Monsanto has been the benefactor of corporate subsidies and political favoritism. Organic and small farmers suffer losses while Monsanto continues to forge its monopoly over the world’s food supply, including exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup.

It is in this context that two million people took to the streets over the weekend.

Demonstration in Copenhagen, Denmark: middelalder monsanto 292 middelalder monsanto 295 middelalder monsanto 299 middelalder monsanto 288

March against Monsanto in Tokyo, Japan:

March against Monsanto in San Diego, CA:

monsanto san diego

monsanto san diego 2

Washington, DC:

“We will not stand for cronyism,” says the March Against Monsanto on its website. “We will not stand for poison. That’s why we March Against Monsanto.”

Washington’s culture of corruption and corporate impunity

revolving-door-cartoon

Washington’s revolving door corruption and culture of corporate impunity reached new lows last week, raising serious doubts about the United States’ commitment to upholding its international anti-corruption obligations as spelled out in the UN Convention against Corruption.

First there was the adoption on Tuesday of the so-called Monsanto Protection Act, which contains a provision protecting the manufacturers of genetically modified seeds from future litigation in the face of potential health risks. Then, two days later, Lanny Breuer, former Justice Department Criminal Division chief, joined a corporate law firm as its vice chairman earning $4 million a year.

The controversial Monsanto legislation, officially called the Farmer Assurance Provision – also known as Section 735 of the spending bill HR 933 – effectively bars federal courts from halting the use of genetically modified seeds, regardless of health issues that may be identified with them in the future. While the use of genetically modified seeds, driven primarily by the biotech giant Monsanto, has proved wildly profitable, many argue that there have been too few studies into the potential health risks of this new class of crop.

But following the adoption of the spending bill HR 933 with President Obama’s signature last week, even if those studies are completed and they end up revealing serious adverse health effects related to the consumption of genetically modified foods, the courts will have no ability to stop the spread of the seeds and the crops they bear.

“This dangerous provision, the Monsanto Protection Act, strips judges of their constitutional mandate to protect consumer and farmer rights and the environment, while opening up the floodgates for the planting of new untested genetically engineered crops, endangering farmers, citizens and the environment,” the group Food Democracy Now said on its website.

Monsanto's campaign contributions by election cycle

Monsanto’s campaign contributions by election cycle

The group had collected more than 250,000 signatures in a petition for Obama to veto the legislation, but to no avail. Monsanto, which helped draft the controversial provision in collusion with freshman Sen. Roy Blunt, is very well connected in Washington, having showered millions of dollars in campaign contributions to federal candidates, with contributions spiking in recent years.

In particular, the Center for Responsive Politics notes that Sen. Blunt received $64,250 from Monsanto to go towards his campaign committee between 2008 and 2012.

Campaign contributions, however, are far from the only way in which Monsanto wields its disproportionate influence in Washington. Its revolving door corruption is legendary in fact, with dozens of Monsanto executives and government officials exchanging titles and paychecks on a fairly regular basis.

Below is a diagram of some of the more prominent beneficiaries of this cozy revolving door relationship. (Click here for a full-size version.)

monsanto-in-government

Michael Taylor, the current Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the FDA, exemplifies more clearly than most the revolving door between the food industry and the government agencies that purportedly regulate it. An attorney for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1970s, and then in the 80s, a private lawyer at the D.C. law firm King & Spalding, where he represented Monsanto, Taylor returned to government as Deputy Commissioner for Policy for the FDA from 1991 to 1994. He then went back to private industry as Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto from 1998 until 2001.

Before President Obama appointed him to the FDA in 2010, Taylor was a Senior Fellow at the think tank Resources for the Future, where he published two documents on U.S. aid for African agriculture, both of which were funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Rather than using his position of power in the FDA to provide stringent oversight over Monsanto’s business practices, Taylor has instead gone after the agribusiness giant’s competitors, particularly small dairy farms that produce fresh milk.

As CREDO has pointed out, “the Food and Drug Administration is running sting operations followed by ‘guns-drawn raids usually reserved for terrorists and drug lords’ as part of a crackdown on unpasteurized milk.”

While this strict enforcement of laws requiring pasteurization could be considered a commendable as zero-tolerance approach to food safety, the fact is, under Taylor’s watch the FDA has been letting the highly consolidated industrial meat and factory farm industry off the hook despite growing problems. But this of course is what’s to be expected with Washington’s revolving door.

lanny breuer

Another fine example of this corruption is the decision by the corporate law firm Covington & Burling to rehire Lanny Breuer, this time as the firm’s vice chairman. Breuer has spent the last four years at the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, where he led the so-called investigation into the financial crisis.

He will now be joining the white-collar defense firm for the third time, and much like he has done at the DOJ, his job will be to defend large corporations from prosecution. This time however, he will be paid $4 million a year.

Not a single prosecution was brought under his watch against the too-big-to-fail financial institutions that crashed the global economy in 2008, and it’s not a conspiracy theory to speculate that Breuer was simply biding his time at the DOJ to build his value in the marketplace and pad his resume as a corporate lackey, a point that this satirical YouTube video makes clear:

This point was also driven home by an official DOJ directive from 2008, the same year that Breuer took over the Criminal Division. That year, the Justice Department announced a shift in policy, deciding to encourage self-policing by the banks and corporations, rather than vigorously prosecuting their law breaking. After all, “federal prosecutors and corporate leaders typically share common goals,” read the directive.

And unfortunately, Obama’s DOJ followed through on this policy of non-enforcement in spectacular fashion. Obama has prosecuted fewer financial crimes than Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton or either of the Bush presidents. Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder, another Covington & Burling alum previously making $2.5 million a year, has publicly stated that he won’t go after big banks.

Because of the notoriously bad policies enacted by corrupt governments, the revolving door practice so common in Washington is prohibited by international law. As a state party to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the United States has agreed to taking measures to prevent conflicts of interest and corruption in both the public and private sphere.

In particular,

Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, endeavour to adopt, maintain and strengthen systems that promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest.

Each State Party shall endeavour, where appropriate and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to establish measures and systems requiring public officials to make declarations to appropriate authorities regarding, inter alia, their outside activities, employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits from which a conflict of interest may result with respect to their functions as public officials. …

Preventing conflicts of interest by imposing restrictions, as appropriate and for a reasonable period of time, on the professional activities of former public officials or on the employment of public officials by the private sector after their resignation or retirement, where such activities or employment relate directly to the functions held or supervised by those public officials during their tenure.

It could be said that the United States is routinely and flagrantly flouting this international obligation by allowing the corporate-government revolving door to swing so freely and lucratively, with business executives and corporate lawyers becoming government regulators and then returning to the private sector to collect multi-million dollar paychecks once they have completed their stints in “public service.”

Of course, the corporations and the banksters claim that this system works wonderfully.

As Monsanto so artfully explains on its website,

One objection opponents of biotechnology have raised is the fact that some former government employees have gone to work for Monsanto, and some company employees have left the company to take jobs in the public sector. Some critics say this shows collusion by Monsanto and the government. Such theories ignore the simple truth that people regularly change jobs to find positions that match their experience, skills and interests. Both the public and private sectors benefit when employers have access to the most competent and experienced people. It makes perfect sense that someone in government who has concluded biotechnology is a positive, beneficial technology might go to work for a biotech company, just as someone who believes otherwise might find employment in an organization which rejects agricultural biotechnology.

While there is some ostensible logic to this argument, it fails to acknowledge the self-evident reality of the overriding profit motive that trumps any possible public-interest gains to be made by allowing corporate chieftains to dictate public policy or ensure the non-enforcement of statutory law.

There are in fact common sense approaches that could be taken towards preventing these conflicts of interests, such as those adopted by the European Union on March 19, which help to regulate the revolving door between the European Central Bank and the financial institutions it supervises.

Transparency International hailed these reforms as important “democratic accountability mechanisms,” which among other things include:

  • a requirement for the ECB to put in place “comprehensive and formal processes” that prevent conflicts of interest, including the possibility of “cooling off” periods of up to two years.
  • an explicit assurance that ECB supervision will be subject to EU legislation on public access to documents.
  • robust democratic oversight in the form of parliamentary approval of the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Supervisory Board and a stronger right of enquiry.

While a cynic might say that these reforms are a self-serving and inadequate approach to addressing Europe’s own malfeasance, these measures are nevertheless a far cry from anything the United States is currently implementing to rein in its epic levels of corruption. In fact, far from enacting any anti-corruption legislation, U.S. lawmakers are instead cashing in on the gravy train.

As USA Today reported on March 26, “sixteen lawmakers who left Congress recently have landed posts with groups that seek to influence policy — despite rules aimed at slowing the revolving door between Capitol Hill and lobbying firms.”

It’s clear that this problem of corruption is endemic in Washington, and without any push-back from the people it’s likely to continue to deteriorate.

There is some hope in a legislative initiative launched by a group called Represent.Us, called the American Anti-Corruption Act. One of the key points of this piece of legislation is to “close the ‘revolving door’ so that elected representatives and their senior staff can no longer sell off their legislative power in exchange for high-paying jobs when they leave office.”

“Today, politicians routinely move straight from Congress to lucrative lobbying jobs on K Street, in order to influence their former colleagues and friends,” Represent.Us laments. “This corrupts policymaking in two ways: members and their staff anticipate high-paying jobs with lobbying firms, and routinely do favors to their future employers while still in Congress; and once out of congress they enjoy undue access and influence to members of Congress.”

Represent.Us is attempting to rally at least a million American citizens to join its cause, building on popular revulsion to what it deems “the worst political corruption in American history.” After that, it plans to introduce the Anti-Corruption Act to Congress by the end of 2013 and solicit cosponsors.

Perhaps what is more needed though is a reinvigoration of the spirit that brought tens of thousands of Americans into the streets and into downtown parks as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement that surprised the world in late 2011. While that particular movement may have turned out to be little more than a flash in the pan, the spirit of indignation and rebellion that fueled the protests has likely only intensified.

To harness and refocus that energy is what is needed now more than ever if there is any real hope in countering the type of blatant corruption and the culture of impunity on display in Washington right now.

Demonstrators in DC demand accountability, compliance and an end to corruption

January 11, 2012, the ten-year anniversary of the first detainees arriving at Guatanamo Bay, saw Washington, DC’s largest ever demonstration against the U.S. military’s prison camp.

Amnesty activists march from the White House to the Capitol on 10 year anniversary of Gitmo. (Photo by Scott Langley)

The LA Times reported that “Chants of ‘Guantanamo has got to go’ echoed down Pennsylvania Avenue on Wednesday as a crowd of rain-dampened protesters marked the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the first 20 detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”

Demonstrators march through DC on Jan. 11, 2012 (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

More than 800 people demonstrated in solidarity with the 171 inmates who remain in the prison, according to the Times, although other estimates put the number in the thousands:

“The protest was so large,” reported Indymedia, “that it had to divide into multiple elements going to multiple targets, as not everyone could fit at the Supreme Court.” Nearly 200 marchers in orange jump suits and black hoods marchers went to the Supreme Court.

In front of Supreme Court, activists call for prosecution of U.S. torturers (Photo by Scott Langley)

Other marches went to Congress, the Department of Justice, and one returned to the White House.

Amnesty activists in front of White House on 10 year anniversary of Gitmo. (Photo by Scott Langley)

According to the LA Times report,

Protesters voiced anger with President Obama‘s failure to close the prison — which he promised to do during his 2008 presidential campaign — and with his approval last month of the National Defense Authorization Act, which codified the U.S. government’s authority to detain prisoners, including U.S. citizens, indefinitely without trial.

“President Obama is largely responsible for the failure to close Guantanamo, and his administration should not take its progressive base for granted,” said Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal advocacy group that represents some Guantanamo detainees.

“Guantanamo is one part of an illegal, inhumane and unjust global detention policy,” Warren said. “Our message: ‘No excuses. Shut it down.'”

Among the groups involved with organizing the demonstrations were Amnesty International, Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

A report at DC Indymedia noted that “Occupy DC added their numbers to the existing ranks of antiwar protesters who have marched against Guantanamo Bay every year on the 11th of January.”

A number of protesters drew connections between the ongoing detentions at Guantanamo and the new indefinite detention provisions that President Obama recently signed into law with the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Protesters draw the connection between indefinite detention at Guantanamo and the potential for such abuses in the USA with the adoption of the NDAA (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

An open letter to Obama by Human Rights Watch on Jan. 10 urged him to reaffirm his stated commitment to close the notorious prison camp in Cuba and noted:

We are deeply disappointed that you chose to sign into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) despite your administration’s repeated threats to veto the bill if it contained detention provisions detrimental to the rule of law and US national security. The new law represents a complete rejection of the vision you outlined for counterterrorism policy when you took office. The final version of the bill, while amended slightly, seeks to upend the effective use of law enforcement for countering terrorism and replace it with a military detention system.

Your signing statement appended to the bill noted a number of deeply problematic areas which you have committed to interpreting in a manner that avoids constitutional conflicts and complies with the laws of war. Yet those problematic areas are the very reason you should have vetoed the bill, and why you must make repeal of those provisions a top priority for your administration this year. As long as the NDAA remains a part of US law, it can be used by future administrations to detain people indefinitely even in circumstances your administration has disavowed.

As this blog noted in December, the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA are not only a violation of the U.S. Constitution, but also international law. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states,

1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.

2. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.

3. Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.

4. Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.

5. Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation.

Ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1992, the ICCPR is legally binding on the United States.

The issue of the NDAA indefinite detention provisions is likely to remain at the forefront of protests moving forward. A call to “Occupy Congress” starting Jan. 17 notes as a prominent grievance the fact that the supposedly “do-nothing” 112th Congress “voted to allow the President to use the military to indefinitely detain, without charge or trial, any person, including U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, that he deems an enemy. While ostensibly about terrorism suspects, the language is so vague and broad that interpretation is guaranteed to expand to cover almost anyone.”

In a Facebook post on Jan. 12, the Center for Constitutional Rights called on the American people to intensify the fight against the NDAA’s unconstitutional and illegal indefinite detention policies:

On January 17, let’s take this movement to the next level: Occupy Congress and demand a government for the people by We the people. We have to push back against the NDAA of 2012, this law not only threatens to undermine or effectively nullify laws which restrict the involvement of U.S. military forces in domestic law enforcement operations, but it’s also the first time since the McCarthy Era that Congress has passed a statute authorizing the indefinite detention of citizens and non-citizens without charge or trial.

Other grievances cited by Occupy Congress include:

Largely because of all this questionable legislation, the U.S. Congress currently has a 5% public approval rating.

An overarching concern of the Occupy movement as well as the public as a whole is the institutionalized corruption that produces many of the bad laws adopted by Congress. Even the recent adoption of the NDAA appears to be at least partially the result of the legalized bribery on Capitol Hill known as the “campaign finance system.”

As the Constitution Campaign blog reported last month,

The internet hacktivist group Anonymous revealed a possible explanation to the rushed passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Congress this month, after they hacked the accounts of the 83 senators who voted for the bill and found that many proponents had received large amounts of lobbying money.

The NDAA began as simply a funding bill, but now contains worrisome provisions that could allow the indefinite military detention of American citizens without constitutionally guaranteed rights to trial in an impartial court. Anonymous uncovered a money trail connecting senators’ votes for the NDAA detention provisions to defense contractors passing large sums of money under the proverbial table. Most notable was Senator Robert Portman (R-OH), an outspoken supporter of the bill, who received a whopping $272,853–more than any other member of Congress, according to Anonymous.

“We are truly disturbed by the ludicrous $272,853 he received from special interest groups supporting the NDAA bill that authorizes the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil,” said Anonymous in their information dump. One defense firm in particular, SunFire LLC, has been linked to lobbying congress and Portman for the detention provisions. SunFire has since rebuked the accusations.

The idea that military contractors have long shaped our nation’s foreign policy is by now well established, having been presaged by President EIsenhower (himself a former general) 40 years ago.  For those same corporate interests to now shape our military’s domestic policy is disturbing, to say the least.

It should be no surprise, however, as the NDAA’s indefinite detention provisions could create vast new markets for defense contractors, especially those involved in building private prisons or detention camps.  With each detainee at Guantanamo Bay costing the U.S. government $800,000 a year, there could be enormous corporate profits available through detaining Americans without trial.

So, here we see a clear nexus between the corrupting influence of money in politics and the adoption of dreadful laws that abrogate vital constitutional rights and important principles of international law. This is one reason that the United Nations Convention against Corruption – of which the U.S. is a state party – calls for measures to be taken to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest among public officials:

Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its legal system, develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.

Each State Party shall endeavour to establish and promote effective practices aimed at the prevention of corruption.

These principles are at the heart of Occupy movement’s demands, and on Tuesday they will be brought directly to the Capitol steps:

Legislation to curb insider trading in Congress required under international law

A public outcry has followed the broadcast of a CBS “60 Minutes” segment detailing the common practice on Capitol Hill of using insider knowledge to play the stock market. Since this sort of activity is illegal in the private sector, many Americans may have assumed that it would be against the law for elected officials as well. But that is not the case.

According to ProCon.org, the US Senate and the US Supreme Court are the only two out of 975 federal entities that have no rules or laws prohibiting them from trading stocks based on nonpublic information they gain on the job. The US House of Representatives Ethics Manual states that its members should “never use any information coming to him confidentially in the performance of governmental duties as a means for making private profit,” but the rule is not legally binding.

The CBS report documented that members of Congress bought stock in companies during debates on legislation that might affect the businesses, a clear conflict of interest that may be unethical, but in the United States, is not illegal.

And it appears that the insider knowledge that members of Congress possess (being that they are the ones who make the laws which affect industries and individual businesses) pays off handsomely.

A 2004 Georgia State University study revealed that US Senators’ stock trades performed 12.3% better than the market average. A 2011 study showed that US House members’ stock trades performed 6% better than the market average.

This is the very essence of corruption, defined by global watchdog Transparency International as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.”

Introduced three times in Congress, the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act intended to close this loophole for members of Congress, but it has received only a handful of cosponsors for predictable reasons.

Now, members of the House Financial Services Committee are advocating new restrictions on insider trading to help lift waning public trust in Congress. With a congressional approval rating of just 9 percent – lower than the public support for porn, polygamy and communism – members feel that the legislation is necessary to appease an angry public.

“This is about restoring faith,” said Representative Tim Walz (D-Minn), who is sponsoring legislation to explicitly ban insider trading. “If you think a 9 percent approval rating is bad, don’t do anything, drag it out and watch what happens,” he said.

While curbing this corruption in Congress may be necessary to placate the public, it is also an obligation that the United States has as a state party to the UN Convention against Corruption, which states:

Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, endeavour to adopt, maintain and strengthen systems that promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest …

Each State Party shall endeavour, where appropriate and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to establish measures and systems requiring public officials to make declarations to appropriate authorities regarding, inter alia, their outside activities, employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits from which a conflict of interest may result with respect to their functions as public officials …

These international obligations have been legally binding on the United States since its ratification of the treaty in 2006.

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