In the USA....
July 16, 2012 07:00 AMChris Hayes On How The Republicans Intend To Prevent Millions From Voting
By Susie Madrak
Chris Hayes leaves the rest of the news media in the dust on just about any issue, and this story is no exception. While he does mention the Bush U.S. attorney purge, he doesn't detail what happened - namely, that they only purged the DoJ ranks of U.S. attorneys who didn't understand that they were supposed to fabricate cases of voter fraud if, as was likely, they couldn't actually find any - and that many of those who made the ideological cut are still around:
In closing arguments this Friday, attorneys for the state of Texas argued that the state should be released once and for all from the Justice Department's supervision of its voting process... which is currently authorized by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The case is widely expected to end up before the Supreme Court, where it won't be surprising if we find the five Republican appointees declaring the Voting Rights Act is no longer justified and thus gutted or entirely null.
The portion of the act at issue covers nine states, and counties and townships in seven others, largely in the South, that have a history of erecting barriers to black people exercising their right to vote.
In years past this took a variety of forms, 'grandfather' tests that stopped newly freed slaves from voting, since their grandfathers weren't on the rolls, "literacy' tests selectively administered and devilishly difficult or simple poll taxes that forced people to pay to vote... if they could afford it.
After one of the most powerful and courageous social movements in American history, one which took the lives of at least 40 people, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, LBJ famously signed the voting rights act in 1965 ending these practices.
"Wherever, by clear and objective standards, states and counties are using regulations, or laws, or tests to deny the right to vote, then they will be struck down. If it is clear that State officials still intend to discriminate, then Federal examiners will be sent in to register all eligible voters. When the prospect of discrimination is gone, the examiners will be immediately withdrawn. And, under this act, if any county anywhere in this Nation does not want Federal intervention it need only open its polling places to all of its people."
It wasn't until the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and the many amendments to it over the years that black people in the South and in some places outside the South could actually exercise their right to be full participating citizens in American democracy.
Texas, would now like to get rid of that rule so it can impose a voter ID requirement and more broadly do whatever it damn well pleases as far as restrictions on voting are concerned. And it just so happens that while Texas is pursuing an end to the Reign of Tyranny that is the Voting Rights Act, states around the union under Republican control have been waging an unparalleled assault on access to the voting booth for the poor and marginal.
In Pennsylvania, a recent study found that 750,000 people, or one tenth of the total electorate, don't have ID's that would enable them to vote in November. Alabama now requires voters to provide documentary proof of citizenship... which 7% of Alabama voters... or former voters... do not have.
The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that the total number of voters nationwide imperiled by laws that have been adopted or that will go into effect is more than 5 million. Remember the margin of victory the last time an incumbent president was up for re-election was just over 3 million votes.
When defending these laws, Republicans will cite the odd anecdote of voter impersonation or voter fraud, but any and all serious inquiries into the topic find that the problem is statistically non-existent. Even U.S. attorneys hand picked by the Bush administration and pushed to prosecute voter fraud were unable to find much of any of it
Iglesias: "We took over 100 complaints. We set up a hotline. I mean, I believe there to be prosecutable cases, but I wasn't going to make up evidence. And at the end of two years, I couldn't find one case I could prosecute."
U.S. attorneys who balked at wasting resources chasing down non-existent villains, found themselves condemned by local Republican party bigwigs and ultimately fired by the White House. That was the core of the U-S Attorneys scandal. No amount of prosecutorial vigor could change the fact that voter fraud and/or impersonation is exceedingly rare, almost non-existent.
In fact, as this handy graphic created by the Democratic party shows, UFO sightings are far far more common than actual instances of voter fraud.
Because the effects of restrictions on, say, voter registration drives and requirements to show ID fall so disproportionately on poor people and people of color, it's not unreasonable to see in these efforts--pushed almost exclusively by white Republicans -- a loaded racial substext.
That's what Attorney General Eric Holder was referring to this Tuesday, when he pushed back on Texas's proposed new voting regulations.
Under the proposed law concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student ids would not. many of those without ids would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. we call those poll taxes.
To conservatives, there is no greater affront than to allege racism. The reaction to Holder's comments were offended and histrionic. How could he compare the practices of the racist old south with the common sense, race-neutral desire to simply ensure clean elections?
But it's worth remembering what the original poll tax was like. Sure, we now understand it as a tool of white supremacy and oppression, but the point of the poll tax or the literacy test was that those who pushed them could claim they had nothing to do with race. On their face, they weren't disciminatory. Shouldn't people be able to read if they're going to vote? Isn't that common sense? Of course they were designed and implemented so as to create massively disproportionate racial effects.
But the genuis in many ways of the Voting Rights Act is that "intent" doesn't matter, effects do. Lawyers for the Department of Justice simply consider the effects of new proposals and redistricting, not the intent. No one has to do any mind-reading.
We can leave aside the question of what Rick Perry feels in his heart of hearts about people of color. Back in the bad old days of Jim Crow, it was of course, mostly racist White Democratic politicians who oversaw the system of mass disenfranchisement.
And there were more than a few white Republicans who boldy championed civil rights, among them this man: Republican Governor George Romney of Michigan, who marched with the NAACP in 1963 and walked out of the 1964 Republican convention in protest of Barry Goldwater's opposititon to the civil rights act.. Those days are long gone.
LBJ's embrace of the civil rights act, followed by the Republicans' southern strategy, has led to our current situation, in which Republicans essentially don't have African Americans in their coalition, but do have most of the white racists. Which means that black voters are understandably skeptical of what Republican politicians like George Romney's son are selling. Romney mentioned not a peep about voter restrictions during his speech to the NAACP this week, though Joe Biden, who addressed the group a day later, most surely did.
The awkward truth is that when a party gets essentially zero support from a sub-demographic of people, it's strategically sensible, though morally bankrupt, to attempt to reduce their participation in voting. Which means it's entirely possible that Romney's fellow Republicans want to make it harder for poor people of color to vote because they're likely to vote for Demcorats rather than because they aren't white.
But as the Voting Rights Act wisely says: the intent doesn't matter. It's the effect. And either way it's wrong.
For those who live in America, and elsewhere, the below book is one of the most important books you could ever read about what is happening in that country relative to an out of control capitalism, and the long term affects for America because of.
July 16, 2012 07:43 PMChris Hedges and Joe Sacco Explore Corporate 'Sacrifice Zones'
By David Neiwert
I've been reading the amazing new book from Chris Hedges and cartoonist Joe Sacco titled Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. For Americans concerned about our slide into oligarchy and the increasing Latin Americanization of the USA, it's a painful and detailed exploration of the forces we're up against.
Watch the above video for a sense of the book's contents, or check out the audio slide show assembled at the Guardian recently.
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt
by Chris Hedges, Joe Sacco
Jun 12, 2012
Published by Nation Books
Camden, New Jersey, with a population of 70,390, is per capita the poorest city in the nation. It is also the most dangerous. The city's real unemployment — hard to estimate, since many residents have been severed from the formal economy for generations — is probably 30 to 40 percent. The median household income is $24,600. There is a 70 percent high school dropout rate, with only 13 percent of students managing to pass the state's proficiency exams in math. The city is planning $28 million in draconian budget cuts, with officials talking about cutting 25 percent from every department, including layoffs of nearly half the police force. The proposed slashing of the public library budget by almost two-thirds has left the viability of the library system in doubt. There are perhaps a hundred open-air drug markets, most run by gangs like the Bloods, the Latin Kings, and MS-13. Camden is awash in guns, easily purchased across the river in Pennsylvania, where gun laws are lax.Camden, like America, was once an industrial giant. It employed some 36,000 workers in its shipyards during World War II and built some of the nation's largest warships. It was the home to major industries, from RCA Victor to Campbell's Soup. It was a destination for immigrants and upwardly mobile lower middle class families. Camden now resembles a penal colony.In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges and American Book Award winning cartoonist Joe Sacco show how places like Camden, a poster child of postindustrial decay, stand as a warning of what huge pockets of the United States will turn into if we cement in place a permanent underclass. In addition to Camden, Hedges and Sacco report from the coal fields of West Virginia, Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and undocumented farm worker colonies in California. With unemployment and underemployment combined at far over ten percent, as Congress proposes to slash Medicare and Medicaid, Food Stamps, Pell Grants, Social Security, and other social services, Hedges and Sacco warn of a bleak near future—where cities and states fall easily into bankruptcy, neofeudalism reigns, and the nation’s working and middle classes are decimated. A shocking report from the frontlines of poverty in America, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a clarion call for reform.
Here is a link to You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZe411pO_js
Here is a link to the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/audioslideshow/2012/jul/12/joe-sacco-chris-hedges-destruction?newsfeed=true
July 16, 2012 06:00 PM
At Stake: The Future of America’s Middle Class
By Mike Lux
I have been actively engaged in working in presidential politics since 1984, and one of the most important things I have learned is that people with a lot of secrets they don’t want the world to know should not run for President. Sooner or later, either the secrets come out or the desperate desire to hide them messes you up. Mitt Romney is learning some tough lessons on that score, and it will get worse before it gets better. Even a growing chorus of Republicans want to know what he is hiding, and more importantly why. Because here is the scary thing: given that the 2 years he was willing to release gave us secret bank accounts in Switzerland, the Caymans, and Bermuda; a mysterious IRA worth over 100 million dollars; continued interwoven financial ties with Bain even though he allegedly severed ties with them in 1999; and a variety of other information that has sounded horrible to average voters, what is it that he is hiding in the rest of his returns that is worse than that?
Then there is the when-was-it-I-left-Bain problem. As the sole owner of a business, I can assure you: I am going to be held legally, politically, and reputation-wise responsible for anything that happens in my company, even if I hand over many of the day-to-day duties to other people. Romney was Bain’s sole owner, listed multiple times multiple places as the CEO. He cannot escape responsibility from whatever Bain did in those years, and the longer he tries, the worse he looks.
As someone in Romney’s opposing camp, I am enjoying the spectacle. But this whole mess with Romney and his financial secrets reminds us again of a bigger, deeper truth: the rich - at least people who got rich the way Romney did - really are different than you and I. The story of how Mitt Romney got so wealthy, and then how he hid all that wealth and avoided taxes on it, is also the story of the modern decline of America’s middle class. Right around the time Mitt Romney went into business in the early ‘80s was the moment when, aided directly by Reagan administration policies and the kind of corporate sharks Romney became, the middle class in this country began to decline in size, strength and prosperity. Mitt Romney and his fellow Wall Street sharks became so stunningly wealthy precisely because most of the rest of us got poorer. The working and middle class in this country got laid off, down-sized, out-sourced; their wages went down or flat, their out-of-pocket health care costs went up, and their pensions disappeared; the price of energy and groceries and other necessities went way up; and when the bubble caused by the out of control speculation of Wall Street burst, their one remaining asset - their homes - lost much of its value. Meanwhile, the guys like Romney who were doing the out-sourcing, lay-offing, wage and benefit-slashing, and financial speculating got filthy rich, and then because of our unprogressive tax laws and because they used Cayman Island and Swiss bank accounts to hide their money, they paid a smaller share of their taxes than those hard-pressed folks in the middle class.
That is what is so beautiful about this ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ud3mMj0AZZk
That last line that appears at the end, “Mitt Romney’s not the solution. He’s the problem” nails it. Mitt and his class of one percenters have been exactly the problem, and what Mitt did to America while he was at Bain Capital will be mild compared to a Presidency whose entire guiding philosophy would be to make it easier for companies like Bain to do even worse to us than they have been doing. It’s not that he is rich, as there are many rich people who made their money doing honorable things like making and selling good products, or creating wonderful new software. It’s that he got rich by making the rest of America poorer.
It is fascinating watching this secretive Mitt vs the middle class debate play out given my reading material. Over the last few days I have had a chance to read 2 books and one extremely important article. The books are Chris Hayes’ fascinating take-down of meritocracy Twilight of the Elites, and Stan Greenberg and James Carville’s It’s The Middle Class, Stupid. The article is a new piece by Barry Lynn and Lina Khan on The Slow-Motion Collapse of American Entrepreneurship. All of them in their each unique ways document how the American middle class is just being slammed by the long term trends in the American economy. Lynn and Khan present dramatic new research documenting how massive mega-companies are dominating bigger and bigger shares of different industries, and squeezing out millions of small businesses and potential small businesses along the way. Chris does a powerful and compelling job of showing how arrogant and out-of-touch elites are growing further and further away from most Americans both economically and culturally, and how as a result that arrogance creates a culture where they keep screwing up with horrific consequences. And James and Stan do a wonderful takedown of how the middle class has been left feeling betrayed and screwed over by both political parties in the last 30 years, and how we need to turn things around quickly to restore the health and prosperity of the American middle class before it is too late.
Look, I will be honest: I am a thoroughly partisan Democrat, but I know both political parties have contributed to the horrific pounding of America’s middle class in recent years. Both parties share responsibility for the horrific repeal of Glass-Steagall, and for NAFTA and bad trade deals with China. Neither party’s Justice Departments have prosecuted the big banks to the degree they should, or seriously enforced the nation’s anti-trust laws so that small businesses would have a chance against the biggest businesses in industry after industry. I believe that we need in this country is not just a partisan electoral strategy but a non-partisan movement, beholden to no politician or special interest group, that will fight every day to expand and strengthen America’s badly bruised working and middle class. I fully understand that if Barack Obama wins re-election, the poor and working class folks I care about will not be even close to having all its problems solved. But to elect Mitt Romney, a man who is the epitome of the kind of business leader who has become wealthy by making all the rest of us poorer, a man who has endorsed Paul Ryan’s ugly budget which would do more to destroy the America’s middle class than any other piece of legislation in history, as President would be the height of foolishness.
This election is about Mitt vs. the middle class. And after the election, we need to build a movement of, by, and for that middle class so that no politician will ever again so blatantly run on a platform to destroy it.
***********************Reid accuses Republicans of trying to protect a handful of billionaires
By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, July 16, 2012 17:03 EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Monday questioned why Republicans in Congress believed wealthy individuals should be able to hide their political donations to campaign groups.
“Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘The end of democracy will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations,’” he said on the Senate floor. “Campaign finance reforms protected against the kind of corruption Jefferson foresaw by limiting political spending by corporations. Then the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United decision, rolling back a century of work to make elections transparent and credible. The result of Citizens United has been a flood of corporate, special-interest campaign spending by shadowy front groups with questionable motives. Not since the days of Teddy Roosevelt – a Republican who put a stop to unlimited corporate donations – has America seen this kind of out-of-control spending to influence elections.”
The DISCLOSE Act, which was up for a procedural vote in the Senate on Monday, would prevent outside campaign groups from hiding their donors. The bill would require organizations that spend $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours and identify any donors who gave $10,000 or more. It would also require the head of any organization that puts out a political ad on TV or radio to publicly state that he or she approves the message, similar to what candidates must do now.
Senate Republicans voted to block the bill on Monday. But Democrats said they plan to hold onto the Senate floor late into the night and force a second vote on the bill on Tuesday.
“Contrary to Republican claims, this legislation wouldn’t require organizations to turn over membership rosters or lists of grassroots donors,” Reid added. “Rather, it would prevent corporations and wealthy individuals from using front groups to shield their donations from disclosure. Yet my Republican colleagues – with rare exception – have lined up against this common-sense legislation.”
“Their newfound opposition to transparency makes one wonder who they’re trying to protect. Perhaps Republicans want to shield the handful of billionaires willing to contribute nine figures to sway a close presidential election?”
********************Sen. Hatch vows to halt welfare-to-work waivers for the states
By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, July 16, 2012 19:16 EDT
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on Monday vowed to prevent the Obama administration from allowing states to waive work requirements in the Temporary Assistant for Needy Families (TANF) law, even though his own state had requested the waiver.
“Late last week, the Obama administration quietly released ‘guidance’ to the states informing them that the administration had granted itself authority to waive work requirements in TANF,” Hatch said on the Senate floor Monday. “In the 16 years since the creation of the Temporary Assistance of Needy Families, no administration has concluded that they have the authority to waive the TANF work requirements.”
The TANF program — which helps poor families with children pay for living expenses such as rent, heat, utilities and personal care items — requires those receiving payments to be employed or looking for work. Nearly four million Americans currently receive TANF payments.
“The Obama administration through this waiver scheme are attempting to unilaterally disarm the legislative branch of the government,” Hatch said. “I have no intention of letting this stand. I will shortly be introducing legislation to halt this risky scheme to gut welfare reforms. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stand with me.”
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week encouraged states to experiment with better ways to administer the program, informing officials that the department was willing to grant waivers to states that wished to opt-out of the work-requirement provision of the welfare law.
“When the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program was established as part of welfare reform in the 1990s, it was intended to give states flexibility to design effective programs to help parents move from welfare to work,” George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, said. “Today, however, Federal rules dictate mind-numbing details about how to run a welfare-to-work program. Most States and experts agree that these aren’t helpful.”
Two states with Republican governors, Utah and Nevada, have already asked for waivers. California, Connecticut, and Minnesota have also asked about waivers, according to the HHS.
“The new policy we announced will allow states to test new, more effective ways to help parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment,” Sheldon added. “States can apply for waivers of federal requirements that get in their way. These waiver applications will be available for public review.”
****************$700,000 Adelson payment to Macau legislator could violate Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
By Pro Publica
Monday, July 16, 2012 16:11 EDT
By Matt Isaacs, Lowell Bergman and Stephen Engelberg
This story was co-published with PBS’ “Frontline.”
A decade ago gambling magnate and leading Republican donor Sheldon Adelson looked at a desolate spit of land in Macau and imagined a glittering strip of casinos, hotels and malls.
Where competitors saw obstacles, including Macau’s hostility to outsiders and historic links to Chinese organized crime, Adelson envisaged a chance to make billions.
Adelson pushed his chips to the center of the table, keeping his nerve even as his company teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in late 2008.
The Macau bet paid off, propelling Adelson into the ranks of the mega-rich and underwriting his role as the largest Republican donor in the 2012 campaign, providing tens of millions of dollars to Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and other GOP causes.
Now, some of the methods Adelson used in Macau to save his company and help build a personal fortune estimated at $25 billion have come under expanding scrutiny by federal and Nevada investigators, according to people familiar with both inquiries.
Internal email and company documents, disclosed here for the first time, show that Adelson instructed a top executive to pay about $700,000 in legal fees to Leonel Alves, a Macau legislator whose firm was serving as an outside counsel to Las Vegas Sands.
The company’s general counsel and an outside law firm warned that the arrangement could violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It is unknown whether Adelson was aware of these warnings. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act bars American companies from paying foreign officials to “affect or influence any act or decision” for business gain.
Federal investigators are looking at whether the payments violate the statute because of Alves’ government and political roles in Macau, people familiar with the inquiry said. Investigators were also said to be separately examining whether the company made any other payments to officials. An email by Alves to a senior company official, disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, quotes him as saying “someone high ranking in Beijing” had offered to resolve two vexing issues 2014 a lawsuit by a Taiwanese businessman and Las Vegas Sands’ request for permission to sell luxury apartments in Macau. Another email from Alves said the problems could be solved for a payment of $300 million. There is no evidence the offer was accepted. Both issues remain unresolved.
According to the documents, Alves met with local politicians and officials on behalf of Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands, to discuss several issues that complicated the company’s efforts to raise cash in 2008 and 2009.
Soon after Alves said he would apply what he termed “pressure” on local planning officials, the company prevailed on a key request, gaining permission to sell off billions of dollars of its real estate holdings in Macau.
Las Vegas Sands denies any wrongdoing. But it has told investors that it is under criminal investigation for possible violations of the U.S. anti-bribery law. Adelson declined to respond to detailed questions, including whether he was aware of the concerns about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act when he directed payment of the bill from Alves’ law firm.
The documents depict Adelson as a hands-on manager, overseeing details of the company’s foray into Macau, which is now the world’s gambling capital.
They show that Alves helped the company address a crucial issue: Adelson’s frayed relations with officials in Macau and mainland China.
Alves met with prominent Macau officials on Las Vegas Sands’ behalf, emails show. When Adelson made a three-day trip to Beijing, Alves accompanied him, billing more than $18,000 for his services.
Alves promoted himself to Adelson as someone “uniquely situated both as counsel and legislator to ‘help’ us in Macau,” according to an email written by a Las Vegas Sands executive.
The then-general counsel of Las Vegas Sands warned that large portions of the invoices submitted by Alves in 2009 were triple what had been initially agreed and far more than could be justified by the legal work performed.
“I understand that what they are seeking is approx $700k,” the general counsel wrote to the company’s Macau executives in an email in late 2009. “If correct, that will require a lot of explaining given what our other firms are charging and given the FCPA,” the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Adelson, described by Forbes Magazine as the largest foreign investor in China, ultimately ordered executives to pay Alves the full amount he had requested, according to an email that quotes his instructions.
Alves holds three public positions. He sits on the local legislature. He belongs to a 10-member council that advises Macau’s chief executive, the most powerful local administrator. And he’s a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a group that advises China’s central government.
Alves did not respond to detailed questions from reporters about his activities on behalf of Las Vegas Sands, saying in an email that the work he had done 2014 “legal services” 2014 was unrelated to his government positions. “I would never use my public offices to benefit the company, nor have I been asked to,” Alves wrote.
Several Las Vegas Sands executives resigned or were fired after expressing concerns about Alves’ billings. These include Las Vegas Sands’ general counsel and two top executives at Sands China, its Macau subsidiary.
Alves briefly severed his relationship with the company in early 2010, according to internal documents, but was rehired months later as outside counsel, a role he still plays.
The internal Las Vegas Sands documents were obtained by reporters working for the University of California’s Investigative Reporting Program as part of an ongoing collaboration with ProPublica and PBS Frontline.
The documents include dozens of emails, billing invoices, memos and reports that circulated among top executives of Las Vegas Sands and its attorneys. The documents were provided by people who had authorized access to them. They offer important glimpses of the company’s dealings in Macau and China, but are not a complete archive.
One invoice, for example, notes that Alves billed $25,000 for “expenses” in Beijing with no further explanation.
The documents shed new light on an issue separate from Alves’ work: the company’s difficulties in avoiding contact with Chinese organized crime figures as it built its casino business in Macau.
Nevada law bars licensed casino operators from associating with members of organized crime. State investigators are now assessing whether Las Vegas Sands complied with that rule in its Macau operations, people familiar with the inquiry said.
William Weidner, president of Las Vegas Sands from 1995 to 2009, said he understood from the beginning that opening casinos in Macau meant dealing with “junkets” 2014 companies that arrange gambling trips for high rollers.
Gambling is illegal in mainland China, as is the transfer of large sums of money to Macau. The junkets solve those problems, providing billions of dollars in credit to gamblers. When necessary, they collect gambling debts, a critical function since China’s courts are not permitted to force losers to pay up.
Weidner said junkets are a natural result of China’s controls on the movement of money out of the country, channeling as much as $3 billion a month from the mainland to Macau.
“To Westerners, the junkets mean money laundering equated with organized crime or drugs,” he said. “In China where money is controlled, it’s part of doing business.”
Weidner resigned from the company after a bitter dispute with Adelson.
Nevada officials are now poring over records of transactions between junkets, Las Vegas Sands and other casinos licensed by the state, people familiar with the inquiry say. Among the junket companies under scrutiny is a concern that records show was financed by Cheung Chi Tai, a Hong Kong businessman.
Cheung was named in a 1992 U.S. Senate report as a leader of a Chinese organized crime gang, or triad. A casino in Macau owned by Las Vegas Sands granted tens of millions of dollars in credit to a junket backed by Cheung, documents show. Cheung did not respond to requests for comment.
Another document says that a Las Vegas Sands subsidiary did business with Charles Heung, a well-known Hong Kong film producer who was identified as an office holder in the Sun Yee On triad in the same 1992 Senate report. Heung, who has repeatedly denied any involvement in organized crime, did not return phone calls.
Allegations about the company’s dealings with Alves as well as its purported ties to organized crime are prominently mentioned in a 2010 lawsuit filed by Steven Jacobs, former CEO of Sands China.
In the suit, Jacobs contends he was fired after multiple disputes with Adelson, which included the continued employment of Alves and the company’s dealings with junkets.
Las Vegas Sands declined to respond to detailed questions about the emails, billing invoices or purported relationships with organized crime figures including Cheung and Heung. Nor would it comment on the federal or Nevada investigations.
Adelson told investors last year that the federal investigation was based on false allegations by disgruntled former employees attempting to blackmail his company.
“When the smoke clears, I am absolutely not 100 percent but 1,000 percent positive that there won’t be any fire below it,” he said, adding that what investigators will ultimately find “is a foundation of lies and fabrications.”
At least one prominent Republican has expressed concern about the source of Adelson’s campaign contributions. “Much of Mr. Adelson’s casino profits that go to him come from his casino in Macau,” Sen. John McCain noted in an interview last month with the PBS “NewsHour.”
“Maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming into an American political campaign,” said McCain, an Arizona Republican.
The questions raised by McCain and others have not prevented Adelson, the self-made son of a Boston cabdriver, from emerging as a powerful political figure in both Israel and the United States. A longtime backer of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel, Adelson created a free daily newspaper, now Israel’s largest, that supports the policies of Netanyahu’s Likud Party.
His family’s $25 million in contributions kept Newt Gingrich in the presidential race. He has been widely reported as donating $10 million to a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney. A “well-placed source” recently told Forbes Magazine that Adelson’s willingness to financially support Romney was “limitless.” A filing with the Federal Election Commission last night shows that Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave $5 million to the “YG Action Fund,” a super PAC linked to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican.
* * *
Macau’s emergence in the 21st century as the biggest gambling center in the world, with $33.5 billion in annual revenue 2014 four times that of Las Vegas 2014 is a matter of history and geography.
A former Portuguese colony, the tiny peninsula was handed over to China in 1999. It has its own legislature, laws, court system and chief executive, all of which exist under the umbrella of Chinese control.
For generations, profits from Chinese gambling flowed primarily to a single local company. But after China took control, authorities agreed to let foreign companies get a piece of the action.
Las Vegas Sands was among more than a dozen companies to apply for a license. Its plans were among the most expansive, calling for an American-style complex of hotels, casinos, shopping malls and luxury apartments.
The first of four Las Vegas Sands casinos, the Sands Macau, opened its doors in 2004. It was immediately successful as well-heeled gamblers from the mainland flocked to the tables.
Over the next several years, the company pushed ahead with its multibillion-dollar construction projects on a strip of reclaimed land known as Cotai.
But in the summer of 2008, Las Vegas Sands faced a cash crunch. The global economic slowdown hit revenues at its casinos in Nevada. And gambling slowed in Macau after China’s central government abruptly cut down on the number of visas it granted for travel to the region. Suddenly, the company was struggling to make payments on billions of dollars in long-term debt.
Executives at Las Vegas Sands began looking at ways to raise cash in Macau. To do this, the company would need some help from local officials.
It wasn’t clear they would get it.
In China, relationships, or guanxi, can make or break an empire. Adelson’s relationships in Macau and China were frayed. George Koo, a member of the Las Vegas Sands board of directors, wrote in a confidential memo that Adelson’s behavior had offended political figures in both Macau and China.
Koo quoted a prominent Macau official as saying Adelson had “slapped the table in front of Edmund Ho,” Macau’s chief executive. “Supposedly, Ho has said that he will not see SGA anymore,” the memo said, using Adelson’s initials.
Accompanied by Alves, Koo met with the Macau chief executive over lunch. According to Koo’s memo, Ho expressed his regret that Adelson “has burned so many bridges with Beijing,” the memo said.
According to Koo’s account, a top Chinese official overseeing Macau named Liao Hui was so angry at Adelson that he refused to meet with him. It is not clear from the memo what caused the rupture, but Koo said Adelson turned to “the Israeli military to arrange a meeting with Liao” who initially agreed but then said he would only send his deputy. No meeting ever took place, the document says.
Weidner, who resigned as president of Las Vegas Sands in March 2009, said in an interview that Adelson was “out of his element” dealing with Chinese officials.
Weidner recalled struggling to explain Adelson’s style to the Chinese, once comparing his boss to a famous emperor who became angry with China’s scholars and buried them alive with their books. “I would tell them: ‘He is brilliant. Sometimes, like the emperor, he is brutal.’”
Leonel Alves seemed to be an ideal person to smooth relations.
A Macau native, born of a Portuguese father and a Chinese mother, the attorney had been a fixture in the local scene for decades, and was nimble in the face of shifting political tides.
In the years leading up to Portugal’s handover of its onetime colony to China in 1999, he was among a select group of local residents chosen to serve on the transition team.
Alves became a Chinese citizen and dedicated himself to learning China’s official dialect, Mandarin, to complement his fluency in Portuguese, English and Cantonese. His legal practice was already successful. He boasted to local reporters of his car collection, which included a Ferrari and a BMW M3.
Las Vegas Sands put Alves’ law firm on retainer in midsummer 2008, naming him as an outside counsel. Documents show his firm was to be paid $37,500 a month for 80 hours of work, with additional hours to be billed at a rate of more than $550 an hour.
Over the years, the Justice Department has made it clear that American companies can employ foreign officials. But companies have been told they must take great care and create safeguards to prevent such officials from using their position or political standing to gain commercial advantage.
T. Markus Funk, a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm and co-chair of the American Bar Association Global Anti-Corruption Initiatives Task Force, declined to discuss the specifics of the Las Vegas Sands inquiry. But he said companies generally avoid hiring sitting local officials as lobbyists or representatives because of the risk that they will improperly end up wielding their influence.
“It would be a huge red flag,” said Funk. “If you are paying someone because you think they are going to have a questionable backroom discussion, essentially a quid pro quo relationship, that’s a no-no. You can get yourself in big trouble pretty quickly.”
In response to written questions, Alves said in an email that his political career has never conflicted with “my profession as a lawyer.” He said his office had “been scrutinized by the Chinese and American authorities like few have in Macau, and no authority has ever had any suspicion.”
Alves noted that his multiple government posts did not “confer to me any executive and administrative power” or the ability to “influence” what he described as “the relevant authorities.”
U.S. companies sometimes ask the Justice Department in advance for an opinion on whether a particular hire constitutes a violation of the law. It is not known if Las Vegas Sands posed such a question about Alves. Funk, a former federal prosecutor, said that a company following “best practices” would look closely at both the size of the proposed payments and the procedures put in place to assure compliance.
“I’d want to make sure the individual is getting paid an appropriate scale,” Funk said. “I’d want to get some assurance he was familiar with the FCPA and had agreed to abide by its terms. I’d want a code of conduct in place and I’d want to see detailed billing statements.”
One of the first issues Alves addressed was Las Vegas Sands’ request for permission from local authorities to sell a mall and 300 luxury apartments it had built next to one of its casinos, the Four Seasons Macau.
The company’s original agreement with the government did not allow it to break up the property into separate pieces for sale. If Sands could amend the agreement, it would open the way to raise billions.
On Aug. 12, 2008, Alves wrote an email to Luis Melo, who was then Las Vegas Sands’ in-house counsel in Macau. He wrote that he was planning to meet with local officials to “monitor and apply pressure” to what he called the “revision process” of the “land concession contract.” It is not known whether the meeting took place or what, if anything, Alves said to other officials in the government.
In late September, the secretary of Macau’s Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau declared that Las Vegas Sands had to abide by its original contract with Macau, which did not permit the property to be sold separately.
“The terms in the concession contract are very clear and any move must be according to what is written in the contract,” he said, according to a report in The Macau Daily Times.
That statement came at a critical moment for Las Vegas Sands. With the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the United States, even the most solvent companies were finding it impossible to borrow. At the end of September, Adelson staked his company $475 million of his own money.
In October, planning officials handed Las Vegas Sands much of what it was seeking. They said they would allow the property to be divided into four parts: the casino, the apartment complex, the mall and a parking garage. Each could be sold separately. In their decision, Macau officials said they were trying to help Las Vegas Sands address its need for more capital.
The company portrayed the decision as a victory and said it “paves the way” for the sale of the 300 luxury apartments.
The company’s financial condition continued to worsen. It halted construction on its massive projects in Cotai. In November 2008, Adelson kicked in another $525 million of his own money. That month, the company told investors it was in danger of defaulting on $5.2 billion in loans. Such a default, auditors warned, could threaten the company’s survival.
Ultimately, Las Vegas Sands did not sell the apartment building or mall. (It continues to seek final permission to sell individual apartments.) The company moved to raise capital through another route: an initial public offering of stock on the Hong Kong exchange that, it was hoped, would bring in billions of dollars.
Once again, local law posed challenges to the company’s plans. And once again, Alves stepped forward to help.
* * *
One key to Las Vegas Sands’ survival in Macau was its ability to whisk customers from Hong Kong to the doors of its casinos. The long-established ferry route unloads its passengers in downtown Macau, about a three-mile drive from Adelson’s casinos in Cotai.
Las Vegas Sands had created its own ferry service, Cotai Waterjets, which dropped gamblers at a dock just a short shuttle ride from its casinos.
But the future of Cotai Waterjets was unclear. A competing ferry service had filed a complaint alleging the government had improperly awarded the concession to Las Vegas Sands without competitive bidding.
In February 2009, a Macau court agreed, voiding the contract.
Alves set to work. In the spring of 2009, he arranged what a billing invoice from his firm describes as “meetings and contacts with the Macau Government.”
On Oct. 19, 2009, Alves met with Edmund Ho, Macau’s chief executive, and Fernando Chui Sai On, Ho’s soon-to-be successor. (Ho was the Macau official who had purportedly refused to meet with Adelson.)
It is not known what was discussed. Alves billed Las Vegas Sands for two hours of his time, according to his invoice.
Also that day, Alves billed for more than an hour of phone calls with company executives, his invoices show.
Las Vegas Sands was explicit about what was at stake, telling Hong Kong investors in a public filing that loss of the ferry concession “could result in a significant loss of visitors to our Cotai Strip properties.” This would have a “material adverse effect on our business,” the company said.
Within days of Alves’ meeting with Ho, Las Vegas Sands won a stunning victory. Ho issued an administrative regulation that allowed ferry contracts to be awarded without competitive bidding. The court rulings against the company were moot. Las Vegas Sands retained control of its route and ultimately obtained several new ones.
Attempts to reach Ho were unsuccessful.
The initial public offering launched in late November 2009, raising $2.5 billion for Las Vegas Sands.
Alves remains a member of the Executive Council. He declined to discuss his interactions with Ho or the council.
* * *
Just as Sands was resolving several of its thornier legal issues, a dispute erupted among its executives over Alves that had far-reaching consequences.
It began on Oct. 20, 2009, shortly before the ferry decision was announced, with a seemingly routine event: Alves’ firm submitted bills for its recent work.
The firm said it was charging at triple the previously agreed rate to account for the work it had done on the public offering, scheduled for the following month. In an email, Las Vegas Sands’ in-house lawyer in Macau, Luis Melo, objected, noting the invoices were “not in accordance” with the letter which spelled out the financial terms of Alves’ retainer.
The issue reached the desk of J. Alberto Gonzalez-Pita, general counsel at Las Vegas Sands headquarters in Nevada. In an email, Gonzalez-Pita expressed concern about a sudden request for more money from an outside lawyer who was also a foreign official, saying such a payment would require “a lot of explaining.”
With the bill still unpaid, Alves submitted his resignation effective in February 2010.
An internal email shows he continued to report privately to Adelson, delivering at least one message from the company’s chairman and CEO to Macau’s government.
Separately, he also pushed to return to Sands China.
In March, Alves submitted a new proposal, asking to be paid $125,000 a month with no obligation to provide billing details, internal records show.
Gonzalez-Pita, the Las Vegas general counsel, rejected the idea. “It’s outrageous,” he wrote. “Our corporate retainer with Paul Weiss is almost three times less per month,” he said, referring to the company’s outside counsel, New York-based Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
Gonzalez-Pita elaborated a week later.
“I continue to believe this proposal to be inappropriate, unrealistic, extraordinarily expensive and way above market,” he wrote to Jacobs, the CEO of Sands China who had originally been recruited to handle the IPO. “Been a long time since I’ve seen a lawyer or a firm make as naked a power play as has LA,” Leonel Alves. “He sure has chutzpah.”
Jacobs decided against rehiring Alves. “Let’s talk about a replacement for outside counsel,” he wrote in a March 10, 2010, email to Melo, Sands China’s general counsel in Macau.
“The transition will not be easy … and has a high probability of becoming messy … but it is the right thing to do for the business,” he wrote.
Jacobs told Alves that he would not be retained, emails show.
The same day, Jacobs informed colleagues that he had paid the disputed invoices after Alves submitted a more detailed account of the work he had done on the public offering. Jacobs wrote to Gonzalez-Pita that he had been “instructed by SGA and MAL to pay and close out the matter.”
The initials SGA and MAL are used within the company to refer to Sheldon G. Adelson and Michael A. Leven, the president of Las Vegas Sands.
“I am sorry that this was not communicated to you but I am glad that FCPA outside counsel did not highlight any substantial issue with the payment,” Jacobs wrote.
Gonzalez-Pita replied that Jacobs was mistaken and that the company’s outside lawyer had identified the payments as a possible violation of the U.S. anti-bribery law.
“Unfortunately,” Gonzalez-Pita wrote to Jacobs: “FCPA counsel did highlight a problem” with paying Alves anything more than his normal fees “plus a commercially reasonable premium.”
“While I can appreciate that you received instructions to make the payment,” Gonzalez-Pita wrote on March 12. “I wish you would have advised me so I could have intervened.”
Gonzalez-Pita resigned from the company in April 2010.
On July 23, Las Vegas Sands fired Jacobs. A month later, the company dismissed Melo and the rest of the legal team in Macau, according to the lawsuit Jacobs subsequently filed in Nevada.
In that action, Jacobs said he was dismissed for refusing Adelson’s “illegal demands,” including an order that he fire Melo and replace him with Alves. Las Vegas Sands said in court briefs that it fired Jacobs for disobeying orders and working on unauthorized deals.
The company rehired Alves as outside counsel in the fall of 2010, a position he still holds. It is not known how much he is being paid.
In April of this year, Sands China opened Cotai Central, the $4 billion project it had temporarily abandoned in 2008, when the company stood at the brink. Within six hours of the opening, Sands China reported, more than 84,000 people pushed through the new casino’s doors.
Matt Isaacs and Lowell Bergman reported on this story for the Investigative Reporting Program of the University of California and PBS Frontline. Some of their work was underwritten by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Engelberg is managing editor of ProPublica.
*******************NASA’s Mars rover two weeks from landing
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 16, 2012 23:21 EDT
WASHINGTON — NASA’s Curiosity rover is on target to arrive on Mars on August 6 for a two-year mission to find out whether microbial life once existed on the Red Planet, the US space agency said.
Landing the car-sized rover is of course no easy task, NASA scientists say.
“The Curiosity landing is the hardest NASA mission ever attempted in the history of robotic planetary exploration,” said the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, John Grunsfeld.
“While the challenge is great, the team’s skill and determination give me high confidence in a successful landing,” Grunsfeld said in a statement.
Curiosity, which NASA scientists have described as a $2.5 billion dream machine, launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral in November 2011, and aims to land in Mars’ Gale Crater near Mount Sharp at 0531 GMT on August 6.
The rover, which has six wheels and weighs nearly a ton (900 kilograms), is nearing the end of its 354-million-mile (570 million-kilometer) trek through space.
The vessel transporting Curiosity will glide through the planet’s upper atmosphere, instead of “dropping like a rock” onto Martian soil, in order to ensure as secure and precise a landing as possible.
NASA mission directors say that unlike previous probes, Curiosity is too heavy to sustain an impact cushioned by airbags.
Instead, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California say they have opted for a “sky crane” method — a “backpack with retro-rockets” controlling speed will gently deposit Curiosity on Mars.
In the seven minutes prior to landing, the spacecraft carrying the rover will decelerate from about 13,200 miles per hour to just 1.7 miles per hour, slowed by a giant parachute.
“Those seven minutes are the most challenging part of this entire mission,” said the JPL’s Mars Science Laboratory project manager, Pete Theisinger.
“For the landing to succeed, hundreds of events will need to go right, many with split-second timing and all controlled autonomously by the spacecraft,” Theisinger added.
“We’ve done all we can think of to succeed. We expect to get Curiosity safely onto the ground, but there is no guarantee. The risks are real.”
In June, NASA reported it had narrowed the landing ellipse — now four miles wide by 12 miles long instead of 12 miles wide and 16 miles long — to allow Curiosity to arrive at Mount Sharp several months earlier.
Curiosity is two times longer and five times heavier than the two preceding Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and is equipped with 10 scientific instruments.
Carrying a nuclear generator, it has a mast with high-definition cameras and a laser to study targets at a distance of up to seven meters.