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Top fashion designers breaking laws by importing protected animal products

+ Some of the most well-known fashion labels in the world, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen, have been caught violating international laws by importing protected animal products, reports NBC4’s I-Team. “I think the general public would be shocked at how much wildlife is still imported and exported to and from the United States,” says Fish and Wildlife supervisor Erin Dean, whose agency has seized more than 10,000 items imported to the U.S. since 2010.

+ The state of Minnesota is failing thousands of adults living with disabilites, segregating them and putting them in low-paying jobs with little room for growth, reports the Star Tribune in “A Matter of Dignity,” a five-day series of stories.

+ The use of pesticides on marijuana crops is a threat to public safety, warns Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in the wake of multiple reports about the potential danger and a lawsuit against the LivWell chain of dispensaries for alleged use of Eagle 20, a petroleum-based fungicide, on marijuana.

+ Vladimir Putin’s daughter, Katerina, and her boyfriend, Kirill Shamalov, have corporate holdings worth about $2 billion, largely from a stake in a major gas and petrochemical company that Kirill acquired from a longtime friend of Putin, according to estimates provided to Reuters by financial analysts.

Hedge funds push back against proposal to pause deals when banks fail

+ Hedge funds are pushing back against proposals to keep securities financing agreements – called repos – and securities lending transactions intact for up to 48 hours after a bank fails, reports Bloomberg. Such an effort, which is intended to allow the healthy unwinding of a giant bank without hurting the larger economy, could threaten the investments of hedge fund clients, argues the Managed Funds Association, a lobbying group for that sector.

+ British defense firm Mondial Defence Systems is being probed by the FBI over alleged kickbacks paid to an American citizen to help secure a Pentagon contract to supply troops with bomb-disposal equipment, reports the Independent.

+ Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and 11 other senators are pushing a bill to expand the independence of agency inspector generals and to allow them access to all agency records, in the wake of a recent Justice Department decision that limits such access.

+ Must-read dramatic story by the NYT’s Ian Urbina about the illegal “manning agencies” that trick villagers in the Philippines with false promises of high wages and send them to ships notorious for poor safety and labor records.

The Pentagon spent $43 million to build a gas station that no one is using

Of all the Pentagon’s infamous boondoggles, this one ranks up there with the $37 screws, $7,622 coffee maker and $640 toilet seat.

The Defense Department spent $43 million to build a gas station in Afghanistan, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Granted, it wasn’t just any gas station but a compressed natural gas (CNG) filling station in the city of Sheberghan, near Afghanistan’s natural gas fields. Still, a comparable CNG station in Pakistan usually costs much less – about $500,000 to build.

Even more disturbing to the inspector general, John Sopko, was the fact that the Pentagon couldn’t explain the high cost of the project. In his letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Sopko said he found it “both shocking and incredible” that the Defense Department said it no longer has any knowledge of the $800 million program that funded the gas station – the Task Force for Stability and Business Operations – which was shut down a little over six months ago.

Even worse, this gas station probably should never have been built considering that most Afghanis could never afford the high cost of converting a gasoline-powered car to run on CNG (up to $800 per car in a country where the annual income is $690.)

Per the report:

“In sum, it is not clear why TFBSO believed the CNG filling station project should be undertaken. In the absence of national or even regional natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure to support a network of CNG stations, there is no incentive for motorists to convert their vehicles to CNG. In fact, an economic impact assessment performed at the request of TFBSO found that the CNG filling station project produced no discernable macroeconomic gains and a discounted net loss of $31 million.”

In its response to SIGAR, the Pentagon did not dispute any facts or findings detailed in the report.

For-profit school hired investigator to ‘follow’ reporter in Miami

+ Every journalist’s nightmare scenario: Shortly after the Miami Herald’s Michael Vasquez started reporting on questionable business practices at Dade Medical College, the for-profit school hired a private investigator to “follow” him and dig up information on him.

+ Now Hillary Clinton is jumping in to endorse a federal investigation of ExxonMobil, amid reports that the oil giant engaged in a cover-up to mislead the public about the risks of man-made climate change, which were discovered by its own scientists in the 1970s and 1980s. “Yes, yes, they should,” Clinton said, when asked about the issue at a town hall in New Hampshire on Thursday. “There’s a lot of evidence that they misled.”

+ The Michigan State Police used asset forfeiture funds to pay for controversial Stingray devices, which are used for cellphone tracking, to “fight terrorism” but instead are used to solve everyday crimes and infringe on the privacy of citizens, according to documents obtained by the ACLU.

+ Success Academy, New York City’s high-performing charter school network, is able to achieve great test results by weeding out weak or difficult students, according to documents obtained by the New York Times and interviews with employees.



The billion-dollar boondoggle behind the runaway blimp

+ The 6,000-foot-long multibillion-dollar surveillance blimp that broke loose on Wednesday afternoon and came down in pieces over Pennsylvania represents the last gasp of one of the Pentagon’s more bizarre boondoggles, reports the Intercept. It was one of only two airships in the 18-year, $2.7-billion-dollar Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, which was once supposed to include 36 blimps to protect the country from cruise missiles.

+ Deutsche Bank is close to settling a regulatory probe into alleged violations of U.S. sanctions laws against Iran and other rogue nations, probably paying about $200 million, reports Bloomberg News.

+ That shocking video of a black high-school student in South Carolina being tossed out of her desk, dragged across the floor and handcuffed is not an isolated case. Across the country, in less-publicized incidents, “thousands of students are also getting arrested, ticketed, interrogated and searched by police officers, often in connection with minor indiscretions or allegations they were disruptive,” reports the Center for Public Integrity. Just yesterday, an Oklahoma City police officer was criminally charged after video emerged of him punching a student in the face.

+ Many of the biggest donors to Republican presidential candidate John Kasich’s super PAC have longstanding business ties to the governor that prompted ethics complaints, which could revive “cronyism concern,” reports Politico’s Isaac Arnsdorf.


This statistic tells you everything about the failure of the war on drugs in Afghanistan

+ The most depressing bullet points in the overwhelmingly pessimistic new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction: The U.S. has provided $8.2 billion for counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan and yet the country remains the global leader in illicit opium cultivation and production, US and Afghan officials are unable to accurately account for billions of dollars in investments in health and education + ISIS is now in Afghanistan!

+ The largest car title lender in the country, TMX Finance, has been able to skirt Florida’s ban on triple-digit interest rates “by offering loans larded with costly and nearly useless insurance products,” reports Paul Kiel.

+ The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was so outraged that the final version of a new EPA rule limits the reach of the Clean Water Act, putting at risk up to 10 percent of water bodies that supply drinking water, that it requested its name be removed from all agency documents referring to the rule, reports Greenwire.

+ The director of southern Nevada’s agency that provides housing to low-income families is under fire for alleged misuse of resources and gender discrimination. John Hill, head of Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority, is accused of using the agency’s staff to work at a charity event involving his wife and of behaving in a discriminatory manner with female executives, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.



This is Brazil’s next big corruption scandal

+ Brazil’s next big corruption scandal is unfolding along white-sand beaches just south of Rio de Janeiro, where state-run Eletrobras’s nuclear power plant sits in a beautiful bay favored by the country’s elite. Five of the construction companies whose executives “have been jailed on allegations they bribed officials at [oil and gas giant] Petrobras” also won contracts to build the $4.4 billion nuclear plant, reports Bloomberg.

+ Hermes is investigating the suppliers of the crocodile skins used in its iconic Birkin bags after actress Jane Birkin expressed concern about how the animals are slaughtered. Recently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals posted online gruesome videos of the animals being skinned at sites in Texas and Zimbabwe that allegedly supply the luxury goods company.

+ The chief minister of the Indian state of Goa twice took bribes between 2010 and 2011 from officials at Louis Berger, the American consulting firm, as part of the company’s effort to be awarded lucrative contracts to work on a water project. In a statement, the company said: “We conducted an internal investigation,cooperated with the US Department of Justice investigation and addressed, in an honest and transparent way the problems caused by rogue former managers James McClung and Richard Hirsh.”

+  The incredible story of the small Swiss company that helped US and British intelligence agencies spy during the Cold War by informing them about worldwide developments in encryption.

Pentagon’s trillion-dollar jet outmanned by aging F-16

How bad is the Pentagon’s notorious F-35 jet, which has been plagued by mechanical problems and is expected to cost $1.4 trillion (that’s not a typo – that’s TRILLION) over the life of its program?

The next-generation fighter jet was “consistently outmanned” by an aging F-16 during a series of 17 dogfights, according to a test pilot’s report cited by War is Boring and the Project on Government Oversight. The F-35’s poor performance prompted POGO to call on Congress and the Pentagon (once again) to re-evaluate the whole program:

“This test report proves the problems with the F-35 program are fundamental and systemic. It’s time to pull the brake before ramping up production to make sure taxpayers aren’t paying more for less,” said Dan Grazier, the Jack Shanahan Fellow working with POGO’s Straus Military Reform Project.

Just a few months ago, another report noted the problematic plane’s vulnerability to lightning strikes and its unreliable and unstable software system. Yet the F-35 remains “too big to fail” due to the intransigence of the Pentagon and the heavy lobbying efforts of Lockheed, its manufacturer.

This is the moment that the Sandra Bland traffic stop escalated out of control

When a Texas state trooper pulled over Sandra Bland for failing to signal a lane change, it seemed like a fairly routine moment, one that is repeated thousands of times across the country without incident.

ct-sandra-bland-video-20150721Until she complained about the traffic ticket and he told her to put out her cigarette. At that moment, Bland’s refusal prompted the officer to ask her to step out of the car, alarming her and the situation quickly escalated out of control, according to the newly-released dash-cam video. Within a few minutes, the trooper had forced her out of the car, was violently holding her down on the ground and handcuffing her. After being arrested and thrown into jail, Bland was soon found dead in her cell, generating national headlines and prompting an investigation by the FBI and Texas State Police.

But it all comes down to that moment in the video, one which reflects a racial disparity on expectations about police behavior and what type of conduct deserves a tough response from the police.

Blacks are less likely than whites to say they approve of police use of force in situations where a suspect is attempting to escape custody, attacking the officer with his fists and using obscene words, according to a survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Yet blacks are actually more likely to say they approve of police use of force when someone is being questioned as a suspect in a murder case.


How to waste $15 million

The Pentagon spent almost $15 million to build a warehouse at an airfield in war-torn Kandahar – after lengthy construction delays – that has never been used or occupied, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. That price was $12 million more than the original estimate and the job was completed even after the Pentagon knew that it was no longer needed due to a policy change regarding American facilities in Afghanistan.

The five-year saga is almost a textbook example of how to rip off the government on a major contract in a distant country notorious for its corruption. On September 25, 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $13.5 million fixed-price contract to a Turkish construction company partnership, YDA AFCON, to build the complex including four shipping and receiving warehouses, an administration building and some support facilities.

The facility, the completion of which was described as critical for the mission of the Pentagon’s logistics arm, was to be completed within 300 days. Yet more than two and half years later, most of the electric and plumbing work was still incomplete and the contract was terminated.

The completion of the outstanding tasks was then awarded to Arkel International LLC, an American company, for $844,526. Again, the job was subject to multiple delays. When it finally opened, it no longer served any need and was turned over to the Afghan government, which has yet to use it or occupy it.