Ex-CIA Officer Tries to Clear Her Name (Extra Scene from ‘The Italian Job’) – Vice News Published on Nov 10, 2015

Sabrina De Sousa is one of nearly two-dozen CIA officers who was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced by Italian courts in absentia in 2009 for the role she allegedly played in the rendition of a radical cleric named Abu Omar. It was the first and only criminal prosecution that has ever taken place related to the CIA’s rendition program, which involved more than 100 suspected terrorists and the assistance of dozens of European countries.

But De Sousa, a dual US and Portuguese citizen, said she had nothing to do with the cleric’s abduction and has been wrongly accused. For the past decade, she has been on a global quest to clear her name. VICE News met up with De Sousa in Lisbon, Portugal–and other key figures connected to the case–for an exclusive interview about the steps she’s now taking in an effort to hold the CIA accountable for one of the most notorious counterterrorism operations in the history of the agency.

In this extra scene, Sabrina De Sousa explains how she’s used the Freedom of Information Act to help further her defense.

Watch the VICE News Interview with Michael Morell – http://bit.ly/1Nv6SMJ

VW Screwed Its Dealers, Too – w JORDAN GOLSON.: 10.07.15. 7:36 PM

Most of the immediate fallout from the Volkswagen emissions scandal has focused on customers (what does this mean for their cars?), Volkswagen itself (how much will this cost the company?), and the environment (just how much extra smog are we dealing with?).

Those valid concerns, though, ignore a key player: dealers. Most car buyers never deal with corporate offices. They buy and service cars at independent, franchise dealerships. Dealers were as surprised as anyone by the diesel deception from Wolfsburg, and could be even more screwed than VW owners themselves.

Last month, Volkswagen admitted that it had sold more than 10 million diesel-powered cars with software designed to bypass emissions testing requirements. The manufacturer is now on the hook for billions in fines (up to $18 billion in the US alone) and fixes to customer cars, including possibly buying back the cars in question. On Wednesday, the company announced basic plans for to recall and “repair” all the vehicles, starting early next year.

“This was a massive fraud,” says Steve Kalafer, chairman of the Flemington Car & Truck Country family of dealerships in New Jersey. “If our employees deceived Volkswagen in the warranty repair of a vehicle, or if a salesman claimed an incentive they weren’t entitled to, VW would have the right and probably would terminate our business relationship with them without any compensation … If we did it, we would lose our business. And, if it were a large enough fraud, presumably they would turn it over to the local prosecutor.”

This isn’t something dealers could have planned for. You know a customer or employee might try to pull something underhanded, that’s why you get corporate liability insurance. But no one expects a massive company like Volkswagen to blatantly defraud its customers and business partners. Not like this. Not on such a massive scale. On a dollar-for-dollar basis, this could end up dwarfing Bernie Madoff.

Kalafer says his business will survive, since he sells plenty of non-VW cars. But there are hundreds of Volkswagen dealers in the US, many of them family-owned, single-marque shops. Those are the ones most at risk. VW has guaranteed the payout of sales incentives regardless of the number of cars sold, and handed out small payments to dealerships. But they are losing money every day.

Volkswagen dealers have spent millions over the past few years improving their showrooms in anticipation of new models designed to reinvigorate the brand. Back in January, VW said it was planning to add an additional 100 dealerships to the 650 currently in the US to support a hoped-for increase in sales. Those millions of dollars in new and upgraded service departments, seating areas, parking lots, computer systems, and employees are all potentially in jeopardy.

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Storm of Criticism Engulfs DraftKings, FanDuel – By Sarah E. Needleman Oct. 6, 2015 12:57 a.m. ET

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at Oct 6, 2015 1.52

Fantasy sports sites DraftKings and FanDuel are under scrutiny after a DraftKings worker won $350,000 in a FanDuel contest, raising questions about fairness and the lack of regulation. WSJ’s Sarah Needleman explains on Lunch Break With Tanya Rivero. Photo: AP

A storm of online criticism has roiled the two largest fantasy-sports companies in North America, casting a spotlight on an industry already under scrutiny for lacking government oversight.

Billion-dollar startups FanDuel Inc. and DraftKings Inc. run online contests in which people draft virtual teams of professional athletes and compete against each other based on the athletes’ real-world performances.

A number of posts on fantasy-sports sites such as RotoGrinders criticized the companies for unfair practices after last week’s admission by a DraftKings employee that he prematurely released data about the site’s biggest contest before some of the National Football League games involved in it had started.

The venture-backed companies released joint statements Monday asserting that they have “strong policies in place” to ensure proper handling of company data.

DraftKings employee Ethan Haskell said on a message board that by accident he prematurely published data to the company’s blog from the lineups of players submitted to the DraftKings site for its Millionaire Maker contest.

“I’ve fixed the error and we’ll be putting checks in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Mr. Haskell wrote on RotoGrinders. “I was the only person with this data and as a DK employee, am not allowed to play on the site. 100% my fault and I apologize for any issues.”


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Volkswagen Emissions Investigation Zeroes In on Two Engineers – By WILLIAM BOSTON Updated Oct. 5, 2015 4:10 a.m. ET

Company investigation focuses on two men elevated after Winterkorn was made CEO

Ulrich Hackenberg and Wolfgang Hatz, among the engineers suspended in the investigation of the VW emissions cheating scandal, are viewed as two of the best and brightest engineers in German industry. Above, a VW factory in Chengdu, China.

Ulrich Hackenberg and Wolfgang Hatz, among the engineers suspended in the investigation of the VW emissions cheating scandal, are viewed as two of the best and brightest engineers in German industry. Above, a VW factory in Chengdu, China. P`


WOLFSBURG, Germany—Two top Volkswagen engineers who found they couldn’t deliver as promised a clean diesel engine for the U.S. market are at the center of a company probe into the installation of engine software designed to fool regulators, according to people familiar with the matter.

The two men, Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi ’s chief engineer, and Wolfgang Hatz,developer of Porsche’s winning Le Mans racing engines, were among the engineers suspended in the investigation of the emissions cheating scandal that sank the company’s market value by 43% since Sept. 18 and triggered a world-wide recall to refit the engines to meet clear-air standards, these people said.

Messrs. Hackenberg and Hatz, who didn’t respond to requests for comment, are viewed as two of the best and brightest engineers in German industry. They were put in charge of research and development at the Volkswagen group shortly after Martin Winterkorn became chief executive in January 2007. Mr. Winterkorn, who resigned over the scandal, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The company has acknowledged that managers, struggling to meet U.S. sales targets, masked the emissions of new-car engines to sell so-called clean diesel technology to skeptical American consumers. The car maker said as many as 11 million vehicles carried a “defeat device,” software that reduces tailpipe emissions only when the car is being tested, not on the road.

Several countries have since blocked sales of certain VW vehicles, and regulators are considering steps to tighten emissions standards for diesel engines.

The details haven’t been made public, but Volkswagen’s investigation is focused on Messrs. Hackenberg and Hatz, Mr. Winterkorn’s top aides during his tenure at Audi, as well as Heinz-Jakob Neusser, head of development at the VW brand, people familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Neusser, also suspended, joined VW from Porsche in 2011, long after the diesel engines began production. He declined to comment.

Disclosure of the scam by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month unleashed criminal investigations of Volkswagen and its management in the U.S. and Europe, and threatened to bury the company in shareholder and customer lawsuits for years.

“Our company was dishonest with the EPA, and the California Air Resources Board, and with all of you,” Michael Horn, head of Volkswagen of America, told dealers last month in New York City. “We’ve totally screwed up.”

For years, Volkswagen sought a triumph in the U.S. As part of an expansion of the company to sell at least 10 million cars a year by 2018, Mr. Winterkorn’s strategy was to be a leader in the world’s three biggest markets.

The History of Volkswagen, ‘The People’s Car’

Volkswagen has always been more than a car. It occupies a special place in German society. WSJ’s Dipti Kapadia goes through some of the iconic moments for the German auto maker, now caught in a scandal over emissions. Photo: Getty Images

Under Mr. Winterkorn, Volkswagen became the biggest foreign car maker in China. In Europe, one in every four cars is now sold by one of Volkswagen’s eight car brands: VW; premium car maker Audi; sports car brand Porsche; Czech car maker Skoda; Spanish auto maker SEAT; and ultraluxury brands Bentley and Lamborghini.

VW hit its 10 million global target in 2014—four years earlier than planned—and passed Toyota Motor Co. and General Motors Co. to take the top spot in the first half of this year. But to dominate the global market it needed to increase U.S. sales.

Mr. Winterkorn gave U.S. executives a goal of more than tripling annual sales, to at least 800,000 vehicles, in a 10-year plan he set in 2008.

Wolfgang Hatz, above, and Ulrich Hackenberg were put in charge of research and development at the Volkswagen group shortly after Martin Winterkorn became CEO in 2007.ENLARGE
Wolfgang Hatz, above, and Ulrich Hackenberg were put in charge of research and development at the Volkswagen group shortly after Martin Winterkorn became CEO in 2007. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News

While popular in Germany, diesel-engine vehicles made up just 5% of the U.S. car market in 2007, when Mr. Winterkorn left Audi to be VW’s CEO. Seeing this as an advantage, diesel became the centerpiece of the U.S. campaign.

Volkswagen pitched U.S. buyers a powerful car with German engineering that met standards on tailpipe emissions by burning high-performance “clean diesel” fuel.

At Volkswagen headquarters in December, Mr. Winterkorn stood in a top-secret showroom known informally as Valhalla and leaned across the hood of a prototype sport-utility vehicle, the CrossBlue, to be built in Chattanooga, Tenn. One version was to have included the clean-diesel engine technology.

“The Yanks like things big,” he quipped to The Wall Street Journal about the vehicle.

The company’s clean-diesel strategy began a decade ago, when the Volkswagen brand was run by Wolfgang Bernhard, who was poached from rival Daimler AG by Bernd Pischetsrieder, Volkswagen CEO at the time. Mr. Bernhard set out to build a new diesel engine for the U.S. market, named the EA 189. Mr. Bernhard and Mr. Pischetsrieder last month issued a joint public statement “dismissing in the strongest possible terms” any connection with the emissions cheating scandal related to the EA 189.

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On The Line: Avi Asher-Schapiro on Cop Watch – Vice News Published on Sep 28, 2015

VICE News journalist Avi Asher-Schapiro (https://twitter.com/aaschapiro) joined On The Line to discuss his new piece about Cop Watch.

Over the past year-and-a-half, police violence in places like New York, Baltimore, and Ferguson grabbed headlines, sparked mass protest, and drove down public confidence in law enforcement to a 22 year low. In response, people across the country have been fashioning makeshift uniforms, arming themselves with cameras, and patrolling streets to document police misconduct. It’s an explosion of a movement that has been around for many years. This is Copwatch.

Read: Walking the Beat With Copwatch, the People Who Police the Police – http://bit.ly/1V8w12t

Red Cross Effort to Shut Down Inquiry Fails; Report Calls for Outside Oversight – LAURA SULLIVAN JUSTIN ELLIOTT SEPTEMBER 16, 2015 5:01 AM ET

The American Red Cross is facing new criticism today as government investigators and a congressman call for independent oversight over the long-venerated charity.

Federal legislation is being unveiled that would force the Red Cross to open its books and operations to outside scrutiny – something it has repeatedly resisted.

The proposed American Red Cross Sunshine Act comes in response to a report by the Government Accountability Office, also being released today, that finds oversight of the charity lacking and recommends that Congress find a way to fill the gap.

The GAO inquiry cites reporting by NPR and ProPublica about the Red Cross’ failures during Superstorm Sandy and misleading statements by CEO Gail McGovern about how the group has spent hundreds of millions of donated dollars.

Investigators concluded that the Red Cross needs “regular, external, independent and publicly disseminated evaluations.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, is introducing the bill which he says he hopes will make that possible. The legislation calls for regular audits from the Departments of Homeland Security and Treasury, and USAID. It also says the Red Cross must open its books and cooperate with all future GAO investigations.

Thompson said that part is especially important because he says the Red Cross did not fully cooperate with this GAO inquiry which began 18 months ago.

“There was initial pushback from the standpoint of getting information,” Thompson said in an interview. Then, he says, the situation got worse.

Last summer, he says, he received a letter from Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern. She wrote to Thompson, ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and asked him to “end the GAO inquiry,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by NPR and ProPublica. McGovern gave the congressman her private cell phone number and asked that he not communicate with her in writing.


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Government-backed egg lobby tried to crack food startup, emails show – Sam Thielman and Dominic Rushe Wednesday 2 September 2015 14.49 EDT

USDA official joined American Egg Board in planning to ruin Hampton Creek, Silicon Valley firm that created plant-based egg alternative and Just Mayo

The American Egg Board provided 14,000 eggs for the annual White House Easter egg roll this year.

A US government-appointed agricultural body tried to crush a Silicon Valley food startup after concluding the company represented a “major threat” and “crisis” for the $5.5bn-a-year egg industry, according to documents obtained by the Guardian.

In potential conflict with rules that govern how it can spend its funds, the American Egg Board (AEB) lobbied for a concerted attack on Hampton Creek, a food company that has created a low-cost plant-based egg replacement and the maker of Just Mayo, a mayonnaise alternative.

In a series of emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (Foia), AEB staff, a US department of agriculture official and egg industry executives attempted to orchestrate the attack.

The documents were obtained by Ryan Shapiro, a Foia expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Shapiro’s Washington DC-based Foia-specialist attorney, Jeffrey Light, and passed to Hampton Creek.

Among the efforts coordinated between the AEB, the USDA and the egg industry:

  • Outgoing AEB head Joanne Ivy advised Unilever on how to proceed against Hampton Creek after the food giant filed a false advertising lawsuit against its rival last year.
  • The Department of Agriculture’s national supervisor of shell eggs joined the AEB in its attack on Hampton Creek, suggesting Ivy contact the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) directly about Just Mayo with her concerns. The FDA later ruled Just Mayo must change its name.
  • The AEB attempted to have Just Mayo blocked from Whole Foods, asking Anthony Zolezzi, a partner at private equity firm Pegasus Capital Advisors and self-described “eco-entrepreneur”, to use his influence with Whole Foods to drop the product. (Whole Foods still sells Just Mayo.)
  • More than one member of the AEB made joking threats of violence against Hampton Creek’s founder, Josh Tetrick. “Can we pool our money and put a hit on him?” asked Mike Sencer, executive vice-president of AEB member organization Hidden Villa Ranch. Mitch Kanter, executive vice-president of the AEB, jokingly offered “to contact some of my old buddies in Brooklyn to pay Mr. Tetrick a visit”.
  • The AEB’s research arm, the Egg Nutrition Center (ENC), tested the strength of Hampton Creek’s patent for its egg replacer, Beyond Eggs, using a consultant, Gilbert Leveille. Leveille concluded that the patent was “not very strong and could be easily challenged with an alternate product”, he said in an email to Kanter. “Were I in your position I would focus on nutritional quality and on the emerging science, much of which ENC has sponsored,” Leveille wrote.

The emails, totalling 600 pages, show the AEB has become deeply concerned about Hampton Creek. The San Francisco-based tech company has attracted $120m in funding from some of tech’s biggest names, including the Founders Fund, started by Facebook backer Peter Thiel, and Vinod Khosla’s Khosla Ventures.

The AEB represents egg farmers across the US and its board is selected by the secretary of agriculture. This year the politically connected AEB provided 14,000 eggs for the White House’s annual Easter egg roll and Ivy was photographed with President Barack Obama.

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Vemma Nutrition shut down for running pyramid scheme – by Laura Rena Murray August 26, 2015 6:00PM ET

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Wednesday announced that Vemma Nutrition — a multilevel marketing firm that relies on independent salespeople, called affiliates, to buy and sell its energy drinks, diet shakes and supplements — has been shut down for engaging in “deceptive and unlawful acts and practices.” The announcement followed an Aug. 17 suit filed against the company, in which the FTC accused it of operating as an illegal pyramid scheme.

In October, Al Jazeera exposed the company’s predatory practices and the lucrative lifestyle it afforded CEO Benson Keith Boreyko in a series about multilevel marketing firms. In the stories about Vemma, Al Jazeera detailed how the company rebranded itself to appeal to unsuspecting teens with its Young People Revolution, or YPR, movement. The stories unearthed information about his former company New Vision, which was also shut down by the FTC because of its claims that its supplements could cure attention deficit disorder. In 2011 he changed the name of New Vision International Holdings Inc. to Vemma International Holdings Inc.

“[The Al Jazeera report] was the only in-depth, extensive coverage of Vemma by mainstream media, which lent weight and force to the FTC’s investigation,” said Robert Fitzpatrick, who runs the watchdog website Pyramid Scheme Alert and was quoted in another story in the series about the psychology behind multilevel marketing firms.

Vemma was closed down for, among other things, using “interrelated companies that commingle funds and have common ownership, officers, directors and office locations,” according to the FTC lawsuit. This interconnecting company structure was initially documented by Al Jazeera in the 2014 exposé, which showed that Boreyko and his family incorporated dozens of interlocking companies that share addresses and list only Boreyko and his siblings as the principal shareholders, directors and officers.

Al Jazeera America found that CEO Benson Keith Boreyko made roughly $12 million in 2013 – 7,500 times more than three-quarters of Vemma affiliates.

The FTC investigation was aided by the offices of the attorney general in Arizona, South Carolina and Michigan as well the police department in Tempe, Arizona, where Vemma is headquartered.


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Pro Baseball Has Doping. Amateur Softball Has … Hot Bats – Rick Paulas  AUGUST 16, 2015 5:33 AM ET

The genial world of amateur softball has a dark secret: Hot bats. They look just like ordinary softball bats, but they've been altered to send balls faster and farther.

The genial world of amateur softball has a dark secret: Hot bats. They look just like ordinary softball bats, but they’ve been altered to send balls faster and farther.

Amateur slow-pitch softball would seem to be a low-stakes game. A bunch of friends join a league, take some swings, run the bases and retire to the dugout for post-game beers. At best, there might be a plastic trophy for the winners.

But there’s a dark and dangerous side to this pleasant pastime: hot bats.

“A hot bat is any bat that has been somewhat altered in order to give it an added performance,” Rick Paulas says. He plays softball himself, and he investigated the devious practice recently for SB Nation. “Essentially you are constructing the bat in a manner that produces a higher exit velocity than was initially intended by the bat manufacturers.”

Paulas writes that hot bats make a serious difference in performance, and they’re nearly impossible to detect.

In a conversation with NPR’s Rachel Martin, he offers a glimpse of the seedy underbelly — nay, the seething underworld — of a favorite easygoing pastime.

Interview Highlights

How bat doctors do it

The most common thing that bat doctors will do is this thing called “bat shaving,” where they will take off the top of the bat, which is called the end-cap. Inside of the bat is hollow, too — that’s something to keep in mind. And what they do is they put the bat in sort of like a metal lave, and they will shave the inside.

This does two things: It makes it a lighter bat, so that it’s an easier swing, and also what it does is it creates this thing called a “trampoline effect,” where when the ball hits the end of the bat, the ball will actually compress the bat slightly and then it will kind of boomerang back like a trampoline. That’s where the trampoline effect comes from.

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America’s Largest Disability Employer Accused of Running Like the ‘Mafia’ – Elizabeth Picciuto 08.11.151:13 AM ET

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

According to CNN, two of America’s largest employers of people with disabilities are being investigated for financial fraud, mismanagement, and steering of contracts.

AbilityOne is a federal program that offers job opportunities to almost 50,000 people with disabilities, making it the single largest employer of people with significant disabilities in the nation. CNN reported that AbilityOne, along with its main partner organization SourceAmerica, are the subjects of several federal investigations, suspected of enriching themselves and their friends at the expense of the people whom they are supposed to be helping.

According to CNN, AbilityOne and SourceAmerica are being investigated for a bevy of corruption charges, including fraud, mismanagement, steering of contracts, and misrepresenting the severity of the disabilities of their workers.

The Department of Justice declined to comment on the investigation. The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General confirmed that an investigation is underway, but would not comment further.

The Daily Beast received an audio file and transcript from a source participating in one of the federal investigations. The recording is of a December 2013 conversation between Jean Robinson, then-General Counsel of SourceAmerica, and Ruben Lopez, CEO of Bona Fide Conglomerates, Inc. (Bona Fide is a nonprofit company that trains and employs workers with severe disabilities. It has been embroiled in on-and-off legal battles with SourceAmerica since 2010.) Lopez was participating in one of the federal investigations and wearing a wire.

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