In today's edition, the SEC looks for more transparency around cryptocurrencies, the acting EPA chief's lobbying ties are under scrutiny, Russia punishes dissidents by leveraging a surprising source, and more.
- The SEC's new cryptocurrency czar wants digital coin enthusiasts to be a little more open. "The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is well known for bringing landmark cases against the biggest names in finance. But its powers to punish individuals and companies can also be intimidating, something that’s very much on the mind of Valerie Szczepanik, the SEC’s new top official overseeing the nascent cryptocurrency industry…A key reason for the less-confrontational approach: digital-token enthusiasts’ deep mistrust of government." (Bloomberg)
- The TSA has been secretly tracking American travelers, even when they're not on a watchlist. "According to a new report from The Boston Globe, federal air marshals are tracking American citizens who are not currently under investigation or on a terrorist watch list by way of a previously unknown Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program…The program is called “Quiet Skies,” which directs federal air marshals to track Americans on domestic flights who may be affiliated with someone on a watch list or whose travel patterns mirror those of suspected terrorist. Individuals being tracked through Quiet Skies are not suspected of any crimes, according to the Globe." (The Verge)
- Despite a range of efforts aimed at reforming foreign lobbying laws, Congress can't seem to agree on a solution. "This Congress has a crush on the idea of overhauling the nation’s foreign lobbying regulations, but lawmakers apparently can’t seem to find the one bill they want to commit to. Senators and House members from both parties have introduced at least a dozen bills to update the 80-year-old statute that governs foreign influence campaigns on U.S. soil. Yet all those proposals remain stalled on Capitol Hill, just when the first trial of ex-lobbyist and onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort may brighten the spotlight on the far-flung international influence business." (Roll Call)
- New GAO report finds significant problems with the VA's handling of whistleblowers. "A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reveals serious problems related to holding employees accountable, particularly when it comes to whistleblowing." (Washington Post) You can read the full GAO report here. Appropriately, yesterday was National Whistleblower Day and the GAO marked the occasion with a blog post explaining how the Office of Special Counsel reviews allegations of potential wrongdoing by federal agencies.
- The acting head of the EPA is already facing scrutiny over his lobbying ties. "Andrew Wheeler’s lobbying ties have come under increasing scrutiny now that he is at the top of the Environmental Protection Agency. But the acting administrator has more latitude to meet with some of his former clients compared to others, federal ethics officials say…Under the Trump administration’s ethics pledge, a political appointee cannot meet with anyone he or she has provided services for during the two years prior to joining the federal government — except under specific circumstances…Since joining the EPA on April 20, Wheeler has met with multiple organizations and businesses that retained him in his capacity as a principal at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. The list includes biodiesel producer Darling Ingredients; agriculture giant Archer Daniels Midland and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, all of which ended their financial relationship with Wheeler’s firm before April 2016." (Washington Post)
- Newly released emails show that Wilbur Ross pressured the Justice Department for analysis on a citizenship question for the Census. "Months before the Justice Department submitted a formal request for a citizenship question, pressure to add one to the 2020 census was mounting from a powerful decision-maker behind the national head count: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross…These revelations come from more than 7,500 pages of documents the Trump administration released Friday, as part of an order by U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman for the lawsuits over the citizenship question. They are the latest batch of court filings that have raised questions about why Ross approved adding a census question topic that the federal government has not asked all U.S. households since 1950." (NPR) Meanwhile, with the 2020 Census fast approaching, watchdogs are starting to worry about the count's schedule. (Federal Computer Week)
- Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) announces his support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, despite potential privacy concerns. "Sen. Rand Paul announced his support for Brett Kavanaugh on Monday, cutting short speculation over whether the Kentucky Republican might actually oppose President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee over his record on privacy." (POLITICO)
- The network of conservative, big money political donors led by Charles Koch is distancing itself from President Trump's GOP. "The influential political network affiliated with billionaire Charles Koch is trying to distance itself from the Republican Party — a dramatic shift for the cluster of groups known for spending hundreds of millions in support of Republican candidates and causes over the last decade. The donors, like most other Republicans, have struggled to impose their will on President Donald Trump outside of tax policy, some deregulation efforts, or his court nominations…the euphoria over last year’s tax law [has] faded. In its place was concern over how Trump's protectionist trade policies, anti-immigration policies, and a spike in government spending would threaten the free markets and limited government libertarian-leaning ideology that Koch and his conservative allies have long advocated for." (BuzzFeed)
around the world
- Voter anger over corruption scandals is driving regime change around the globe. "There is a striking trend in global politics: A growing number of presidents and prime ministers are being toppled before the end of their term by public anger and legal action relating to corruption. In just the last six months, corruption dominoes have fallen in countries as diverse as Armenia, Malaysia, Peru, Slovakia, South Africa, and Spain. Stepping back a bit, a startling fact deserves attention: In the past five years, more than 10 percent of countries in the world have experienced corruption-driven leadership change." (Foreign Policy)
- The US is becoming increasingly amenable to Russian efforts to arrest dissidents. "Much attention has been paid to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and the fear of a repeat in the upcoming midterms. Less examined, however, has been Russia’s abuse of Interpol and the American court system to persecute the Kremlin’s rivals in the United States…Russia’s requests to Interpol to issue Red Notices—the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today—against Kremlin opponents are being met with increasing deference by the Department of Homeland Security, according to immigration attorneys and experts in transnational crime and corruption with whom I spoke." (The Atlantic)
- "Fake news" and anti-media rhetoric is helping dictators crack down on dissent and free speech. "Press freedom advocates highlighted fresh examples on Monday showing how they believe President Donald Trump's anti-media rhetoric has given foreign dictators a framework to crack down on free expression…Since Trump took office, foreign leaders have used “fake news” to justify suppressing speech they don’t like. Just in the last month, Egypt passed a “fake news” law criminalizing the spread of false information, while authorities in Vietnam reportedly suspended and fined local news website Tuoi Tre Online following accusations of spreading false news." (POLITICO)
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