Monthly Archives: June 2017

A ruckus of wings


by Stacey Warde

I heard a ruckus outside my bedroom window in the last bit of twilight. It sounded like someone clumsily flapping the pages of an oversized newspaper. But who does that any more?

I went to the window and peered into the shadows of sycamore trees silhouetted against the final silver-green light above the cabin.

In the shadows below I saw little.

In the weighty limbs 30 feet up, the dark wide pages of a wild turkey’s wings spread themselves black against the sky as the big bird wobbled to its roosting place for the night.

The flapping pages of another wild turkey’s wings warned of its own arrival as it crash-landed through a thicket of leaves onto the same limb. Twigs and leaves fell.

Other turkeys arrived. Soon there were nearly 10 awkwardly flapping pairs of wings, batting like broadsides against the yellow-green twilight, giving clumsy applause to each new safe arrival, out of reach from those yapping coyotes, and settling in briefly for the short night that beckons another summer.

Man, what a ruckus! Wings flapping, and crushed twigs and leaves falling everywhere.

Finally, they settled in, and were quiet, and the frogs and crickets started their evening chorus, beeping and croaking under the same trees along the creek, bass and soprano voices lulling the birds to sleep.

In a short while, the dogs of the night will be hurling insults and cries of longing at the swelling moon…§

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice. This reflection originally appeared on his blog, Rogue’s View.

House Democrats sound alarm

We were able to detect vulnerable networks at Mar-a-Lago — Trump’s “Southern White House” — from a small motorboat about 800 feet from the club on Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway.

Trump properties pose security risk, easy prey to hacks

by Jeff LarsonProPublica

Two dozen House Democrats have sent a letter to White House counsel Donald McGahn, warning that digital security holes at the Trump Organization’s clubs and hotels are risks to national security and the secrecy of classified information.“The White House must act immediately to secure the potentially sensitive information on these systems,” said the letter, which was signed by 24 Congress members and went to McGahn last week.Their concerns were in response to an article published last month by ProPublica and Gizmodo that documented the cybersecurity vulnerabilities at properties the president has frequented since being elected. Our reporting found unencrypted login pages, servers running outdated software, accessible printers, and Wi-Fi networks that were open to anyone close enough to access them.We were able to detect vulnerable networks at Mar-a-Lago — Trump’s “Southern White House” — from a small motorboat about 800 feet from the club on Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway. We also found open Wi-Fi networks at the grounds of the Trump golf courses in Bedminster, New Jersey, and accessible Wi-Fi-enabled printers at Trump’s course in Sterling, Virginia.

“To leave these networks unsecured undermines our national priorities and the trust the American people place in the Office of the President,” the letter warned.

The White House and the Trump Organization did not comment on the letter.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the letter’s author, said the vulnerabilities revealed by our story demand immediate action, but he’s received no response from the administration so far. “It needs to be addressed quickly. Potentially every minute something is leaking,” he said. “It is too late to close the henhouse after the foxes come in.”

Since becoming president, Donald Trump has spent time at his clubs on most weekends and has met with foreign dignitaries like Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago.

In February, members of Mar-a-Lago posted pictures of a dinner meeting between Trump and Abe on the patio of the club. Cybersecurity experts warned that sophisticated hackers could turn guests’ cellphones into clandestine listening devices if they gained access to the networks at the club.

Hackers may not need to travel to each of the Trump Organization’s clubs and hotels in order to gain access. We found that the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., was hosting a server running software that is more than a decade old and is still accessible from the internet.

“Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago”

We tested internet security at four Trump properties. It’s not good. Read the story.

After we notified the company that administers the Trump clubs’ websites about our findings, they disabled an insecure login page that leads to a database of sensitive information that we found on Mar-a-Lago’s website. However, the company, called Clubessential, has not locked down its customer documentation website, which includes usernames and passwords to internal accounts and is accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Clubessential did not respond to a request for comment.

“Cyber-criminals and nation states have both the incentive and the ability to hack these networks to obtain sensitive information critical to our national security and international diplomacy,” the Congress members’ letter said.

Since our visits to Trump’s properties in early May, the president has spent four weekends at his clubs.

“He’s the president of the United States,” Engel said. “We should make sure he’s secure wherever he is.” §

Jeff Larson is a reporter at ProPublica. Follow him on Twitter @thejefflarson. Like this story? Sign up for ProPublica’s daily newsletter to get more of their best work.

Rep. Tom Price bought drug stocks

Then pushed big pharma’s agenda in Australia and made thousands

Price’s lobbying abroad, which has not previously been reported, is another example of how his work in Congress could have benefitted his investment portfolio. He traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while taking action on legislation and regulations affecting the industry.

by Robert FaturechiProPublica

In the spring before the 2016 presidential election, the Obama administration’s 12-nation trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, was still alive. Negotiators worked on details as Congress considered whether to ratify the pact.

The Australian government was getting in the way of one change demanded by U.S. pharmaceutical companies. Makers of cutting-edge biological drugs wanted to have data from their clinical trials protected from competitors for 12 years, as they are under U.S. law 2014 not the roughly five years permitted under the TPP. Australian officials insisted that an extension would deprive consumers of cheaper alternatives for too long.

On April 5, 2016, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers arrived in Canberra, Australia’s capital, for meetings with government officials on a broad range of subjects. Among those on the routine congressional trip was Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican who would go on to become President Trump’s secretary of health and human services. Three weeks before the trip, Price had purchased up to $90,000 worth of pharmaceutical stocks 2014 trades that would come under scrutiny after his nomination to Trump’s cabinet.

In Canberra, Price and another Republican, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, pressured senior Australian trade officials to modify their position on the 12-year extension, according to a congressional aide who was on the trip. The Australians explained that they had no intention of changing their laws or rules in ways that could increase drug prices. Price and Kline continued pushing, according to the aide, asking for a side letter or other written guidance that the period would be extended in Australia even if it weren’t spelled out in the TPP itself.

Price’s lobbying abroad, which has not previously been reported, is another example of how his work in Congress could have benefitted his investment portfolio. He traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while taking action on legislation and regulations affecting the industry. ProPublica previously reported that Price’s stock trades are said to be under investigation by federal prosecutors.

Price, who did not respond to an interview request for this story, has said he did nothing wrong, that his broker generally chose stocks without his knowledge and that all of his trades were publicly disclosed.

Price’s financial disclosures submitted to the House Office of the Clerk show that on March 17, 2016, he purchased shares worth between $1,000 and $15,000 each in Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer and Biogen. All six companies had an interest in biological drugs, which are grown from live cells and are known for short as biologics. Eli Lilly, for example, is behind Portrazza, the first biologic approved to treat a common type of lung cancer. Amgen makes a top-seller for rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Biogen developed a biologic for people suffering multiple sclerosis relapses.

Kline, who has since retired from Congress, said he could not recall if he or anyone else raised the biologics issue. His financial disclosures do not show direct holdings in pharmaceutical companies.

Australia has played another role in Price’s financial activities. In 2015 the congressman bought about $10,000 worth of shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics, a small biologics firm with an office in Sydney. After the congressional trip, which also made a stop in Sydney, Price purchased a larger stake in the company, about $84,000 worth, in two private placements, the first of which was announced in June. Price was invited to purchase the shares at a discounted rate.

It’s not known if Price had any contact with the firm while in Sydney. Price didn’t respond to questions about when and where he discussed the discounted offering with company officials. The company’s officials also did not respond.

Traveling congressional delegations typically meet with a variety of local officials, and at the time of the visit to Australia it wasn’t unusual for Republican lawmakers to side with the pharmaceutical industry on the trade deal’s protections for biologics. Price’s advocacy stands out because he pushed the cause directly with foreign officials, while at the same time owning stakes in companies that could have benefited.

An itinerary for the trip reviewed by ProPublica mentions TPP in relation to one of the meetings, but does not list the biologics provision. A former Australian trade official, who asked not to be named and attended one of the meetings, confirmed that the 12-year lockup was addressed, but said he could not recall which Congress members were pushing it.

Others on the trip, organized by the House’s Education and the Workforce Committee, were Robert Scott, D-Va., Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, Erik Paulsen, R-Minn. and Dan Benishek, R-Mich. Those members who responded to requests for comment said they could not recall whether the provision was discussed.

The data collected during clinical trials of drugs can save competitors time in developing the cheaper alternatives to biologics known as biosimilars. Keeping the data proprietary longer extends the original drugmaker’s monopoly. While some big brand-name pharmaceutical companies also make biosimilars, they and their trade association 2014 the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America 2014 advocated strongly for longer exclusivity.

In the end, the debate over the provision became moot. Trump scrapped the TPP days after taking office. Price divested his drug stocks upon taking the cabinet post. His investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics yielded a profit of at least $150,000. §

Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance for ProPublica, where this article first appeared. Before joining ProPublica, Faturechi was a reporter at The Los Angeles Times, where his work exposed inmate abuse, cronyism, secret cop cliques and wrongful jailings at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Special correspondent Anne Davies in Sydney contributed to this story.

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