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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Fitz in Vanity Fair -- Pt. 2

I'm quite sympathetic to the plight of David Margolick, the author of the Vanity Fair piece on Patrick Fitzgerald. He's had to address the same problem I've been struggling with -- namely Fitzgerald is a very difficult person to get a grip on. A simple recitation of chronological facts is inherently uninteresting, and most people close to Fitz are unwilling -- or, as I came to believe, unable -- to give much insight into his character, despite my best attempts to cajole, charm, threaten and throttle them into doing so.

The nine page article segues quickly into the Libby press conference:
He started nervously, blurting out his words in shaky, sometimes garbled phrases. One could detect the shyness his friends routinely describe. Staring ahead blankly, speaking mechanically, he laid out his case against Libby as if reading it off a teleprompter. In fact, although he'd written something down beforehand, what he said was entirely extemporaneous; while the rest of Fitzgerald was still unwinding, his remarkable mind was already up to speed. The angst and awkwardness vanished once he took questions, and that made sense; he had always been better, more himself, in rebuttals than in opening statements. When he had to think on the fly, he could be sincere, joke or provoke, become Everyman. "We all have our shticks: his is the up-from-the-gutter Irish kid from a poor family," says a lawyer in the Plame case. "It's essentially authentic. But it's also served him well."

Again and again, reporters pressed Fitzgerald for specifics, not just about Libby but also about Dick Cheney (who had discussed Plame with his chief of staff before the leak), White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove (who had discussed Plame with at least two reporters), and Novak (who had outed Plame in his syndicated column, then, presumably, told Fitzgerald). They got only crumbs, but Fitzgerald doled them out entertainingly and ingratiatingly, appearing more forthcoming than he really was. Some non-answers came with humor, some with baseball metaphors or colloquialisms. There was none of the usual lawyerly stiffness and aloofness, nor was there elegance or eloquence. Fitzgerald was modest, self-deprecating, nimble, patient, accessible, even-tempered, reassuring, likeable, real. And the press quickly turned. Charles Laughton as Inspector Javert suddenly morphed into Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith or Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness."
Having read through the transcripts of that press conference repeatedly, I was struck with a similar observation -- Fitzgerald always seemed to be saying a lot more than he actually did. To use the term "false candor" implies a nefariousness that I don't intend, but the description is not far off. And it may explain why his friends have such unfailing loyalty to him without ever having any great insight into what makes him tick. He appears to be a lot more open than he actually is, to give away much more than he ever really does.
While the right-wing blogs remained unusually quiet -- Fitzgerald is, after all, a two-time Bush appointee -- on the left he was a hero.
I have no idea who they're talking about.
He is beloved as he is respected: 10 days after the press conference in Washington, he showed up at a dinner at the New York Athletic Club for a former colleague, and the hundreds of former and current prosecutors on hand twice gave him prolonged standing ovations, a tribute remarkable even in this cloistered, clubby world. Characteristically, he seemed vaguely embarrassed by it all.


Some defense lawyers say he has lived too long in a prosecutorial bubble, unable to see the other, sometimes more human side of legal issues. In another life, they say, he'd have been a priest. "He has an almost puritanical view of the world: you're either a sinner or you're saved," says David Rubnke, a lawyer in Montclair, New Jersey, who in another of Fitzgerald's signature terrorism trials, represented one of the four men linked to the 1998 bombings of American Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. But like many defense lawyers, Ruhnke says he liked, respected, and trusted Fitzgerald. "If he told you something, you could go to the bank with it," he says. "That's not true of all federal prosecutors."


For all the recent adulation, Fitzgerald's relentless pursuit of the case, and partaker of journalists, has left lingering wounds -- and doubts. "He should get a life," said one of the reporters he pursued.
Okay he only really pursued two reporters -- Judy Miller and Matt Cooper. And that sure doesn't sound like Matt Cooper.
"A lot of people most enthralled by him and the vigor of his pursuit of Libby and others and his sureness in his own virtue would be very upset at the same level of diligence if applied to dissidents or people whose views they happened to agree with," says a lawyer representing that reporter.
And that sounds just stupid enough to be Floyd Abrams.

Margolick did a good job of getting more historical bio stuff than I've yet seen, those details are like pulling teeth:
Fitzgerald was the third of the four children of Patrick and Tillie Fitzgerald, immigrants from "the other side" -- County Clare, Ireland -- who settled in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn; his father was a legendarily hardworking doorman at 14 East 75th Street, on Manhattan's Upper East Side. (One summer, young Patrick worked the same job not too far away, at 520 East 72nd Street, and according to a former classmate, would bite his tongue at the condescension of residents.)
Although it's a bit of projection on my part there's always been something quite revealing about this particular detail. My dad grew up very poor in Tennessee and went on to study ancient languages at Harvard and earned a Ph.D in philosophy from BU. He had similar experiences like this growing up and as an adult they left him with no thrall of power; he was habitually neither impressed nor intimidated by it. The anti-Judy Miller, so to speak. I've talked with FBI agents who confirm this about Fitzgerald -- many US Attorneys, fearful that their jobs come as the result of political appointment, will not pursue the wealthy and the powerful and spend their time going after small fish. Fitzgerald is considered somewhat unique for his willingness to go straight to the top from the get, something I've always felt very heartened by in the face of an administration with a history of bludgeoning everyone who dares cross them into quick capitulation.
By recess of his first day of sixth grade at Our Lady Help of Christians School, in Brooklyn, his classmates were already touting him as the smartest kid there, though he insisted on playing sports so as not to be considered an egghead.
Being the Smart Kid, social death. I get it.
"Patrick Fitzgerald was the benchmark for what you had to be," says Martin Snow, who went to grade school and high school with him. "It was one word: 'patrickfitzgerald.' People would say, 'What do you think, you're patrickfitzgerald?'" Last October, during Fitzgerald's press conference, Snow stopped all workouts at the gym he runs in Lower Manhattan so that he, and everyone else, could watch his old friend.
More later.


Fitz in Vanity Fair

It's been a Plame-starved few weeks I know. Thanks to Jinny this evening I'm reading through the rather lengthy Vanity Fair article on Patrick Fitzgerald and I'll have more later, but in the meantime I thought this was rather touching:
Fitzgerald showed and instant aptitude for trial work; he was not one of those anal-retentive types who had to write everything out beforehand. And as disheveled as his files and personal life sometimes seemed, his brain was a marvel of organization. In 1993 he handled his first big case, of Mob bigwigs John and Joseph Gambino, associates of John Gotti's, charged with murder, racketeering, and narcotics trafficking. After a four-month trial -- during which Mob turncoat Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano testified -- a lone holdout hung the jury. So devastating was the outcome that Fitzgerald went into a deep funk and considered changing careers. (To avoid a re-trial, the two mobsters eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges.)

By this point, Fitzgerald's mother had died and his father had Alzheimer's disease; still, when then attorney general Janet Reno gave Fitzgerald an award for his work on the Gambino case, he brought his father, then only intermittently lucid, with him to Washington and posed with him by the bust of one of the elder Fitzgerald's heroes, Robert Kennedy, in the Justice Department's courtyard. It was a moment that few there could forget. Invariably bringing his office work with him, Fitzgerald took terms with his siblings caring for his father at his home in Brooklyn until his death.
I've heard people say that Fitz believes his parents never understood his decision to pursue the job of a prosecutor rather than a high-priced New York attorney. The need to try and explain to your parents a decision you know in your heart they would be proud of if only they could understand, even when they are probably past the point of being able to do so, is both moving and telling.


"Stoopit Laws"

Still waiting for an adequate rejoinder to the Atrios challenge for an explanation as to how exactly the NYT revelation of warrentless NSA wiretapping endangered national security.

The chief tit on the GOP udder that is Powerline devotes the full force of his intellectual prowess to the task and both sadly and predictably comes up wanting.

Glenn Greenwald:
Anyone who has paid even the most minimal attention to this matter --– let alone someone who holds themselves out as some sort of legal scholar qualified to accuse people of treason -- has known for quite some time that FISA expressly allows immediate eavesdropping without a warrant under Section 1805. Thus, unless a terrorist were as confused and uninformed about the law as John still is, a terrorist who thought we were complying FISA (rather than violating it) would have already known that we could eavesdrop immediately and without a warrant. That's because FISA says in clear and unambiguous language that we can. The Times story reporting on Bush's illegal program didn't reveal that we could eavesdrop immediately because the Government has that power even if it complies with FISA.

Shouldn'’t this be extremely embarrassing to John? FISA is not really that long of a law, and it'’s pretty straightforward. It'’s been three weeks since this scandal began. He obviously has no idea what FISA even says. John could have made the argument he just made only if he was completely unaware of the fact that FISA itself allows immediate eavesdropping -- a fact which not only is readily apparent from the law, but also has been mentioned by pretty much everyone who has discussed this matter since it first arose.

This really is the level of argument which is coming from Bush followers on this issue. It is wildly incoherent and uninformed. That'’s because they begin with the premise that anyone who says anything that is harmful to George Bush, particularly with regard to his terrorism policies, is a subversive and a traitor, and only thereafter, in each individual case, do they go out in search of rationale to justify the accusation. The fact that none exists doesn'’t stop them, or even give them pause, in insisting that those who criticize or impede George Bush should be imprisoned.
Tough break for the Rocketman. I guess this still reigns unchallenged as the most articulate expression of the wingnut position I've seen.

(photo & headline via Dependable Renegade)


Jeff Goldstein Better Make Damn Sure He Wants To Get Into a Right/Left Wackjob Posting Contest

TBogg...comments...typing...laughing...can't breathe....



The notion that the temperate puritans of the GOP are now going to clean up Dodge having caught their first fetid whiff of Tom Delay's imprudence is a real knee slapper.

Let's recall that when the House Ethics Committee found DeLay guilty not one but three times of ethics violations, Dennis Hastert and the GOP responded by removing the GOP Chairman Joel Hefley and the other uncooperative GOP committee members and replacing them with more morally pliant DeLay henchmen. They then changed the House rules in 2004 to accommodate DeLay's continued leadership despite his quite obvious violation of the regulations the Republicans had enacted like shrieking vestals during the Clenis era.

I've no doubt the cranky Hefley was the first to sign the petition for DeLay's ouster; he was also the only Republican who supported the bill to repeal the changes to House rules that allowed DeLay to retain his sovereignty while under indictment. But lest anyone want to make Hefley a hero remember that he had initially voted for the changes the first time around -- his Come to Jesus moment had more to do with his removal from a powerful committee chair than any tender pangs of conscience.

There is not one member of the GOP in any position to be on a high horse over this one.

Even Chris Matthews shares my mirth. "Newt Gingrich as a reformer? I mean, I guess I remember -- I said the other night it reminds me the line about Doris Day, I knew her before she was a virgin."

With his splenetic history of moral triumphalism during the Lewinsky scandal even as he was cheating on his own wife Newt may well be the most honorable man in the GOP, but that really isn't something I'd advertise.

And this race to the altar has little to do with any newfound awareness within the GOP about indecorousness of its own ranks. They have both known about it and institutionally facilitated it all along. Their decision to try and grab the moral high ground just as the public is becoming acquainted with the shenaniganss they've all been co-signing for years is nothing short of ribald comedy.

(graphic by Monk at Inflatable Dartboard)

Update: Watertiger has visual aids and stock market tips. (thanks Mark)

Update II: Crooks & Liars has the clip of DeLay's press conference up. It's a dilly. They also have a video of the sceptical Matthews here.


Bearing Witness

Per Atrios, a female journalist has been kidnapped in Iraq and her translator killed. Over at Kos her friends are asking that her name be kept secret:
The first 24-48 hours are critical, and American news organizations tend to not want publicity, at least during that period. It can make it much more dangerous for her and difficult to secure her release.

European news organizations often approach this issue differently, however, and will make an annoucement earlier, especially if they feel that the nationality of the reporter is likely to decrease the threat to his or her life. That is not the case here.
In the mean time if you want to know more about the incredible women who risk much to cover the war in Iraq have a look at the documentary Bearing Witness by Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple. Journalist Molly Bingham was actually taken prisoner and held at Abu Ghraib for a while by the Iraqis, and Kopple chronicles her return there along with several Iraqi women who shared her fate. These female reporters face incredible risks for often quite complex and compelling reasons and their commitment to telling the story always factors in this harrowing possibility.

Update: E&P: "A total of 76 journalists and media staff have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday. That was more than the 63 reporters killed in the 1955-1977 conflict in Vietnam, the group said, citing figures from U.S.-based press advocacy group Freedom Forum."


Exit The Bugman, Stage Right

AP is reporting that Tom DeLay decided not to fight for his Republican Majority Leader post in the House when Congress returns. Having become the poster boy for corruption and sleaze, DeLay made the decision this morning, after pressure from Republican leadership and party operatives, and a movement within his own House membership to oust him from consideration.

AP got the story from some power-hungry, ambitious Majority Leader hopefuls concerned Republican insiders, who wished to remain anonymous while planting their knives in DeLay's back.
These officials said DeLay, R-Texas, was preparing a letter informing fellow House Republicans of his decision. These officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they did not want to pre-empt the formal announcement.
Et tu, Blunt and Boehner? Nothing says loyalty quite like sending out the hook. DeLay knew he was in trouble when even Denny Hastert stopped protecting his flank.

Articles like this one from the NYTimes today probably weren't helping things.
The firm openly promoted the idea that it could deliver access to Representative DeLay, the former majority leader. The firm paid Mr. DeLay's wife $115,000 in consulting fees, while conducting business with Mr. Abramoff's firm. Mr. Abramoff helped Mr. Buckham set up his firm.

In overseas trips and domestic meetings, Mr. Buckham and at least one member of his firm worked with clients who, prosecutors suspect, helped funnel money and perks to Mr. DeLay, his fund-raising operations and other lawmakers in ways intended to curry favor with the Republican leadership and could have directly led to "official action" in Congress, a potentially criminal act.
Exit the Bugman, stage Right. But who else will be joining him in the wings? (And boy, that Christine Delay sure does do a whole lot of consulting. Wonder how she got those gigs? *cough* "Wives club" indeed.)

Oh, and one more thing: since the House was holding off resuming its actual work until the end of the month just so Tommy Boy could clear up his Texas indictment to regain his power tools, are they planning on getting off their asses and doing some work now that he's been shoved aside? I'm just asking.

(And yes, in case you are wondering, DeLay is smoking a Cuban cigar in the photo. Again, do as we say, not as we do.)

UPDATE: Here's the letter from DeLay to his House colleagues. (Hat tip to TeddySanFran for the link.)

UPDATE #2: The DCCC makes an important point. DeLay didn't get the boot because the Republicans in the House didn't like what he had done. DeLay is out for one simple reason, and only this reason, given how far they have been willing to go to protect his sorry ass in the ethics committee, holding off on the return this year for the House and everything else: Delay is out only because he got caught.


...Not As I Do

George Bush, Press Conference, October 11, 2001:
PRESIDENT BUSH: Of course. But our ability to affect host nations harboring terrorists will depend upon our determination, our will, our patience. We are sending a signal to the world as we speak that if you harbor a terrorist, there will be a price to pay. (emphasis mine)
And just so no one gets the idea that I'm playing gotcha with a single snippet, here's the Preznit a few years later, along the same theme, this time addressing the United Nations General Assembly, September 24, 2004:
Eventually, there is no safe isolation from terror networks, or failed states that shelter them, or outlaw regimes, or weapons of mass destruction. Eventually, there is no safety in looking away, seeking the quiet life by ignoring the struggles and oppression of others. (emphasis mine)
So, the President has made it quite clear that he considers nations which harbor terrorists to be "outlaws," in these statements and many, many others. I think that's a fair statement, don't you?

So, explain this:
The U.S. government will decide by Jan. 24 whether to free Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles from an immigration facility in El Paso and allow him to stay in the country under supervision.
For those not familiar with Posada Carriles, he was involved in some of the Reagan-era Iran-Contra and other activities, and was reportedly trained by the CIA to do...erm...things they wish he wouldn't talk about publicly.

Stuff like coordinating a unit that planted bombs in restaurants and other locations around Havana, Cuba -- on one occasion killing an Italian tourist along with a number of Cuban civilians. And planting explosives that downed a Cuban passenger plane, killing 73 passengers on board. (Something that Carilles bragged about in his own book.) And Operation Condor, including the Orlando Letelier murder that occurred in Washington, DC -- you know, a murder on US soil. Among many, many other things.

So much for the whole "if you harbor terrorists, you are our enemy" thing. Do as we say, not as we do -- this Administration sets a whole new standard for hypocrisy every day, don't they?

For more on this issue, see and NarcoNews. A decision has not yet been made on releasing Carriles under supervision into the United States.

(Huge hat tip to reader plukasiak for the link.)


Listen Carefully

Time Magazine is reporting that Duke Cunningham, the California Congressman who pled guilty to bribery and other corruption charges on November 28, 2005, cooperated more fully than anyone realized at the time of the plea. Turns out the Dukester wore a wire for the Feds.

Having a cooperating witness wear a wire is a standard practice when you have an ongoing conspiracy or web of criminal activity. Cops and prosecutors get warrants for this sort of thing all the time in drug and mob cases. But in Cunningham's case, the folks involved in the wire would have potentially been much more high profile fish: other folks in Congress, high-paid defense lobbyists and contractors, folks at the many possibilities.

According to Time, it's got Republicans in DC checking their calendars and blackberries:
The identity of those with whom the San Diego congressman met while wearing the wire remains unclear, and is the source of furious—and nervous—speculation by congressional Republicans....An FBI spokesman declined comment. Asked whether Cunningham, an ace Navy fighter pilot decorated for his service in Vietnam, had worn a wire, the spokesman said the response from a higher-up was, "Like I'd tell you."
No need to be nervous if you haven't done anything wrong. Isn't that the winger talking point we're always hearing about the illegal NSA spying issue? Not so comfortable when the shoe is on your foot, is it?

You know, these days the technology is so good, you can wire someone up without it showing at all. I've seen cops in drug task force cases wire up a hooker-turned-snitch, wearing very skimpy clothing, and would never have known she had the equipment on her had I not been present for the wiring. (They needed a woman in the room as a witness to be certain harassment issues weren't later brought up...don't ask. You'd be surprised what you can fit in a Wonderbra.) I'm thinking if they could hide a wire on a skinny woman in a flimsy tank top and some Daisy Dukes, they could find any number of places to squirrel one away on Duke's tank-like body, under his French cuff shirt and tie.

The fun thing about wired conversations is that the tapes are later transcribed, and used as evidence by the investigating officers, first for the grand jury testimony for indictments. Those transcripts generally get entered as evidence if the case goes to trial -- which means they become part of the public record. So, coming soon to a courthouse hear you: a script for bribery, corruption and scandal potentially involving members of Congress and those who bribe them. And Duke hung out with a decidedly Republican crowd on the Hill.

Two questions: (1) Who will turn up on the tapes? (2) Who else has been running around Capitol Hill wearing a wire? (Wasn't Jackie Boy Abramoff rumored to be cooperating with the Feds some 18 months or so prior to entering his pleas...hmmmm....)

(Pix courtesy of The Wire. If you haven't seen this show on HBO, I recommend it highly. Great scripts, great acting, great details research.)


Friday, January 06, 2006

Just Keep Your Hands Off My Porn, You Bastards

Last month Goodman, an 81-year-old retired University of Kansas history professor, received a letter from his friend in the Philippines that had been opened and resealed with a strip of dark green tape bearing the words “by Border Protection” and carrying the official Homeland Security seal.

“I had no idea (Homeland Security) would open personal letters,” Goodman told in a phone interview. “That’s why I alerted the media. I thought it should be known publicly that this is going on,” he said. Goodman originally showed the letter to his own local newspaper, the Kansas-based Lawrence Journal-World.

“I was shocked and there was a certain degree of disbelief in the beginning,” Goodman said when he noticed the letter had been tampered with, adding that he felt his privacy had been invaded. “I think I must be under some kind of surveillance.”


The letter comes from a retired Filipino history professor; Goodman declined to identify her. And although the Philippines is on the U.S. government’s radar screen as a potential spawning ground for Muslim-related terrorism, Goodman said his friend is a devout Catholic and not given to supporting such causes.

A spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection division said he couldn’t speak directly to Goodman’s case but acknowledged that the agency can, will and does open mail coming to U.S. citizens that originates from a foreign country whenever it’s deemed necessary.

“All mail originating outside the United States Customs territory that is to be delivered inside the U.S. Customs territory is subject to Customs examination,” says the CBP Web site. That includes personal correspondence. “All mail means ‘all mail,’” said John Mohan, a CBP spokesman, emphasizing the point.

“This process isn’t something we’re trying to hide,” Mohan said, noting the wording on the agency’s Web site. “We’ve had this authority since before the Department of Homeland Security was created,” Mohan said.
I keep hoping that any minute now Gladys Kravitz will wake up and realize that Bush 43 was just a dream.


Calling Jeff Gannon

To help defeat roadside ambushes, the military in May 2005 contracted to buy 122 Cougars whose special V-shaped hull helps deflect roadside bombs, military officials said. But the Pentagon gave the job to a small firm in South Carolina, Force Protection, that had never mass-produced vehicles. Company officials said a string of blunders has pushed the completion date to June.
How did the Cougar's manufacturer land this cherry contract?

Rule #1: Remind GOP of something they're already accustomed to paying for.

(Hat tip to reader Teddy)


War on the Cheap

A secret Pentagon study has found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor. That armor has been available since 2003 but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials.
I guess this should not be a surprise considering the advance planning skills of people who "really didn't see the insurgency coming."

OT anybody seen $9 billion lying around?


Scooter Gets His Wingnut Welfare

Now that he's cut off from all communication with his bedwetting, warmongering buddies at the White House, nobody wants Scooter sitting home all alone and gettin' hinky. Gawd forbid he get a wee bit paranoid and decide to have a chin wag with Patrick Fitzgerald. So the powers that be have arranged for Scooter to pick up a little wingnut welfare and a new bevy of bedwetting, warmongering friends.

He's now assigned to the Hudson Institute, which might as well be a 12 Step Program for Those Awaiting Indictment by Patrick Fitzgerald, including Marie-Josee Kravis and Richard Perle in the Hollinger affair. Fitzgerald had previoiusly indicted boardmember Conrad Black, who seems to be on leave of absence from the institute now that he's already a proud recipient.

The Hudson Institute is financed by such civic minded individuals as the Scaifes, the Coors' and the Waltons. And they must needs have Scooter because he is So Damn Valuable as an expert on Asia and the War on Terra.

And because silence is golden.

Update: Over at DKos Lobezno calls the Hudson Institute, asks them if they intend to hire Jack Abramoff next and winds up on the no-fly list.

(graphic by Monk at Inflatable Dartboard)


Ralph Reed: Hypocrisy's a Bitch, Ain't It?

Look whose poll numbers have taken a nose dive in the wake of the sinking Abramoff ethics ship? Yup, Ralph Reed, poster boy for gambling opposition hypocrisy, is feeling the heat from his red state constituency. Where's the love, Ralphie Boy? Oh yeah, with the other guy.

Reed is running against a virtual unknown for the lieutenant governorship of Georgia -- and even with his tarnished now worthless Christian Coalition credentials in an evangelical, red state bonanza like Georgia, Ralphie's numbers are taking a nose dive. Guess all that Abramoff press isn't working well for the campaign.

No idea if these numbers are going to hold through the primary, but Republicans around the country have to be shaking in their boots at this news. If Ralph Reed and all his name recognition and evangelical letter writing buddies can't beat a no-name primary opponent in a red state like Georgia, what does that mean for everyone else who is linked to Jack Abramoff in more "purple" looking states?

Boy, hypocrisy doesn't pay, does it? Neither does bribery, corruption or scandal when you get caught.


Thank You, Walmart

Walmart is sparing no expense today to assure both traditional media and the internet that they are wracked with grief over the racially insenstive accident generated by their online "mapping" program. The corporate PR machine is on red alert at the highest echelons to assure everyone how very much they care.

Oh and screw the homeless:
January 6, 2006: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the nation's largest food retailer, said Thursday it will no longer donate nearly-expired or expired food to local groups feeding the hungry.

Instead, that food will be thrown away, a move several Sacramento charities consider wasteful.

Olan James, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the policy, which applies to all 1,224 Wal-Marts, 1,929 Supercenters and 558 Sam's Clubs, is an attempt to protect the corporation from liability in case someone who eats the donated food gets sick.

"We can't guarantee the safety of the merchandise, and consumer safety is our top priority," said James in a telephone interview from Wal-Mart headquarters in Arkansas.

Most charities get their food from an array of sources, and they say the loss of Wal-Mart or Sam's Club donations won't make a huge dent in their stockpiles. But as increasingly efficient grocery stores have less to donate, charities worry the stream of food donations from grocers is diminishing.

"If they were giving it away somewhere else that wouldn't be so bad, but the fact is, it's going into the garbage," said Owen Foley of the St. Vincent de Paul Food Locker at Presentation Church in Sacramento. "I mean, there's a big need."

Foley said the breads, pies and cakes his group received from the Sam's Club on El Camino Avenue helped round out the meals served to more than 900 families last year.

Ernie Brown, a spokesman for Sacramento's Senior Gleaners, which received about 25,000 pounds of food in 2005 from Sam's Club on Greenback Lane in Citrus Heights, said most food is fine to eat for days after the "sell-by" date.

He said Wal-Mart's concerns about liability seem misplaced in light of the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, a federal law passed in 1996 offering food donors wide-ranging protections from civil lawsuits or criminal prosecution. The law states that donors can be held liable only in instances of "gross negligence."

"Lord, we get millions and millions of pounds from Raley's and Bel-Air and Albertson's, and they don't have a problem understanding the law," Brown said. "Why don't Wal-Mart and Sam's Club understand the law?"

James said he is not aware of anybody suing Wal-Mart after getting sick from donated food.
I'd probably be a bit more convinced of their social sensitivity if they devoted a bit less money and muscle to assuring everyone that their online software is not staffed by crackers and showed some concern for people who will only be too grateful to receive what they will otherwise consign to the garbage.

Don't you think it would be a really nice gesture if Walmart decided to restore these donations to the homeless today?

(hat tip to reader Susan)

Photo by Harvey Finkle from Urban Nomads: The Poor People's Movement


Some Initial Charities Reporting on Abramoff Re-Donation

If you've been wondering where the Jack Abramoff money is going as Republicans rush to divest themselves of their ill-gotten gains, the NYTimes has done some initial reporting.

This raises some tough questions for Native American groups who are now scrambling to determine whether they have been somehow tainted by the Abramoff mess. Let's get something straight up front: Native American groups have the same right as anyone else in this country to donate money to political campaigns that they feel represent their interests. That goes for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Donations directly from specific tribal groups are not only proper, but it's just like the National Chamber of Commerce or the UAW or any other specific, targeted group that is trying to advance the interests of its members. It is the illegal scamming of the money and then the bribing of officials that Abramoff and his cronies did that is illegal.

It would be a shame if the Native American groups who were taken advantage of by the KStreet project were then shut out of the process by skittish politicians who were too afraid to explain the difference to their constituents. And even more of a shame if these groups who have already had to deal with Abramoff not doing the work he promised for them then being shut out of the very process in which they were trying to get a voice in the first place.

(Painting found on a wonderful site called First People. Some gorgeous artwork and a good resource for Native American cultural information. Fun place for exploration if you are interested.)


A Question of Doing What's Right

There is a scene in October Sky where Homer enters the mines to work for his first evening shift. He glances upward as the elevator goes down into the mine shaft for a last glimpse of sky, and sees Sputnik flash by before the doors of the mine clank shut and he is enveloped in darkness.

That scene always makes me cry, partly because it is the moment that Homer feels his dream of science and space being extinguished. But partly because people in my family have always worked the mines, and all sorts of other industrial jobs, aspiring to so much more, but never quite making it out of the economic circumstances to which they were born, and continuing to work at jobs to take care of their families but which never really fed their souls. It was back-breaking, exhausting work for most of the folks in my family, but their work ethic was always inspiring, along with the lesson that I learned to aspire to more before it was too late.

Which was why, from the time I was a very small child, my parents emphasized education as the way out for me. I was lucky. My parents both worked hard to give me every opportunity to stretch my wings, but most kids here in West Virginia simply aren't that lucky. And that is true for a whole lot of Appalachia, and other economically depressed areas around the country, rural and inner-city alike.

The recent mining tragedy in Upshur County here has brought home those family lessons for me all over again. My heart aches for everyone involved in this. I'm told by folks who were there the night the miners were found that family members, in that rush after the inaccurate information on them being found alive spread through the church, rushed out to get blankets and coats to wrap their loved ones in when they came out of the mines, waiting on the church steps for the first sight of their men.

That this was not to be is so painful, so unbelievably painful, that describing what happened after that is more than I can bear this morning. And, to be honest, we know folks on all sides of this (I feel ethically obligated to say that up front), so this isn't a post about specifics on this particular incident. But the closeness of where this tragedy has hit home for everyone around here compels me to say some things that I have been thinking about for quite a while now.

We have lost our way in this country in terms of values. I don't mean in the wingy sort of way in which values are usually discussed, where you say a bunch of superficial nonsense about gays getting married and the country going to hell as a result, either. That's just another one of those fear tactics stirred up by political types who want to play divide and conquer to win elections by working the ends against the middle.

No, what I'm talking about goes deeper into who we are, into issues of where we ought to be. And these are issues that Democrats used to be for, in the not so distant past, but they have all but disappeared from the discussion in the last few years. I'm going to talk about this more as time goes on toward the elections in the Fall, but this morning it is eating at me as I listen to local news updates from the mine and find out that the miners left notes for those they left behind -- those notes cry out to me to get off my butt and do something. So here goes.

You have to have a job to make any money to live. That's pretty much a given. You can start your own business, but that requires a helluva lot of work, too, so unless you are lucky enough to be born a trust fund kid (like the ones I met when I was away in college), life requires that you get off your butt and do something to earn a living.

To what end, though? As a worker these days, you have less earning potential in a whole lot of jobs that used to guarantee a decent day's pay. And at the end of the road, you have no guarantee that the pension into which you've been paying your whole damned life will even be there - I can't tell you how many people around here have lost everything because the business for which they worked went bankrupt and the pensions got voided in a reorganization under the corporate bankruptcy laws.

But as someone who has owned her own business, I can also tell you that the owner end of things isn't all roses and profits. After we got done paying out salaries, overhead costs, state and federal taxes, business taxes, social security and workers' comp, there was not a whole lot left for my partner and myself a lot of months. For small businesses, the margins are awfully small sometimes.

For a lot of corporations, especially those industries where money pressure has really put the squeeze on things in this economy, the margins are pretty tight, too. It's not enough to just say corporations suck -- that's too easy, and too intellectually sloppy. With the increases in fuel costs this year, I can't imagine trying to work a large budget for some of these places -- my little firm budget used to give me a migraine, and we only had a handful of employees and one office building.

None of this, though, excuses treating people like dirt. Nothing does. And that's where my gripe comes in today. CEOs for some of the major corporations in this country make obscene amounts of money, all the while, in a lot of cases, running the company into the ground and then taking off on their golden parachute ride -- leaving behind the folks who are living on the margins on their $7 an hour (and that's a great salary for a whole huge group of people in this country, let me tell you) to pick the pieces out of all those broken promises.

We need a voice for those people. John Edwards picked up this theme in the last election cycle during the primaries -- with his Two Americas -- and I would love to see that discussion continued into 2006. People who make $7 an hour (or less) can't afford to hire Jack Abramoff to represent their interests to the big shots in Washington. They generally aren't in any sort of union -- which would at least give them a possibility of an organized voice of some sort (although these days, that certainly isn't assured). They have no big money voice to back them up in Washington.

These are the folks that Democrats used to be able to depend on for a vote -- because the party spent time working on issues that lifted up the least of our nation, to give them a shot at the American dream, just like everyone else.

What I saw as an attorney -- both in private practice and as a prosecutor in cases with abused and neglected kids through to adult criminals -- is that there are a whole lot of folks in this country who have absolutely no faith in being treated like decent, equal human beings. People who are so used to being pushed to the margins that they see no way out. People who get into a cycle of being brought up in a family where abuse and neglect seems normal because it is the everyday norm, who then become juvenile offenders and then move up to the adult system and, when they have kids, the cycle starts all over again.

We've gutted funding for mental health. We pay social workers who intercede on the children's behalf less than they could make at McDonalds, but we expect them to do a job so difficult and so important to our communities. We spend huge sums of money on new prisons every year: imagine if we just dedicated a small portion of that amount to services on the front end of the problem -- when these kids were small or even when they were still in the womb (you would not believe the amount of damage to a child that can be done by a mother using crack while pregnant) -- how much better return would that be for our nation over the long run?

These are the things that kept me up at night as a prosecutor. The individual stories behind every single one of the defendants and families that I saw, and the question of how to fix the problems that I kept repeatedly seeing, and not just put a band-aid on the problem and hope it would go away on its own. The question of how economic hardship can push someone already on the brink of disaster to do something so stupid, and that can impact his family for generations. But the answers were elusive, and still are.

This is a problem that we need a national discussion about over an extended period. Not some nasty political infighting. Not throwing a bunch of sound bites at each other and looking smug, digging in our respective positions a lobbing bombs out from behind the ideological bunkers.

A real, honest discussion. Education is the way out -- but that only works if people in incredibly poor areas have access to decent education. How do we accomplish that?

Mental health and other safety net programs have been gutted over the last few years. Are we trying to create more criminals to lock up -- because that's been a big part of the result that I've seen in the real world trenches. But for a government running deficits as big as the federal government is, where is more funding coming from to increase these programs? And from states, who are having trouble meeting federal entitlements that keep pushing off costs onto the backs of governors whose budgets are already stretched thin? No easy answers here, that's for sure.

Fair wages for a fair day's work are essential. But how does that happen in an era when health insurance costs are through the roof -- for both the worker and the business employing them -- and energy costs are eating up the margins for a lot of other businesses who might have some slack? For that matter, exactly how does a CEO justify making 350 times or more than his lowest paid worker, all the while running a business into the ground with bad decisions?

The bottom line is this: there are some really tough choices facing this nation (and the discussion above is my no means a comprehensive list), and we need to approach them carefully because the results of our action or inaction have long-term ramifications for our children. Democrats used to own these issues because they listened to the voices of those people who needed help, who needed a hand up, and who were willing to do the work on their end to get the job done. And they spoke up for them, gave them a voice in the halls of power.

Ever since 9/11, Republicans have hijacked the message. It's been all security, all fear, all the time. It's been "we tell you what to think about morals" and never mind that what you are being taught is to hate your neighbor because he thinks differently than you do.

Well, I've had it with this divide and conquer strategy, and I'm standing up today to say that this nation deserves better. My child deserves better, and so does yours.

The ends do not justify the means. That only works if you are on the top end of the food chain and don't give a rat's ass about anyone underneath you.

Growing up, my folks taught me that I was no better than anyone else. Period. But they also taught me that no one else was better than me, either, and that sense of self has helped me to question things that I thought were wrong my whole life. It's one of the reasons that I started blogging.

But it isn't enough that I want more for myself and my family. Every person in this nation needs to wake up and realize that they deserve more as well. That's a message that Democrats could take to the bank, I'm sure of it. I know it is a message that would resonate here in West Virginia. People are hungry for hope, they are hungry for someone who will value them -- and not just use them as a pawn.

More than that, they deserve to be valued. It's a question of doing what is right, not just what is politically expedient in the moment to win the election or raise more money or whatever else seems to be driving political power these days. Let's give the little guy a voice again -- help him to stand on his own two feet and make something for his children, and you help the whole country. That goes for moms, too, I can tell you that.

Homer Hickam set his sights on the heavens in October Sky. Imagine where we could go as a nation if we all started looking up again, looking to our dreams for our own lives and for our children, instead of just looking down on each other.

(Photo credit to Richard Mills of The Times.)


Semper Vigilans

Kos wants us to retire the term MSM and replace it with traditional media. I'm good with that.

Traditional Media (LA Times):
[Abramoff] also showed an interest in charitable organizations. Concerned about the quality of Jewish education in the Washington area, he founded an Orthodox school and sent two of his children there.
Traditional Media (Steno Sue, Washington Post):
He was a generous patron in his Orthodox Jewish community, starting a boys' religious school in Maryland.
Blogger (Roger Ailes):
Abramoff founded a school involved in money laundering; one that stiffed its employees (who Jackoff calls ingrates) and its creditors and screwed its tuition-paying students out of a diploma. What a mensch.
Now it's true that among the variety of sources Roger used were those considered "traditional media." The point is he took the trouble to dig through readily available public sources and didn't simply accept the mindless partisan gibberish of extremely dubious authority (as did the employees of two of the largest "traditional media" organizations in the country).

It ought to give them something to discuss it at the next blogger ethics panel, anyway.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Grieving Walmart Speaks

Got this from the apologists for Walmart:
Good evening. I work for Edelman in Washington, DC on behalf of Wal-Mart. I noticed that you blogged about the incident earlier, I wanted to make sure you got WMT's statement as soon as possible and were aware that the problem is being fixed as we speak. And as John Aravosis just wrote on AmericaBlog, this is most definitely a mistake and nothing sinister. ( 2006/01/about-that-wal-mart-story.html) If can answer any questions, please let me know.

I would only add one thing to the statement: with a site as big as, it has hundreds of servers that any changes that are made must be replicated across.
Wonder why they don't include a link to Steve Gillard's post. Probably just a mapping error.


More Walmart

Walmart's obviously scrambling. They've changed their Planet of the Apes page and sent me an email claiming it was all just an accident. But Webmaster in Seattle in the Comments says:
Generally, sites use automated tools for "related links", but sometimes they do it manually. (I've built automated tools for companies.)

You want to know whether it was manual or automatic, and whether it was intentional or accidental. A 2x2 grid of possibilities.

It was not intentional and automatic, though. ALL the related links are in the same category (black biographies), which should have no automated inference to Planet of the Apes (PotA). Readers have noted that PotA is a metaphor for race relations, which is true. But that would NOT mean you should code it as "black biography". You wouldn't even code it as "race relations", but if somebody were, they'd get different movies than these biographies.

It could be a manual OR automatic *accident* if, for example, a film about Malcolm X had an ID similar to that for PotA, and it got entered by mistake. Then the automatic link tool would think it's spitting out related links for "Malcolm X".

The way to get a handle on it is to check related links for many movies, and build a report of anomalies.

But remember that this "accident", if it is that, is highly suspicious. Because PotA was written as a metaphor for race relations, AND because bigots refer to the movie often, as they do "Gorillas in the Mist". There *might* be a technical or accidental explanation, but right now I doubt it.
And from an email, after Walmart made the change:
Currently at the bottom of WalMart's PotA page, after Raymond and Friends, you can see that it says...

Browse for similar items in :
# Home Page ? Movies ? DVD ? Comedy ? General

Comedy? PotA is not a comedy. To me this suggests that someone quickly assigned a category after the story got out. This kind of "Breadcrumb" trail (x > y > z ) is almost certainly manually done, not automated.
Nobody ever suggested this was a corporate conspiracy, but I think GSD hit it on the head with the notion that it was probably some racist functionary's idea of a joke.

AP and Forbes have picked up the story. Crooks & Liars has more.

Update: WaPo:
The world's largest retailer said in a statement that it was "heartsick" over the racially offensive grouping and that the site was linking "seemingly random combinations of titles."

"It's just simply not working correctly," said Mona Williams, vice president of corporate communications for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The company said it was alerted to the problem early yesterday afternoon after word began spreading among bloggers. When visitors to requested "Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series" on DVD, four other movies were recommended under the heading "Similar Items." Those films included "Martin Luther King: I Have A Dream/Assassination of MLK" and "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson."

Williams said similar titles were called up when the DVD of the movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was requested. There were three such combinations involving those two movies and African Americans films, she said.
Boy that "mapping" program sure does have a low-rent cracker sense of humor.


Cultural Energy

I was chatting with a good friend of mine today who went to high school with Jack Abramoff and remembers him simply as a "weird fat kid" and we got sidetracked onto the subject of blogs and cultural energy in general. We both concurred that the blog world has the feel right now that the punk rock scene of the late 70's had, and for much the same reasons.

The music business in the 70's had grown bloated and moribund and disconnected from its audience. Record executives busied themselves buying Rolexes for REO Speedwagon and paying millions for Casablanca records and nobody cared. They were perfectly horrified at the spectacle of kids paying $3 to see the Clash play a benefit for Marxist youth at the Geary Temple in 1978, but even as a kid it was perfectly obvious where the energy was, where the zeitgeist was shifting. Punk rock became a beacon for creative people of all walks, and oh so many years later the shadow it casts looms far greater than the corporate culture merchants of the time were able to envision.

It's not that the movie business or the book business or the magazine business is dead, or that the blog world is any challenge to any of them, but creativity is a very fluid thing and when it becomes difficult to achieve any kind of satisfaction in a particular medium the quality talent will siphon off into an arena that allows it expression. I could stand at a magazine stand for 24 hours straight, reading every issue on the racks and not come across the clever, relevant, insightful things I know I can find in a half hour on the blogs.

As a side note -- it's also apparent who hasn't been the beneficiary of this energy, and that would be in the right wing blogs. You can say my estimation is clouded by contempt but you would be wrong. I am perfectly able to appreciate and even (reluctantly) defend the filmmaking skills of people I loathe. I can count exactly two times I have ever read anything on the right even slightly insightful. For reasons too innumerable to go into right now, a philosophy that promotes totalitarianism and a system of endless repetition of someone else's talking points simply won't drawing the same quality thinkers. Period.

We thought punk rock and the energetic counterculture it produced would last for ever, but it didn't. It was over quite quickly.

Enjoy the blogs while you can. These are the salad days.


So Wrong

Now I don't want to go all Confederate Yankee or anything, but given Walmart's history of shall we say less-than-progressive policies can anyone explain how listing biographies of Martin Luther King, Jack Johnson and Dorothy Dandridge under the "similar products" category with Planet of the Apes looks anything but awful?

Update: GSD from the comments: "As for Wal-Mart, what do you get when you pay $3.20 to some white-supremacist parolee from Texas to do your copywriting."

Update II: Walmart has now changed it, but we were crafty and called Crooks & Liars to make sure they took a screen shot before we posted.



Hosting the Oscars?

Oh, man. I have been such a good girl this year. Bloomberg is reporting that Jon Stewart will host the Oscar ceremony this year. (Via poster Route66 at DailyKos)

Pass me some more of that popcorn...

(Photo courtesy Comedy Central.)

UPDATE: CNN is reporting that Jose Padilla will be appearing in a Miami courtroom this afternoon. (via TalkLeft) Well, that was quick. At least this time he'll get a lawyer for his hearing.


News Round-Up

The Preznit arranged a lovely photo-op for himself and all of the living past secretaries of state and defense today. Bushie promised to "take to heart" the opinions and criticisms that he heard from them during the meeting regarding what's been going on in Iraq. (Emptywheel has some more analysis on this.)

Too bad he didn't think about taking them to heart before he failed to adequately plan, used skewed intelligence to make the case for war to the public and then sent our fighting men and women into a battle without adequate equipment or body armor, especially for our national guard.

Yeah, I know. It's hard work. Yadda yadda.

Speaking of the war in Iraq, it may be costing a helluva lot more than the Administration has been willing to say. In dollars. As far as lives go, those last elections haven't really stopped the violence in the country, now have they? Not with a two day total of 189 casualties from bombings and attacks, including 5 US servicepeople today.

The Abramoff plea sure has Republicans scrambling to find charities to which to make donations, doesn't it? George Bush says he's returning the $6,000 he thinks Abramoff may have given his campaign (umm...record keeping, not your forte?) -- but ThinkProgress puts the figure at well over $120,000 that Jackie Boy raised for the Shurb in the last election cycle.

Plus, the buzz that DeLay won't be retaking the mantle of House leadership appears to have gained some ground (or a sympathetic journalist ear at the moment, anyway). Even the National Review is turning on him.

Ouch. Hurts when you become a liability to the very party you helped prop up with your KStreet scheme. Pssst...Tommy Boy. Don't get mad, get even. Name names. I'll start...Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, Karl know where the long knives are coming from, take them down with you when you go. I'm just saying.

According to the WaPo, Sharon is heavily sedated in a medicated coma in intensive care after suffering a massive stroke. No word on prognosis as yet, but the NYTimes is reporting that chances for full recovery are "slim."

For more on yesterday's recess appointments, you can read here.

Finally, Glenn Greenwald has two essays that are ripe for discussion at Digby's blog Hullabaloo -- where Glenn is guest blogging this weekend. Go. Read. Discuss.

(Thought we could use some blue skies after the Mean Jean pix. This is a shot of a cattle drive in Patagonia. Enjoy.)


Mean Jean Schmidt in the Spotlight

Big thanks to reader Froggermarch for this great update on the meeting with Mean Jean Schmidt.
Mean Jean Has Her First Hometown "Coffee"


Bride of Prometheus Unbound

Let me set the scene (and what a scene it was):

First and foremost, there was no power in Loveland, Ohio last night. Try that on metaphorically first. The night Mean Jean came home to meet her neighbors as US Representative from the 2nd District, Ohio, THE LAND called LOVE lost its power!

As a practical matter, the power loss seemed to be caused by an overload from the regeneration efforts required to animate her.

Jean seemed unaware--comfortable, even--of the darkness that suronded her. Other than her cries for "More Power," which I took to be a political statement, she went about her business as if nothing was at all amiss. I think her senses are heightened when the sun goes down.

"Children of the night," she opened. "Come to me!' Well that's what I heard, anyway.

But here is the image of the century: Jean took a flashlight--swear to God--and pointed it toward...her ...face.


Holy shit, I thought. It IS a druid ceremony! Over 100 people (I'm pretty sure that's what they were, although their skin was VERY white) shrouded in darkness with the only lights in the room the ones that said "Exit" and the one on Jean's face.

And she jumped right in, openng with a passionate defense of the 5th Amendment in a local case of eminent domain. It seems she cares so much about the Constitution she carries it proudly in her purse, though she couldn't quite fetch it out, crumpled as it was amongst the snot-filled tissues, GOP marching orders and diarhetics piled in there.

After her opening incantations...eye of newt for the economy, wool of bat for the dirty, dirty immigrants who may eventually find Ohio...she took questions. (By this time the local heat had brought in a couple of back lights, so we could see one another. I noticed her shadow moved even when she stood still.)

The questions were remarkably balanced and sincere, save for a couple on our side who lobbed truths loudly--("liar", "Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11" that sort of thing) ,who were consumed by the minor demons around them, and a couple of wingnuts on their side who thanked her for what they seemed to think was a proper, if restrained commupance to Congressman Murtha. On that, she smiled the smile of evil.

The first guy asked about Social Security and the second guy asked about Social Security again, cuz her response to the first guy was, well, not one. the problem there, she explained was (you knew it, didn't you) THE MEDIA. It SCARED the poor little Republicans controlling both Houses of Congress and the Executive branch.

Iraq? Well she knows much more about the incredibly complex dynamics of the three factions and their subfactions than she could ever convey to our little minds, but suffice to say there are "normal" people and terrorists and she's against terrorists. Wow, thanks. That cleared that up a lot for me.

To other questions, she gets mad at the Senate for putting foodstamps back in the budget bill --"Both legal and illegal immigrants were getting those foodstamps"--she defended her former campaign manager against rumors at the church, grocery store and blogosphere of his dallliance in hitting women, and she begged off of a question aksing if we would leave should the new Iraqi government ask us to ("I'm not the President" she said, ingraining the phrase Hobson's Choice into my forehead). Oh, and Abramoff is a bad guy (the questioner had to repeat he was actually asking her to comment on her fellow Congresspersons behavior) who worked BOTH sides of the aisles.

At one point she called on an apparantly sypathetic blond-haired, conservatively -dressed cornfed Ohio man who asked a question that seemed to intrigue her: "I'm troubled," he said, "By this unwarrented wiretapping program not just because of the Fourth and Second and First Amendment issues it raises but because the bad guys might get off on a technicality. That this might actually be aiding our enemies and my question is what, if any, do you believe are the limits of Presidential power in wartime and what is you duty as a member of Congress if those limits have been exceeded?"

"Wow!" she said after a new moon phase had come and gone, "that's a big question...privacy rights...(she seemed to cock her head for better reception)...we're at war...suspending the Constitution is sometimes necessary...if someone is going to attack us, we shoud know that and go after them..." To which she received some applause. (RH: emphasis mine)

And I plunged back into the night to greet my fdl companion who must now protect her secret identity so her family is not taken hostage or tortured. Together we re-entered the light. Before they added toe of frog to the cauldron.
Hat tip to Froggermarch and Karen Allen for braving the sight of Mean Jean (a second time!) and her flashlight. Good on ya!

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Redshift for catching the "suspending the Constitution" bit. I was laughing too hard on my first read through for it to sink in, but if Mean Jean said this she ought to be beaten about the head with her snotty-kleenex covered copy of the Constitution. You have to actually read it, not just carry it around as a prop, moron Jean. Froggermarch says in the comments that a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer was there with a tape recorder. Hopefully we can track down an exact quote.


Keeping Them All Up In The Air

The Preznit is juggling a lot of national security legal questions at the moment, and the question is: how long will he be allowed to keep them all up in the air? Those of us who have been following the NSA/FISA mess, the Padilla case, and the rest of the mess know that any one of these cases has the potential to open the entire can of worms for the Administration.

But will the Courts or the Congress have the stomach to actually do their jobs and provide the oversight envisioned by the Founders when they established a government which balanced itself via a separation of powers between the branches? To truly ask the hard questions, instead of giving the Administration a pass? We'll see.

In the meantime, the weight of legal scholarship against the Preznit's decisions continues to grow.
Early in the 20th century, in a case ironically involving wiretapping, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis remarked that the greatest threat to liberty will come from government officials claiming to be acting for noble purposes. He explained that people born to liberty know to resist the tyranny of despots. The insidious threat to liberty, he said, would come from well-meaning people of zeal with little understanding of the Constitution. Louis Brandeis did not know George W. Bush or those in his administration, but he could not have selected better words if he had.
Who will take up the cause of liberty when Congress comes back into session? Will the justices stay true to the Constitution -- or to the political party that put them on the bench? Guess only time will tell.

But citizens have recourse as well -- the 2006 elections are fast approaching, for starters. And if they think we're just going to sit back and let them trample on the Constitution in the name of King George, they don't know any of us very well.

(Photo credit to Pete Lawless.)

UPDATE: Just noticed this in the NYTimes story on the Padilla case.
"Granting the application will not prejudice this court's consideration of Padilla's petition," the brief said, adding, "It would, however, eliminate the anomaly of a citizen being held by the military against the wishes of both the executive and the detainee (at least in all but the short run)."
The Administration conceded in its brief that a transfer of Padilla's custody would not make the case moot before the Supreme Court. I haven't seen this discussed previously, but in my mind, this concession is a much bigger deal than the tiny paragraph it was given in the article.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Lindsay Lohan Admits Drug Use

Gone are the days when they'd say "well, you'll never be President of the United States."



Via Atrios, NBC says:
Unfortunately this transcript was released prematurely. It was a topic on which we had not completed our reporting, and it was not broadcast on 'NBC Nightly News' nor on any other NBC News program. We removed that section of the transcript so that we may further continue our inquiry.
You know, having had some experience with transcripts I'll admit that when word first came out about this MSNBC lapse I figured the chances were pretty high that it was simply the result of oversight and incompetence. But this bizarre press release -- which appears to have been translated from the original Chinese by some Google algorithm -- really clinches it.

There are people WORSE than Andrea Mitchell at NBC.

Will Bunch has more.


Can You Say "Witness Tampering?"

Today King George announced seventeen -- count 'em seventeen -- recess appointments, many of whom would have faced serious confirmation problems. Kos tells us that the three appointments to the Federal Election Commission never even had nomination hearings. No opportunity to even face questioning. None. Zero. Zip.

Amongst them -- Hans von Spakovsky, who was in large part responsible for the purge of mostly Democratic, mostly African American and mostly legitimate people from the Florida voting lists in 2000. And, of course, Robert Lenhard, who is married to the Viveca Novak, the woman now providing the substantive part of Karl Rove's defense in the Plame matter.

The notion that we live in some sort of a democracy with three branches of government and any system of checks and balances is getting to be quite farcical, IMHO.

Update: falcone1204 from the comments: "The truly amazing thing about this is that he's had to do this to get past a Senate where his party has a 6 seat majority. God, this guy is a tyrant."


Dissembling -- It's Not Just a Job, It's a Way of Life

Steno Sue in today's WaPo online chat:
Alice Fisher has been in and out of the Bush Justice Department. Her appointment was held up as a procedural move by a member of the Senate for reasons unrelated to her qualifications. All top DOJ officials are Bush appointees. I am not aware of any ties between Fisher and DeLay. That said, she and other DOJ leaders are going to be scrutinized for any sign they are not pursuing this case aggressively. So far, though, they seem to have made it a high priority.
[Levin] has raised questions about Fisher ever since he obtained a more complete copy of a May 10, 2004, internal FBI e-mail outlining bureau concerns about interrogation practices at Guantanamo. The e-mail to senior FBI counterterrorism official T. J. Harrington—sent by an agent whose name remains redacted—reported on earlier disputes between FBI agents and top generals overseeing Guantanamo about “the effectiveness (or lack thereof)” of aggressive Defense Department interrogation techniques being used at the U.S. detention facility.

“In my weekly meetings with DOJ [the Department of Justice] we often discussed DOD [Department of Defense] techniques and how they were not effective or producing [intelligence] that was reliable,” the e-mail reads. The agent then listed a number of Justice Department Criminal Division officials who attended the meetings, including Fisher, who between July 2001 and September 2003, was deputy assistant attorney general in charge of the division. “We all agreed DOD tactics were going to be an issue in the military commission cases. I know [senior Criminal Division lawyer Bruce Swartz] brought this to the attention of DOD OGC [Office of General Counsel].”

But in written responses to the Judiciary Committee, Fisher denied having heard about such complaints. While acknowledging that she attended the weekly meetings referred to in the e-mail, Fisher wrote: “I do not recall that interrogation techniques were discussed at these meetings.” Fisher said she did recall becoming aware of “FBI concerns” about interrogations, “but I cannot recall the content of specific meetings … I do not recall the FBI expressing to me concerns about illegal activity at Guantanamo Bay regarding detainee treatment or mistreatment.”

After receiving her responses, Levin as well as Sen. Edward Kennedy and Sen. Dick Durbin, told Justice officials that they wanted to question the FBI agent who wrote the May 10, 2004, e-mail to resolve what they saw as a conflict. Justice refused, citing longstanding policy, thereby leading to Levin’s hold on Fisher’s nomination. (Under longstanding custom, any individual senator can place such a hold and delay confirmation votes.) In an effort to break the logjam, Justice officials then interviewed the FBI agent on their own and then reported back that the Democratic senators were misconstruing his e-mail, according to a July 26 letter to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter by William E. Moschella, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs.

Moschella said that the unnamed FBI author of the May 10 e-mail reported that the sentence referring to weekly meetings with Fisher should be “decoupled” from the sentences before and after it, which refer to discussions about the ineffectiveness of Defense Department tactics and the agreement among participants that “DOD tactics were going to be an issue in the military commission cases.” In fact, according to Moschella’s letter, the FBI agent only remembered discussions with Fisher about one particular detainee and his links to law-enforcement investigations; “he does not recall any conversation with or in the presence of Ms. Fisher regarding interrogation techniques or the treatment of detainees.”

The answer didn’t satisfy Levin who still insists on speaking directly to the FBI agent, not relying on the Justice representation of what he said, according to a Senate source who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of the matter.
"Unrelated to her qualifications?" That's a bit of a stretch, I would say. She didn't recall being at a meeting where the FBI expressed their concerns over Gitmo interrogation procedures, despite the fact that she was listed in the memo as having attended. Several Senators understandably wanted was to talk to the FBI agent who wrote the memo. Gonzo claimed the author's story had now changed, and the Senators said fine, let's hear it directly. But instead of doing something rather simple to clear it all up -- produce the FBI agent who can just repeat the story that they were mistaken -- Bush takes the rather extraordinary step of giving Fisher a recess appointment smack dab in the middle of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Does anyone else smell a steaming pile of bullshit?


More News on Jack Spilling the Beans

The WSJ (via the WaPo) reports that a whole lot of lawmakers may have reason to pucker a bit more in the New Year.
It remains unclear which lawmakers prosecutors are looking at, and also how persuasive Mr. Abramoff could be in helping to make potential cases against any of them stick. A onetime chairman of College Republicans -- a close ally of such party luminaries as Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist -- Mr. Abramoff says he has information that could implicate 60 lawmakers.
Nice. Along with the WSJ, the LATimes has a great piece of reporting out today on the KStreet Project -- the scheme cooked up by Abramoff, DeLay, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed and others to turn "the K Street lobbying corridor into a cog of the GOP political machine." The article goes on to explain the details as follows:
GOP leaders, seeking to harness the financial and political support of K Street, urged lobbyists to support their conservative agenda, give heavily to Republican politicians and hire Republicans for top trade association jobs. Abramoff obliged on every front, and his tentacles of influence reached deep into the upper echelons of Congress and the Bush administration.
The LATimes reveals that Republicans in Congress have decided the best defense is a good offense and are going to propose new lobbying and ethics legislation to try and blunt criticism from Democrats. (One might ask what criticism, since the news reports have been very, very light on Dem quotes.) Also included is a quote from a Congressman close to Denny Hastert, who is clearly distancing himself from potential indictees (*cough* DeLay *cough*) in an effort to insulate himself from the scandal.

For some color commentary on yesterday's plea, try Dana Milbank at the WaPo.

For more news analysis, try here (describing heightened scruntiny of lobbying relationships), here (describing Republicans trying to run away from Jack as fast as they can), and here (Prof. Bainbridge's analysis of power corrupting absolutely).

For an interesting potential twist, Tom Paine has some Russian connection information with Tom DeLay that needs more digging. Intriguing article and I look forward to much more on this angle.

Oh, and The Hotline blog says that Republicans are liars. Who knew? (snark intended)

White Collar Crime Prof. blog has some analysis on yesterday's plea deal. As does Jeralyn. TalkLeft also has some info on today's Miami plea here.

And as if that weren't enough, Howard Kurtz also reminds us of this gem from the NYTimes:
Unlike many lobbyists who take almost any client who is willing to pay their fee, Mr. Abramoff says he represents only those who stand for conservative principles. They include three Indian tribes with big casinos and, until recently, the Northern Mariana Islands. 'All of my political work,' he said, 'is driven by philosophical interests, not by a desire to gain wealth.'
Erm...yeah. Tell that to the Native American clients you called "troglodytes."

REMINDER: Jane will be on Majority Report today at 4:51 PT/7:51 ET with Janeane Garafalo and Sam Seder. (RH: Yay, Jane!) If you don't have an Air America station near you, there is an online feed that you can listen to at the Majority Report link.


Go Ask Alice

There's article up at the New York Observer that provides some interesting context for the prominent drama that is playing out within the Justice Department right now. It covers the changes that are happening in the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York, which happens to have been home to both James Comey and Patrick Fitzgerald:
Because of the complex, highly technical work involved, white-collar prosecutors are considered exceptions to the conventional wisdom that prosecutors don'’t make good defense lawyers.

But that doesn'’t mean it'’s always easy. There's a law-and-order mentality that's hard to shake. Prosecutors are often idealistic, coursing with the belief that they are incorruptible, that their loyalty is to the truth, to seeing justice served. They can often be righteous: Because they pick their cases instead of their cases picking them, they believe through and through that they are right. They see the defense bar -- —where loyalty to the client is paramount -- —as relativistic to the point of unprincipled. It can make the transition rocky.

“You've got to wait a little time for the "badgectomy"’ to heal,"” joked Steven Peikin, who left his post as co-chief of the unit in 2004 to join Sullivan & Cromwell'’s criminal-defense and investigations group. He just made partner.

When James Comey took office as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in 2002, he described an earlier transition, from Assistant U.S. Attorney to corporate defense lawyer, as a "“major adjustment."

"You go from being paid to do the right thing every day, from having the freedom never to make an argument you don'’t believe in, to being a defense attorney, where you are duty-bound to make the best argument you can," he told the New York Law Journal. "“I have a tremendous respect for people who do defense work, and it's not lying, but in a private moment, sometimes, you say, 'Geez, this is a bunch of baloney.'"

Mr. Peikin argued that it's easier to make the transition to defense work in the white-collar arena. "I'm not representing any terrorists, I can tell you that,"” he said. "“It'’s seldom black-and-white; there are often degrees or shades of gray."”

Prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney'’s office have different versions of the adage about selling out to a fancy law firm, but one version has it that they start looking around when they have a second child, or when their first hits school age. Prosecutors fresh off a clerkship can make about $50,000 a year, but most come in with more experience and earn starting salaries between $60,000 and $80,000. The U.S. Attorney tops out at about $140,000.

Meanwhile, the Assistant U.S. Attorneys jumping ship this fall are landing on some pretty swank dinghies. At the top-tier firms where they'’re headed, they'’ll expect to make between $700,000 and a million in the first year, experts said.
Patrick Fitzgerald is making that $140,000 a year. He doesn't get paid extra for handling the Plame investigating. One shudders to think of the financial lures from the private sector he turns down in order to do so.

When Comey took the job of number two at the Justice Department, he no doubt thought he was opting for a life where he would have a great deal of discretion in choosing to pursue cases he felt passionately about, and was willing to make the financial sacrifice on behalf of himself and his family to do so. That most certainly did not happen as part of the Bush Junta and it is to his credit that he stuck around and fought them as agressively as he did.

The case of Alice Fisher and her oversight of the Criminal Division is troublesome not so much because she will spike the Abramoff deal, although she shouldn't be anywhere near it. It is problematic because Abramoff potentially leads to so many other targets, and as head of the Criminal Division Fisher will have a great deal of discretion about who they decide to purse. Do they chase Tom DeLay, K Street and the elaborate GOP money laundering scheme, or do they go after Harry Reid for taking $5,000 in money with no obvious quid-pro-quo ties from Abramoff's victims, the Indian tribes?

THAT'S the problem.

PS I'll be on Majority Report today at 4:51 PT/7:51 ET with Janeane Garafalo and Sam Seder.