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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 6 January 2006

Topic: The Media

Press Notes: When Reporting is Treason

Glenn Greenwald, in his piece Hanging the Messenger, notes that since the New York Times first disclosed the unambiguous fact that President Bush ordered his administration, specifically the NSA, to eavesdrop on American citizens - or the data mining equivalent of eavesdropping on voice, email and web use - with no judicial oversight and outside of the clear and explicit FISA law, the attacks on the media by the administration and the supporters of the administration have "seriously escalated." Have they?

Well, we're talking about calling the Times and its sources "subversives" and "traitors," and openly claiming that they are guilty of treason.

But that is to be expected. That is the nature of political discourse these days.

Still, this opinion piece from the New York Post has been going around - The Gray Lady Toys With Treason -
... the paper has done more than merely try to embarrass the Bush administration these last few months.

It has published classified information - and thereby knowingly blown the covers of secret programs and agencies engaged in combating the terrorist threat.
No matter that the Times agreed to withhold specific information to prevent just that, the idea is no one was supposed to know about all this in even a general way.

As mentioned elsewhere, the "treason" idea has been discussed on Fox News and it's all over the conservative media. It's the current talking point.

Of course, a lot of this is deflection.

Were you're a bad guy, plotting nefarious deeds, you would assume the United States was doing all it could to find out about it, and they would be all over any kind of "signal traffic" available. And you would also assume they had all sorts of gee-whiz technology to do the job. Of course it would be to your advantage to assume the legal restrains on analyzing the "signal traffic" of American citizens might give you some sort of edge. But then too you'd know the administration could obtain warrants to bypass those restraints, or if not, do it anyway and fill in the paperwork within fifteen days. There's no safety there. The bad guys know.

So what was actually revealed?

The Times story was about how the administration assumed the authority to bypass the law and not seek warrants, and that makes the story not about the program. The story is about the president claiming, as he still claims, that he has the authority to break any law directly or tangentially related to the "war." It's a classic. And there's a back story too, as was implied by the Times, that the new gee-whiz technology - sifting virtually all voice and email traffic for patterns and then honing in on what looks interesting - may need some attention. Is this really a classic "fishing expedition" with no probable cause - and thus not only massively intrusive on any expectations of privacy, in a Big Brother way, and also clearly illegal - or is it something we need now to make legal given the way the world is these days, or as we are told the world is by our government?

You don't want to talk about that?

Well, you can talk about the New York Times, as Michelle Malkin does here in a general way - "So, which side is The New York Times on? Let 2005 go down as the year the Gray Lady wrapped herself permanently in a White Flag."

Greenwald notes that sort of thing, a form of political hyperbole and only meant symbolically, and differentiates it from this comment on the Times -
When I say "treason" I don't mean it in an insulting or hyperbolic way. I mean in a literal way: we need to find these 21st century Julius Rosenbergs, these modern day reincarnations of Alger Hiss, put them on trial before a jury of their peers, with defense counsel. When they are found guilty, we should then hang them by the neck until they are dead, dead, dead.

No sympathy. No mercy. Am I angry? You bet I am. But not in an explosive way. Just in the same seething way I was angry on 9/11.

These people have endangered American lives and American security. They need to be found, tried, and executed.
He cites several of these sorts of remarks. They're all over.

He doesn't cite the more scholarly assessments like this from Marc Schulman at American Future - on what the Times covered and in what manner and with what emphases. Schulman is implicitly not pleased, and clearly puzzled and amazed, but he's not calling for anyone to be strung up.

But is Greenwald right is assuming discussions of the former sort - all this talk of treason and hanging people - "have the effect, by design, of intimidating the nation's media into remaining quiet about illegal acts by the Administration?

By design? Is there a plot?

As he comments, with an Administration which throws American citizens indefinitely into military prisons without so much as charges being brought and with access to lawyers being denied, or which contemplates military attacks on unfriendly media outlets - that business about Bush wanting to bomb the Arabic television network al-Jazeera and Tony Blair talking him out of it (see this) - "isn't it just inevitable that all of this talk about treason and criminal prosecution of the Times and its sources is going to have some substantial chilling effect on reporting on the Administration's wrongdoing?"

Well, it would make one more careful.

And as he notes, none of this is new, as the same New York Times once before got their hands on classified documents, that time also about government misconduct. Think back on the Vietnam War and Nixon administration arguing publication of that classified information was criminal and endangered national security.

The Supreme Court ruled otherwise here - New York Times Co. v. The United States (the Pentagon Papers Case) 403 U.S. 713 (1971) - the Nixon administration could not prevent the Times from publishing.

From Justice Hugo Black's concurring opinion (emphasis added) -
Our Government was launched in 1789 with the adoption of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, followed in 1791. Now, for the first time in the 182 years since the founding of the Republic, the federal courts are asked to hold that the First Amendment does not mean what it says, but rather means that the Government can halt the publication of current news of vital importance to the people of this country.

... Yet the Solicitor General argues and some members of the Court appear to agree that the general powers of the Government adopted in the original Constitution should be interpreted to limit and restrict the specific and emphatic guarantees of the Bill of Rights adopted later. I can imagine no greater perversion of history.

... In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.
Ah those were the days.


"A Republican senator on Saturday accused The New York Times of endangering American security to sell a book by waiting until the day of the terror-fighting Patriot Act reauthorization to report that the government has eavesdropped on people without court-approved warrants." - that's John Cornyn of Texas as reported here.

The president at his first press conference on the Times revelations with this -
"There is a process that goes on inside the Justice Department about leaks, and I presume that process is moving forward. My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."

Here we go again. Yes, "aiding and abetting the enemy" are the core words that define treason in the statutes. That's a threat.

Greenwald - "With a Congress that is controlled by Republicans and hopelessly passive, and with a judiciary increasingly packed with highly deferential Bush appointees, the two remaining sources which can serve as meaningful checks on Executive power are governmental whistle-blowers and journalists, which is exactly why the most vicious and intimidating attacks are now being directed towards them."

Yes, that may be true. But this too is a matter of not wanting to talk about the real issues.

Should the president have to follow the law? All laws? Are there some we can let him break? Under what circumstances? Are there others he just can't break? Who decides?

And we have new technology that can do amazing analyses of an ocean of rapidly changing data, so should there be some sort of oversight on how it's used? Or should we just trust that these folks wouldn't misuse the technology? Have they earned our trust? Have they ever misled us? Do we even have an alternative to trusting them?

Don't like those questions? Change the subject. Attack.

This stuff really raises some issues. "Yeah, well, you're brother-in-law is gay!"

Where does that get us?

Posted by Alan at 20:32 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006 20:38 PST home

Topic: World View

Our Man in Paris: Music Near Alesia
From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis - this is Friday night in Paris. On the topic of accordions, also see this from Ric, a photo essay on Paris Accordéon, 80, rue Daguerre.

Café Insolite

Paris, Friday, January 6, 2006 –

Folks are digesting New Years or maybe watching television. It's cold and breath fogs but wild youth is on its way to somewhere with cast iron stomachs. What else are they doing in the streets? I got a call that the accordion is at the Café Insolite tonight so I went over to the marché and the avenue and found the Rue Couédic around the corner from the Café d'Orléans. Not far away but a place I never noticed before. Inside the usual gang hogging tables and Dany and Nini doing the accordion, with local civilians hanging off the bar that seems to be serving mussels to the whole world. Dany and Nini have strong lungs, pumped up from years of practice in cafés and bars with a loud joker lurched off the bar. French songs that go with accordions all have a thousand words, twenty choruses, and require big voices, much louder than any jukebox. Some folks dance, everybody claps, more mussels are spread around and the joker keeps on rattling away. Nini asks me to tell them if the photos are good so they can add prints to their 'book.' Dany tells me she lives in my building, on the ground floor where the concierge used to be. I didn't recognize her, not for three years, without her accordion. On the way back three basket boys are harassing the old hermit who lives on a homemade sofa on the avenue. The kind of basketheads the guy eats I think.

The accordion night is once a month and Dennis told me the place is usually packed, but it's cold and January.

Text and Photo Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Note on principal translations: insolite

- adj - out of the ordinary, strange (étrange), bizarre

Additionally - as masculine noun - unfamiliarity (étrangeté)

Posted by Alan at 17:26 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006 17:27 PST home

Thursday, 5 January 2006

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Changes: Just when you thought you knew the players and the rules...

There is much unease in the Middle East as a key player has been sidelined from the game - as in this from the BBC -
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is to be kept heavily sedated as he fights for his life after suffering a major stroke on Wednesday.

Doctors in Jerusalem say they will keep the 77-year-old leader in an "induced coma" for up to 72 hours.

Earlier, he underwent seven hours of surgery to stop bleeding in his brain. ...
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat - "I'm really worried that the competition to replace Mr Sharon will be marred with more escalation against the Palestinians whether in the form of assassinations, arrests, incursions of settlements and that worries me a lot."

And here Kenneth R. Timmerman in Front Page Magazine argues the old general was holding back on an aerial attack on Iran to take out their nuclear program to build a bomb and a delivery system to hit Israel - he saw the problems with that, if though we just provided Israel with a whole lot of new and shiny "bunker-busting" bombs. Now whoever replaces him may be less reluctant to carry out "The Cheney Plan." Maybe so - Timmerman provides a whole lot of detail.

But no one knows what will happen now, and with no one knowing, you get some really odd filler material from what one fellow, Andrew Sullivan, calls the two leading fundamentalists in the world.

Pat Robertson says this -
"He was dividing God's land. And I would say, Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone."
God got him good! This is punishment for giving up Gaza.

From Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the newly-elected leader of Iran, we get this - "Hopefully the news that the criminal of Sabra and Shatila has joined his ancestors is final."

God is very mysterious. Both these guys think He is acting here with some sort of cardiovascular retribution. Given that Pat Robertson is a frequent guest at the White House and one of those influential "movers and shakers" important to Karl Rove, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected to lead Iran, you see we're not so far apart after all. We both believe in a vengeful God. And here, as in Iran, politicians who claim to be the instruments of an angry and vengeful God stay in power. That works.

Note that the hyper-intellectual, mad-for-war, atheist Christopher Hitchens here provides the secular assessment of Ariel Sharon - he used to be a very bad man but he improved. As in this -
A notorious unit under his command had been responsible for the mass slaughter of the inhabitants of Qibya, a village in the then-Jordanian West Bank, in 1953. He had gone on to be one of the most promiscuous participants in the lawless attack on Egypt, in collusion with the most reactionary circles in Britain and France, in October of 1956. After 1967, he was a particularly brutal enforcer of the occupation in Gaza.

In politics as well as in the military field, he was a brutal, blustering demagogic opportunist.
But, finally, Sharon "did begin to acknowledge the contours of Palestinian statehood, and this counts as one of the better ironies of history." He made things better a bit, but realistically he had no choice. That was the only "opportunity." The Sabra and Shatila massacres he arranged were youthful exuberance?

We shall see what happens now, as we have a classic power vacuum. All bets are off.

In the interim we see here, in The Guardian (UK), Pat Robertson and the Israeli government are developing a Jesus theme park in Israel -
The Israeli government is planning to give up a large slice of land to American Christian evangelicals to build a biblical theme park by the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is said to have walked on water and fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish.

A consortium of Christian groups, led by the television evangelist Pat Robertson, is in negotiation with the Israeli ministry of tourism and a deal is expected in the coming months. The project is expected to bring up to 1 million extra tourists a year but an undeclared benefit will be the cementing of a political alliance between the Israeli rightwing and the American Christian right.
And note these details from the ABC Travel pages -
Highlights may include a Holy Bible Garden, full of plants and trees mentioned in the New Testament, and equipped with quiet sites for reflection and prayer. A Sea of Galilee Amphitheater will overlook the mouth of the Jordan River and hold 1,500-2,000 worshippers. And the park will have a Christian Experience Auditorium and a Multimedia Center.

The center would also feature an online broadcast center, which would give religious leaders an opportunity to address their followers back home, live, near the tranquil blue waters of the Sea of Galilee (which today is considered a lake).
The Guardian reports a mixed reaction, locally -
Yossi Sarid, a former government minister and member of the Knesset, said he was wary of the friendship of the American Christian right and projects such as the Galilee centre. He said: "I am not enthusiastic about this cooperation because I have no desire to be cannon fodder for the evangelists.

"As a Jew, they believe I have to vanish before Jesus can make his second appearance. As I have no plans to convert, as an Israeli and a Jew, I find this a provocation. There is something sinister about their embrace."

Avraham Hirschson, the Israeli tourism minister, said: "I'm not a theologian, I'm the minister of tourism, and I'm not interested in the politics of our tourists as long as they come here. They come here as tourists, and they're friends of Israel."
It hardly seems like the twenty-first century. After the enlightenment we had all sort of war about territory and resources and just raw power. Now, we're back to competing fundamentalists. What happened?

It doesn't matter. The Rapture is coming. The index is now at 151 and rising - and anything over 145 is "fasten your seatbelts." It'll all be over soon enough.


As mentioned in Washington 90210 - the background piece on Jack Abramoff (Beverly Hills High School, Class of 1977), the lobbyist who pled guilty to all sort of the felonies and will, in return for a lighter sentence, reveal just what congressmen and staffers he sort of bribed - this whole investigation is being overseen by one Noel Hillman, "a hard-charging career prosecutor who heads the Public Integrity Section and who has a long track record of nailing politicians of all stripes." But we're also told "politics almost certainly will creep into the equation" as Hillman's new boss is one Alice Fisher, "who is widely respected but also a loyal Republican socially close to DeLay's defense team." As noted, Alice Fisher was appointed to this post in a "recess appointment" last September - Carl Levin, a senator from Michigan, and a Democrat, had been blocking the nomination. Some agent had named Alice Fisher in an email saying we really were torturing folks down in Guantánamo, and he wanted to look into that. Did she have something to do with saying that was fine and dandy? Levin didn't get to ask the question. Like John Bolton at the UN, Alice Fisher was appointed through the procedural back door, and no one can do anything about either one of these two until 2007.

Alice Fisher has no prosecutorial experience - her last job was as a registered lobbyist for HCA, the famous Hospital Corporation of America founded by the father of Senate Majority Leader Bill First, and the source of Bill Frist's issues with the SEC and Justice Department over illegal stock transactions - that insider trading charge now under investigation.

How did she get to be head of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section? The senate would never approve her. After Michael Brown at FEMA, that would look just dumb - they wouldn't be performing their "oversight" function to "advise and consent" on key nominations to high office. They learned their lesson.

The president used his "recess appointment" powers. And he just did it again. Wednesday, the 4th, he made seventeen more.

Here's the list -
Floyd Hall, of New Jersey, to be a Member of the AMTRAK Reform Board.

Enrique J. Sosa, of Florida, to be a Member of the AMTRAK Reform Board.

Nadine Hogan, of Florida, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Foundation (Private Representative).

Roger W. Wallace, of Texas, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Foundation (Private Representative).

Gordon England, of Texas, to be Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Benjamin A. Powell, of Florida, to be General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Ronald E. Meisburg, of Virginia, to be General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board.

Julie L. Myers, of Kansas, to be Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security (Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Tracy A. Henke, of Missouri, to be Executive Director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness at the Department of Homeland Security.

Arthur F. Rosenfeld, of Virginia, to be Federal Mediation and Conciliation Director at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, of Maryland, to be Assistant Secretary of State (Population, Refugees, and Migration).

Dorrance Smith, of Virginia, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs).

Robert D. Lenhard, of Maryland, to be a Member of the Federal Election Commission.

Steven T. Walther, of Nevada, to be a Member of the Federal Election Commission.

Hans Von Spakovsky, of Georgia, to be a Member of the Federal Election Commission.

Peter N. Kirsanow, of Ohio, to be a Member of the National Labor Relations Board.

Stephen Goldsmith, of Indiana, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Do these names mean anything to anyone?

As the Associated Press reports here -
Under the Constitution, the president may avoid the Senate confirmation process and make appointments while the chamber is in recess. Such appointments usually are short-term, expiring at the end of next congressional session.

But because the Senate held a pro forma session Tuesday and then adjourned, the White House contends the second session of the 109th Congress has begun. Therefore, the White House believes Bush's nearly 20 recess appointments are valid until the following session, which won't conclude until the end of 2007.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the appointments were necessary to fill vacancies, and that a few posts were empty because some lawmakers "are playing politics with the nomination process."
So there is some heartburn. John McCain complains that the regular confirmation process should be used "so the Senate can be assured that nominees are qualified." Ted Kennedy says there's a problem with Hans von Spakovsky going to the FEC - von Spakovsky is the Justice Department lawyer who was Republican Party chairman in Fulton County down in Georgia, the guy who argued Georgia voters should be required to have photo identification, and many said that was an effort to keep out black voters who wouldn't go through the process of getting the ID cards and couldn't afford them. Black voters don't usually vote Republican of course. And this Hans was also involved in a decision that rejected a recommendation of career Justice Department lawyers in a Texas redistricting case - as you recall, the lawyers had concluded that the redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it eliminated several districts where minorities had substantial voting power, and illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power. Hans said that didn't matter.

Peter Kirsanow to the National Labor Relations Board? Kennedy - "He is an ardent foe of basic worker protections, including the minimum wage and prevailing wage laws, and is a vehement opponent of affirmative action."

Yeah, so? Who isn't?

The appointment of Ellen Sauerbrey to be assistant secretary of state for refugees, population and migration ticked off a lot of people. She's now our ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the status of women - and argues all aid be stopped to any country where abortion is legal and condoms are available. She articulates our new official position that all population and AIDS and STD issues can only be address by encouraging abstinence and Judeo-Christina values. You'll find a complete discussion of all that here.

Even I'd-rather-be-a-Republican, Bush-is-my-hero, things-in-Iraq-are-quite-rosy Joe Lieberman has problems the nomination of deputy associate attorney general Tracy Henke to be director of state and local government coordination and preparedness at the Homeland Security Department. Lieberman said Henke's decision to delete statistics about racial disparities in traffic stops from a draft press release "may have undermined the office's reputation for objectivity and independence."

Like it matters?

The Washington Post notes, here, some other issues, like Julie L. Myers to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau at the Department of Homeland Security, in a maneuver circumventing the need for approval by the Senate. -
Myers, a niece of former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Richard B. Myers and the wife of the chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, had been criticized by Republicans and Democrats who charged that she lacked experience in immigration matters.

Myers's nomination faced a bruising and potentially embarrassing fight on the Senate floor, where Democrats were prepared to argue that politics, not merit, drove her selection for an important job preventing terrorists and weapons from entering the country.
Well, she's never run anything this big, and as the Post noted last September -
The Bush administration is seeking to appoint a lawyer with little immigration or customs experience to head the troubled law enforcement agency that handles those issues, prompting sharp criticism from some employee groups, immigration advocates and homeland security experts.

The push to appoint Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, comes in the midst of intense debate over the qualifications of department political appointees involved in the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina...

... After working as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y., for two years, Myers held a variety of jobs over the past four years at the White House and at the departments of Commerce, Justice and Treasury, though none involved managing a large bureaucracy. Myers worked briefly as chief of staff to Michael Chertoff when he led the Justice Department's criminal division before he became Homeland Security secretary.

Myers also was an associate under independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr for about 16 months and has most recently served as a special assistant to President Bush handling personnel issues.

Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday.

In written answers to questions from Congress, Myers highlighted her year-long job as assistant secretary for export enforcement at Commerce, where she said she supervised 170 employees and a $25 million budget. ICE has more than 20,000 employees and a budget of approximately $4 billion. Its personnel investigate immigrant, drug and weapon smuggling, and illegal exports, among other responsibilities.

Myers was on her honeymoon and was not available to comment yesterday. Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman, cited Myers's work with customs agents on money-laundering and drug-smuggling cases. "She's well-known and respected throughout the law enforcement community," Healy said. "She has a proven track record as an effective manager."
Right. And I'm the pope.

But this week the Post did point out that the president "avoided an abortion rights battle with the recess appointment of former Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey as assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration." Sauerbrey is an opponent of abortion rights. She's not held office or done much of anything - in 2000 she was the Maryland state chairman of Bush's presidential campaign - but then John Ashcroft lost a senate race to a dead man and found himself Attorney General. .

Gordon England's appointment as Deputy Secretary of Defense, to take the Paul Wolfowitz slot, makes sense. He used to be a top executive at both General Dynamics and at Lockheed. He'll keep them happy.

As for J. Dorrance Smith, of Virginia, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), note this -
J. Dorrance Smith, the nominee, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in a closed session to answer questions about an opinion article in which he accused U.S. television networks of helping terrorists through their partnerships with Al-Jazeera.
That Wall Street Journal opinion article is available here - he blasts all the major US television networks and the government of Qatar for cooperating with Al-Jazeera in showing "gruesome battlefield footage" obtained in Iraq. He just hates "the ongoing relationship between terrorists, Al-Jazeera and the networks" - and suggested maybe our government shouldn't maintain normal relations with Qatar - as long as they continued to subsidize Al-Jazeera.

Carl Levin of Michigan - "I have deep concerns about whether or not he should be representing the United States government and the Department of Defense with that kind of attitude and approach."

Well, we shouldn't see what we shouldn't see. And no one should take feeds from Al-Jazeera. And note this - "A Republican National Convention planner and former ABC News executive, Smith was quoted in a September 7, 2004, PBS Online NewsHour article as saying "the networks were to blame for their dwindling viewership and called Fox's triumph during the GOP convention 'truly a seminal event.'"

Well, Smith was a senior advisor to Bush's father - Assistant to the President for Media Affairs (1991-1993), and as a staff assistant to President Gerald R. Ford. He was media adviser and consultant to FEMA under Allbaugh in June 2001, when Allison hit Houston, Texas. He also "recently served as a media consultant for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies." But he did have an amazing news career at ABC, as you'll see if you click on the last link.

So, what should one make of all these appointments?

Well, the president already told the congress that, yes, he had ordered the NSA to spy on American citizens without warrants or court orders or any of that stuff, in spite of the FISA law they passed in 1978. He didn't need probably cause. The law was clear but no longer applied to him. And he certainly wasn't going to stop.

And he signed the McCain Amendment in to law, that one banning torture, but issued a "signing statement" saying he reserved the right, as commander-in-chief, to ignore it when he felt he should.

Now he made these back-door appointments, some rather odd and some really "Brownish" - and once again said to the legislative branch they really don't matter very much.

He's in charge, and he's kind of redefined the government. And as long as he says "terrorists" and "Boo!" - he knows folks are so afraid that no one will argue, and Fox News and the rest will explain to all that this is how things must be.

More of the same. It's a new world, or at least a new country. Love it or leave it.

Posted by Alan at 21:59 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006 06:30 PST home

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Perspective: Making Much of Little, Perhaps

Wednesday, January 4th, midweek, the national dialog was filled with the voices of those trying to figure out just what was going on. This took place on several fronts. The most immediate was discussion of how the media manage to collectively get a major story completely wrong, with some effort to put that story into a larger context, trying to connect it, somehow or other, to the big story of the week, the one of the lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleading guilty to multiple crimes and, in return for reduced sentences, revealing payoffs to congressmen that will end the career of those congressmen, and pretty much expose how the Republican Party actually works as an arm of special interests with no particular interest in "the people's business," as they say. (The Democrats work this way too, or have in the past, but they now have no power, control nothing, and are generally irrelevant - in fact, one columnist, Howard Fineman, here suggests that the Republicans are in such deep trouble we may see a third party arise, making no mention of the Democrats at all. That they might do well now doesn't seem to occur to him at all.) The less immediate puzzling over things regards, of course, the NSA "spying on Americas outside the clear law about that." Mid-afternoon, Chris Matthews on his MSNBC talk show, Hardball, said he had been out for a few days when this all broke and was amazed the story was still going strong - but then he has been trying hard to say this is not a partisan story, that Jack Abramoff is one bad apple (like Duke Cunningham) and most every congressman is really honest. He says this perhaps because he himself personally helped Jack Abramoff raise money for a sham charity (one percent of donations go to any charity work.) But it's not going away, and now its seems a CNN reporter, whose husband worked on the John Kerry campaign staff, may have been a target - all of her telephone conversations and those of her husband since 2001 may have been recorded by the NSA. That throws a new light on the last presidential election.

So let's get to it.

The story that was mishandled was the mine disaster - "Sago, West Virginia, Wednesday, January 4, 2006 - Great joy turned suddenly to deep sorrow Wednesday morning when stunned family members were told that 12 of the 13 miners trapped 13,000 feet into a mountainside since early Monday were dead rather than alive, as they, and the world, had been told hours earlier."

Out here on the west coast those of us who crashed for some sleep just before midnight saw the late news - a miracle, all but one of the miners found alive - Anderson Cooper doing his earnest but sympathetic interviews on CNN, waiting for the miners to stumble or be carried out, thumbs up and all that, and on MSNBC the odd Rita Crosby with her even odder voice gushing about the wonder of it all. When dawn came out here, it just wasn't so. All but one of the miners was dead. The Los Angeles Times on the doorstep got the story right. The papers on the east coast, with earlier deadlines, got caught - the Boston Globe had to dump 30,000 copies and reprint with the real story.

What happened? Well, CNN got this explanation from Ben Hatfield (not McCoy), the head of the mining company -
"What happened is that through stray cell phone conversations it appears this miscommunication from the rescue team underground to the command center was picked up by various people," Hatfield said. "Simply overheard conversation was relayed through cell phone communications without our ever having made a release. International Coal Group never made a release about all 12 of the miners being alive and well."

And this was the press scandal of the week. There was a lot of scrambling to explain what when wrong, best summarized here by Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher -
In one of the most disturbing media performances of its kind in recent years, TV news and many newspapers carried the tragically wrong news late Tuesday and early Wednesday that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners in West Virginia had been found alive and safe. Hours later they had to reverse course.

For hours, starting just before midnight, newspaper reporters and anchors such as MSNBC's Rita Cosby interviewed euphoric loved ones and helped spread the news about the miracle rescue. Newspaper Web sites announced the happy news and many put it into print for Wednesday at deadline. "They're Alive!" screamed the banner headline in the Indianapolis Star. The Boston Globe at least added a qualifier in its banner hed: "12 Miners Reportedly Found Alive."
Yes, it was "Dewey Defeats Truman" all over again. Who to blame - officials, including the governor, for misleading reporters?

Mitchell notes an Associated Press dispatch first carried the news at 11:52 pm (EST): "Twelve miners caught in an explosion in a coal mine were found alive Tuesday night, more than 41 hours after the blast, family members said. Bells at a church where relatives had been gathering rang out as family members ran out screaming in jubilation."

But he notes many newspapers, and all of cable news, "reported the rescue as fact, not merely based on family claims."

The lesson here?

He quotes Sherry Chisenhall, editor of the Wichita Eagle - "If you saw today's printed edition of The Eagle, you saw a front page headline and story that are flat wrong. I'll explain why we (and newspapers across the country) went to press last night with the information we had at the time. But it won't excuse the blunt truth that we violated a basic tenet of journalism today in our printed edition: Report what you know and how you know it."

And there's Scott Libin of the Poynter Institute - "This case reminds us of a lesson we learned, at least in part, from Hurricane Katrina: Even when plausibly reliably sources such as officials pass along information, journalists should press for key details.... If we believe that when your mama says she loves you, you should check it out, surely what the mayor or police chief or governor says deserves at least some healthy skepticism and verification. I understand how emotion and adrenaline and deadlines affect performance. That does not excuse us from trying to do better."

Keith Olbermann on "Countdown" interviewed Mitchell late in the day - and Mitchell said much of this, and added every reporter should learn the value of the word "unconfirmed."

But everyone likes feel-good stories and this was a big one, and one where, on cable television, you could showcase your "emotionally warm" and devastatingly empathic new generation of anchors - Cooper on CNN, Crosby on MSNBC, and Bill Hemmer on Fox. So you go for the heart in the story. But here the facts mattered more.

It sort of makes you miss the days of Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley, when the assumed persona was that of "reporter-journalist" - the person with the plain, basic facts, and little emotion. Yes, they were dry, or, sometimes, but rarely - at their very most emotive - a tad ironic. They wanted to work on your head, not your heart. Too, one thinks of the UK where they don't have "anchors" on the news shows, with these charming and engaging personalities - they have "news readers." That's the job.

But the product here and now is different. And it sells. We'll see more and more of it - and more and more of these problems with the basic facts. (A note to my friend at CNN, there since it started - get out now.)

As for tying this mine disaster to other current events, well, that may be a stretch, but maybe not. Officials with the company that had just bought this West Virginia mine - the International Coal Group - here said this was pretty much in the category of "an act of God," as the say in insurance policies when explaining what isn't covered. It was a "horrible freak accident."

One commentator, Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged (great name) here suggests some other things to consider. The new nominee to the Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, is on record holding that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act should protect miners less than it does. And not only did the Bush administration cut funds for mine safety in real dollars, they also, 1.) Fired a whistleblower, put a mining company executive in charge, 2.) Reduced staff by 170, 3.) Tried to slash funding even more, and 4.) Exempted the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act from the Freedom of Information Act. She provides links to each of these news items that may have seemed unimportant before. And she provides links to two other items discussing how the mine in question had (among other issues) a full 273 safety violations in the past two years.

Is this matter of neglect, something akin to the New Orleans levees that were too unimportant to consider before Hurricane Katrina? Maybe so.

William Bunch, a senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and its former political writer offers this - Mine Tragedy, Abramoff Scandal - Their Roots Connect Them.

The idea is this - "The roots of the horrific events underneath the earth in timeworn West Virginia, and the scandal on the tony sidewalks of Washington's K Street, are as deeply intertwined as those aspens out west, maybe more so. It's a connection that can be summed up in three simple words: Republicans gone wild."

Ah ha!

He's talking about this -
In the last four years, the Bush White House has named lobbyist-friendly former coal-industry officials to run the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, setting the stage for a transformation of a worker-safety agency into a tool of the industry.

During this time, MSHA has sought to weaken regulations regarding airborne coal dust - a possible cause of Monday's deadly explosion. Even with a reduced emphasis on inspections, federal agents found a growing pattern of serious safety violations at Sago over the last two years, yet imposed fines amounting to less than a slap on the wrist.

And the United Mine Workers, the most forceful advocate for worker safety, is gone - the result of a powerful new coal conglomerate granted power by a GOP-appointed bankruptcy judge to take over troubled mines like Sago and cancel labor agreements.
And he goes on to document that - naming names and citing facts. It's worth a read. It's pretty damning, and really depressing. The K Street lobbyists spent a lot of money. The industry was deregulated and closed to prying eyes. Quid Pro Quo.

The final paragraphs -
These struggling work-a-day people look and seem a million miles away from the white linen tablecloths of K Street restaurants and the plush corporate jets where lobbyists like Jack Abramoff and revolving-door bureaucrats and well-fed lawmakers are making the cold policy decisions that affect their lives.

But until people make that connection between the corruption on one end of the American political pipeline and the human misery on the other end, these problems will linger in the air like toxic coal dust.

A few seconds ago, we watched President Bush utter the usual banal condolences to the families of the dead. If he really wanted to honor the lost miners and their memory, he would promise a renewed focus on real worker safety measures.

But like the Sago family members whose hearts were ripped out early this morning by the vultures of big business, inept government officials and a confused and even more inept news media, we're losing our capacity to believe in miracles.
Yes, that seems over the top. But read the whole long item and you may agree.

Folks like Jack Abramoff, and those who took his money to do his bidding, are not doing anyone any good.

The media may have been foolish here. But they're not the problem.

As for the other matter everyone was still gnawing on in the middle of the week - even if Chris Matthews wonders why - Glenn Greenwald provided the clearest statement of what the problem seems to be with his seminal article, What Happened To Conservative Legal Theories?

There he discusses the extra-legal NSA data-mining (spying) issue, pointing out there really is no logical defense for it, and how "the defenses being dredged up to justify Bush's law-breaking certainly are notable for the liberties they take with 'conservative' principles of legal argument, as well as with how sharply they contradict the legal views which the Administration itself previously claimed it believed in."

Yeah well, so it seems.

Illegal? That's easy. He quotes the law, the FISA Act, specifically Section 1809 of FISA - "A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally - (1) engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute."

The administration admits it has broken this law - they did not seek warrants, they instructed the NSA to do this without those, and say they will continue. And, of course, that does present the administration with obvious difficulties in defending George Bush.

No kidding.

Glenn Greenwald puts it clearly -
Because there is no plausible argument to make that Bush's eavesdropping complied with the requirements of FISA, Alberto Gonzalez's Justice Department is insisting that Bush had the legal right to eavesdrop on Americans in violation of that law. The DoJ issued a detailed Memorandum (.pdf) advocating its two principal legal theories as to why George Bush was permitted to engage in conduct which FISA makes it a crime to engage in. Both theories are about as far away as possible from the conservative legal principles which Bush has always claimed to believe in and which he says he wants his judicial appointees to apply.

Thus, we have one argument which claims that the 2001 Congressional Resolution authorizing military force in Afghanistan and against Al Qaeda (the "AUMF") - a resolution which obviously never mentioned FISA, eavesdropping or surveillance, because it had nothing to do with any of those things - should nonetheless be "construed" and "interpreted" to have "impliedly" amended FISA by giving Bush an "exemption" entitling him to eavesdrop in violation of that law. And this argument is made even though the Congress which supposedly gave Bush that exemption says that it did no such thing, but to the contrary, expressly refused to provide that very authority.

And then we have the second Bush-defending argument: a dressed-up Constitutional theory which claims that George Bush has the "inherent" authority under Article II of the Constitution to violate Congressional law and eavesdrop on American citizens without the judicial oversight required by FISA - even though nothing in Article II mentions or even references the power to eavesdrop, the power to engage in surveillance, or the right to violate Congressional statutes. Indeed, the only express clause in Article II which seems to relate to this controversy is one that would rather strongly undercut the claim that the President has the right to violate Congressional law. That's the part mandating that the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed..."
So the problem, as Greenwald sees it, is the "conservative principles of legal argument" - look as the plain language and original intent - is now so much silliness, and we're supposed to consider "implied, hidden amendments to laws which are silently buried in other laws which don't even reference the law which it supposedly amended." Add to that the claim that President Bush really does have certain Executive powers which the Constitution doesn't exactly mention, but seem to be "lurking quietly somewhere in Article II of the Constitution, maybe hiding behind some penumbras or sprouting from the evolving, breathing document."

Greenwald cites other case law where the administration argued in the old manner. Things have changed.

And the issue is not going away because, any way you cut it, the man has said he's above the law. And he's dared anyone to challenge that. And he's pretty much said anyone who challenges him on this undermines the war effort and hates America and is some sort of treasonous subversive. And we'll all be in great danger if he is not allowed to disregard any law or any limits the other branches of government have previously set. That's what he thinks the congress agreed to, and what he thinks the constitution says.

This is a big deal.

But then, maybe he's only doing this out of self-sacrificing generosity, to protect us all. His supporters say so. And he has several times said this is very limited, only tracking incoming telephone calls to this country from suspicious places (although his own staff had to issue a correction there, as sometimes Dick Cheney doesn't explain everything to the lad).

How limited is this? That brings us to the midweek mystery.

There's this from NBC News, Wednesday, January 4th -
New York Times reporter James Risen first broke the story two weeks ago that the National Security Agency began spying on domestic communications soon after 9/11. In a new book out Tuesday, "State of War," he says it was a lot bigger than that. Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell sat down with Risen to talk about the NSA, and the run-up to the war in Iraq...

Mitchell: Do you have any information about reporters being swept up in this net?

Risen: No, I don't. It's not clear to me. That's one of the questions we'll have to look into the future. Were there abuses of this program or not? I don't know the answer to that

Mitchell: You don't have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?

Risen: No, no I hadn't heard that.
Andrea Mitchell's sources tell her the CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour has been monitored? You could go to the transcript, but NBC removed Mitchell's question later in the day.

What's up with that?

Here's some paranoid speculation -
... journalists have some of the best contacts out there and it's not unusual for journalists to talk to both sides of the story, or in this case, the good guys and the "evil doers." What a better, if not illegal, way to find the terrorists and their associates?

But before you say, "yeah, go for it," consider the implications of tapping Christiane Amanpour's phones:

1. Such a wiretap would likely include her home, office, and cell phones, and email correspondence, at the very least.

2. That means anyone Christiane has conversed with in the past four years, at least by phone or email, could have had their conversation taped by the US government.

3. That also means that anyone who uses any of Christiane's telephones or computers (work or home) could also have had their conversation bugged.

4. This includes Christiane's husband, former Clinton administration senior official Jamie Rubin, who was spokesman for the State Department.

5. Jamie Rubin was also chief foreign policy adviser to General Wesley Clark's presidential campaign, and then worked as a senior national security adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign.

6. Did Jamie Rubin ever use his home phone, his wife's work phone, his wife's cell phone, her home computer or her work computer to communicate with John Kerry or Wesley Clark? If so, those conversations would have been bugged if Bush was tapping Amanpour.

7. Did Jamie Rubin ever in the past four years communicate with any elected officials in Washington, DC - any Senators or members of the US House? Any senior members of the Democratic party?

8. Has Rubin spoken with Bill Clinton, his former boss, in the past 4 years?

Now you understand how potentially broad a violation of privacy the Bush doctrine on illegal domestic spying really is. Everyone who's anyone is a degree or two of separation away from a terrorist.
Ah, maybe Andrea Mitchell was having a bad day and was just pulling a specific name out of here hat, any old name. But why did she ask that so specifically, and why was it removed?

This is very curious, and NBC actually explains - "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."

What inquiry? NBC confirms it's investigating whether Bush spied on CNN's Christiane Amanpour?

Here's more paranoid speculation -
This is quite big. Note exactly what NBC said.

- NBC did not say it pulled the references to Bush spying on Amanpour because it was inappropriate conjecture about something which Andrea Mitchell had no evidence.

- No, NBC said it pulled the references because it was still investigating the accusation and didn't want to scoop itself before it was finished investigating. And make no mistake, NBC is "continuing their inquiry."

- UPDATE: One more point. NBC did NOT delete the part of the interview preceding the Amanpour question - where Mitchell asks if any reporters are being spied on. They only deleted the follow-up question about whether Amanpour was being spied on. Thus, their premature release of info regarding an "ongoing inquiry" wasn't about reporters generally - or they'd have deleted that part of the interview as well - they only deleted the Amanpour follow-up, suggesting that it's the question of whether Bush spied on Amanpour that they have been, and are still, investigating.

That's incredibly big news.

NBC has acknowledged that they have information to suggest that Bush may have spied (be spying) on CNN's Christiane Amanpour and that NBC is currently investigating that very possibility. This isn't just conjecture anymore, NBC has confirmed it.
Well, maybe.

One of our sometime contributors to these pages, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, knows Christiane Amanpour (see this from June 2004 - "Christiane Amanpour herself is one of these bullets-whizzing-by reporters, or at least was when she worked next to me over on the CNN foreign desk..."). Perhaps he should give her a call and ask what's up with all this.

As noted at the top, a lot of people are just trying to figure out what's going on.

Posted by Alan at 22:25 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 5 January 2006 06:52 PST home

Tuesday, 3 January 2006

Topic: Backgrounder

Washington 90210: Alumni Note, Beverly Hills High School - Class of 1977

Tuesday, January 3rd, the dam broke in Washington, and Jack agreed to spill the beans. As in this account from CNN -
Former high-powered lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges, agreeing to cooperate in a federal corruption probe in Washington.

Abramoff, 46, faces up to 11 years in federal prison and must pay $26.7 million in restitution, said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher.

She said Abramoff admitted to corrupting government officials and defrauding his own clients out of $25 million.

Abramoff admitted that he did not disclose receiving kickbacks on payments from Native American tribes to a partner's public relations firm.
And on it goes, so there's little need to add more here. This is bad news for one congressman from Ohio, and for Tom Delay, the former house leader already under felony indictment in Texas - years ago he called Abramoff one of his "closest and dearest friends." The current speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert, the same day decided to return sixty-seven thousand of Jack's dollars - actually, he will choose some charity to get the bucks. Some say six Republican congressmen will be implicated in accepting bribes, some say twelve, and some say twenty. All that will take time to play out, and there will be much speculation ahead of whatever happens.

The only odd thing is that, in the even longer MSNBC account of all this, we learn this whole investigation is being overseen by one Noel Hillman, "a hard-charging career prosecutor who heads the Public Integrity Section and who has a long track record of nailing politicians of all stripes." But we're also told "politics almost certainly will creep into the equation."

It seems that Hillman's new boss will be Alice Fisher, "who is widely respected but also a loyal Republican socially close to DeLay's defense team." Cute.

Yeah, try this detail, something overlooked last September while New Orleans was submerged and congress was in recess - Alice Fisher was appointed to this post in a "recess appointment." Note too that Carl Levin, a senator from Michigan, and a Democrat of course, had been blocking the nomination. Some agent had named Alice Fisher in an email saying we really were torturing folks down in Guantánamo, and he wanted to look into that. Did she have something to do with saying that was fine and dandy? Levin didn't get to ask the question. Like John Bolton at the UN, Alice Fisher was appointed through the procedural back door, and no one can do anything about either one of these two until 2007. That is most curious.

So what will come out? This fellow is also under investigation by a grand jury in Guam over a separate matter (see this, but that's not in play here, nor are his links to a scandal involving a multibillion-dollar Homeland Security contract (see this on that Unisys contract). This doesn't have to do with his paying folks at the Cato Institute to write opinion pieces at his direction (see this - they resigned and the Copley papers and others will no longer carry their columns). This is something else, bribing congressmen.

But this fellow - Beverly Hill High School, Class of 1977 - has been busy.

It seems he stiffed Tyco for almost two million for work he never did (see this) and then there's this -
On August 11, 2005, Abramoff and his partner, Adam Kidan, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on fraud charges arising from a 2000 deal to buy SunCruz Casinos, a firm that ran "cruises to nowhere", where gambling was permissible. Kidan and a third associate, Ben Waldman, as yet unindicted, are accused of using a fake wire transfer to defraud Foothill Capital Corp. and Citadel Equity Fund Ltd that had agreed to lend $60 million to purchase the casinos on condition that Abramoff and his partners made a cash contribution of $23 million. The indictment alleges that the transfer was counterfeit. Kidan has since pleaded guilty in a deal which may require him to testify against Abramoff.

A warrant for Abramoff's arrest was issued by federal authorities on August 11, 2005; the next day he was released on bail of $2.25 million and ordered to return to Florida to face a preliminary hearing there on August 16, 2005. As part of his bail arrangements, Abramoff also was forced by a Los Angeles federal judge to surrender his passport, restrict his travel, and continue treatment for stress. FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael S. Clemens said Abramoff's high-level political contacts would not deter the FBI, stating that the Florida grand jury's decision to indict Abramoff "demonstrates that regardless of position, status, wealth, or associations, fraudulent activity will not be tolerated."
There's much more at the link. Last September there were those murder charges against three men for the murder of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, the seller of the Sun Cruz Casino. Those three? That would be Anthony Moscatiello, a former bookkeeper for the Gambino crime family, and two guys named Anthony Ferrari and James Fiorillo. This Tony Moscatiello seems to have received 145,000 from Abramoff's patner Kidan, through SunCruz, for something or other. Jimmy Ferrari got 95,000 "as payment for security services" - and lots of free casino chips.

Well, the casinos were auctioned off to new management in a bankruptcy action brought by Foothill Capital. And Foothill settled with Abramoff - for an undisclosed sum - and press accounts have suggested that Abramoff used his political connections to gain support for the deal in Washington (see this). As for Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, the murdered fellow who sold the Sun Cruz Casino to Jack and his partners, Tom DeLay, then the house minority whip, gave Boulis a flag that had flown over the capitol building. And Abramoff brought his lead financier in the deal to a fundraiser for DeLay in Abramoff's box at FedEx Field. And so on. Of course, our Republican congressman from out here in Orange County, Dana Rohrabacher, was listed as a financial reference for the Abramoff purchase of the Sun Cruz Casino. As he says - "I don't remember it, but I would certainly have been happy to give him a good recommendation. He's a very honest man."

Aren't they all? CNN reports here Abramoff's lawyer, Neal Sonnett, telling them that Abramoff will plead guilty in the original Florida case - falsifying a twenty-three million dollar wire transfer in order to obtain a sixty million loan to purchase the casino, and its fleet of offshore gambling boats. What the heck - his partner, Kidan, already did that.

And, just for giggles, here we see that just before those planes were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, and several of the others, seem to have made multiple visits to the SunCruz casino cruise ship off the Gulf coast in Florida. That led to this - was Mohamed Atta using the casino to launder money for al Qaeda and maybe Atta was involved in a scheme with Abramoff and the mob to smuggle heroin. No, just a coincidence.

But this is not a nice man. See this - in 1995 Abramoff worked for the Global Council of Islamic Banks, whose chairman, Saleh Abdullah Kamel, was under investigation for alleged funding of terrorism, including Osama Bin Laden. Abramoff is also founder and former chairman of the International Freedom Foundation (IFF) a group that was bankrolled way back when by the apartheid South African army. (See this and this.)

It all seems so odd. Abramoff was born in Atlantic City, the one in New Jersey, where his father worked as an executive for Diners Club. In 1968 the family moved to Beverly Hills. That's the problem. This place makes one crazy. And then his father got to be buddies with Ronald Reagan.

Yeah, Abramoff went on from here - he graduated from Brandeis in 1981 and earned his JD at the Georgetown in 1986 - but he's still a Hollywood, Beverly Hills guy.

Those college years? Abramoff was elected chairman of the College Republican National Committee - a campaign managed by Grover Norquist with help from Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition guy now running for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia. That committee, mad for Reagan, had Jack saying things like this - "It is not our job to seek peaceful coexistence with the Left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently." And Grover Norquist wants to drown government in the bathtub to rid us of all the "do good" stuff. Ah well. Does anyone recall the Republican National Committee tossing these college guys out as too over-the-top at the time?

After college? Well, in the second half of the nineties, Abramoff was employed by Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP, the lobbying arm of Preston Gates & Ellis LLP - based in Seattle, the lobbying firm run by the father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Cool. Then he joined the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, where they said his job was to be "directly involved in the Republican party and conservative movement leadership structures" as "one of the leading fund raisers for the party and its congressional candidates."

That's how we got here.

But what about the middle period, the eighties?

Ah, those were the Hollywood years!

As James Verini explained in mid-August, in The tale of Red Scorpion - The strange Hollywood interlude of the most scandal-ridden man in Washington -
It was 1987, he was in his late 20s, and the presidency of his political hero, Ronald Reagan, was winding to a tarnished close. The Iran-Contra hearings covered the front pages, and Oliver North, whom Abramoff knew and admired, was about to be indicted. The Republicans were disillusioned, and after years of service to the party - as chairman of the College Republicans from 1981 to '85, he'd mentored Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, had worked for one right-wing think tank, and founded another - Abramoff apparently was no longer sure he wanted to go into politics full time.

So he took a detour, doing what any other kid from Beverly Hills might when finding himself at a loss: He decided to try his hand at show business. Why not? Hollywood was no more than Washington for good-looking people, as the saying goes, and Abramoff, a student government officer and a football player at Beverly Hills High School, class of '77 (he graduated from Brandeis University in '81), was smart and charismatic and, if not actor handsome, at least physically imposing enough to be a producer. Through his father, a high-up executive at the Diners Club, he'd rubbed shoulders with some of L.A.'s elite.
So Abramoff moved here from Washington after finishing law school, and with his brother, Robert, formed a production company, Regency Entertainment. And they produced a movie - Red Scorpion, starring Dolph Lundgren, finally released in April 1989. The two brothers raised the sixteen million to get this made.

The basics from the Internet Movie Database here - "A Russian KGB agent is sent to Africa to kill an anti-Communist black revolutionary. However, he has a change of heart when he sees how the Russians and their Cuban allies are killing and repressing the locals, so he switches sides and helps the rebels."

Verini - "With its blatant propaganda, its collaboration with the apartheid South African government, and financial misdealing, it's notable, even for Hollywood, for being one of the seamiest productions in recent memory."

And Verini tells that tale -
The film was to be a manifesto for Abramoff; a Rambo-like morality tale and a grand indictment of communism - his Reagan Doctrine parable in action-packed Technicolor. And in the process of conceiving of and making it, Abramoff helped groom an African despot, rose to high levels in the K Street food chain, and got to play international spy.

"There was some indication even in those days that he was not the sort of person who would feel overly constrained by the rules," said Jeff Pandin, who worked closely with Abramoff in the 1980s.

The roots of "Red Scorpion" took hold in the early 1980s, when interventionist-minded folk in Washington had an array of global conflagrations to obsess over. The mujahedin were battling the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Contras were fighting the Sandanistas in Nicaragua. Some circles felt the United States was not doing enough to help them. The gripe heard in the office of CIA chief William Casey and among Oliver North's cabal in the National Security Council was that Reagan was not fully Reagan when it came to foreign policy. A cottage industry of think-tank intellectuals and private crusaders sprouted up to build support for one or another set of freedom fighters. Abramoff was among the most active.

In Angola, the rebel group du jour, the National Union of Total Independence for Angola, or UNITA, had been taking on the Soviet- and Cuban-backed government since the 1970s. UNITA's leader, a savvy warlord named Jonas Savimbi, had become a darling of the right. Savimbi received millions in aid and had even retained Washington lobbyists to press his case. Abramoff was interested in Angola, too. So was Lewis E. Lehrman, the millionaire behind the Rite Aid drugstore chain and the founder of the right-wing group Citizens for America, who made an unsuccessful run for governor of New York in 1982. Through Republican circles, Abramoff met Lehrman at some point in the early '80s, and in 1985 Lehrman hired him. Abramoff came to Lehrman with an idea: What about a convention of disparate anti-communist rebel leaders, put together and paid for by Americans? It screamed of Abramoff's cartoonishly outsized ambitions and worldview, and Lehrman liked it.
So the roots of the film are here. There really was a convention of anti-communist rebel leaders - in June 1985, in Jamba, Angola, at the UNITA headquarters - the mujahedin, Contras and Laotian folks, with the Angolans fighting the Cubans and Russians - set up by Jack Abramoff. Lehrman, the Rite-Aid guy, was there and read a letter of support from Reagan - and handed out framed copies of the Declaration of Independence. The called it the "Democratic International." The State Department was pissed.

Well, all that passed and the sponsors drifted apart. But Abramoff and his brother couldn't let it go -
He came up with the premise for "Red Scorpion" and hired Arne Olsen, a young screenwriter with no credits to his name, to write it. The Abramoffs told Olson they wanted to base the fictional African country in the film, Mombaka, directly on Angola, and the rebel leader on Savimbi. Olsen said he churned out a baldly propagandistic script.
And so he did. Don Steinberg, ambassador to Angola during the first Clinton administration, said this of Jonas Savimbi - "He was the most articulate, charismatic homicidal maniac I've ever met."

Ah but he was fighting the communists!

Anyway, it seems the movie was set to shoot in Swaziland, but at the last minute was moved to Namibia, then occupied by South Africa's apartheid government. Congress had passed (over Reagan's veto) the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986 - you do recall Cheney voted against it - making pretty much illegal to do business with South Africa or its proxies. No matter, the Abramoff brothers used South African Defense Force vehicles and equipment on the set and soldiers as extras. He has connections. And South Africa at the time was Savimbi's main backer.

There's at lot more detail you can read at the link. Warner Brothers notes the law and refused to distribute the film. Schapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment did that. Who? And lots of folks who worked on the film - actors, technicians, investors - didn't get paid. It turned out to be a mess -
When, inevitably, "Red Scorpion" was released, it was no study in nuance. Directed by Joseph Zito, whose previous credits had included the Chuck Norris movies "Missing in Action" and "Invasion U.S.A," the dramatis personae consist of scheming, cackling communists on the one hand - the Russians not only tear apart the rebel village with attack helicopters, but also randomly gas a band of peaceful Bushmen and their animals - and noble guerrillas on the other, and the barely intelligible Lundgren in between. The action sequences have all the panache of a subpar "A-Team" episode.

There are some inspired moments, such as the climax, when Argenziano's character, Col. Zayas, is left groping for his own dismembered arm, which clutches a live grenade (he doesn't reach in time). There is also a rousing speech delivered by the token freewheeling American, a foul-mouthed, boozing journalist played by M. Emmet Walsh: "As a matter of fact, in America, an American can swear whenever, wherever and however much he or she fucking well pleases!" he yells at Lundgren. "A little something called freedom of speech, which I'm sure you Russians aren't real familiar with!" In another nice touch, the closing credits roll over Little Richard's "All Around the World," remixed to include machine-gun and exploding-bomb sound effects.
You can catch it on cable now and then. Don't bother.

Note there was a Red Scorpion 2, in 1994, without that Lundgren lunk, and that went straight to video - Abramoff listed as an executive producer, but he didn't have much to do with it. His brother Robert stayed in Los Angeles and continued to produce films. He is now a full-time lawyer. Verini say he reached him at the offices of Burgee & Abramoff out in Woodland Hills, but the guy refused to speak about his brother or the first film - "It's a family matter and I prefer not to comment on anything."

So he's not talking, and his brother, the football player from Beverly Hills High School, Class of 1977, has finally come undone, and will bring down the congress and make a mess for the Republicans.

This guy's first forty-seven years has been a long, strange road.

And it started at Beverly Hills High School, as we see in this, from the Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, January 04, 2006 -
At Beverly Hills High School, Jack Abramoff's weightlifting prowess was the stuff of legend.

As a senior, he became the first member of the school's 2700 Club, lifting a combined total of 2,700 pounds in the power squat, dead lift, bench press, and clean and jerk.

His former football coach, Bill Stansbury, recalled a game against Inglewood when Abramoff legally blocked an opposing player and knocked him out cold.

Abramoff also helped organize charitable events, Stansbury said, among them a Quarter-Pounder-eating contest at a McDonald's, with some proceeds going to the American Cancer Society, and a celebrity basketball game to benefit a youth foundation.

... At Beverly Hills High, he earned a reputation for ambition, hard work and commitment. He held the school record for the power squat, which he completed while holding 510 pounds on his back.

"Jack showed good leadership and was very dedicated, probably the strongest kid on the team," recalled Stansbury, who was the football team's offensive line coach when Abramoff played as the starting center. "For his size, he was extremely strong and very aggressive."

Abramoff was president of the high school Lettermen's Club, said Stansbury, who is now a teacher and coach at Paso Robles High School. "Jack always had a clear mission of where he wanted to be and how he was going to get there. I had a lot of respect for Jack's work ethic."

... He ran for student council president at the Hawthorne School, a Beverly Hills elementary and middle school, in 1972. Heading into a runoff election, Abramoff was disqualified for exceeding the spending limit. The principal, Herbert recalled, penalized Abramoff for holding a party, stating it amounted to a campaign expenditure that pushed him over the limit.
Beverly Hills High School today...

The disguised working oil well on campus -

Posted by Alan at 21:12 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 4 January 2006 15:35 PST home

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