Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cartoon of the Day

* Pat Chappatte, International Herald Tribune

Brother, Can You Spare a Gun?

Some time ago, I wrote about a graphic designer from Jenkintown, Frank Baseman, who created a moving anti-violence poster, and who was working with the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia to raise funds to put the posters up around the City, see City In Need of Brotherly Love. His effort was the subject of a column by Monica Yant Kinney, Needed: Sponsor for a message of peace, in early July.

Kinney recently did a follow up story about Baseman's worthy cause, A display too lurid for Murder City?, recalling:

Baseman, 48, was inspired to do his part with art after reading one too many "city man killed" stories.

The graphic designer, who teaches at Philadelphia University, envisioned a paper version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Instead of war casualties, his poster honors the 406 homicide victims of 2006.

The names of the dead scroll across a blood-red canvas, between a question ("City of Brotherly Love?") and a command ("Stop the Violence!").

As the focal point, Baseman positioned an intentionally "menacing" 9mm brought to the photo shoot by a homicide detective.

"I wanted a gun bad guys would use," he said. "At 4-foot-by-6-foot, that gun is going to be huge."

And the result?

Inquirer readers agreed with Baseman, donating money and printing services to the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia to produce small and large versions of the poster and pay installation fees.

* * * *
Supporters donated enough to hang four posters for one month.
That would be good news except for one problem -- city officials nixed his paid public announcement. As Kinney noted:

But even I was surprised by the decision to censor a pacifist who donated his time - and inspired others to give money - to get people thinking, not shooting.

Especially since there are two similar campaigns gracing storefronts and SEPTA buses right now.

One ad targeting illegal weapons features a little girl, a gun, and a price tag. In the Mayor Street-endorsed "Put It Down" campaign, a gun pierces a red heart splattering black blood.

Why is Baseman's poster any more alarming than that, I asked city Public Property Commissioner Joan Schlotterbeck.

Because she said so.

One of the campaign's she mentioned was introduced with much pomp & circumstance by the Street Administration, see Street: 'Brother, You've Got To Put It Down'. A Press Release from the City states:
Mayor John F. Street today joined a large crowd of community-based leaders at City Hall to unveil a new Summer anti-violence campaign aimed at reaching young people in neighborhood settings with non-traditional messages intended to reduce and prevent violence.

The new non-traditional campaign, “PUT IT DOWN,” was designed by a group of music and entertainment industry promoters who approached Street Administration officials and offered their time, energy and ideas to design an initiative intended to reach youths in neighborhood settings with messages that youths may be willing to hear.

The PUT IT DOWN campaign is being supported by media organizations as well, including Clear Channel Entertainment and Radio One, which plan to air anti-violence messages and public service announcements throughout the Summer months.
I am all in favor of as many campaigns -- and other efforts -- as possible to try to quell the violence that is decimating some sections of Philadelphia. Yet, why would this endeavor not be a welcome addition? There are times that "less is more," but when dealing with the epidemic of violence we are confronted with in the City, this is not one of them. More, much more should be the order of the day.

Somehow, my cynical self says there might be a bit more to this rejection. Politics and cronyism come to mind. After all, this is the Street Administration (a reverse mirror echo of the Bush Administration, with the Democrats "in charge" of Philly). Rather than support an effort like Baseman's -- without cost to the City -- I just can't dissuade myself of the belief that some of those involved in the other programs are directly or indirectly benefiting from the city sponsored effort.

For example, shortly after this campaign was launched, Clear Channel, one of the media organizations involved in promoting the "Put It Down" campaign, received the OK to start using digital billboards, Digital billboards to debut in city. Related? Who can say (other than those who sure wouldn't tell)? However, the new flashing billboards are controversial, especially by city anti-blight groups, but the city endorsed the new technology, interpreting the zoning code in a manner to permit the digital billboards.

True or not, I hope that Baseman is able to get his word out. His admirable contribution should not be rebuffed, but rewarded.

After all, with 4 more killings (2 by guns) in the City just yesterday, bringing the toll to 277 to date -- we need to do whatever we can to stop the violence.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

We Are Not OK

We shall not forget.

And the final Katrina remembrance, hip-hop group K-Otix's rendition of Kanye West's Gold Digger, so we also don't forget "George Bush Don't Like Black People:"

(Another version can be found here)

(Flag designed by Suspect Device, via The Largest Minority)

Dreams & Promises

It's somehow fitting that today, on this 2nd anniversary of Katrina, is also the 44th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech.

The progress that has most certainly been made in the struggle for equality pales when contrasted with the callous disregard shown to those who are (mostly black) poor in the aftermath of the Katrina disaster. I never would have believed that I would live in a country that would throw away its people so cavalierly. Makes me feel like we are not that far removed from the days King spoke of in 1963.

Robert Stein of Connecting.the.Dots observes:

Forty four years ago today, more than 250,000 black and white Americans gathered peacefully at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to bear witness to the desire for a new civil rights bill that would give equal protection under the law for all.

At a time when race in America is reflected in a range of truths from the neglect of African-American victims of hurricane Katrina to the fact that a leading contender for President in ‘08 is a man of color, we can measure how far we have come and how far we still have to go in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. that day . . . .
Still living on dreams & promises.

(Via Kiko's House)

Photo by one of the LLWL who went to New Orleans to assist with rebuilding efforts, see Easy No More.

Swing Low

Hullabaloo's Digby has written a fascinating piece on Karl Rove's legacy as it relates to the Katrina recovery at Campaign for America's Future, Katrina: Slow As Molasses. Reflecting on the reaction (or lack of action) by Bush after the Hurricane, Digby considers the ramifications of that strategy by Rove:

He was happy to promote free market ideology and ensure that important contributors were cut in on the action, but his holy grail was creating an enduring Republican majority. (And we know he did not have a lot of scruples when it came to doing it.)

Louisiana has been a swing state for some time, in which Democrats were dependent on the black majority in the state's largest city to win. It was not lost on Rove that all of those poor New Orleans African Americans --- and their children --- being dispersed throughout the nation could only be good for Republicans. As of now, only about 66% have returned, not enough to keep the state swinging (in more ways than one.) It looks very likely that the state will have a Republican Governor and two Republican Senators in 2008. Experts in the area estimate that the congressional delegation advantage for Republicans will be five to one by 2012. There is little doubt that the Katrina diaspora finally turned the state blood red.

Kanye West famously blurted out "Bush doesn't care about black people" at a Katrina fundraiser and shocked everyone with his blunt assessment. But we could all see why he would think that. Bush had failed to even acknowledge the hurricane for days and refused to cut short his vacation. He told his disastrously incompetent FEMA head he was doing a "heckuva job" and seemed cavalier about the fact that people were expiring on the sidewalk in New Orleans. His strongest statements seemed to be against looting. Indeed, it appeared that he was quite content to let the catastrophe unfold in slow motion on the world's TV screens.

You can't blame West for thinking he didn't care. But it was likely far more cynical than that. Rove was busy counting votes that day he and the president flew over the city and he undoubtedly knew that an opportunity presented itself if New Orleans were destroyed. And he knew something else too: that if certain people heard tales of African Americans lawlessly marauding through the streets and saw hours of footage of poor black women with children it would successfully tweak the southern racist lizard brain to solidify those gains.

* * * *

Rove may have failed to create and enduring national majority, but he did a heckuva job in Louisiana, cementing another bloc into the solid Republican south.

As I read this, it made perfect sense. As those days post-Katrina were unfolding, the Administration's response was truly bewildering. As Digby notes:

That picture of Bush looking down on the city from on high in his favorite little Air Force One costume was a terrible image. But there can be no doubt that what Rove was thinking about in those moments was not whether it would be good for the country or the people of New Orleans for the president to get on the ground immediately. He was thinking about how to turn the situation into a political advantage.

In the early days of Katrina, Bush was very strangely disengaged, even when he got back to Washington and saw the full scope of the damage. Again, it's impossible to know exactly what was going through their minds, but it was an odd performance even by Bush standards. It's hard to see how anyone could calculate that it was a good idea for the president to appear not to care about one of America's oldest and most beloved cities being destroyed while its stranded residents begged for food and water. And yet they seemed to be moving like thick, sticky molasses.

It should have made sense once Rove was put in charge of the reconstruction. There would only be one kind of reconstruction with Rove -- a political redoing of the landscape.

For more on Katrina & New Orleans, see last year's remembrance, Bonne Chance!

And the moving song/slideshow: Hurricane Song By Allen Watty.

(Cartoon via Ann Telnaes, CBS News)

Cartoon of the Day

* Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune

Where are the Marching Saints?

"When the Saints Go Marching In" from Brave New Films


[T]he two year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and still there are tens of thousands of families without homes. 30,000 families are scattered across the country in FEMA apartments, 13,000 are in trailers, and hardly any of the 77,000 rental units destroyed in New Orleans have been rebuilt.

Not exactly a happy anniversary.

Sign the petition urging the Senate to pass the Gulf Coast Recovery Bill of 2007 (S1668). The bill is expected to come to a vote after Labor Day. Its passage will be an important step toward rebuilding the infrastructure in the Gulf Coast region.

(Via The Existentialist Cowboy)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Judge Not, Lest Ye Shall Be Judged

Now that I'm finally reading again, see And They Didn't Read This, Either, I of course had to read the novel by Saira Rao, Chambermaid.

Despite the fact that it received a lot of negative press for revealing "court secrets," since I clerked for the 3rd Circuit, it was a must read for me. I just finished it & it was certainly a quick read. However, I was disappointed to find that it was not the deliciously funny book that I would have expected from the write up in Philly Magazine's The Devil Wears Robes:

[A] loose-lipped legal roman clef that follows “Sheila Raj,” a new law clerk for the Third Circuit Court, as she attempts to navigate the Philadelphia office of “power-hungry sociopath” judge Helga Friedman. Law bloggers are buzzing that the bitchy, witchy Helga is a thinly veiled portrait of Third Circuit Judge Dolores Sloviter, whom Rao clerked for from 2002 to 2003. The book details Judge Friedman’s constant yelling, torturous ridicule of her clerks, and startling lack of political correctness, as well as her dislike for one “Judge Adams,” whose husband is running for reelection as mayor. (Cough. Midge Rendell. Cough.)
With a Philly setting, the Inquirer gave it a front page "review," in a piece by Carlin Romano, Novel does no honor to judge:
Does the devil wear polyester - at least at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia?

May it please the readership, we here present the facts in Saira Rao v. The Honorable Dolores K. Sloviter, now stirring big buzz on legal blogs, which include such wiseguy sites as "Above the Law" and "Underneath Their Robes."

Saira Rao, 33, graduate of New York University Law School, daughter of Indian American parents, is a former news producer for Washington's CBS affiliate and Miami's Fox News station. She held a prestigious clerkship from 2002 to 2003 with Judge Sloviter, 75, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.

Rao, who grew up in Richmond, Va., has just published Chambermaid (Grove, $22), a highly entertaining, often insightful, frequently sarcastic and at times extremely nasty first novel about folks at the Third Circuit.

* * * *

Raj describes Friedman as "definitely insane," the "craziest person" at the federal courthouse at Sixth and Market, a "robed rascal who wouldn't hesitate blowing up anybody who failed to give her due respect."

In the world of the federal judiciary, where no lawyer speaks disrespectfully of a judge, this ranks with mooning the Supreme Court during oral argument.

* * * *

Yet over its 272 smart-alecky and sometimes mean-spirited pages, Chambermaid also offers eviscerating portraits of Friedman's secretaries, other clerks, courtroom workers, the courthouse cafeteria, Dunkin' Donuts counterpeople, and elite law students as super-competitive, whiny, risk-averse, hierarchy-obsessed lemmings - Sheila included.

If Friedman is both a witch and a word that rhymes with it, Sheila Raj gives the judge a run for her money. Late in the book, Sheila lies to the ACLU about her experience with Friedman to get a post-clerkship job.

Rao agrees that Sheila Raj is over the top, but makes no apologies for Chambermaid. Chatting at a Greek restaurant in Manhattan, she stresses the serious impetus for her novel: outrage that federal judges aren't held accountable for behavior toward coworkers, and anger that prospective clerks can't get negative information about federal judges because law schools fear the judges.

See also, the positive review from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the scathing review by the Los Angeles Times (which concludes: "Despite her ambitions, all Rao proves in "Chambermaid" is that she is untalented in two genres."). My overall view of the book is closer to the latter than the former.

As is evident from the novel, I agree that the world of a judicial clerkship is extremely insular -- there's just the judge, his secretaries & your co-clerks (as well as occasional interactions with other clerks on the court) -- combined with the strict confidentiality requirements regarding case deliberations which precludes much discussion of your job with outsiders. I also think that working on such an intimate basis with such small a group of people tends to exaggerate everyone's eccentricities. Especially when the people involved are all lawyers and Judges!!

Despite this, I was lucky enough to have clerked for a great judge (and I say that without qualification). He is not only dedicated and hardworking, but he's a truly nice person. I think the best testament to him is that his former law clerks (known as the "Weis Guys") still get together for dinner with him when he's sitting in Philly, coming from DC to Vermont for the evening. See Flaunt v. Flout Redux. My former co-clerks, the Judge's secretary and I also remain close all these years later. I do know that not everyone who clerks is that fortunate.

So, I was really looking forward to reading this gossipy, humorous, trashy book about the court. However, Rao's book ended up being a not very well written tale of a whiny, young law school graduate who didn't get the proper deference that she thought that she deserved. Her "fictional" character retaliated with so much venom (disguised as humor) that I ended up feeling badly for those who were forced to deal with her for the year (especially Judge Sloviter). Gratuitously nasty is my favored description for someone like Rao, who treats everyone around her with condescension and disdain, and then wonders why people aren't nice to her, and who is above all narcissistic, with a major sense of entitlement.

I recall, from my own clerkship days, stories of Judge Sloviter being difficult to work with, as they say. I don't doubt that Rao's experience is based in some truth. See, e.g., Law Professor Mike Rappaport, The Clerkship from Hell. On the other hand, the Judge does have her fans, see former clerks, Scott Burris, at Concurring Opinions and Lisa Scottoline. Even if true, Rao's biggest failure is that her descriptions of the Judge (and everyone else she encounters, for that matter) are less funny or amusing than mean and spiteful.

Once the novel manages to get past the whiny moaning & groaning about her year in captivity, and focuses on the deliberations of a death penalty case before the court, it at least gets a bit interesting. It would have helped if it were better written; her writing style needs to get past the instant message stage if she wants to become a novelist.

Regarding Sloviter's personality, I recall that a former co-clerk who interviewed for a Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Rehnquist, made what I have found to be an apt observation: conservatives tend to be nicer on an individual basis, even though their philosophy may not be as kind-hearted (e.g. Justice Rehnquist), while liberals are great in the abstract, but not so nice in person (e.g. Justice Douglas). Based upon that analogy, Judge Sloviter would certainly fit the category of a liberal legal curmudgeon.

I also think it cannot be overlooked that the Judge got into law in the days of few women in the profession, where a tough exterior was absolutely required for a woman to succeed. Even now, women in law (and professional women generally) are viewed differently. I discussed this at length in Let Me Count the Ways. If Judge Sloviter had been a man, would her mannerisms been viewed differently? Chances are good that the answer would be yes.

Finally, I have to add that I think the various articles and blog posts about the novel and Rao have been more fun to read than the novel itself. For more, see Above the Law's entertaining and interesting posts, Judicial Clerkships From Hell: Submissions, Please, For the Record, and Chambermaid: 'Cause We Know You Want Another Post About This (and don't miss the Comments).

Interviews with Saira Rao can be found at Phawker, AUTHOR, AUTHOR: Q&A With Saira Rao and WSJ's Law Blog Q&A: Saira Rao.

Even better than the Rao interview was the (over)reaction of her sister to the illustration accompanying the Phawker interview, see How I Became A ‘Repellant Racist’, The Terror Dentist Weighs In On ‘Repellant Racism’ and FROM THE DESK OF ALEX FINE: The Artist.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


These two articles on Iraq are bookends of the same story. A story of the fundamental corruption of a county. The corruption of Iraq has corrupted US.

A Rolling Stone piece, The Great Iraq Swindle, is required reading to fully understand the details of our Iraqi adventure:

Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam ­Hussein's Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush's war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity -- to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.

And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it's not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over -- not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card. And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureauc­racy. This is the triumphant culmination of two centuries of flawed white-people thinking, a preposterous mix of authoritarian socialism and laissez-faire profit­eering, with all the worst aspects of both ideologies rolled up into one pointless, supremely idiotic military adventure -- American men and women dying by the thousands, so that Karl Marx and Adam Smith can blow each other in a Middle Eastern glory hole.

It was an awful idea, perhaps the worst America has ever tried on foreign soil. But if you were in on it, it was great work while it lasted.

Since time immemorial, the distribution of government largesse had followed a staid, paper-laden procedure in which the federal government would post the details of a contract in periodicals like Commerce Business Daily or, more ­recently, on the FedBizOpps Web site. Competitive bids were solicited and contracts were awarded in accordance with the labyrinthine print of the U.S. Code, a straightforward system that worked well enough before the Bush years that, as one lawyer puts it, you could "count the number of cases of criminal fraud on the fingers of one hand."

There were exceptions to the rule, of course -- emergencies that required immediate awards, contracts where there was only one available source of materials or labor, classified deals that involved national security. What no one knew at the beginning of the war was that the Bush administration had essentially decided to treat the entire Iraqi theater as an exception to the rules. All you had to do was get to Iraq and the game was on.

From the 24 year old "evangelical u" graduate who was put in charge of the $13 billion Iraq budget to the GOP operative put in charge of the health care system who instituted an anti-smoking campaign to the myriad cost-plus contracts that ensured that more money spent meant more in profits (without oversight), to the lack of insurance for injured employees of contractors, it is in essence an indictment of the Administration:

According to the most reliable ­estimates, we have doled out more than $500 billion for the war, as well as $44 billion for the Iraqi reconstruction effort. And what did America's contractors give us for that money? They built big steaming shit piles, set brand-new trucks on fire, drove back and forth across the desert for no reason at all and dumped bags of nails in ditches. For the most part, nobody at home cared, because war on some level is always a waste. But what happened in Iraq went beyond inefficiency, beyond fraud even. This was about the business of government being corrupted by the profit motive to such an extraordinary degree that now we all have to wonder how we will ever be able to depend on the state to do its job in the future. If catastrophic failure is worth billions, where's the incentive to deliver success? There's no profit in patriotism, no cost-plus angle on common decency. Sixty years after America liberated Europe, those are just words, and words don't pay the bills.

As criminal as this tale is, it is not even the worst of the Iraq War reconstruction debacle. Instead, the true sin is the tragedy described in the Forbes article, Whistleblowers on Fraud Facing Penalties:

One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.

Or worse.

For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers - all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. He told a federal agent the buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees.

* * * *

Despite this staggering mess, there are no noble outcomes for those who have blown the whistle, according to a review of such cases by The Associated Press.

"If you do it, you will be destroyed," said William Weaver, professor of political science at the University of Texas-El Paso and senior advisor to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

"Reconstruction is so rife with corruption. Sometimes people ask me, `Should I do this?' And my answer is no. If they're married, they'll lose their family. They will lose their jobs. They will lose everything," Weaver said.

They have been fired or demoted, shunned by colleagues, and denied government support in whistleblower lawsuits filed against contracting firms.

No wonder the war cannot end. Iraq is the great American dream come true for crony capitalism.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rescue Me

It's Saturday morning and time for a short history lesson.

Jon Stewart provides an overview of the U.S.'s intervention in the Middle East over time, which puts where we are today in perspective.

(Video also available at Crooks and Liars)

Cartoon of the Day

* Matt Davies, The Journal News

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Electric Connection

I recently wrote about the renaissance that my hometown was experiencing, see The Electric City. The story of Scranton featured in the NYTimes was a far cry from the town of my youth.

Now this is the Scranton I know & "love." According to a news report in the Allentown Morning Call, Prosecutor in DeNaples probe to resign, sources say:

U.S. Attorney Thomas Marino, the top federal prosecutor for central and northeastern Pennsylvania, will resign within six weeks amid an investigation of Mount Airy Lodge owner Louis DeNaples, according to two sources.

Marino, who has held the position since 2002, is leaving for undisclosed reasons, the sources said.

Also, the federal portion of an ongoing federal/state investigation into organized crime has been transferred from Marino's office to a U.S. attorney's office in Binghamton, N.Y., the sources said, but will be returned to the Middle District after Marino leaves.

The probe in part involves DeNaples, who listed Marino as a reference on his successful application for a slot machine casino license from Pennsylvania, sources and DeNaples' spokesman have said.

* * * *
DeNaples, a Scranton businessman whose many companies include Keystone Sanitary Landfill Inc. in Lackawanna County, was awarded a casino license in December 2006 despite criticism over his past, including a 1978 no-contest plea to felony charges involving conspiracy to defraud the government over the Hurricane Agnes cleanup.

Marino was listed as a reference on the state gaming application DeNaples submitted in December 2005.

DeNaples' activities are only part of a joint probe into organized crime by the FBI and the Pennsylvania State Police, sources have said. The Secret Service and Internal Revenue Service also are active in the investigation.

It's unclear when DeNaples' name first surfaced in the broader probe.

Three people, including William D'Elia, the reputed head of the Bufalino crime family in Scranton, have been indicted on money laundering charges. Richard Smalacombe and Frank Pavlico have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against others. D'Elia, who also was charged in November 2006 with conspiring to kill a witness, is in prison awaiting trial.
See also, Prosecutor was reference for slots hopeful under investigation.

Blogger A Big Fat Slob also discusses the Marino story, in DeNaple's US Attorney Pal to Step Down, and he noted:
It was reported last year that, between 2000 and 2005, DeNaples and affiliates contributed over a million bucks to Rendell and Bob Mellow, among others, who were instrumental in naming folk to the gaming board that eventually awarded DeNaples his slots license. Earlier this week, citizens groups filed ethics complaints against one of those board members, whose law firm represented DeNaples and another slots applicant.
I must admit that I know several of the locals mentioned in the various stories, but I've been away from Scranton for much too long to know the real scoop about DeNaples. Russell Bufalino was the head of the Bufalino family when I lived there and I remember being shocked to read a story in Time Magazine in the early '70s, listing him as one of the top Mafia heads in the country -- living in little old Scranton (or even smaller Old Forge).

But, Scranton being Scranton, I thought the best part of this whole thing is the coverage of the Marino/DeNaples story in the local Scranton paper, The Times Tribune:
The top federal prosecutor for Pennsylvania's Middle District plans to step down soon, a newspaper reported Friday, citing two anonymous sources.

U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Marino has served as the top federal prosecutor for central and northeastern Pennsylvania since 2002. The report in The Morning Call of Allentown did not say why Marino plans to leave in the next six weeks, and Marino's office declined to comment to The Associated Press on Friday.
Says it all.

Story is via Talking Points Memo, no less, who also noted this:
Late Update: A quick discussion with my crack US Attorney reporting team suggests that the article linked above may be a bit misleading about the reasons for Marino's departure and that US Attorney Thomas Marino may have been preparing to cash in his chips for other non-muck-related reasons.
UPDATE (8/25): The silent treatment by the Scranton Times-Tribune was also noted by Northeast PA media, who points to the complimentary coverage of DeNaples in these pieces, Wrecks to riches and DeNaples: mob links simply don't add up.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cartoon of the Day

* lalo alcaraz, LA Weekly

Et tu, Democracy?

With a heavy heart, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell told a Texas newspaper last week that due to the public debate over revising the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Americans will die.
This, according to Spencer Ackerman of TPM, McConnell: FISA Debate Will Kill Americans:
McConnell, who before the late July-early August FISA legislation enjoyed broad bipartisan respect, placed the predicted deaths of Americans at the doorstep of an open society. Thanks to widespread efforts to understand what the NSA's highly classified warrantless surveillance program is -- from journalists, from legal scholars, from national security experts, from elected officials -- the Bush administration was forced last month to reveal too much about how the program operates, in order to correct misunderstandings. And that means, McConnell said, "Americans are going to die."
See also, Chasing the Boogeyman.

I guess it's a variation on that old theme, "Give me Liberty or Give me Death."

And They Didn't Read This, Either

Well, we know one person who clearly falls in the 25% category cited in the survey, One in four read no books last year:

One in four adults read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. Of those who did read, women and older people were most avid, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices.

* * * *

Who are the 27 percent of people the AP-Ipsos poll found hadn't read a single book this year? Nearly a third of men and a quarter of women fit that category. They tend to be older, less educated, lower income, minorities, from rural areas and less religious.

At the same time, book enthusiasts abound. Many in the survey reported reading dozens of books and said they couldn't do without them.

* * * *

Among those who said they had read books, the median figure — with half reading more, half fewer — was nine books for women and five for men. The figures also indicated that those with college degrees read the most, and people aged 50 and up read more than those who are younger.

* * * *

People from the West and Midwest are more likely to have read at least one book in the past year. Southerners who do read, however, tend to read more books, mostly religious books and romance novels, than people from other regions. Whites read more than blacks and Hispanics, and those who said they never attend religious services read nearly twice as many as those who attend frequently.

There was even some political variety evident, with Democrats and liberals typically reading slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives.

The Bible and religious works were read by two-thirds in the survey, more than all other categories. Popular fiction, histories, biographies and mysteries were all cited by about half, while one in five read romance novels. Every other genre — including politics, poetry and classical literature — were named by fewer than five percent of readers.

* * * *

Those likeliest to read religious books included older and married women, lower earners, minorities, lesser educated people, Southerners, rural residents, Republicans and conservatives.

I hate to admit it, but I was also in that 25% for the past few years myself, a fact that most people who know me would never believe.

I was an English Major in College and have always been a voracious reader. In fact, one of my first jobs was in a Library, which I was sure would be my chosen profession -- while I wrote novels in my spare time. My brothers like to joke that I would intentionally get punished & sent to my room (to avoid having to participate in whatever family activity I wasn't interested in) just so I could read. At night, when we got the "lights out," I read with a flashlight under the covers.

I read at least two books a week, even through my daughter's infancy and childhood years, when I was also working lots of hours at work. I read 3-4 papers a day to keep up with the news. Somehow, I managed to fit it in. Reading was my life. My reading habits (other than keeping up with the news) were definitely towards fiction. For some unknown reason, I have an affinity for Southern literature, see Styron: A Life. I must also admit that I didn't keep up with the Classics as much in my adult years. And, despite being a literary snob in my youth, I could enjoy some good trashy novels now & then. Mysteries -- love them -- they were dessert.

Somewhere in the run up to the Iraq War, I spent more time reading the news and somehow I stopped having time to read books. I still read alot, just not books. The only books I read were those my daughter was reading at school, so I could talk to her about the book when she had to write a book report.

Luckily, I've started to read again, and I even joined a book group, which is something new for me. I did read book reviews, but I didn't spend much time discussing books with other people. Reading was always solitary for me, part of my quiet time for myself.

I just finished The Good Life, by Jay McInerney, for our Friday night book group meeting. An interesting book -- and an appropriate choice in the days prior to September 11.

As an aside (and isn't this whole post that), one of my favorite Southern writers, Harper Lee, had some interesting words to say, as noted in Harper Lee Speaks at Ala. Ceremony:

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee is a woman of few words and generally avoids media interviews and public appearances.

But the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" broke her silence briefly Monday at a ceremony inducting four new members . . . into the Alabama Academy of Honor. . . .

At the end of the ceremony, Academy of Honor chairman Tom Carruthers joked with Lee, saying he knew she had something she wanted to say to the crowd.

"Well it's better to be silent than to be a fool," Lee said.

I can think of at least one person who can benefit from that thought.

For more on Lee, including her relationship with Truman Capote, see this post at Phawker.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Express Yourself

And when the Administration isn't spying on folks, see Trust Me, it's busy quelling dissent.

The Largest Minority reports, in Feds Pay Up for Arresting Couple with Anti-Bush Shirts:

Nicole and Jeffery Rank were arrested and removed for wearing anti-Bush t-shirts at a 2004 rally at the state Capitol of West Virginia, where Bush gave a speech. The ACLU announced the couple had settled their lawsuit against the federal government for $80,000 after a judge dismissed the trumped up trespassing charges against them.

* * * *
A presidential advance manual obtained in the Rank case has shown that dissenters are actively sought out and silenced during the president’s public appearances. “As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event,” the manual says.
Crooks & Liars (which also has a video of a Hardball interview of the Ranks), in Wrongly Arrested Bush Protesters Talk About Their $80K Government Settlement On Hardball, explains:
On July 4th, 2004, Jeffery and Nicole Rank attended an public Independence Day event in Charleston, WV where President Bush was to speak. Despite the fact that the event was open to the public and was held on public land, the Ranks were arrested for wearing anti-Bush t-shirts.
The facts: A public event on the 4th of July. A day of celebrating our "freedoms." An appearance by the President. No words, just an anti-Bush T-shirt. Expulsion and arrest. Freedom lives -- except our freedom to express our feelings towards the President.

See also, Exclusive Interview With ACLU Lawyer In Bush Rally Free Speech Case.

Cartoon of the Day

* Signe Wilkinson, Daily News

Trust Me

The changes to FISA that were approved by Congress as it was packing its bags for its August vacation were bad enough. See, e.g., Defending the Framework. Now comes word that the scope may go well beyond what was originally contemplated. As the NYTimes says:

Broad new surveillance powers approved by Congress this month could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include — without court approval — certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans’ business records, Democratic Congressional officials and other experts said.

Administration officials acknowledged that they had heard such concerns from Democrats in Congress recently, and that there was a continuing debate over the meaning of the legislative language. But they said the Democrats were simply raising theoretical questions based on a harsh interpretation of the legislation.

They also emphasized that there would be strict rules in place to minimize the extent to which Americans would be caught up in the surveillance.

See, Concerns Raised on Wider Spying Under New Law. Of course, the Bush Administration doesn't quite say that it won't interpret the new law as broadly as civil libertarians worry -- instead it says don't worry about all that, just trust us to do the right thing.

Trust us. Based upon the conduct of Homeland Security with the ADVISE program, trust is the last thing this Administration deserves. As reported in DHS Data Mining Program Suspended After Evading Privacy Review, Audit Finds:
A controversial Homeland Security data mining system called ADVISE that dreamed of searching through trillions of records culled from government, public and private databases analyzed personal information without the required privacy oversight, may cost more than commercially available alternatives and has been suspended until a privacy review has been completed, according to an internal audit.

The Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement program, one of twelve DHS data mining efforts, hit the trifecta of civil libertarians concerns about data mining programs – invasiveness, secrecy and ineffectiveness, according to a recent DHS Inspector General report (.pdf).

DHS hoped the data sifting tool would help analysts "detect, deter, and mitigate threats to our homeland and disseminate timely information to its homeland security partners and the American public." The idea was to build a generic toolset that could find hidden relationships in massive amounts of data and provide the tool to groups working with data sets as divergent as intelligence and newspaper reports to WMD sensor data.

Started in 2003, the program has gotten $42 million in funding through 2007.

But the data-mining program faces a troubled future, due to revelations that its tests did not simply use fake data as the DHS Science and Technology section publicly said they did.

"The pilots used live data, including personally identifiable information, from multiple sources in attempts to identify potential terrorist activity," the report said. (Emphasis added).
And then there was news of the Talon program that was supposedly stopped some time ago -- that wasn't. And the Program just happened to pick up such terrorist activities as perpetrated by anti-war activists and peace groups. According to DOD 'Talon' Database Declawed:
[T]he Pentagon announced that it's canceling a database created to monitor threats to Defense Department installations in the U.S. that ended up compiling lists of citizens engaged in peaceful, constitutionally-protected protest speech.

* * * *

Internal DOD memoranda obtained and disclosed by the ACLU revealed that Talon had ensnared information on over 2,000 American citizens, some for posing little more of a threat than "the possibility" of "some type of vandalism."

Additionally, a recent Pentagon inspector-general report found irregularities and unanswered questions about how Talon purged information on American citizens deemed not to pose a security threat. Notably, DOD announced today that the agency overseeing Talon, known as the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), will "maintain a record copy of the collected data in accordance with intelligence oversight requirements." In other words, CIFA will keep records both of what Talon possesses and what information it deleted, in order to demonstrate that it wasn't covering up for improper or illegal intelligence collection.

I trust you alright. I trust that you will spy and lie.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cartoon of the Day

* Jack Ohman, OregonLive


So, after I wrote my screed about AT&T and my Laptop Connect data plan, see The New AT&T, same as the Old AT&T, I started thinking about what I said (wrote). If I was subscribing to a data service that I don't have much need for, why not switch to something that I'd get more use out of. Of course, I'm talking about the iPhone.

Even though I am an over 50, female, attorney (all of which would suggest otherwise), I am fairly techie. Unlike most lawyers (who would prefer never to type and miss using their legal secretaries for all of the administrative stuff), I angeled for my own computer early on, so I could do my own work. When I got a new computer at the office (before most got their first), I took the old one home, popped the lid & installed my own sound card -- and I was hooked from there. I'm sure it has to do with the fact that I worked for a computer company through high school and college (in the old days when mainframes took up a room and the language was Fortran and Cobalt). Whatever the reason, I'm a technology fan -- I read tech magazines for fun. Our office IT guys joke that I have enough "extra" computer hardware around the office that they call before they order anything to see if I have what we need in my stash.

I also love gadgets and am usually one of the early adapters of new technology, so I must admit that I've had my eye on the iPhone. My friends, family and colleagues can't believe I wasn't in line to be one of the first kids on the block to have one. In fact, one of the other attorneys in the office got one, which has made me no end of jealous.

However, a few things stopped me. First, I tend to like my gadgets to perform as intended (cell phone to be a phone that works well, not prepare dinner too). Up till now, I didn't even mix phone and palm device. My philosophy is that if one thing breaks or goes missing, not all is lost. I was also going to wait for 2nd generation device to come out, figuring most of the bugs would be worked out by then. I've read a number of the reviews and although the phone does have some great features, see Apple's iPhone: an initial (but in-depth) review and The iPhone Matches Most of Its Hype, it's not perfect and is missing some important features (e.g. bluetooth for data transfer).

And finally, there was the cost. It may be a great tech toy, but $600 (cuz if you're going to get one, you may as well go the whole way & get the 8GB) for a phone? Plus the extra monthly service charge? How could I justify it? After all, I already have a decent cell phone (my second Razr), plus a Palm that has lots of good features, and great digital camera(s) (the Canon PowerShot SD800 IS and a Nikon Coolpix 5400), so I didn't really need the iPhone yet -- at that price anyway.

But the more I thought about it, if I was going to spend all that money on the internet data plan -- when I compared cost of service for what I had vs. iPhone, it was worth the switch. In fact, a savings of approximately $500 altogether. So, I got AT&T to agree to switch things out and I'm now the owner of an iPhone. I tried to rationalize that it was worth getting, since I didn't have an iPod. Even so, I hated spending the money (my assistant said I looked depressed after leaving the AT&T store).

Of course, the minute I get one, I read about some of the problems with the phone at Shaun Mullen's blog, Second Thoughts on the Aye-Yai-Yai-Phone, citing Popular Science Blog. Plus, I can't sync my Outlook Calendar, apparently a fairly common glitch and the computer crashes if you take photos & then try to sync. And it is missing a few favs, such as the ability to use a stylus, no games or other applications and limited ringtones. I assume that most of these things will be fixed in the near future (I'm used to issues as an early adapter).

Other than these problems, I must say I do like it -- a lot. My husband & I went out to dinner after I got it up & running & we played with it a bit. Even he likes it & he is Mr. Technophobe.

Well, we shall see if it lives up to its hype after I have a chance to use it a bit more.

Tags: ,

Greed & God

Yes, another post on Karl Rove. See A Tribute to the Myth, for my earlier ruminations.

I thought that Bill Moyers and Frank Rich's insightful views deserved their own post. Plus, whether he was truly a genius or merely a middling, manipulative political hitman, Karl Rove had a tremendous impact on the political landscape of this country, the results of which will be felt for many years after he is gone.

Video of The Rove Legacy also available at Bill Moyers Journal and Moyer's blog, My Fellow Texan. As Moyers so eloquently put it:

Karl Rove figured out a long time ago that the way to take an intellectually incurious, draft-averse, naughty playboy in a flight jacket with chewing tobacco in his back pocket and make him governor of Texas, was to sell him as God’s anointed in a state where preachers and televangelists outnumber even oil derricks and jack rabbits. Using church pews as precincts, Rove turned religion into a weapon of political combat -- a battering ram, aimed at the devil’s minions. Especially at gay people. It’s so easy, as Karl knew, to scapegoat people you outnumber. And if God is love, as rumor has it, Rove knew in politics to bet on fear and loathing. Never mind that in stroking the basest bigotry of true believers you coarsen both politics and religion.

* * * *

At the same time he was recruiting an army of the Lord for the born-again Bush, Rove was also shaking down corporations for campaign cash. Crony capitalism became a biblical injunction. Greed and God won four elections in a row -- twice in the Lone Star state and twice again in the nation at large. But the result has been to leave Texas under the thumb of big money with huge holes ripped in its social contract, and the U.S. government in shambles -- paralyzed, polarized, and mired in war, debt and corruption. . . .Rove is riding out of Dodge City as the posse rides in.
And Frank Rich, He Got Out While the Getting Was Good (also available at Welcome to Pottersville), looks at Rove from the view of the GOP:
Karl Rove's departure was both abrupt and fast. The ritualistic "for the sake of my family" rationale convinced no one, and the decision to leak the news in a friendly print interview (on The Wall Street Journal's op-ed page) rather than announce it in a White House spotlight came off as furtive. Inquiring Rove haters wanted to know: Was he one step ahead of yet another major new scandal? Was a Congressional investigation at last about to draw blood?

Perhaps, but the Republican reaction to Mr. Rove's departure is more revealing than the cries from his longtime critics. No G.O.P. presidential candidates paid tribute to Mr. Rove, and, except in the die-hard Bush bastions of Murdochland present (The Weekly Standard, Fox News) and future (The Journal), the conservative commentariat was often surprisingly harsh. It is this condemnation of Rove from his own ideological camp — not the Democrats' familiar litany about his corruption, polarizing partisanship, dirty tricks, etc. — that the White House and Mr. Rove wanted to bury in the August dog days.

What the Rove critics on the right recognize is that it may be even more difficult for their political party to dig out of his wreckage than it will be for America.

* * * *

Again, it's a young conservative commentator, Ryan Sager, writing in The New York Sun, who put it best: "The face of the Republican Party in Iowa is the face of a losing party, full of hatred toward immigrants, lust for government subsidies, and the demand that any Republican seeking the office of the presidency acknowledge that he's little more than Jesus Christ's running mate."

That face, at once contemptuous and greedy and self-righteous, is Karl Rove's face. Unless someone in his party rolls out a revolutionary new product, it is indelible enough to serve as the Republican brand for a generation.

And finally, some Rove on Rove, Spurning Criticism, Rove Blames Democrats, from the NYTimes.

I still can't decide whether there'll be some sex scandal, criminal charge (pre-pardon) or new GOP campaign for Karl. I do know we've not heard the last of him.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Tribute to the Myth

I know that much has been written in the past week about Karl Rove and his leavetaking from the White House -- and Bush. Rove's role had such an impact on the political landscape over the past few years that I thought I'd do my own "tribute" to him, by compiling a few of my favorite pieces on him.

James Moore at Huffington Post, The Rove Goes on Forever, provides a devastatingly accurate view:

When I first started reporting on Karl Rove in the late 1970s, I was impressed by his singularity of purpose and his willingness to say or do whatever was necessary to succeed. This amorality, a complete lack of concern for right or wrong or harm done, will be his legacy in the American political process. Lives and careers might be destroyed, great institutions compromised, the truth sullied until it is unrecognizable, but all of that will be acceptable collateral damage to Karl as long as he and his party and candidates have won the day.

Nothing has ever mattered to Karl Rove beyond the accumulation of political power. And every move he has made during the political ascension of George W. Bush has been about gathering the kind of influence that is necessary to build a political dynasty. While it is too easy to call him a liar and a cheat, the narrative evidence and the facts leave the conclusion unavoidable.
Keith Olbermann has his review of Rove, Keith Olbermann Says Goodbye To Turd Blossom, a video worth watching. NYU's Jay Rosen discusses how the press helped empower Rove (and in fact admired him) by giving him a pass, in Karl Rove and the Religion of the Washington Press.

As though he were prescient, Joshua Green wrote a fascinating retrospective piece on Rove's legacy in the Atlantic, The Rove Presidency. It's a must read for anyone interested in this character study.

Will Bunch of Attytood noted the success of Rove's power of divisiveness, in Mission accomplished:

He probably didn't want a subpoena-empowered Democratic Congress for the last two years of the Bush administration -- despite what some crackpot may have theorized back in November -- but his final mission in the White House was to boost divisions within the Democratic Party and give a weakened GOP a good a chance as it could hope for to keep the presidency in 2008. And in this instance, it really is a case of "Mission Accomplished."

The crowning achievement was the new wiretapping bill that passed Congress last weekend. In this end, what the bill said -- although it is a frightening expansion of executive powers -- may prove secondary to its other accomplishments, which are 1) Turning Democrat against Democrat, which could surely hurt the party in next year's elections and 2) Normalizing expanded government spying in a way that may lessen the impact of the probes into potential lawbreaking during Bush's first term.

The only thing that's surprising here is that Rove actually admitted it:

Mr. Rove also said he expects the president's approval rating to rise again, and that conditions in Iraq will improve as the U.S. military surge continues. He said he expects Democrats to be divided this fall in the battle over warrantless wiretapping, while the budget battle -- and a series of presidential vetoes -- should help Republicans gain an edge on spending restraint and taxes.
He was certainly the Master of the Mayberry Machivellis, through his manipulation and dirty tricks. He made "divide and conquer" an art form. I think part of the reason he was so successful is that most people presume transparency in others, that they are tricked when someone acts in such a dishonest, underhanded way. Basically, society functions by giving people the benefit of the doubt without looking for hidden motives, so they are easily deceived.

Steve Gimbel of Philosophers' Playground provides an interesting analysis of Rove, in Karl Rove: Portrait of the Bullshit Artist as an Old Man. Observing Rove's "ubiquitous smugness," Gimbel remarks:
What accounts for it, I believe, is a complete lack of seriousness. Not that Rove is not intense and driven, I mean a deeper metaphysical capriciousness. It is one thing to treat everything as if it were a game, it is another to actually believe it is all a game. Here is the kid who cheated his way to a championship trophy and who believes that all those who object are just jealous that they weren't gamesmen enough to beat him.

* * * *
The postmoderninsts were seduced by the idea of deconstruction, convinced that the ultimate political act was to peel back the layers of belief to expose politics where epistemology was thought to be. But Rove realized that deconstruction was for losers, it was an autopsy. The job you want is Dr. Frankenstein, building the monster in the first place. Preconstruction is the place of postmodern winners, deconstruction is for whiners.
* * * *
Truth is usefulness. Reality is what you get everyone to believe. All is maleable.

Rove leaves smug because he doesn't think reality has caught up to him, after all, he hasn't let least in the reality he creates.
The Next Hurrah speculates on the reasons why Rove is leaving, in My Guesses on Why Rove Resigned, focusing on various possible legal difficulties that may be about to hit, as did I in Homeward Bound, such as The Abramoff Investigation, The Office of Special Counsel Investigation and The Iglesias Investigation. See also, Hullabaloo, for more speculation on the possibilities.

On the other hand, I particularly like the guess contained in the Comments:
EW - while you go all high and stuff, I go low and am sticking with Larry Flynt camp. Remember Flynt is putting his final touches on his list for a september release. (You don't launch a new marketing campaign in August, you know). I strongly suspect Flynt has netted Rove. He took full page ad in Wapo offering upto $1M for info on illicit sexual affairs. He later said that he is working from a list of about 30 DC insiders, mostly repubs.

Jeff Gannon or his equivalent took the money and gave up Rove to Flynt.
It's interesting in an ironic way that there have been hints and gossip over the years that Rove is an atheist (or an agnostic, at a minimum) and gay, since he has managed to use religion and homophobia as the primary issues to divide the country. I guess he's the Roy Cohn to Bush's McCarthy.

And a final thought: When I heard the news that Rove was leaving, my first thought was of "the road not taken."

Based upon everything I've read about Rove, if he had not channeled his energies into politics (and Bush), he has the type of personality that could just as easily gone the way of a Ted Bundy. In fact, I later saw a piece by Sidney Blumenthal referring to Rove as a "political serial killer," so maybe I'm not alone with this vision.

See also, Dick Polman's take, The draining of "Bush's Brain".

For another compendium of Rovianisms, see Phawker's WANTED: HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MAN?

And of course, I'll conclude with Jon Stewart's take on "The Departed" --

Online Videos by

(Poster via Phawker)

NOTE: Corrected, as noted in Comments.

Cartoon of the Day

* R.P. Overmyer, Hollywood Dog

No Picnic in the Park

The assault on our privacy is a continual refrain these days. From NSA spying to FISA warrantless eavesdropping, the government seems to be interested in every move we make. The fact that you may have nothing to hide is not the point. It shouldn't matter, because it's no one else's business -- especially the governments. Yet another affront to our privacy is the National ID Card. In the latest news on that front, CNN reports, in Federal ID plan raises privacy concerns:

Americans may need passports to board domestic flights or to picnic in a national park next year if they live in one of the states defying the federal Real ID Act.

The act, signed in 2005 as part of an emergency military spending and tsunami relief bill, aims to weave driver's licenses and state ID cards into a sort of national identification system by May 2008. The law sets baseline criteria for how driver's licenses will be issued and what information they must contain.

* * * *
The cards would be mandatory for all "federal purposes," which include boarding an airplane or walking into a federal building, nuclear facility or national park, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the National Conference of State Legislatures last week. Citizens in states that don't comply with the new rules will have to use passports for federal purposes.
(Via Crooks and Liars). A state by state listing of activity on ID compliance is here. As the Electronic Fronttier Foundation notes, The Real ID Act:
Once the IDs and database are in place, their uses will inevitably expand to facilitate a wide range of surveillance activities. Remember, the Social Security number started innocuously enough, but it has become a prerequisite for a host of government services and been coopted by private companies to create massive databases of personal information. A national ID poses similar dangers; for example, because "common machine-readable technology" will be required on every ID, the government and businesses will be able to easily read your private information off the cards in myriad contexts.
Of course, he who takes does not believe in giving. As we lose our privacy, the Bush Administration simultaneously expands its "privacy" by denying its citizens access to more and more information.

As Adam Clymer notes, Bush Administration most secretive ever.

(Via Attytood)

Friday, August 17, 2007

The New AT&T, same as the Old AT&T

I got my AT&T/Cingular bill yesterday. Unlike the Pittsburgh blogger who received her 300 page iPhone bill in a box, see IPHONE BILL, my bill contained a different surprise.

I mentioned that I signed up for LaptopConnect when I went to the on vacation because our mountain home didn't have internet access. As I said, see Guest Pass, "service in the mountains isn't the best, but I have been able to connect (some family members can't get cell service at all). I have a time limited account, so I haven't been on-line as much."

When I signed up for LaptopConnect service (a 2 year plan), I got the basic level of service, since I'm not on the road without access all that much. The representative at the AT&T store (who is really a nice, helpful guy), told me that my level of service -- which is listed in MB -- would cover approximately 100 hours/month. I thought that that sounded a bit high, so I tried checking my on-line account to keep tabs on usage, but it didn't have the new service listed yet. I also couldn't find anything at AT&T's website explaining how much time equates to my data plan. I then had my assistant contact AT&T. She was told that the available MB equaled about 10 hours/month. I went with that as my guide and tried to keep track of my time on-line. I figured I spent between 10-12 hours on-line while I was away. I went to the Community Center, which had wifi access, a few times as well.

So when my bill was available on-line, imagine my surprise to see my bill for usage was $490. (not counting the monthly charge & other fees for the service). For that -- I could have gotten the iPhone. For that -- I could have gotten the unlimited plan & paid for 8 months of service. Of course, we called (I should say my poor assistant called) to complain about the bill. 1& 1/2 hours (plus several levels of supervisors) later, they finally agreed to adjust the bill. She's a hawk in reviewing our bills to make sure things are correct & great in dealing with these types of issues (& I know she'll be reading this).

It reminded me of our experience with AT&T several years ago. My old firm had switched to AT&T, but the service was practically non-existent in the Philly suburbs (where we worked & most of my partners lived). The service was truly useless, yet AT&T gave us a difficult time getting out of our contract.

I think I have a suggestion for a logo for AT&T: The new AT&T -- same as the old AT&T -- back from the dead.

As a final note, perhaps the iPhone Bill in a Box video could be the next viral video, a la SNL's "Dick in a Box" and "Box in a Box."


Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Drum Beat

So maybe they're thinking that, if we attack Iran in August, while everyone is at the beach and elsewhere on vacation (including Congress), no one will notice? I'm beginning to sweat -- and it's not just from the heat of the dog days of August.

Will Bunch of Attytood put the pieces together, in A prelude to war: What's really behind Bush's Iran move. He discusses the designation by the White House of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a global terrorist group, noting:

Here's what it means on the surface, that U.S. -- which increasingly blames Iran for terrorist meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan -- can try to go after those who do business with the Iranian military unit. Still, it's clearly not a normal move -- the first time that a government military has received this terrorist designation -- something that's usually reserved for non-state actors like al-Qaeda. And so no one seems sure what this morning what the concrete impact of this unexpected move will be.

Nowhere yet have I seen what it seems clear Bush's Iran move is really all about.

The White House hawks in Dick Cheney's office and elsewhere who want to stage an attack on Iran are clearly winning the internal power stuggle. And an often overlooked sub-plot on the long road toward war with Tehran is this: How could Bush stage an attack on Iran without the authorization of a skeptical, Democratic Congress?

Today, the White House has solved that pesky problem in one fell swoop. By explicitly linking the Iranian elite guard into the post 9/11 "global war on terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush's lawyers would certainly now argue that any military strike on Iran is now covered by the October 2002 authorization to use military force in Iraq, as part of their overly sweeping response to the 2001 attacks.

* * * *

This is about one thing, and one thing only:

A prelude to a new war.

See also, Taylor Marsh, Bush, Dick and Bibi.

As much as my rational self keeps saying that such a move would be insane, I then remind myself who's in charge. It's getting to be a deja vu of the prelude to Iraq. I guess they figure, at this point, what have they got to lose? This has been in the planning for some time. In February, I wrote about Seymour Hersh's warnings about the Administration's plan to expand the war into Iran, see The Sequel.

Noting that even conservatives are worried about plans to attack Iran, Shaun Mullen of Kiko's House expresses his concern about the Administration's intentions in Iran: The Gordian Knot Tightens, inquiring:

The notion that there could be anything resembling a popular uprising in the U.S. these days is silly. But what would happen if the Bush administration takes us into a war against Iran?

They given this some thought as well. The Bush Boys have planned for everything. As I noted in The Signs Are Ominous, they've put in place measures such as the new Executive Order which allows the government to seize the assets of anyone who interferes with its Iraq policies and the recent re-writing of the Insurrection Act, which makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law. Likewise, as former Reagan official, Paul Roberts, said:

'There's no belief in the people or anything like that. They have agendas. The people are in the way. The Constitution is in the way. ... Americans need to comprehend and look at how ruthless Cheney is. ... A person like that would do anything.'

I know one thing. I can say what won't happen. There won't be any demonstrations.

(Cartoon: Tom Toles, NYTimes)