Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cartoon of the Day

Steve Kelley, Times-Picayune

It's All Who You Know

I'm not a betting person, but a wager on this would have been a sure thing. Based upon the progress of the grand jury investigation into the owner of the Mount Airy Casino, the only surprise would have been if Louis DeNaples hadn't been indicted. For earlier posts on this case, see The Collection, The Holy Gun and The Electric Connection.

As the Scranton Times reports, Casino owner accused of perjury over mob links, license stripped:

The owner of a casino in the Pocono Mountains was charged with perjury Wednesday for allegedly lying about his relationships with organized crime figures to win a lucrative gambling license, and state regulators quickly barred him from the business.

Louis A. DeNaples, who opened Mount Airy Casino Resort in October, was charged with four counts of perjury after a seven-month investigation by a Dauphin County grand jury into what he told state gambling regulators during a prelicense background investigation. His company, Mount Airy No. 1 LLC, also was charged.

* * * *

For example, DeNaples told the gaming board he knew D'Elia only as a customer of his bank who occasionally patronized his auto-parts store. The grand jury said DeNaples had a "close relationship with D'Elia spanning many years," that DeNaples was a guest at D'Elia's daughter's 1999 wedding and that DeNaples' unlisted home telephone number was found in an address book that police seized from D'Elia's car in 2006.

DeNaples told the gaming board he knew Bufalino "only by name." In the 1970s, the panel said, Bufalino gave DeNaples three suits to wear to meetings after his home was struck by fire. DeNaples also gave Bufalino, a mechanic, two junked Fiats to work on, the grand jury said.

Bufalino served lengthy prison terms in the 1970s and '80s and died in 1994.

DeNaples told gaming board investigators that he could not clearly remember ever meeting Ali and that he had no interest in Ali's proposal to ship waste from Philadelphia to DeNaples' landfills. The grand jury, however, cited a telephone conversation the FBI recorded in 2002 in which DeNaples told Ali, "it would be business for us and we'd be very appreciative if we got it."

DeNaples also denied knowing or doing business with White. Other witnesses recalled a meeting in DeNaples' office in which he "ranted" about not being able to reach White by telephone after he gave him $50,000, according to the presentment.

White, a key fundraiser for Street, died of cancer in 2004 before he was to be tried as the central figure in a separate federal investigation of Philadelphia's "pay-to-play" culture. Ali, a prominent Muslim cleric in Philadelphia, is serving a seven-year prison term that stemmed from the probe.

However, I can't help but note the fact that DeNaples was charged with only four counts of perjury, which means that, despite the intense investigation, there wasn't that much of substance that was uncovered during the investigation. Not to say that perjury isn't serious, but the government obviously wasn't able to uncover anything that directly linked DeNaples to the mob, so they went for perjury.

And, despite protestations to the contrary, there is definitely a bit of a turf battle lurking behind this case. As the Pocono Record relates, Mount Airy owner DeNaples charged with perjury over mob-tie claims:

The gaming board, which vetted casino applications, awarded a license to DeNaples after investigating his background for organized crime ties, financial troubles and more.

Through Feeley, DeNaples has maintained that he has no ties to organized crime. His lawyers have accused Dauphin County prosecutors of misusing the grand jury as a fishing expedition and a tool in a turf war over who should regulate the state’s casinos.

More than two dozen witnesses, including D’Elia, appeared in front of the grand jury. D’Elia is in federal prison awaiting trial on charges of money laundering and conspiring to kill a prosecution witness. Dauphin County prosecutors brought the case to the grand jury last year after reviewing information given to them by state police investigators.

Once again, this is similar to the situation where the cover up is worse than the "crime." DeNaples is from the Scranton-area. It's the kind of place where everybody knows everybody. We're talking 2-3 degrees of Kevin Bacon (vs. 6 degrees) at most. Knowing D'Elia and Bufalino would not be unusual -- in fact, it would be surprising if DeNaples didn't know them. Just knowing them, however, doesn't mean he was involved in their mob activities. That requires a difference level of proof -- and knowledge. I'm just not sure that what is alleged here qualifies as that kind of knowledge.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, in Poconos casino owner charged, describes the alleged relationship between the parties:

DeNaples, according to the affidavit, also lied about his ties to the two top organized-crime figures in northeastern Pennsylvania.

He said he knew D'Elia as a customer of his auto-parts supply store and the bank he founded, but denied regularly meeting with him.

Prosecutors maintain that DeNaples and D'Elia were so close that years ago D'Elia visited DeNaples' father as he lay dying. Once his father died, DeNaples gave his father's rosary beads to D'Elia, the affidavit says.

It also said D'Elia frequently met with DeNaples at the auto-parts store, and arranged for the free printing of store brochures.

D'Elia, who is under indictment on charges of conspiracy to launder money among other offenses, testified before the grand jury.

DeNaples also was close to Bufalino, prosecutors allege in the 23-page affidavit.

When DeNaples' house burned down in the 1970s, Bufalino personally delivered three suits to DeNaples so he could wear them at meetings, the court papers said.

The papers also said that in the 1970s, DeNaples complimented Bufalino at a boxing match about a ring he was wearing, and Bufalino later gave it to him as a gift.

When asked about Bufalino, DeNaples told gaming board officials that he knew him only by name and what was printed about him in newspapers.

See also, Four perjury counts against DeNaples; slots license suspended. Certainly the allegations, if true, would support a charge of perjury, but they just don't prove that DeNaples was involved with the mob. Yet, it makes it understandable why he would try to distance himself from any affiliation with them, since no distinction seems to be made between "knowing them" and just knowing them.

What was worse to me was his response to questions about knowing the other individuals from Philly -- Ron White, John Street and Shamsud-din Ali:

During those sessions, he was pressed about his relationships with the late mob boss Russell Bufalino; Bufalino's protege, William D'Elia; the late Ron White, a chief fund-raiser for former Mayor John Street; and Shamsud-din Ali, the West Philadelphia imam who is serving time in connection with the City Hall corruption investigation.

When asked about Ali, DeNaples said that he did not know him, but that it was possible he had a "very, very short conversation" with Ali and "another black person" about bringing sludge from Philadelphia to landfills he owns in the Scranton region.

Shown a picture of Ali, DeNaples said he could not identify him because "to me, black people all look alike."

But prosecutors allege that DeNaples not only had met with Ali - who later testified before the grand jury - but also had extensive phone conversations with him. (Emphasis added)

Does that bring back memories of Scranton -- except that I had thought those views had long ago receded into the past.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Good bye & Good Luck

On my way to the office this morning, I got the news that John Edwards was exiting the campaign. As the Huffington Post reported, John Edwards To Drop Out Of Race:

Democrat John Edwards bowed out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination on Wednesday, saying it was time to step aside 'so that history can blaze its path' in a campaign now left to Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

'With our convictions and a little backbone we will take back the White House in November,' said Edwards, ending his second campaign in the same hurricane-ravaged city where he began it more than a year ago.

Edwards said Clinton and Obama had both pledged that 'they will make ending poverty central to their campaign for the presidency.'

'This is the cause of my life and I now have their commitment to engage in this cause,' he said before a small group of supporters. He was joined by his wife Elizabeth and his three children, Cate, Emma Claire and Jack.
I have to admit that I was sad to hear the news. Not that it mattered, since I'm in a "don't count" state (Pennsylvania), but I was an Edwards fan. I think he was the most liberal of all of the candidates -- and I don't buy the "he can't relate to poor people because he's rich." Since when did we lose our capacity to empathize with others just because they are different? That's a Republican trait, not a universal tendency (can you say Roosevelt? Kennedy?). I also believe that the media was a major factor contributing to the fact that his message didn't get out. He was basically ignored and minimized throughout the campaign. We talk about issues of voter fraud, but the manipulation of the electoral process by the media likewise impacts the outcome of the election -- without a ballot ever being cast. See also, Ted Rall's take on the media, Who's Afraid of John Edwards?.

Of course, I do feel that both Clinton and Obama are more than qualified to be President and I could be happy supporting either one, so all is not lost. I attended an event several year's ago during which Hillary Clinton was the featured speaker and I must say that I was impressed by her poise and intelligence. Hillary gets pilloried more than she deserves. Also, Obama's inspirational message may be what the country needs at this low point, coming after the long reign of the Bush Administration. Yet, I still think that we may have missed out with losing Edwards.

As did Edwards, I'd like to end on a positive note, looking at the benefit we got from Edwards being in the race. As Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic notes, Why John Edwards Won:
As anybody who attended his town meetings could attest, he may have been the most effective campaigner of all—capable of establishing an instant connection with audiences, then sweeping them up with a moving, coherent story about what was wrong with America and how he proposed to fix it. Edwards was also, I would argue, a more versatile campaigner than his rivals. He was terrific working the grassroots, much like Obama, but also excelled in the debates, just as Clinton has. As his advisers were constantly reminding reporters—most memorably, through this priceless video—focus groups frequently named Edwards the overwhelming 'winner' in those televised exchanges. Alas, a media preoccupied with the Clinton-Obama rivalry rarely seemed to notice.

Still, if Edwards wants to blame somebody for his defeat, he shouldn't look at the media. He should look at himself. And I mean that in the best sense possible. Edwards' biggest problem may have been that he was too compelling—so compelling that his rivals effectively adopted his agenda. From the beginning, Edwards was positioning himself as the champion of Americans struggling to get ahead financially. And rather than simply offer populist rhetoric, he backed it with a serious, comprehensive set of policies.

* * * *

When Edwards announces the end of his campaign today, he will do so where he began it: in New Orleans, which two years after Hurricane Katrina remains shamefully neglected. It's an altogether fitting setting, because it's a reminder that his campaign was always about the people whose interests and values he championed.

John Edwards ends his presidential candidacy today. His campaign, happily, goes on.

(Transcript available at Crooks and Liars)

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Fix for FISA?

The President says that without the changes to FISA that he wants (demands), the country will be a grave risk, yet he's planning to veto an extension of the Act. Likewise, telecommunication companies are a vital link to the process and need retroactive immunity, yet they were willing to pull the plug on wiretapping when the government failed to pay their bills. So, if you get the idea that the latest FISA dust-up is a lot of dust to disguise the real motive -- secrecy over the violations of our civil liberties that have already occurred and immunity to ensure that they'll never be uncovered (or prosecuted) -- you might be right.

A NYTimes editorial sums it up, The FISA Follies, Redux:

The Senate (reportedly still under Democratic control) seems determined to help President Bush violate Americans’ civil liberties and undermine the constitutional separation of powers. Majority Leader Harry Reid is supporting White House-backed legislation that would expand the administration’s ability to spy on Americans without court supervision and ensure that the country never learns the full extent of Mr. Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA — which Mr. Bush decided to ignore after 9/11 — requires a warrant to intercept telephone calls and e-mail messages between people in the United States and people abroad.

It needed updating to keep pace with technology, and the technical fixes were included in a bill that Congress passed last summer. The problem was that Mr. Bush managed to add measures that sharply undercut the court’s role in monitoring eavesdropping. Fortunately, lawmakers gave them an expiration date of Feb. 1.

The House has passed a reasonable new bill — fixing FISA without further endangering civil liberties. But Mr. Bush wants to weaken FISA as much as he can. And the Senate leadership has been only too happy to oblige.

* * * *
Mr. Bush says without amnesty, the government won’t get cooperation in the future. We don’t buy it. The real aim is to make sure the full story of the illegal wiretapping never comes out in court.
* * * *
Lawmakers and the rest of the nation should bear this in mind: Mr. Bush’s version of this law does not make intelligence-gathering more robust. Opponents like Senators Christopher Dodd and Patrick Leahy want to spy on Al Qaeda, too. They’re just not willing to do it in a way that undermines the very democracy that the spies, Congress and the president are supposed to be protecting.
Like the Americans who have been deported or gotten caught up in immigration sweeps, see Born in the U.S.A., don't think it can't happen to you. See FISA: Wiretapping Without A Warrant. It Could Be You Next. These are the people who lied us into a war. A little spying ain't nothing.

The only reason Bush hasn't gotten his way so far is because of Chris Dodd, who has held firm in his commitment to block this bill. Glen Greenwald explains the significance in his Salon blog, More disruptions to the Cheney/Rockefeller plan:

Dodd has been in the Senate for 24 years. As he is the first to acknowledge, engaging in filibusters and obstruction and defiance of his party's leadership are things he has almost never done. Dodd isn't Russ Feingold. He has been the picture of the establishment Senator in the party's "liberal" wing, rarely deviating and almost never standing alone to oppose the party leadership. So what has changed? Why has he been so willing so tenaciously to pursue this fight -- even in the face of overt though anonymous threats that he could alienate his party's leadership and lose influence as Banking Committee Chairman if he persists?

Dodd himself provided the answer in his Senate floor speech (h/t Kitt):

I've promised to fight those scare tactics with all the power any one senator can muster. And I'm here today to keep that promise.

For several months now, I've listened to the building frustration over this immunity and this administration's campaign of lawlessness. I've seen it in person, in mail, online -- the passion and eloquence of citizens who are just fed up. They've inspired me more than they know.

That is exactly what happened. When the administration first demanded retroactive immunity in the wake of the passage of the Protect America Act, nobody was talking about that issue outside of blogs and grass-roots and civil liberties organizations -- the roster of annoying citizen-groups that are typically ignored. But the pressure built; it became increasingly intense and relentless; it found a political official in Chris Dodd willing to ride it; and it unquestionably has altered the course of how all of this has played out.
And the irony is that the Democrats would have caved on the issue, but the Bush Administration decided to hold off letting them acquiesce so that it could blast the Democrats at the SOTU address tonight for being soft. Notwithstanding that irony, the ultimate significance of Dowd's stand is this:
But what incidents such as this one conclusively demonstrate is that it is always possible, if enough citizen intensity is mustered and the right strategy is formulated, for citizens to disrupt and defeat the best-laid plans of our corrupt political establishment. There's a comfort and temptation in denying that truth. Those who insist that defeat is inevitable and All is Lost are relieved of the burdensome task of trying. But defeat occurs because the right strategy isn't found, not because it is inevitable.
And finally, this is why John Edwards needs to stay in the race. He's the only candidate addressing the FISA issue:

When it comes to protecting the rule of law, words are not enough. We need action.

It’s wrong for your government to spy on you. That’s why I’m asking you to join me today in calling on Senate Democrats to filibuster revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that would give “retroactive immunity” to the giant telecom companies for their role in aiding George W. Bush’s illegal eavesdropping on American citizens.

John Edwards '08 Blog

Who knows if we'll be successful in trying to preserve the Constitutional protections. There are too many wussy Democrats in Congress to count on them to do the right thing. Yet, hope is sometimes all there is. And sometimes it works, as Greenwald notes:

Even just a two-week or one-month extension will allow more time to marshall the opposition to telecom immunity and a new FISA bill and to do what's possible to encourage the House to stand firm behind their bill -- in exactly the way that the Dodd Delay in December prevented quick and easy resolution. The longer this drags on without resolution, the more possible it is to push the opposition to a tipping point, and sometimes unexpected developments or even some luck (such as McConnell's overplaying his hand on Thursday) can prevent it all from happening.

As the events of the last two months demonstrate, if citizen opposition is channeled the right way, it can make a genuine difference in affecting the course of events in Washington. Defeating telecom immunity will keep alive the lawsuits that will almost certainly reveal to some extent what the Government did in illegally spying on Americans over the last six years or, at the very least, produce a judicial adjudication as to its illegality. And, in turn, the effects from that could be extremely significant. Because victories are so rare, it's easy to get lulled into believing that none of these campaigns are ever effective and that citizens can never affect any of it, which is precisely why it's so important to remind ourselves periodically of how untrue that proposition is.

UPDATE (and post edited): Apparently, Senator's Clinton & Obama now plan to attend today's Senate session to vote no on cloture. I guess a little dust-up every once in a while is needed to clear the air and see what's happening. See TPM, Today's Must Read, for more details on the status of the legislation.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cost of War: Priceless

This video, from the American Friends Service Committee, describes the Cost of War:

The estimated cost of the first four years of the Iraq War is $1 trillion.

For what we have spent for just ONE DAY of the Iraq War, we could have funded:

  • 95,364 Head Start Places for Children or
  • 12,478 Elementary School Teachers or
  • 163,525 People with Health Care or
  • 34,904 Four Year College Scholarships or
  • 6,482 Families with Homes
As AFSC asks: The Iraq war costs $720 million per day. How would you spend it?

Of course, beyond the financial aspect, the cost is incalculable. The lost lives and untold injuries. Over 3,900 American deaths and 28,900 wounded. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion and 4 million have fled their homes.

All for a lie.

The cost? Priceless.

As the AFSC puts it: Not one more death, not one more dollar.

Sign the DEFUND/REFUND Petition and spread the word.

(Via Fact-esque)

Cartoon of the Day

Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal Constitution

Born in the U.S.A.

Perhaps I might feel differently if the person involved was Joey Vento, the anti-immigrant Italian American owner of Geno's Steaks in South Philly. Otherwise, this story is yet another horrendous example of the loss of our constitutional rights during the Bush reign of terror. The Washington Bureau of the McClatchy papers reports about the near deportation of an American citizen, in Immigration officials detaining, deporting American citizens:

Thomas Warziniack was born in Minnesota and grew up in Georgia, but immigration authorities pronounced him an illegal immigrant from Russia.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has held Warziniack for weeks in an Arizona detention facility with the aim of deporting him to a country he's never seen. His jailers shrugged off Warziniack's claims that he was an American citizen, even though they could have retrieved his Minnesota birth certificate in minutes and even though a Colorado court had concluded that he was a U.S. citizen a year before it shipped him to Arizona.

* * * *

The story of how immigration officials decided that a small-town drifter with a Southern accent was an illegal Russian immigrant illustrates how the federal government mistakenly detains and sometimes deports American citizens.

U.S. citizens who are mistakenly jailed by immigration authorities can get caught up in a nightmarish bureaucratic tangle in which they're simply not believed.

An unpublished study by the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York nonprofit organization, in 2006 identified 125 people in immigration detention centers across the nation who immigration lawyers believed had valid U.S. citizenship claims.

* * * *

Unlike suspects charged in criminal courts, detainees accused of immigration violations don't have a right to an attorney, and three-quarters of them represent themselves. Less affluent or resourceful U.S. citizens who are detained must try to maneuver on their own through a complicated system.

"It becomes your word against the government's, even when you know and insist that you're a U.S. citizen," Siulc said. "Your word doesn't always count, and the government doesn't always investigate fully."

* * * *

While immigration advocates agree that the agents generally release detainees before deportation in clear-cut cases, they said that ICE sometimes ignores valid assertions of citizenship in the rush to ship out more illegal immigrants.

Proving citizenship is especially difficult for the poor, mentally ill, disabled or anyone who has trouble getting a copy of his or her birth certificate while behind bars.

Pedro Guzman, a mentally disabled U.S. citizen who was born in Los Angeles, was serving a 120-day sentence for trespassing last year when he was shipped off to Mexico. Guzman was found three months later trying to return home. Although federal government attorneys have acknowledged that Guzman was a citizen, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said Thursday that her agency still questions the validity of his birth certificate.

* * * *

The attorneys said the chances of mistakes are growing as immigration agents step up sweeps in the country and state and local prisons with less experience in immigration matters screen more criminals on behalf of ICE.

I recall an old expression from many years ago that a Republican is a liberal who has been mugged. I wonder if a liberal (or progressive) is a conservative who's gotten caught up in the nightmare realm of experiencing a loss of the basic civil rights that we've come to expect as part of being an American?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Don't Look Down

I chuckled when I read the story of the couple who have given new meaning to the phrase "express yourself."

Quoting Mark Twain, who once said: "When angry, count to four, when very angry swear," the reports, in Fed up with jet noise, couple raise the roof:

ARMED with white roof sealant and three choice words, a Ridley Township couple has bypassed bureaucracy and taken their grievances straight to the top - of their roof - in letters 7 feet tall:

"F_ck U F.A.A."

* * * *

Since the FAA's new departure headings out of Philadelphia International Airport went into effect last month as part of a massive restructuring of the airspace over the congested corridor from New York through Philadelphia, Hall said the noise level at his home on Fairmount Avenue near Ladomus Circle has been unbearable.

"I'm p----- off," he said. "I have to sleep with earplugs at night in my own house."

Hall, who has owned his home for 10 years, and his live-in girlfriend, Michaelene Buddy, brainstormed ways to get their complaints heard.

They finally resorted to the one true expression of anger and frustration - profanity.

Two weeks ago, on the black flat-topped roof of their one-story ranch home, it took the pair about an hour and about a gallon of the roof sealant to paint the incendiary three-word sentence, along with "No Fly Zone" and a symbol for "no planes."

"I wanted to have little things that were shooting the plane down, but my girlfriend thought I would get arrested, so I settled for the picture that's up there," Hall said.

The airspace re-routing at the Philly Airport is (obviously) contentious. Although you can disagree about the issue itself, I just have to admire the manner in which Hall has reacted to the situation. Of course, not everyone sees the value in a passionate expression. As the article notes:

Hall's mother, Anne, who lives two houses down from her son, wasn't as concerned with the picture of the plane as she was with her son's use of one of the most controversial and universal words in the English language.

"It is freedom of speech; I guess you can say what you want to say," she said.

But Anne E. Howanski, Ridley Township manager, isn't so sure Hall has the right to invoke that particular word on his own house, even if it isn't visible from the street.

"I will have to check our ordinance on this," she said. "It appears to be an obscenity and we will be in touch."

While I tend to fall in the feisty category, Howanski needs to get a grip already. Perhaps she should read the case of the potty mouth toilet, Flush That, in which a magistrate in Scranton ruled that cursing (even at a toilet) is protected by the 1st Amendment.

I admit that I appreciate the self help methods used by the Halls of the world to vent their frustration. I've written about others who have used similiar means before, such as my post, A New Way to Say You Suck, about the man who had a problem with a Cherry Hill dealership and put a sign on his truck, or the Utah couple who painted a hand giving the finger to their neighbors who built a house that blocked their mountain view, Let Your Fingers do the Walking.

I've been tempted to do the same to the developer who bought the house behind us last summer. Not only did he tear down an old stone house to built two big homes on the lot, he also cut down over a dozen trees on the lot, many of which were 100 plus year old. He also cut the branches on the trees on my property that grew across the property line. The loss of foliage in my back yard can be seen in the pictures on the left (before) and right (after). One day this past summer, I came home to find this gaping hole in the back. As you can guess, I was (and still am) not happy. And I have been plotting my revenge ever since.

I live in Mount Airy section of Philly, and my home is not far from Fairmont Park. It is definitely a tree hugging community. Like me, the people that would want to move to our neighborhood would not appreciate this destruction of the forestry. When the homes are completed and put up for sale, I've had visions of erecting a huge, ugly fence along the property line and painting the back side of my fence with the words:


(Via The Daily Examiner, who also supplied picture)

Cartoon of the Day

Tom Toles, NYTimes

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Blog for Choice

Blog for Choice Day

Today is Blog for Choice Day 2008, and it is also the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I can attest to the importance of the day because I was nearing the end of my teen years when the decision was handed down by the Supreme Court, permitting women the right to decide the future course of their lives. Truly, for many young women who found themselves pregnant, that is precisely what the decision entailed. In reality, it was more than a choice, it was a decision that could determine the course of a future life path.

Growing up Catholic in a small town, I experienced the 70's version of an "abstinence only" education. For my friends and me, that meant that our sex education consisted of never having the word sex uttered. See I've Got Rhythm. I can recall the whispered conversations with my girlfriends about what "the act" really consisted of, not having a clue. Thinking back on those days, its almost humorous to recall some of our speculations, which were certainly well outside the realm of human possibility -- but we didn't know better.

Unfortunately, nor did we know how one got pregnant, which is precisely what got so many "in trouble" (literally). Once that occurred, and it all too often did, the choice was a "shotgun" marriage or an extended trip to places like Philly, to spend time in exile before delivery and placing the child for adoption. Last year, I went back home to attend my high school reunion and saw the results of the divergence in our lives from that lack of choice.

As the saying goes, we have come a long way, baby, from those days. So far, that it is easy to ignore what Choice means or how important it is to protect that right. Moreover, as with many of the other rights that we thought we inalienable (such as, free speech, habeas corpus, warrantless searches) which have been trampled (if not eviscerated) by the current Administration, it is clear that the right to make such personal decisions free from governmental intrusion can all too easily be lost as well.

The importance of this issue resonates for me because:

I live in a state (Pennsylvania) that has earned an "F" for its laws on Reproductive Rights.

78 percent
of Pennsylvania counties have no abortion provider. Although the Governor, Ed Rendell, is pro-Choice, both the state Senate and House are anti-Choice. See NARAL: Pennsylvania.

That is why it is especially important for me that a Democrat is elected. Luckily, the top Presidential candidates, Clinton, Edwards & Obama, are pro-Choice.

It is no secret to anyone that has ever read this blog that I believe George W. Bush is the Worst. President.Ever. He has failed miserably as President, as he has everything else that he has ever done in his life. That will be his legacy. Yet, as I observed to a friend the other day, the one area in which he has "succeeded" is to change the make-up of the federal judiciary. The effects of the conservatives appointed to the bench during his reign will reverberate for many years to come, long after we have seen the last of Bush. The right to choose is among those most precarious of legal issues. We need to be vigilant in protecting it.

For my post last year on Blog for Choice Day, see The Reason Why. For other voices expressing why they are pro-choice, see Blogs for Choice.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cartoon of the Day

Ed Stein, Rocky Mountain News

Are You Ready?

With Obama and Clinton fighting for the lead in the Democratic contest, Mark Morford, the columnist from the San Francisco Gate, ponders the question whether the country is ready for the first black or woman president. In The woman vs. the black guy, "Who's more terrifying to red states, smart Hillary or savvy Barack? The nation trembles," Morford inquires:

It's the question everyone seems to want to address, the imponderable and frightening and slightly insane sociopolitical phenomenon that's happening right now to such a degree that even the left is falling all over itself trying to digest and parse and comprehend it all at once, and simply can't.

It is this: Just how the hell did it come to pass and which planets finally aligned and what sort of Kool-Aid has been gulped by the universe that the two white-hot Dem frontrunners, the two brightest lights on the political spectrum for the 2008 presidential election also just so happen to be members of the two most controversial/least represented groups in modern uber-white ultra-patriarchal American snake-oil politics — which is to say, a smart, savvy woman and a smart, savvy black male?

It's a stunning thing to watch. Right now, the various spurts of venom aimed at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama from conservative pundits and politicos are, at best, scattershot and convulsive . . . .

As he notes, we're clearly not beyond the racist and sexist attacks (Chris Matthews, are you listening?) -- from within the Democratic party itself, as well as from the Republicans, as was on display over the charges and counter-charges between the Obama and Clinton camps in the past few weeks. See Break Those Chains. Yet, except for the fringe eruptions, have we moved beyond these issues as a country?

This is a subject my husband and I have discussed on several occasions. Optimistic me, I look at the fact that both have surpassed the Southern, liberal white guy, John Edwards, as a sign of our progress. My husband scoffs at me, agreeing with Morford's view:

But I'm most amazed/amused at the one big question that keeps hovering over the media and infiltrating the political blogs — does all this excitement over Hillary and Barack mean the nation is finally ready for a female president? A black president? Have we, at long last, come so far that a guy like John Edwards, an excellent, likable, all-around candidate and a classic populist southern Democrat, actually finishes third?

The answer, I'm afraid, is no, we are not ready. Not by a long shot.

This is the big, astounding myth. See, "ready" would imply we've more or less eliminated the sexism and at least come to terms with the racism, and therefore neither is much of a factor in the slightest. It's a bit like asking if America is finally ready to rid itself of its toxic love of guns and strips malls and numb Christian groupthink. In other words, if you have to ask, we ain't.

However, we do seem to be at this weird flash point, a privileged moment in political history where the anti-Bush recoil has become so potent and the right-wing collapse is so profound and the women/youth vote (at least at the moment) seems so invigorated that it all might coalesce just right and catapult a woman or a black male into the presidency, despite the hardcore misogyny and racism built like a cancer into the framework of this nation. Hey, stranger things have happened.

Look at it this way: Much in the same way Bush whored Sept. 11 to drag the nation to its lowest emotional, fiscal and political point in 100 years, so could the new wave of enraged, inspired voters leverage the Bush nightmare itself to bounce us as far as possible in the other direction. Hell, it could be even weirder than that: Hillary or Obama wins the nomination, chooses the other as running mate. Talk about your perfect liberal storm.

Are we ready for it? Doesn't matter. Quit asking what amounts to a dispiriting, futile question, and let's go find out.

It would be ironic, to say the least, if the one good thing to come out of the failed Bush presidency would be that the Democratic nominee, whether Obama or Clinton, would prevail in the general election, despite the race or sex of the candidate. That the backlash against his disastrous reign would serve as the impetus needed to get us past this barrier.

Of course, once elected, the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party will certainly not go gently into that good night. The level of scrutiny and vicious attacks on every political move would most likely be unrelenting. Despite the fact that both are moderate and would certainly try to govern from the middle as a way to lessen the partisan divide that has prevailed these last 7 years, they may end up creating an even bigger fissure -- not because of their policies, but merely because they are what they are. The only difference is that the attacks directed towards Hillary Clinton would be hateful and sexist, but would not go beyond that. The concern with Barack Obama is that the racist extremists may go further, and feel compelled to launch a physical attack. He'd have to move into that bubble that the Bushies have created, not to maintain secrecy, but security.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cartoon of the Day

Jeff Danziger, NYTimes

Bubble Wrap

The New York Times reports on the interesting turn of events arising out of a lawsuit brought by an individual who had been arrested after expressing anti-war sentiments to Dick Cheney during an event in Denver. As noted in Secret Service: Detailed Look at ’06 Turmoil:

The arrest of a man named Steven Howards in June 2006 after he approached Vice President Dick Cheney at a Colorado ski resort and denounced the war in Iraq might have seemed, at the time, no more than a blip on the vice president’s schedule.

But now the blip has become a blowup, with Secret Service agents — under oath in court depositions — accusing one another of unethical and perhaps even illegal conduct in the handling of Mr. Howards’s arrest and the official accounting of it.

The revelations arise from a lawsuit Mr. Howards filed against five Secret Service agents, accusing them of civil rights and free-speech violations.
Steve Benen of the Carpetbagger Report succinctly sums up the controversy in When the Secret Service breaks the law to protect The Bubble:
Over the course of two terms, the Bush White House’s efforts to maintain an impenetrable ideological “Bubble” have become the stuff of legend. It’s always amazed me the extent to which the Bush gang will shield itself from anyone, or anything, that even resembles dissent. We’re dealing with a group that believes it has a monopoly on truth, so it will frequently go to extraordinary lengths to obstruct those who disagree.

In the case of Steven Howards, the story is not just absurd, it’s possibly illegal.

The incident sounds pretty harmless. In June 2006, Howards, a 55-year-old environmental consultant, was taking his 8-year-old son to a piano lesson last June when he saw Dick Cheney. Howards approached the Vice President, got within two feet of him and calmly said, “I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible.” Howards then reportedly patted Cheney on the shoulder as he walked away.

Howards walked back through the area 10 minutes later when a Secret Service agent handcuffed him and said he would be charged with “assaulting” the VP. Howards eventually faced misdemeanor harassment charges that could have resulted in up to a year in jail, though the charges were later dismissed at the request of the local district attorney.
I wrote about this story at the time when it occurred in October of 2006. See Reprehensible You. At the time, Howards denied having touched Cheney during the encounter. He isn't clear on that point, saying that he may have lightly touched Cheney on the arm or shoulder, Denver lawyer seeks to depose Cheney in assault case. What does seem clear, however, is that Howards' chance encounter with Cheney was in no way an assault on the Vice President, unless expressing any non-Administration sanctioned views is deemed to be an assault.

While there is some dispute over exactly what happened, the secret service agents who were with Cheney say that there was contact, but not to the degree of constituting an assault. See Coverup alleged in lawsuit involving Cheney. The controversy has resulted over whether the original reports of the "assault" submitted by the Secret Service who witnessed the event were later changed to say that no assault occurred or whether the arresting agent tried to coerce the other agents to bolster the charges to justify the arrest. In other words, it appears that there was an attempt to "trump up" the charges to cover up the unwarranted arrest.

The controversy has also earned mentioned on Keith Olbermann's ongoing "Bushed" series, as noted in the above video. For more installments, see Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

Of course, the Administration is keeping out of it, and I have no doubt that the efforts of Howards' attorney to depose Cheney will go nowhere -- if necessary, they'll put some sort of "state secrets" or executive privilege argument to preclude his testimony. Now that there's been a spate of bad press related to this incident, I'm sure a settlement will be the next step. Unfortunately, this insulation only adds to the lack of accountability or responsibility for their actions. So, lesson learned? None.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cartoon of the Day

Tony Auth, NYTimes

Break Those Chains

So, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr (and my father's) Birthday today, I thought I would riff on the dumbest race related issue facing this country (and Lord knows, there are plenty of legitimate issues to keep us occupied for a long time).

In a Democratic contest for President that has fielded a woman, a black and a southern white man (running in third place) as viable candidates, we should be celebrating the progress we have made in honor of MLK's Day.

Instead, Bill Clinton went from being the first "black president" to being a bigot and Barack Obama went from being questioned whether he is "black enough" to being the oracle for race relations in politics? Oh, please -- enough already. Can the Democrats stop acting like abused spouses? As Shaun Mullen so aptly put it, in Dems Shoot Themselves In the Foot on Race: "Race may be the ultimate red herring as well as the most potentially destructive element of the Democratic presidential race."

I'm not a conspiracy theorist (at least most of the time), but I really wonder if somehow Karl Rove isn't behind this latest version of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth of the 2008 campaign.

After all, Rove coincidentally happened to opine on the subject in a Wall Street Journal piece, Why Hillary Won. In discussing why Hillary Clinton managed to win in New Hampshire, Rove unbelievably complimented Clinton's responses during the debate before the primary, as well as regarding her "emotional" appeal that was credited with helping her prevail in New Hampshire. This time, Rove's venom was directed at Obama and his responses to those situations:

His trash talking was an unattractive carryover from his days playing pickup basketball at Harvard, and capped a mediocre night.

* * * *
There's more -- and more powerful -- material available. Mr. Obama has failed to rise to leadership on a single major issue in the Senate. In the Illinois legislature, he had a habit of ducking major issues, voting "present" on bills important to many Democratic interest groups, like abortion-rights and gun-control advocates. He is often lazy, given to misstatements and exaggerations and, when he doesn't know the answer, too ready to try to bluff his way through.

For someone who talks about a new, positive style of politics and pledges to be true to his word, Mr. Obama too often practices the old style of politics, saying one thing and doing another. He won't escape criticism on all this easily. But the messenger and the message need to be better before the Clintons can get all this across. Hitting Mr. Obama on his elementary school essays won't cut it.

The fourth and biggest reason why Mrs. Clinton won two nights ago is that, while Mr. Obama can draw on the deep doubts of many Democrats about Mrs. Clinton, he can't close out the argument. Mr. Obama is an inspiring figure playing a historical role, but that's not enough to push aside the former First Lady and senator from New York. She's an historic figure, too. When it comes to making the case against Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama comes across as a vitamin-starved Adlai Stevenson. His rhetoric, while eloquent and moving at times, has been too often light as air. (Emphasis added).

Talk about racist. Inexplicably, those comments -- the "trash talking" sports references in referring to a black male, as well as the Imus type "lazy" appellation, were not given much notice in the media at all. And then, shortly after this hit job, the race war began. In fact, I recall reading one story about the racial accusations flying back and forth between Obama and Hillary that actually accused Clinton of making the "he's lazy" remark. Somehow, some way, Rove had something to do with it. It's his style. After all, who benefits if the Democrats battle it out this way?

~ ~ ~ ~

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cartoon of the Day

Bruce Plante, Tulsa World

Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief

As a health care attorney by day, I can relate to the recent NYTimes article on the decline in self-esteem for those who toll in the professions of law and medicine. In The Falling-Down Professions, the article discusses the diminishing prestige in those once lofty professions, stating:

Make no mistake, law and medicine — the most elite of the traditional professions — have always been demanding. But they were also unquestionably prestigious. Sure, bankers made big money and professors held impressive degrees.

But in the days when a successful career was built on a number of tacitly recognized pillars — outsize pay, long-term security, impressive schooling and authority over grave matters — doctors and lawyers were perched atop them all.

Now, those pillars have started to wobble.

“The older professions are great, they’re wonderful,” said Richard Florida, the author of “The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life” (Basic Books, 2003). “But they’ve lost their allure, their status. And it isn’t about money.”

OR at least, it is not all about money. The pay is still good (sometimes very good), and the in-laws aren’t exactly complaining. Still, something is missing, say many doctors, lawyers and career experts: the old sense of purpose, of respect, of living at the center of American society and embodying its definition of “success.”

See also, The Prestige Factor: Have Lawyers Lost Their Status?.

Certainly, the long hours and the boring, tedious work have long been the bane of our existence -- for both doctors and lawyers, but the Times points to a new phenomenon -- the loss of prestige in both professions, which until now has at least made the effort worthwhile for most.

I know countless colleagues who are miserable in their current job situations, yet feel an overwhelming helplessness to find a reasonable alternative career path. In fact, a recent Wall Street Journal article said that at many as 19% of lawyers suffer depression (vs. 6.7 of the general population), Even Lawyers Get the Blues. See also, now that's depressing. Those statistics do not surprise me at all. If anything, I'd say they were low. I think in part it's because many people who go into law (and medicine) are those who are highly intelligent, competitive and motivated and the jobs just can't measure up to the expectations. There's just too much drudgery inherent in these careers to sufficiently stimulate and satisfy the people who are attracted to these fields.

In essence, it's rare to be able to find the happy balance. Luckily for me, I'm one of the few who have. I certainly concur with the sentiment expressed at Legal Blog Watch, More on Unhappy Lawyers:
Solo champion Susan Cartier Liebel agrees that large firm practice no longer is desirable, and she blames the firms for their plight. Cartier Liebel also says that solo lawyers don't have the same angst as large firm lawyers, because solos decide about their 'work life, income and definition of success.'
It's been a (very) long time since I was a trial attorney and practiced in a big firm, and I understand that the hours and stress in big firms today are substantially worse than I experienced way back when. Of course, the current pay at the big firms is obscene as well, which necessarily contributes to the pressure to bill, bill, bill (and work, work, work). But I can't deny that I make a pretty good living where I am and I honestly enjoy my career. In fact, on occasion, I've been recruited by bigger firms, but I couldn't dream of doing that again -- ever. In other words, I don't regret my choice at all. I'm (mostly) my own boss and my clients (who are in various positions within the health care field), are hardworking professionals who are just trying to do the best that they could (and to make a decent living while they are at it).

However, I'm so far removed from the realm aspired to by many of the big firm lawyers that, to some extent, the loss of professional satisfaction experienced by these professionals doesn't apply to me. Yet, having been there (and done that), I understand the angst:

In a culture that prizes risk and outsize reward — where professional heroes are college dropouts with billion-dollar Web sites — some doctors and lawyers feel they have slipped a notch in social status, drifting toward the safe-and-staid realm of dentists and accountants. It’s not just because the professions have changed, but also because the standards of what makes a prestigious career have changed.

This decline, Mr. Florida argued, is rooted in a broader shift in definitions of success, essentially, a realignment of the pillars. Especially among young people, professional status is now inextricably linked to ideas of flexibility and creativity, concepts alien to seemingly everyone but art students even a generation ago.

* * * *

And then there is, yes, the money issue. Or rather, money envy. Associates at major New York firms often start at $150,000 to $180,000, said Bill Coleman, the chief compensation officer at, a company that tracks income statistics. Partners at the country’s biggest 100 firms took home an average of $1.2 million in 2006, according to American Lawyer.

Hardly small sums, but for many senior investment bankers, bonuses and salaries this year will average $2.25 million to $2.75 million, according to Options Group, an executive search and consulting firm.

Doctors rarely approach such heights. While income varies widely, a typical physician might earn $150,00 to $300,000, according to data. A surgeon might make $250,000 to $400,000; hot-shot surgeons can earn $750,000 a year, and superstars over a million dollars.

But absolute numbers are not the only issue, Mr. Coleman said.

The professions still largely award income in the traditional sense — a set, orderly progression, over the course of decades. Careers in more entrepreneurial industries like hedge funds and private equity firms follow the sky-is-the-limit model of the entertainment industry, the Web or professional sports.

Ah yes, there's the rub -- in the end, for many, it's all there is -- the $$$. Lawyers don't mind being the butt of lawyer jokes, so long as they are at the top of the financial heap. It when the tables are rearranged, and the money is too, that makes it harder to accept the loss in status. See Rich lawyer, poor lawyer.

What's the answer? Others, like me, have opined on their experiences. I think the advice of Legal Blog Watch is on point, which says:

Other law bloggers used the New York Times article to reflect upon their own personal choices. Victoria Pychon of the Negotiation Law Blog reflects on her career history, and urges readers to "take the long view" and follow their dreams. And Kevin O'Keefe at LexBlog also advises lawyers to

Find something you love doing. Do work you'll find personally and professionally rewarding. May hurt in the pocketbook in the short term, but it's worth it.

As for me, I've always believed that neither law (nor medicine for that matter) ever guaranteed wild financial success. Exposing and reinforcing this fact may be redundant, but it deters those people interested only in money from entering the legal profession at all. And perhaps that, more than anything will improve the morale of the profession and raise its stature.

It's Getting Warm Out There

Anyone who knows me would understand that global warming presents a real conundrum for me. Certainly, from an environmental perspective, I believe that climate change is real and that we need to take serious steps to mitigate its deleterious effects.

As was noted in Last Year Among Hottest On Record, Say Scientists:

Data collected from around the globe indicate that 2007 ranks as the second-warmest year on record, according to a new analysis from climatologists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

A second team of scientists, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has come up with slightly different results using the same raw data -- suggesting that last year was the fifth-warmest on record -- but the groups reached the same conclusion on where Earth's climate has been headed for the past quarter-century. Taking into account the new data, they said, seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001.

Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at Goddard, said researchers are not as focused on "any individual year but the long-term trends."

"We've got a sustained warming of the planet, which is unequivocal, and the best we can work out is that it's because we've been increasing the greenhouse gas emissions, primarily," Schmidt said in a telephone interview yesterday. "That means it's going to continue. The long-term trends are up, and they're up in the same way our models have been predicting for the last 20 years."

On the other hand, I am always cold, so the fact that it's getting warm out there isn't a bad thing on a personal level, as far as I'm concerned. However, this piece in the Washington Post gave me much pause. As the article notes:

According to the NASA analysis, the global average land-ocean temperature last year was 58.2 degrees Fahrenheit, slightly more than 1 degree above the average temperature between 1951 and 1980, which scientists use as a baseline. While a 1-degree rise may not seem like much, it represents a major shift in a world where average temperatures over broad regions rarely vary more than a couple hundredths of a degree.

The 2007 average was the same as for 1998, which was the hottest year on record until 2005 hit a global average of 58.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

* * * *

Pomerance said he is particularly alarmed by NASA's findings on temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere and the Arctic, which have warmed faster than other parts of the globe. Schmidt and his colleagues concluded that 2007 is the warmest year on record for the Northern Hemisphere, with a 1.9-degree-Fahrenheit rise over the 1951-80 average, a difference he called "quite significant."

So, although this is yet one more reason that I can't wait until the Republicans are out of office, so we can go back to believing in science and acting like intelligent human being again, I can emphasize with P.J. O'Rourke, who was interviewed on Real Time from New Hampshire and observed:
We’re – we’re grumpy, and it’s grumpy times, and America is grumpy. And we’re grumpier than most, because our weather is shit, you know. And, I mean, we’re – we’re in favor of global warming up here. You know, Al Gore just got no traction at all. You know, it’s like – and now he gets the Nobel Peace Prize! For what? You know, he forged a peace in the war with the penguins? What was that?
See Transcript from Realtime ~ Jan 11, 2008.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Another Scratch & Dent

Globe Magazine reports, First Lady Laura's Bloody Fight With Boozing Bush:

GEORGE BUSH and wife Laura are headed for divorce - again - after she left claw marks on his face during a furious fight over his boozing, White House sources reveal. The president was left with a bloody three-inch gash along with a smaller cut. Our world exclusive reveals the shocking details of their explosive showdown - and what their future holds.
Here we go again. Every so often, there are these rumors about Bush boozing. See e.g., Cheers!.

I don't believe it for a minute. The scratch is no doubt due to another run-in with a pretzel. Remember, it's happened before. See Bush on fainting episode: 'Chew your food'.

(Via Eschaton)

The Collection

With all of the antics in the DeNaples case, there's probably enough material for a blog devoted just to that. For my recent posts on the continuing saga, see It's Father Sica, not Sicko and The Holy Gun. The latest news in the live and times of Louis DeNaples is the hiring of former Scranton U.S. Attorney Thomas Marino as in-house counsel for the DeNaples empire.

When Marino resigned his position as US Attorney in October of last year, I wondered what was on the horizon. As I mentioned then, What are the Odds on this?: Marino raised some eyebrows when it was disclosed that he was a reference for DeNaples when he applied for his slots license. No word on his future plans -- other than to spend more time with his family, of course. See also, The Electric Connection. Now we know.

The Allentown Morning Call reports, Ex-U.S. attorney takes job with DeNaples:

Thomas Marino, the former U.S. attorney for Scranton/Harrisburg who was listed as a reference on Louis DeNaples' gaming application at a time when Marino's office was investigating DeNaples as part of a federal probe, has landed a new job - with DeNaples.

Marino, who resigned as U.S. Attorney in October, is now in-house counsel for several DeNaples businesses, including his Keystone Landfill.

* * * *
Marino, a former Lycoming County district attorney, was appointed U.S. Attorney in 2002. The Morning Call reported in August that Marino withdrew from a federal investigation into organized crime in part because DeNaples, who is a focus of the probe, listed Marino as a reference on his gaming application.
Because of conflict of interest rules limiting his role in litigation related to his former office, Marino -- who at one point was on Alberto Gonzales' infamous US Attorney purge list -- won't be involved in the Grand Jury proceedings. As reported in the Patriot News, DeNaples hires ex-U.S. attorney:

Federal rules preclude the former U.S. attorney from getting involved in such court cases for at least a year or two, Marino said.

"I can't get involved in the grand jury, anything that may get into or spin off from that," Marino said. As far as the grand jury investigation into his boss and friend and why he took the job, he said: "After 18 years as a prosecutor, I'm not going to work for a guy who is breaking the law."

Fran Chardo, Dauphin County's first assistant district attorney, had no comment on Marino's job or whether it will have any bearing on the grand jury inquiry.

Tim Potts of Democracy Rising PA, a watchdog group, said he was concerned about Marino's career change because of the way it looks for a former top prosecutor to join a company involved in the state's fledgling gambling industry.

"How are people supposed to have confidence in public officials when they see this?" Potts said.

Marino was a reference in DeNaples' bid to get the slot-machine license. They have known each other since the 1990s, when Marino was a district attorney in Lycoming County.

Marino himself obviously sees nothing amiss his career change. As the Scranton paper reports, Ex-fed on DeNaples payroll:
The former Lycoming County district attorney told the Patriot-News he was not bothered by the investigation into his new boss.

“After 18 years as a prosecutor, I’m not going to work for a guy who is breaking the law.”

When he announced his resignation after five years as a U.S. attorney in September, Mr. Marino confirmed press reports he had agreed to act as a reference on Mr. DeNaples’ behalf in 2006 when Mr. DeNaples was seeking state gaming regulators’ approval for a casino license. He also acknowledged the Justice Department had ordered him in January 2007 to withdraw from an investigation into Mr. DeNaples, which was then assigned to federal prosecutors outside the state.

Mr. Marino did not reveal the substance of the investigation, but said it was not related to the case against reputed mob figure William D’Elia, who is in federal custody awaiting trial on money laundering and other charges. Mr. D’Elia, of Hughestown, appeared before the Dauphin County grand jury in July.
A criminal investigation here and there is no big deal and shouldn't impact future job prospects. And Marino is in good company joining the DeNaples legal team. DeNaples apparently keeps a collection of former US Attorneys on hand. The Pocono Record notes, Former U.S. prosecutor going to work for Mt. Airy casino owner DeNaples:
Marino is the latest of several former federal prosecutors to work for DeNaples. Peter Vaira, a former U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, and J. Alan Johnson, a former U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, helped assure the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in 2006 that DeNaples had no relationships with organized crime figures.

Specifically, they rebutted a 2001 federal law enforcement affidavit filed in a separate case that drew links between DeNaples and William D’Elia, who reputedly headed a northeastern Pennsylvania crime family.

A former assistant U.S. attorney in Scranton, Sal Cognetti, acted as a character reference for DeNaples’ application to the gaming board for a slot-machine casino license. Marino did as well, while he was still in office.

DeNaples later won the license and opened the casino in October.
See also, In DeNaples' corner, a prescient piece about DeNaples' penchant for hiring former US Attorneys in the Morning Call shortly before it was revealed that Marino had been hired by DeNaples the month before.

Speaking for former U.S. Attorneys in the service of DeNaples, one of them, Sal Cognetti, is representing Father Sica. When he first arrested for perjury, it was said that the Priest threatened one of the arresting troopers. Now, Cognetti claims that they threatened Sica and prevented him from contacting counsel, Lawyer claims police threatened Rev. Sica. That seems a bit hard to believe, considering that earlier news reports observed that Sica freely spoke on his cell phone, including a call to DeNaples, during the ride from Scranton to Harrisburg, where he was charged.

A final note on the Sica situation. The stark contrast in the view of the good father is best seen in comparing the column by Christoper Kelly of the Scranton Times, This sideshow is no comedy, which in essence provides the opinion of Scrantonians to the charges -- much ado about nothing, to that of the recent Inquirer editorial, Casino Probe, which takes a more somber view of the charges. Yet, even the Inquirer concedes that Sica has an appealing personality, in an accompanying article, Questions surround 'people's priest'.

DeNaples must have a thing for priests and lawyers. I guess it's an understandable combination. Just trying to keep himself out of jail and hell.

(Note: Updated with cartoon from John Cole, The Times Tribune)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Blame Bush

I've had discussions with friends as to why John Edwards hasn't done better as a presidential candidate. Especially with his populist rhetoric, it is surprising that he isn't resonating with the electorate more, because his views are in line with the mood of the country.

I think this quote from Chris Rock at a Madison Square Garden performance explains it. It's all George Bush's fault:

'He's made it hard for a white man to run for president. People are saying, 'After Bush, I'm not sure we can take another chance on a white guy.'

Monday, January 07, 2008

Going, Going, Gone

I know it's not going to happen, but the fact that there's only a year left to Bush's reign of terror isn't sufficient reason to forgo impeachment in the appropriate circumstance. And there is no clearer case than here -- the crimes and misdemeanors committed by Bush and Cheney are legion.

The latest proponent to recommend impeachment is George McGovern. In a Washington Post piece, Why I Believe Bush Must Go, he states:

As we enter the eighth year of the Bush-Cheney administration, I have belatedly and painfully concluded that the only honorable course for me is to urge the impeachment of the president and the vice president.

* * * *

Of course, there seems to be little bipartisan support for impeachment. The political scene is marked by narrow and sometimes superficial partisanship, especially among Republicans, and a lack of courage and statesmanship on the part of too many Democratic politicians. So the chances of a bipartisan impeachment and conviction are not promising.

But what are the facts?

Bush and Cheney are clearly guilty of numerous impeachable offenses. They have repeatedly violated the Constitution. They have transgressed national and international law. They have lied to the American people time after time. Their conduct and their barbaric policies have reduced our beloved country to a historic low in the eyes of people around the world. These are truly "high crimes and misdemeanors," to use the constitutional standard.

From the beginning, the Bush-Cheney team's assumption of power was the product of questionable elections that probably should have been officially challenged -- perhaps even by a congressional investigation.

In a more fundamental sense, American democracy has been derailed throughout the Bush-Cheney regime. The dominant commitment of the administration has been a murderous, illegal, nonsensical war against Iraq. That irresponsible venture has killed almost 4,000 Americans, left many times that number mentally or physically crippled, claimed the lives of an estimated 600,000 Iraqis (according to a careful October 2006 study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and laid waste their country. The financial cost to the United States is now $250 million a day and is expected to exceed a total of $1 trillion, most of which we have borrowed from the Chinese and others as our national debt has now climbed above $9 trillion -- by far the highest in our national history.

* * * *

I have not been heavily involved in singing the praises of the Nixon administration. But the case for impeaching Bush and Cheney is far stronger than was the case against Nixon and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew after the 1972 election. The nation would be much more secure and productive under a Nixon presidency than with Bush. Indeed, has any administration in our national history been so damaging as the Bush-Cheney era?

How could a once-admired, great nation fall into such a quagmire of killing, immorality and lawlessness?

* * * *

In addition to the shocking breakdown of presidential legal and moral responsibility, there is the scandalous neglect and mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. The veteran CNN commentator Jack Cafferty condenses it to a sentence: "I have never ever seen anything as badly bungled and poorly handled as this situation in New Orleans." Any impeachment proceeding must include a careful and critical look at the collapse of presidential leadership in response to perhaps the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

Impeachment is unlikely, of course. But we must still urge Congress to act. Impeachment, quite simply, is the procedure written into the Constitution to deal with presidents who violate the Constitution and the laws of the land. It is also a way to signal to the American people and the world that some of us feel strongly enough about the present drift of our country to support the impeachment of the false prophets who have led us astray. This, I believe, is the rightful course for an American patriot.


A few weeks ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer carried another impeachment plea, from Judiciary Committee members U.S. Reps. Robert Wexler (D., Fla.), Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.) and Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), Impeach Cheney now.

I acknowledge that it would be disruptive to go through an impeachment, but I also feel that we have lost our respect for the rule of law by allowing these crimes to go unchallenged. The slippery slope analogy is important to consider as well. As I always tell clients, once an exception is made, you run the risk that it sets precedent and it may become the rule rather than the exception.

Bush and Cheney have trashed our constitution. If they are able to get away with it, isn't it easier the next time? We are slip, sliding away.

With this Ring

Someone got a ring!!


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Cartoon of the Day

* Walt Handelsman, Newsday

It's Father Sica, not Sicko

Every once in a while, there are those stories that you just can't let go (or, at least I can't).

When the tale combines elements of guns, the mob & money, intertwined with the dalliances of a "pious priest" -- from Scranton no less, what's not to like?

Based upon the number of articles in various papers in the region, I'm definitely not alone. As a follow up to the first part of the story of the gun-toting good father, The Holy Gun, there are several interesting revelations about Sica and the Grand Jury case looking into the dealings of Louis DeNaples.

First off, there are the pieces on the financial difficulties experienced by Father Sica, such as the one noted in the Allentown Morning Call, DeNaples' priest had deep debt. As a man of the cloth, Father didn't make much in salary to support his lifestyle, so he managed to accumulate a bit of debt, in excess of $200,000, which led to his eventually filing for bankruptcy in 1997. Most of the money (almost $150,000) was owed to a bank owned by his good friend, Louis DeNaples. Within a few weeks of filing, the case was dismissed and it's unclear what happened to the outstanding debt -- although I can certainly venture a guess who might have "taken care of it." See also, Rev lauded probed casino owner.

The Inquirer brings more bad news for Sica (and DeNaples) in Testimony contradicted priest, suggesting Bufalino successor William D'Elia may be cooperating with authorities:

The Dauphin County grand jury that indicted a Catholic priest in its investigation of Poconos casino mogul Louis DeNaples relied upon testimony from mob boss William "Big Billy" D'Elia, according to a criminal charge filed in the case.

* * * *

Unknown is what, if any, information D'Elia has provided to the grand jury about DeNaples, who is being investigated for allegedly misleading state gambling regulators about his possible connections to organized crime figures.

However, it doesn't bode well for Sica:

D'Elia was Bufalino's driver and later assumed the top spot in the small, but at one time influential, mob family.

Sica denied to the grand jury that he had a personal relationship with Bufalino, but letters he had written in the mobster's behalf, and photos at social events, appeared to indicate otherwise, prosecutors allege.

The presentment against Sica included this paragraph referring to D'Elia:

"The grand jury received credible evidence plainly demonstrating that Sica's testimony regarding the level of his relationship with Bufalino was intentionally false. William J. D'Elia was a close associate of Russell Bufalino. D'Elia was aware of a relationship between Sica and Bufalino. This relationship was far beyond the one described by Sica in his grand-jury testimony."

Even worse is what it may mean for DeNaples himself, who is the real target of the Grand Jury investigation. Just when his new Mount Airy casino is starting to roll in the money, some bad news may on the horizon, as the Pocono Record reports, Bad week for DeNaples, good week for Mt. Airy:
News of the casino's strong performance comes while DeNaples is under increasing pressure from a grand jury investigation into whether he lied about having organized crime ties during the slots licensing process.

* * * *

Recently released court documents show Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico in relentless pursuit of DeNaples, stating his grand jury investigation revealed substantial evidence that DeNaples lied in his testimony to the gaming commission. Marsico had also criticized the gaming commission's background investigations into slots applicants, and even expressed 'outrage' that DeNaples received a slots license from the state.
Hopefully, the good father is using his time wisely -- praying for both their souls (and necks too, while he's at it). Sounds like they may need it.

Of course, that may not be the portrait that you'd have if you only read the Scranton papers. Once again, the Scranton Times acts as apologist for DeNaples in providing the "all the news that's fit to print" on the story.

In fact, the story told by the Times piece, Latest twist raises stakes for DeNaples, makes it sound like a case for the Italian-American Anti-defamation league, noting:
With lifelong friend and confidant the Rev. Joseph F. Sica facing a felony charge of perjury, the stakes have never been higher for junk man turned billionaire Louis DeNaples.

A Dauphin County grand jury is examining whether Mr. DeNaples, owner of Mount Airy Casino Resort, lied to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board when he denied having ties to organized crime. Rumors of such ties have dogged the Dunmore businessman for decades.

In pursuing the case against Mr. DeNaples, the Dauphin County district attorney alleges the Catholic priest lied about his own relationship with the late mob boss Russell Bufalino.
In providing the background, the piece observes:
It is difficult to pinpoint when Mr. DeNaples’ name first became associated with organized crime.

He has never been charged with organized crime activity, but Italian-American businessmen, regardless of whom they associate with, traditionally have found the mafioso stereotype hard to shake. (Emphasis added)
That's right. It's that old "mafia label" that's affixed to all of us of Italian descent.

Of course, the article, with several significant omissions, neglects to tie DeNaples to Bufalino and other organized crime figures, such as D'Elia, in explaining how this poor (but unbelievably successful) businessman ended up being the generous billionaire that he is today. For example, it mentions that DeNaples pled no contest to fraud charges (after a mistrial) in the clean up from the 1972 Agnes Flood, but glosses over the jury tampering by James Osticco, a member of the Bufalino family. No connection between Osticco (and Bufalino) and DeNaples? Osticco decided to bribe the husband of a juror -- why? No one knows, but it sure couldn't have anything to do with DeNaples, right? And of course, suggesting that a businessman in the garbage and landfill industry might be mob related is just pure speculation, even if those businesses were notorious for being infiltrated by the mafia.

But what's ultimately important is this about DeNaples:
He is widely believed to be the richest man in the region. In a 2006 interview with The Times-Tribune, Mr. DeNaples said his assets total more than $1 billion.

With Mr. DeNaples’ success came widespread philanthropy, once very quiet and behind-the-scenes but now more public. In recent years, more edifices began to bear the DeNaples name at the campuses of two of his favorite beneficiaries, Scranton Preparatory School and the University of Scranton, both Jesuit institutions.

While shunning the limelight, Mr. DeNaples assumed prominent posts in the community as chairman and largest shareholder of First National Community Bank in Dunmore and chairman of the board of trustees at the University of Scranton. He also has held seats on the boards of directors of Allied Services, Community Medical Center Healthcare System and Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
So, who's going to complain about this man?

Likewise Father Sica. He's similarly sympathetic, according to the Times. In Charged priest known for skills as speaker, writer, it is noted that he's an all around fun guy:
Before hitting the front pages with his arrest on perjury charges in a grand jury probe, the Rev. Joseph F. Sica made a name for himself as a Catholic self-help author and motivational speaker who sometimes softened up a crowd with a dose of bada-bing ethnic humor.

Like the one about his father, who made a million bucks one year after arriving in America with only three words of English: stick ’em up.

Or the one about the doctor, the lawyer and the Italian bragging about their successful children. The Italian’s son made a fortune fixing things. Like basketball and football games.

* * * *

Combining the approaches of two celebrities he’s cited as personal friends — Italian-American comedian Pat Cooper and the late author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia — the Scranton priest built a career as a writer and speaker beyond his duties as a priest and hospital chaplain.
What's not to like?

(Cartoon via John Cole, The Times-Tribune)