1.23.2010

'Goodbye, yellow brick road'

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1.22.2010

Citizens United v. FEC

In a number of Constitutional, tort and media law courses, I learned that the majority opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States more times than not make perfect sense – if you bother to read them.

The classic example of this is: the Supreme Court in Murray v. Curlett never said children can’t pray in school. The Court said children can’t be FORCED to pray in school – which, of course, is their constitutional right. In another decision, the Court ruled that school regents could not write a prayer for student use, again constitutional.

In Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission, the question before the Court was “whether a politically charged film could be defined as a campaign ad under the bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act.”

This, then, is essentially a First Amendment case with the full court concurring with Mr. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion.

It is in the other opinions, with various justices concurring and dissenting, that lobbyists got a big break – at the expense of candidates, political parties and you, the voter. See The New York Times, 22 January 2010: LINK

I was interested in Michael Moore’s comments on yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling because he makes the same sort of documentary which lies at the center of this case. Yes, Mr. Moore has been known to stretch the truth and, yes, he has used his films to attempt to influence elections. Interestingly, the headline on his Web site reads,”Supreme Court throws out crucial campaign finance law, opens floodgates to unlimited corporate cash.” He makes no mention that the decision protects both the films he creates and his influence.

All the ramifications of this ruling aside, let me call your attention to the closing paragraphs of the New York Times article linked above:

“ … David Bossie, the conservative activist who brought the case to defend his campaign-season promotion of the documentary ‘Hillary: The Movie,’ said he was looking forward to rolling out his next film in time for the midterm elections.

“Titled ‘Generation Zero,’ the movie features the television host Lou Dobbs and lays much of the blame for the recent financial collapse on the Democrats.”

Nobody na├»ve here. We all know campaign ads distort, misinform and lie. We get ‘swift-boating.” But, there’s something downright disheartening when the Supreme Court gives its stamp of approval to the continuing corruption of our election process.

Brace yourself. We cannot imagine what big money will do to the November elections. Thank goodness, I disconnected my cable TV.

***

Read the Court’s opinions on SCOTUS’ Web site HERE. I found the Wikipedia entry on this decision to be concise, accurate and easier to read, go HERE.

1.20.2010

Jesus Guns?

DemWit can never resist pointing out an idiot, but it’s downright scary when that idiot is speaking for CentCom.

Perhaps you’ve heard the ABC News reports that biblical scriptures are engraved on guns used by the U.S. military in Muslim lands – so-called “Jesus Guns.”

The CentCom spokesman has made a statement that ranks right up there with George W. Bush referring to our military efforts to combat terrorists as a “crusade.” That silver spoon in Dubya’s mouth never yielded a silver tongue. I remember him standing with Vladimir Putin in a Texas school and repeatedly referring to a red-haired boy who had asked a question as “Red” – a moniker for Communists in mid-20th Century. (I digress.)

According to ABC News:

“ …. A spokesperson for CentCom, the U.S. military's overall command in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he did not understand why the issue was any different from U.S. money with religious inscriptions on it.”

Is he crazy?

1.19.2010

Fortress on the Tigris

The U.S. public, by and large, is probably unaware of the mighty fortress built in Baghdad at taxpayer expense. The new U.S. Embassy, which opened in January 2009, is the largest and most expensive in the world – comparable in size to Vatican City.

As Iraqi police training and reconstruction projects are being transferred from the DOD to the State Department, I thought we should take a closer look at the embassy, now headed by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher R. Hill.

Throughout its construction phase, the embassy was wrapped in secrecy and controversy. Work on the rising embassy complex, under contract with First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting, generated reports of unethical practices and even human trafficking in slave labor.

According to the official government Web site, total cost of construction was $592 million, a supplemental spending bill signed by former President George W. Bush. This does not include on-going operational budgets.

Located on the Tigris River inside the Green Zone, the embassy complex houses 21 buildings on a 104-acre site. Facilities include:

* Six apartment buildings for employees
* Water and waste treatment facilities
* A power station
* Two major diplomatic office buildings
* Recreational facilities including a gym, a cinema and a swimming pool
* Heavy fortification

So, we’re all set in Iraq, right?

Apparently not.

“The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad ‘is planning to double its ranks' as it takes over a host of missions for the military there, Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Ford tells Foreign Policy. ‘If Congress gives us the money we are asking for, this embassy is going to be twice the size it is now. It's not going down, it's getting bigger,’ said Ford.”

The Foreign Policy article is essential reading for those interested in the transition of the United States’ role in Iraq. (Citation below.)

Ford puts the embassy’s mission in simple terms: “ … (I)t's simply time for the United States to start taking its hand off the bicycle seat and let the Iraqis learn to fend for themselves.”

When the article states the embassy will double its size, it appears to refer to personnel rather than its actual physical plant. Yet, Ford goes on to state:

"My biggest problem here is figuring out where are these people going to live, how are we going to get the security for them, how are we going to get food for them, and how are we going to get their mail delivered."

Isn’t he saying the current facilities are inadequate?

In my opinion, the only government projects U.S. taxpayers raise hell about are those which have an actual price tag - say, healthcare reform. In areas where the true costs might never be known – homeland security, our mission in Iraq, our mission in Afghanistan – there seems to be blind acceptance. Ironically, the most protested programs stand to benefit Americans.

I am not espousing isolationism, but I do assert that the costs of solving our continuing domestic problems undergo inordinate scrutiny and opposition while those which bleed our treasury seem acceptable.

SOURCES:

“U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has plans to double in size,” Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin, January 7, 2010: LINK

“New U.S. Embassy in Iraq cloaked in mystery,” MSNBC, April 14, 2006: LINK

"Fortress America" (VIDEO), NBC Nightly News, April 17, 2006, Andrea Mitchell reports: LINK

Official Web site: U.S. Embassy – Baghdad: LINK

U.S. Ambassado to Iraq Christopher R. Hill: LINK

“Embassy of the United States in Baghdad,” Wikipedia: LINK

1.14.2010

'Memento: the GOP Sequel'

“Memento” (2000) is an absolutely fascinating movie which either won or was nominated for numerous screenplay awards. The film’s main character suffers from short-term memory loss and depends on notes and body tattoos to sort out memory and reality.

If I were casting the sequel I would line up any number of conservative pundits and politicians, putting suddenly chatty Dick Cheney in the lead role. My supporting cast would be the media which allow these memory-starved morons access to microphones.

Since the Christmas Day bombing attempt, Cheney and all his conservative cronies have been out in force, criticizing President Obama’s decision to try Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in civilian criminal court. Cheney keeps saying our commander-in-chief doesn’t know we’re at war.

Apparently they have forgotten that George W. Bush himself allowed a number of terrorist suspects to be tried in civilian courts, including “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, dubbed the “20th 9/11 hijacker.” Don’t they remember, at the time, a smirking Attorney General John Ashcroft calling press conferences to defend law enforcement and our criminal justice system?

Thanks to The Progress Report of 8 January 2010 for the following quotes about the Moussaoui trial:

ARI FLEISCHER, then White House Press Sevretary: “During his meeting with the attorney general, the president (Bush) asked a series of questions about civilian versus military trial, and asked, if this were to be decided in a civilian court, civilian criminal court, would national security be endangered, would sources or methods be compromised? The president was satisfied that the answers to those questions were ‘no.’ ”

RUDY GIULIANI: "I was in awe of our system. It does demonstrate that we can give people a fair trial. ... We are a nation of law. ... I think he's going to be a symbol of American justice."

THE WASHINGTON TIMES (1/3/2003): "The decision to try the case in federal court instead of before a military tribunal was made by President Bush, based on what Vice President Richard B. Cheney said was the strength of the case and an assessment that an open trial would not hurt national security."

DICK CHENEY: "There's a good, strong case against him,"

BILL FRIST, then Republican Senate Majority Leader: "Zacarias Moussaoui received what he would deny all of us. Today justice was served."

Mr. Cheney, if you and all your fellow Republicans don’t recall defending civilian trials for terrorist suspects, just do a Web search for your own words.

I would suggest you write them on a Post-It note and stick it to your forehead before going on the talk show circuit. But, then, you would probably forget the note was there.

1.12.2010

IN MEMORIAM

Robert Paul Hill
14 April 1956 - 11 January 2010

~~~

“In my father’s house are many mansions …”

~~~

My love and heartfelt sympathy to
the loved ones of my nephew Robert:

His son, Jason Hill and family of Pearl, Miss.; longtime companion Linda; his sisters, Jeanette Hill Bradshaw of Richland, Miss., and Dovie Hill Nelson of Brandon, Miss.; and his brother John Lafayette Hill of Meridian, Miss. Robert was preceded in death by his daughters, Brandy Hill and Mindy Hill; granddaughter, Madison Hill; grandson, Payton Hill and his parents, Mary Bell Turner Hill and Paul Harper Hill of Jackson, Miss.
~~~
Rest in peace, dear Robert

1.11.2010

Down and out in the U.S. of A.

I am a happy person with a peaceful heart. So, I don’t like to wake up on a Monday morning feeling depressed with a queasiness in the pit of my stomach.

We have had 233 years to develop this nation into the pinnacle of Western Civilization – politically, intellectually, culturally – and it just ain’t happening.

One decade into a new century and a new millennium, we wake up on a Monday morning to headlines which cry out racism. As my mother used to say, “It’s enough to make a preacher cuss.”

Racism is a part of the history of the world, and racism is very much a part of the history of this country. Most of the Founding Fathers we love to venerate were slaveholders. While they spoke loftily about and fougbt bravely for the equality of man, slavery remained an economic cornerstone of this country until the second half of the 19th Century.

Over the last month, I’ve listened to a random selection of books which, as it turned out, either address racism or reek with it and use the “N” word more times than can be endured. The authors? James Michener, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Mitchell and William Faulkner. We can no more expunge racism from our history than we can expunge it from our literary heritage. It is there.

We could hope to move beyond it, but we never will as long as it remains a partisan petard.

If it weren’t so damn hypocritical, it would almost be laughable to hear Republicans railing against Sen. Harry Reid’s “racism.” Have they “disremembered” that Sen. Joe Biden said the same things verbatim and was selected by Sen. Barack Obama as his running mate?

Has the GOP “disremembered” its own record? Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, summed up that record in dismissing Republican calls for Reid to step down as senate majority leader: “Actions speak louder than words.”

So, here we are in 2010 still grappling with a social issue which should have died away with continuing enlightenment. Albert Einstein, hardly an intellectual slug, said, “Three great forces rule the world: stupidity, fear and greed.”

Until we can overcome these forces, this country will never establish itself as a starting place for civilization in the 21st Century.

And, frankly, this new civil war Americans are fighting is neither civil nor solicitous of civility.

1.07.2010

The all-important 'Why?'

“The increased conservatism that Gallup first identified among Americans last June persisted throughout the year, so that the final year-end political ideology figures confirm Gallup’s initial reporting: conservatives (40%) outnumbered both moderates (36%) and liberals (21%) across the nation in 2009.”

Within the “moderates” category over the last decade, Republicans have become increasingly more conservative and Democrats more liberal.

The bottom line? The decrease in moderates from 2000 to 2009 shows “a heightened polarization of American politics.”

- From “Conservatives Finish 2009 as No. 1 Ideolooical Group,” Gallup, 7 January 2009: LINK

***

According to the Gallup report, the “uptick” comes from more independents calling themselves “conservative.” I am counting on DemWit readers to give me insight into the above statistics. Is this as simple as the fact the word “liberal” has been turned into a curse word by the U.S. media? Are the results as complex as a backlash against President Obama and his aggressive agenda?

This is not a small sampling: “The 2009 findings come from an aggregate of 21 separate Gallup and USA Today/Gallup surveys, including nearly 22,000 interviews.” Further, the margins of sampling error are less than 1 percentage point.

There is no mention in this report of “progressives,” the preferred persuasion of many liberals. I prefer “liberal.” But, at 21 percent, does that put me on a so-called fringe? Ridiculous!

In my opinion, the most important question was not answered in this aggregate of surveys: Why?

Help me out here, guys. To what do you attribute these figures?

1.06.2010

A distinction for naysayers

FRIGID TEMPS & LAME FOX JOKES

In 25 years living on “God’s Little Acre” here in Anderson, S.C., I don’t remember any period of sustained low temps like we are experiencing. For the fourth night in a row, temps dipped into the teens.

You Yankee readers might scoff, but here in Dixie we aren’t used to this kind of sustained cold. DemWit commenters Frodo in Georgia and Tiny in Florida’s panhandle are expecting snow.

There is a very thorough ARTICLE on CNN this morning about the sustained frigid weather across the nation. The report covers everything from record lows and wind chills to citrus crops in Florida to churches and Salvation Army shelters opening for the homeless.

All of this, of course, means it’s time for the goofballs on Fox News to start making lame jokes about global warming.

So, I thought this a good time to rerun the following from The Center for American Progress (2/14/07), which I originally noted on my archived blog, “I See My Dreams,” in February 2007:

AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION

“WEATHER is current events; it refers to the ‘state of the atmosphere at a given time and place.’ Weather is a snapshot of the climate at any one instant. Although the two are related, their relationship is indirect. ‘The chaotic nature of weather means that no conclusion about climate can ever be drawn from a single data point, hot or cold. The temperature of one place at one time ... says nothing about climate, much less climate change, much less global climate change.’ ”

“CLIMATE is the ‘composite or generally prevailing weather conditions of a region, as temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, sunshine, cloudiness and winds, throughout the year, averaged over a series of years.’ In other words, climate refers to recorded history."

So, dear reader, when Brit Hume, Glenn Beck and their Fox News colleagues start yuck-yucking it up about today’s WEATHER being a sign that there’s no concern about CLIMATE change, you will know they’re just STUPID.

Not that you weren’t already aware of that.

1.04.2010

Greed and ghosts of Mississippi

This is a story of greed. It is a story of betrayal. It is, as the article which follows notes, a classic Shakespearean tragedy.

It’s a story which involves characters you are familiar with, others you are not. It involves, in its far-reaching web, a convicted murderer, civil rights heroes, a longtime Mississippi mayor and even a former U.S. senator. And at its core a character named Dickie Scruggs, a big-time lawyer whose destructive greed has rocked the halls of justice in Mississippi.

The central figure in the story below was portrayed by Alec Baldwin in “Ghosts of Mississippi,” which co-starred Whoopi Goldberg and James Woods.

Read the story to the end as the tragic plot unfolds:

Civil Rights Hero to Begin Serving Prison Sentence

by Wayne Drash

CNN (Jan. 4) - Bobby DeLaughter, the prosecutor who secured the conviction in the infamous Medgar Evers Mississippi murder case, is himself now headed to prison.

It was DeLaughter's dogged 1994 prosecution and the subsequent conviction of Ku Klux Klan member Byron De La Beckwith that helped trigger the reopening of dozens of civil rights cold cases.

DeLaughter became an instant hero of the civil rights movement. Alec Baldwin portrayed him in the 1996 movie, "Ghosts of Mississippi," and his closing statement was once dubbed one of the greatest closing arguments in modern law.

DeLaughter, who is best known for successfully prosecuting a white supremacist in the 1963 murder of Medgar Evers, was to begin serving an 18-month prison sentence Monday for lying to the FBI during a corruption probe.

"Is it ever too late to do the right thing?" DeLaughter told the jury of eight blacks and four whites. "For the sake of justice and the hope of us as a civilized society, I sincerely hope and pray that it's not."

DeLaughter would go on to become a state judge in 2002. His years in the robe came to an end in 2009, when DeLaughter pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for lying to an FBI agent in a far-reaching corruption probe that has rocked Mississippi's judicial system.

When DeLaughter was sentenced in November, Byron De La Beckwith's son sat in the chamber wearing a Confederate flag pin on his red blazer. His father had also worn a Confederate pin during the 1994 trial.

DeLaughter is to begin serving his 18-month prison sentence today at a facility in Kentucky.

"The man has now been destroyed, politically and economically. It's that serious," said Charles Evers, the brother of Medgar Evers.

He said he is trying to raise money to help pay DeLaughter's expenses while he's in prison. "What can we do but fight for a man who fought for us?" he said. "I want DeLaughter to know I'm behind him 100 percent."

DeLaughter's attorney, Tom Durkin, refused CNN's request to speak to the prosecutor-turned-judge ahead of his incarceration.

"Bobby DeLaughter remains a civil rights hero, and nothing is going to tarnish that," Durkin said. "The penalty he's paying is enormous, and I think it's sad and unfortunate. But that's simply the way it is."

Over the past month, CNN spoke with more than a dozen lawyers in Mississippi about DeLaughter's fall from grace. They paint a picture of an ambitious man with a brilliant legal mind who ran afoul of the law - of friends betraying friends and of big-time money corrupting the system. Some take delight in his downfall; others call it a tragedy that has stained the legal community.

In the end, the lawyers said, DeLaughter trusted one man too much: his mentor, Ed Peters, who exploited their friendship and then turned on DeLaughter to avoid prison.

"This is a Shakespearean tragedy in the sense that a person falls from grace due to their own character defects - in this case, misplaced trust in a friend and, perhaps, some combination of ambition and hubris," said Matt Steffey, a law professor at Mississippi College School of Law.

The story of DeLaughter going from civil rights hero to convicted felon is complicated, involving years of contentious litigation in his courtroom.

At the heart of the case is Dickie Scruggs, a high-powered lawyer who made tens of millions of dollars in tobacco and asbestos litigation. Scruggs is the brother-in-law of former Sen. Trent Lott and is now serving seven years in prison for trying to influence Mississippi judges, including DeLaughter.

According to prosecutors, Scruggs wanted to get to DeLaughter through his mentor, Peters, to try to influence DeLaughter's ruling in a high-stakes case, potentially worth $15 million. Peters received $1 million in illicit payments as compensation for his actions, prosecutors say. Peters was granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation.

"Mississippi would like to shake its image of being tied to civil rights crimes and the good ole boy network, and we see these two things overlap here," Steffey said.

"It's enormously unfortunate for a person like Judge DeLaughter who, at the very least, accomplished heroic things with bringing Byron De La Beckwith to justice. And it's tragic for the people of Mississippi - that the end story here is that he is a corrupt judge in prison."

DeLaughter has denied taking any money in the case or that he was improperly influenced. In his guilty plea, he admits to only obstruction of justice; the more serious charges of involvement in a bribery scheme and mail fraud conspiracy were dismissed as part of the deal.

"To me, he is a tragic figure because he had a good career and he threw it away," said attorney Bill Kirksey. "He became an embarrassment to the legal community, to the judicial community and, I would hope, to himself."

Kirksey has an ax to grind with DeLaughter. He was one of the attorneys representing the client who stood to gain millions in the case at hand.

Kirksey and DeLaughter also trained under the same attorney several decades ago; Kirksey believes DeLaughter turned his back on everything they learned.

"Bobby DeLaughter betrayed every single oath he ever took. He betrayed the whole system of justice that we live by," Kirksey said.

"You measure a man by the whole of his life, not part of it. When the measure of the man is that he's dishonest in the end, then you have to wonder why he did anything in the beginning."

Merrida Coxwell was one of two lawyers who represented De La Beckwith in the 1994 trial. He has known DeLaughter for three decades, first as a defense attorney, then a prosecutor and finally as a judge.

"Quite frankly, I thought he was a very moderate, straight-down-the-line judge," he said.

He was shocked when allegations first surfaced. For a judge to be caught up in such a scandal, Coxwell said, is unfathomable. "If you can't have justice inside the justice system, then it's no good at all."

Morris Dees, the co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, represented Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers - the NAACP leader who was gunned down in his driveway on June 12, 1963.

He says only one man had the guts to seek prosecution in the case when two previous trials years before ended without convictions.

"If Bobby DeLaughter hadn't been around, it would never have happened. I can guarantee you that," Dees said. "It was the first modern-day prosecution of one of these old civil-rights-era murders, and it resulted in the prosecution and convictions of a large number later."

DeLaughter's bravery in seeking justice in the Evers case, Dees said, makes it tough to swallow his more recent failings as a judge. "Certainly, when a judge is put in prison and pleads guilty," Dees said, "it certainly tarnishes his legal and judicial reputation."

Charles Evers said he will continue fighting for the man who fought so valiantly for his brother. "We will do whatever's necessary to help him get over his dilemma, and I'll say that over and over again."

Evers blasted prosecutors for offering immunity to Ed Peters, DeLaughter's mentor who avoided jail time even though he was the one accepting illicit payments. "The man who squealed on him should be going to jail," Evers said.

"I hope that some day justice will be fair and equal. ... It's not fair and equal in this case."

***

If you have not seen “Ghosts of Mississippi,” by all means do so. Only then can you fully grasp the shocking and sad impact of this story.

1.01.2010

Murphy, I'm calling you out

Last year at this time I was cooking a big pot of black-eyed peas for good luck in the coming year, along with collards, the Southern green dish traditionally guaranteeing wealth.

Throughout the year blessings poured forth in the most unusual and unexpected ways, not the least of which was connecting with my new friend and helpmate Jenny Smith, who spends many hours each week in volunteer work with the visually impaired.

As for wealth, no one can complain about having enough money to make ends meet.

Then, around mid-December, as I was getting out my Christmas mailings, the effect of my culinary efforts wore off, and Murphy’s Law kicked in with a venegeance.

I will not bore you, dear reader, with all the gory details as the year wound down into a personal hell of “if anything can go wrong, it will.”

Bad luck does come in threes. I did not share with you the two subsequent water disasters which followed closely the apartment flooding. These events caused a friend to ask me what I had done to the god of water to get on his sh*tlist!

The happiest day of my buddy Chris’ year is getting to open all his Christmas gifts. Of the five gifts I ordered for him online, only two have arrived to date, and one of those was broken. All I can do is tell Chris, “Your gifts are on the way,” as I daily track the whereabouts of the remaining presents. One was last traced to the postal service in Las Vegas, Nevada!

These are just a couple of the year-end snafus which have plagued me, and from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day all have been topped off with a roaring toothache. (Even I know better than to call a dentist during the holidays.)

So, I won’t be cooking the good-luck peas and wealth-bestowing collards this day. Instead, I’ll probably opt for something soft like oatmeal.

If anyone know the whereabouts of Murphy, tell him I’m calling him out at sunset with dueling pistols at 20 paces.

***

A brief post follows.

Rove's resolutions

Karl Rove, who has done so well in his personal affairs, holds forth in his Wall Street Journal column with New Year’s resolutions for President Obama, Vice President Biden and others in the current administration.

Just thought I’d pass them along to inspire you, dear reader, to resolve today to fight even harder in 2010 and the decade beyond.

ROVE’S RESOLUTIONS