Justice Integrity Project
In the spirit of the recent holiday, today's column gives thanks for a recent feast of ideas.
Also, I share instruction on civic reform from two can-do pathfinders who showed on a daily basis how to make a better world. They were my first boss, Hartford Courant Managing Editor Irving Kravsow, and longtime George Mason University Professor Michael Kelley, both recently deceased.
The Justice Integrity Project necessarily reports on scandal in public life. That's our mission. But we like to report occasionally on how reform can be achieved.
First comes assessment of problems.
The Atlantic Magazine and its two major partners posted last week a video link to their Fifth Annual Washington Ideas Forum, which convened 60 opinion leaders from across the political spectrum to discuss major issues and proposed solutions. I attended the sessions Nov. 13-14 at the Newseum, one of the magazine's partners along with the Aspen Institute.
The first substantive session, for example, featured U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, shown at right in the photo as he responded to a question from Atlantic Senior Editor James Fallows.
Froman made the case for free trade agreements focused on non-Chinese Pacific Rim nations, the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP) amid persistent concerns that such agreements might hurt our nation's hard-won safety net, including environmental protection and minimum wages.
"Is it going to be a race 'to the top?'" Froman asked. "A race to the bottom [in terms of working and environmental conditions, etc.] is not a race we want, or that we think we can win."
Update: Lee Fang of the Republic Report reported Feb. 18, Obama Admin’s TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks.
Whatever one concludes, I recommend watching the Atlantic sessions to see key figures make illuminating arguments.
My publication later this week of more revelations about Washington's power structure prompt me to share background about how our Project conducts such research.
Civic reform is the goal of any such revelations, which are compiled also in my new book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama Romney and Their Masters.
President Kennedy was murdered at an ideal site for an ambush in Dallas.
On Nov. 22, 1963, the president's open-roof limousine was moving slowly on Elm Street toward a spot now marked by a "+," and shown here framed between the fence's pickets.
This eighth installment of our "JFK Murder Readers Guide" series portrays the scene from a perspective you may find novel. It is based on photos I took while attending conferences and ceremonies timed for the shooting's 50th anniversary last week.
The picket fence was at the right front as the president's limo proceeded toward the end of its ceremonial motorcade through downtown streets.
I measured 40 paces, a little more than 100 feet, from the picket fence to the spot of one of the wounds, reported as the first neck wound.
That distance is shorter than 80 meters to the sixth floor of the red-brick Texas Book Depository building at the rear of my photo at right. Another, fatal shot closer to the camera hit the president in his head.
A white "+" is faintly visible on the roadway just at the front of the light-colored car in the center lane of the photo at right.
The white marks are unofficial designations that reappear despite the ongoing efforts of the City of Dallas, most recently during the 50th anniversary commemoration, to remove markings apparently left by JFK supporters. The city also sought to ensure that no ticket-holders to the ceremony visibly supported any view but the Warren Commission's. News reports -- here for example -- hint at the censorship policy but seemed reluctant to describe it in blunt terms.
It is difficult to appreciate the city's effort to keep the pavement clean without recalling the drama of Act V of MacBeth. "Out, damned spot!" cried Lady MacBeth in Shakespeare's portrayal of official anguish over blood-letting.
The Warren Commission and its defenders insist that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in shooting the president. They say he fired three shots from a cheap, bolt-action Italian rifle during a 8.3-second period using as a vantage point the square, far-right window on the sixth floor of the book warehouse. The warehouse, or "depository," is the lighter-colored red brick building at the center of the photo at right.
Yet more than half of the witnesses at the scene reported gunfire from the car's front or side at Dealey Plaza. Witnesses reporting at least one shot from the front included Texas Gov. John Connally. He was a World War II combat veteran used to gunfire, and was wounded in the Dallas shooting while riding with the president.
He and others reported gunfire from the slope (the "Grassy Knoll") at the left of my photo at right.
I shot the photos from a railroad overpass, another possible sniper site in front of the limo's route.
In the photo at right, the picket fence is just to the left of the trees and thus outside the view.
The past week's news coverage of President Kennedy's 1963 assassination provides a stark view of self-censorship by the nation's news media.
The vast majority of the nation's largest and most prestigious media stuck to the Warren Commission's 1964 "lone assassin" theory blaming Lee Harvey Oswald. This is according to my extensive but unscientific review for this seventh installment of the Justice Integrity Project's "JFK Assassination Readers Guide."
Thus, Dan Rather and his former CBS colleague Marvin Kalb agreed that Oswald was the sole killer at a forum on the topic sponsored by the National Press Club on Nov. 22.
Rather, at left in the adjoining photo by Noel St. John, anchors HDNet on cable after more than three decades at CBS News. His CBS work included his radio report from Dallas in 1963 breaking the news that Kennedy had died. Kalb, covering the State Department at the time for CBS, now teaches and offers a news discussion forum called The Kalb Report.
Such experienced commentators with first-hand experience merit respect for their views, of course. But what's notable about so many discussions by them at recent events, on television and in print is how rarely, if ever, they address the specifics of conflicting evidence.
Instead, they tend to ignore or dismiss others views as "conspiracy theory" -- a term specifically recommended to opinion leaders in the 1960s by secret U.S. government memos, labeled "Propaganda Notes." To be clear, we now know that such persuasion was being applied to a few top owners, chairmen and publishers of news organizations, not to working reporters at the Dan Rather level. But press lords and broadcasting titans have ways of implementing their views, as reflected in my first book, Spiked and other research, via a few editors who can be trusted to implement policy without providing specifics to staff.
Much like the major media players, significant numbers of left-of-center media fell in line also this past month with conventional wisdom sneering at so-called "conspiracy theories" that are endorsed by large majorities of the public, according to polls.
As nearly always, our top political leaders undertook symbolic gestures with soaring rhetoric regarding the nation's loss from JFK's death. But virtually none of them comment on the substance of the mysteries that linger from the nation's greatest murder mystery of the past century.
In the White House photo at left, the Obamas and Clintons thus participated in a ceremony Nov. 20 at President Kennedy's grave in Arlington National Ceremony. The capital's Washington Monument is visible in the background. Official photos such as this have prompted a rare protest from the White House press corps, whose jobs are endangered by taxpayer-funded "news."
Meanwhile, iconoclastic writers with few distribution channels continue to publish books and articles blaming the JFK assassination on the CIA, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and sinister forces that included other Kennedy opponents or hirelings. Suspects include Texas oil plutocrats, the Mafia, and anti-Castro extremists.
Those gaining the most sales traction with such views included authors Dr. Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone, each a longtime conservative.
Their muckraking attacks on the CIA, its patrons and allies (including allies at the top levels of the media) break with traditional support by conservatives for intelligence agencies. We are seeing a fissure between traditional conservatives of the Pat Buchanan/Pat Robertson wing and the imperialist "New World Order" of neo-cons and the Bush-Cheney families.
Strange though the claims of a conspiracy to kill JFK might seem, my research has found significant support for its themes, as amplified below in a survey of recent commentary.
On a trip to Dallas from Nov. 21 to 24, for example, I sampled four conferences or ceremonies focused on the Kennedy death. I met a number of experts who made compelling arguments that their views are ignored by media and government alike, no matter what their proof or first-hand experience. These included former government officials, physicians, scientists, authors, journalists, and friends of Oswald.
To varying degrees, they argue that the fatal shots came from the front, that evidence was faked in advance, and that Oswald was a "patsy" because he was a CIA and FBI informant under longstanding orders to do what he was told. Most important, they said the mainstream media's failure to examine the evidence represents professional cowardice and a danger to democracy.
Nov. 19 marked the formal launch of the hardcover, updated edition of my new book, Presidential Puppetry, the first in print with an overview of the Obama Administration’s second term. The book reveals many unreported or under-reported stories about major topics, as illustrated here in a serialization beginning next week.
The book kickoff coincided with a remarkable forum that included seven prominent authors, investigative reporters and archivists. They described their own major findings on such issues as the JFK assassination, election fraud, and privacy invasions caused by government spy agencies.
Those speakers who are experts on the JFK death summarized extensive evidence that the Warren Commission's key findings were wrong. Author Dan Moldea, author of the new book Confessions of a Guerrilla Writer, continued his longstanding argument that organized crime triggermen were implicated.
Dr. Jerome Corsi, author of the new Who Really Killed Kennedy and a two-time author of No. 1 best-sellers on the New York Times list, said Kennedy's killing was a coup d'etat led by the CIA. Corsi said his documentation of the CIA's role is compatible with the concept of mob hitmen, a CIA plot to frame Lee Harvey Oswald as a patsy, and a cover-up at the minimum by President Lyndon B. Johnson, JFK's successor.
James Lesar, president of the nation's largest private archive of relevant JFK books, films and documents, said the Assassination Archives Resource Center (AARC) is making major advances to help the public investigate unanswered questions about the murder. It has assembled, for example, more than a million pages on one disc, for example.
The Justice Integrity Project helped organize the wide-ranging forum, which was entitled “White House Mysteries and Media.” The title reflects the importance of the White House/Executive Branch in our government system. Also, it underscores the mainstream media's at times flawed role in covering the forum topics, which included the psychology of recent presidents, election fraud, and secret surveillance of the public.
In my talk, I introduced Presidential Puppetry: Obama Romney and Their Masters as a true-life mystery book about the nation’s leading political families. The Obama, Romney, Bush, Clinton, and the Washington Post's Graham-Meyer family are the book's central figures. I showed how important information about the families remains largely hidden, in part because many in the major news media confine their reporting to conventional wisdom and lack economic incentives to expose the deepest secrets of those in government and their powerful private sector backers.
My intention, I said, has been to dig deeper and thereby provide the public with a Rosetta Stone for current DC political standoffs and strategies. The book leads readers step-by-step through political controversies regarding major issues, including austerity, budgets, national security, privacy, and press freedom.
Alabama authorities paraded a shackled liberal pundit into court to denounce him Nov. 14 for recent news coverage about his jailing. Then defendant Roger Shuler was forced to defend his writing while bound and without a lawyer.
Shuler is a 56-year-old commentator jailed on contempt of court charges Oct. 23 arising out of a libel suit. He published columns alleging a sex scandal involving Robert Riley, Jr., a wealthy, politically powerful GOP attorney whose father served two terms as Alabama's governor.
Shuler reports on Deep South legal affairs via his Legal Schnauzer blog, whose columns are sometimes widely republished on other progressive sites.
He often breaks stories about ordinary litigants unfairly treated in the courts. Also, he writes about financial corruption involving taxpayer dollars, illicit sex among conspirators and their minions, and cover-ups that are intended to uphold the family values image regarded as especially necessary for election success in his region.
Shuler's most frequent targets are Republicans in the legal and political system. But he has repeatedly pilloried at least two of his state's major Democrats. One was former Congressman and gubernatorial nominee Artur Davis. Another was former U.S. Attorney Douglas Jones, who was co-counsel with Riley in leading a class action that won a $700 million fraud judgment.
Circuit Judge Claud (sic) Neilson, shown at left in a file photo, presided this week in the sealed case against Shuler.
The handcuffed Shuler, right, was shackled at the ankle and waist. News coverage before the hearing by the local CBS television affiliate and elsewhere angered other participants, according to the defendant’s wife, Carol Shuler.
"They gave him grief over coverage," she told me during a phone interview. "But what do they expect him to do? He's been in jail without bond. The TV station initiated the coverage."
She said she did not know whether it was the judge or plaintiff lawyers -- or all of them -- who denounced her husband because of the news coverage. Her understanding is that her husband remained tightly shackled throughout the hearing
She said her information was from brief phone calls from her husband, who remains jailed and without a lawyer, and from a friend who was able to attend the hearing. Court personnel barred others who tried to observe, she said.
That illustrates the extraordinary level of secrecy pervading the case, which the judge has ordered sealed. Shuler told his wife that he was beaten and MACED by four deputies during the October arrest in the family garage. Neilson is a retired judge who was recruited from Demopolis, a third of the way across the state, to deliver his brand of justice to the litigants.
According to her account:
Neilson threatened to have her arrested even though her husband said he was the one who had written disputed news reports and his wife had no ability to spike them.
"That's your problem," the judge reputedly told Shuler when Shuler said that he had no ability from a jail cell to remove his investigative reports even if he wanted to do so. The judge said he plans to hold Shuler in jail indefinitely and wants Carol Shuler arrested also on a contempt of court charge. Roger Shuler said his wife has never written for the site until receiving a few emergency lessons via phone in order to write short news updates about the case.
"This judge is saying I can't even write about my husband?" Carol Shuler told me in wonderment Nov. 15. "What kind of judge is this? And why did they have to go across the state to get him? They could have gotten a judge from right here."
News coverage continued this week in erratic fashion regarding the Oct. 23 arrest and continued jailing of Alabama political commentator Roger Shuler, a longtime journalist and muckraking blogger.
A few news outlets covered as an important story Shuler's ongoing jailing without bond on contempt of court charges. A few others provided brief reports. Most simply ignored the jailing of a journalist for violating court orders that themselves appear to violate decades of clear-cut constitutional law banning prior restraint of the media from reporting.
My column today summarizes developments and points to a pivotal hearing in the case Nov. 14. At 10 a.m. Central Standard Time, Shuler, fresh from his jail cell, is scheduled to defend the prevailing constitutional structure protecting the media's right to report on public figures -- and the public's right to know.
It currently appears that Shuler, 56, must take on this burden without a lawyer and without access to law books.
This follows his three weeks of jailing because he refused to spike his stories alleging misconduct by a powerful Alabama attorney, Robert Riley, son of two-time GOP governor Bob Riley. Shuler alleged that the younger and married Riley had an affair with a lobbyist, Liberty Duke, who was also married at the time. Both denied the claims and sued Shuler for defamation.
Based on the judge's temporary injunction forbidding Shuler from reporting the story, the hearing for a preliminary injunction banning Shuler's reporting seems likely to extend the injunction. Any precedent could erode, in at least a limited way, constitutional rights in other jurisdictions where powerful forces are inclined to ignore federal and state law.
That is why it is worthwhile to recognize those whose experience and commitment enable them to see the dangers in the process.
Garland Robinette, right, is host of "The Think Tank," the midday show on CBS Radio affiliate WWL AM/FM in New Orleans. He invited me Nov. 12 to discuss the case for two segments. His provocative questions encompassed the Shuler case and its predecessor, the federal prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges. Siegelman is serving a 78-month term largely for urging wealthy businessman Richard Scrushy to donate to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation in 1999, and then reappointing Scrushy to a state board.
The Shuler and Siegelman cases are oft-told tales on these pages. So I'll focus on the host's more novel questions. Robinette asked me why more professionals in law and journalism do not show greater concerned, if not outrage.
HuffPost Live! interviewer Alyona Minkkovski posed a similar question to me in her video interview of me earlier this month. I provide my answer both below, and in a longer version in major Huffington Post column expected Nov. 13.