Disturbing Developments for Democracy Wind Up Year

Roger Ailes

Revelations during recent days of dramatic political intrigue and harsh police tactics serve as reminders that the New Year must bring renewed vigilance by the public to preserve hard-won freedoms.

Scant media follow up occurred following the revelation this month that Fox News attempted in 2011 to recruit Gen. David Petraeus, left, the nation's war commander in Afghanistan, to fight President Obama for the 2012 presidency as the GOP's candidate. Even though Petraeus declined the invitation, the long, friendly discussion constitutes an astounding breach of law requiring loyalty by uniformed officers to the commander-in-chief and also the supposed independence of the media from picking sides in political contests.

Also receiving slender news coverage were reports of police state tactics in Texas and Arkansas, and planning for a private system of drone surveillance across the United States.

Most in the public are understandably preoccupied with holiday planning, the horror of the Newtown shootings, and the kabuki theater of "fiscal cliff" maneuvers on budget cuts and taxes increases.

These news reports and commentaries, however, are worth noting -- not just today, but again in the New Year.

To recap: Roger Ailes, right, founder and chairman of Fox News, tried to recruit Petraeus to become the GOP's 2012 nominee in a race against President Obama, as Washington Post editor Bob Woodward reported early this month. Woodward's story was based on a tape recording of a 90-minute discussion between Petraeus and Fox emissary Kathleen McFarland, a Fox analyst and former high-ranking GOP national security aide. The transcript is here.

Carl Bernstein, Woodward's former colleague at the Post in the Watergate investigation, published a column last week, Why the US media ignored Murdoch's brazen bid to hijack the presidency.

Jonathan Cook followed up with an even more provocative column, OpEd News, Why the Washington Post killed the story of Murdoch's bid to buy the US presidency. Cook, based in Israel, wrote,"Murdoch's goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire – notably Fox News – to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election." Cook argued that the effort represented not only a danger to democracy, but that the scant coverage illustrated media complicity by organizations in addition to Fox News. 

In other disturbing news, an Arkansas police chief boasted that he would be using SWAT teams on routine patrols to their discretion to stop and search any of the town's citizens regardless of constitutional provisions requiring probable cause. With a similar perspective, Texas police were revealed to have undertaken full cavity searches upon two female motorists whose car was halted one night near Dallas on suspicion of littering. A video went viral of the roadside search by a trooper poking into the women's orifices with astounding disregard of their rights. In the video, one of the victims is heard explaining that she merely discarded a cigarette butt out the window. The story is reported in Roadside Body Cavity Search: Angel And Ashley Dobbs Sue Texas State Troopers For Body Search.

In the final commentary in this round-up, social critic Naomi Wolf protests what she foresees as a massive invasion of traditional privacy as the government authorizes drone surveillance across the United States, including by private entities. Her column, The coming drone attack on America, reports that 30,000 drones are expected to be in use by 2020, "some as small as hummingbirds – meaning that you won't necessarily see them, tracking your meeting with your fellow-activists, with your accountant or your congressman, or filming your cruising the bars or your assignation with your lover, as its video-gathering whirs."

"Others," she continues, "will be as big as passenger planes. Business-friendly media stress their planned abundant use by corporations: police in Seattle have already deployed them. An unclassified US air force document reported by CBS (PDF) news expands on this unprecedented and unconstitutional step – one that formally brings the military into the role of controlling domestic populations on US soil, which is the bright line that separates a democracy from a military oligarchy. (The US constitution allows for the deployment of National Guard units by governors, who are answerable to the people; but this system is intended, as is posse comitatus, to prevent the military from taking action aimed at US citizens domestically.)"

Details are below regarding each of these developments. My intention is to treat them in comprehensive fashion in January upon publication of my book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters. Final editing has prevented me from being more prolific in publishing here on the Justice Integrity Project site. The book research, sadly, has provided shocking revelations that will be excerpted here beginning in next month.

We'll publish here with reduced frequency until then. In the meantime, thank you for your attention through the year, and best regards for the holiday season and New Year!


Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment


Updated Coverage from 2013

OpEd News, Chechen Terrorists and the Neocons, Coleen Rowley, April 20, 2013. I almost choked on my coffee listening to neoconservative Rudy Giuliani pompously claim on national TV that he was surprised about any Chechens being responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings because he's never seen any indication that Chechen extremists harbored animosity toward the U.S.; Guiliani thought they were only focused on Russia. Giuliani knows full well how the Chechen "terrorists" proved useful to the U.S. in keeping pressure on the Russians, much as the Afghan mujahedeen were used in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan from 1980 to 1989. In fact, many neocons signed up as Chechnya's "friends," including former CIA Director James Woolsey. For instance, see this 2004 article in the UK Guardian, entitled, "The Chechens' American friends: The Washington neocons' commitment to the war on terror evaporates in Chechnya, whose cause they have made their own."

USA Today, Russia's Chechnya, Caucasus: A breeding ground for terror, Ray Locker, April 19, 2013. Chechnya, the Russian republic believed to be connected to the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects, has been the scene of terrorism and related violence since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. Militants from Chechnya and other restive regions in Russia's volatile North Caucasus have targeted Moscow and other areas with bombings and hostage-takings for more than 20 years. The allegations of ties to Monday's Boston bombings are the first connection of terror attacks in the United States. Predominantly Muslim, Chechnya declared independence from Russia in November 1991. A full-scale separatist war broke out in 1994 and lasted through most of the 1990s. It was only after a second wave of Russian military action in the early part of the last decade that Chechnya fell under firmer Russian control. At left are the surveillance photos of Marathon bombing suspects Tamarlan, left, and Dzokhar Tsarnaev.

Washington Post, Police kill one suspect in Marathon bombing, manhunt underway for second, Clarence Williams and Debbi Wilgoren, April 19, 2013.  Authorities shot and killed one suspect in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings and were conducting a massive hunt for a second suspect in Watertown, Mass., Friday morning following a chaotic night that left one police officer dead and another critically wounded in the Boston suburbs. The suspects — introduced to the world via photos and video footage Thursday night — are brothers, law enforcement officials said Friday morning. The one who was killed in a shootout was 20 years old; the one still at large is 19. Their alleged motive in the bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 170, remains unknown.

Think Progress, What You Need To Know About Chechnya And The Boston Bombing Suspects, Hayes Brown, April 19, 2013. After an overnight chase, the media is reporting that the two suspects the FBI identified in Boston Marathon bombers are brothers from the restive Russian state of Chechnya. Here’s what you need to know about Chechnya and why that matters.

Huffington Post, Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechen President, Suggests Boston Bombing Suspects Products Of American Upbringing, Meredith Bennett-Smith, April 19, 2013. In the wake of a national manhunt for suspects in the Boston bombings, law enforcement have identified Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, brothers with ties to a Russian region near Chechnya. Now Chechnya's pro-Russian president, Ramzan Kadyrov, has spoken out about the suspects' backgrounds. In a statement on his Instagram, Kadyrov expressed sadness for the victims of the bombings but denied that the brothers have any ties to his region.

Paul Craig Roberts, Boston Marathon Bombing, Paul Craig Roberts, April 19, 2013.  While driving (April 19) I listened to a NPR program on the Boston bombing and was disheartened by the absence of hard questions and any thought. Alex Jones has made a

" target="_blank">definitive statement that I lack the information to verify or contest. The video shows numerous military type guys on the scene prior to the explosion in identical garb–black baseball hats with white insignia, black shirts or jackets, tan pants and combat boots with cell phones in their hands. All have identical backpacks. The backpack straps match those on the remains of an exploded backpack, which the media has attributed to the backpack of one of the two brothers who are alleged to have committed the bombing. What strikes me about the event is the ease with which authorities were able to lockdown entire metropolitan areas, preventing US citizens from leaving their homes in order to go to their jobs, to doctor’s appointments, to the grocery store, or to walk their dogs. This is a precedent. It sets the stage for martial law, although it is not being called that, and for daylight curfews.

New York Times, The Excel Depression, Paul Krugman, April 18, 2013. In this age of information, math errors can lead to disaster. At the beginning of 2010, two Harvard economists, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, circulated a paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt,” that purported to identify a critical “threshold,” a tipping point, for government indebtedness. Once debt exceeds 90 percent of gross domestic product, they claimed, economic growth drops off sharply. Austerity enthusiasts trumpeted that supposed 90 percent tipping point as a proven fact and a reason to slash government spending even in the face of mass unemployment. What the Reinhart-Rogoff affair shows is the extent to which austerity has been sold on false pretenses. For three years, the turn to austerity has been presented not as a choice but as a necessity. Economic research, austerity advocates insisted, showed that terrible things happen once debt exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P. But “economic research” showed no such thing; a couple of economists made that assertion, while many others disagreed. Policy makers abandoned the unemployed and turned to austerity because they wanted to, not because they had to.

Related News Coverage

OpEd News, Why the Washington Post killed the story of Murdoch's bid to buy the US presidency, Jonathan Cook, Dec. 21, 2012. Carl Bernstein, of All the President's Men fame, has a revealing commentary in the Guardian today, though revealing not entirely in a way he appears to understand. Bernstein highlights a story first disclosed earlier this month in the Washington Post by his former journalistic partner Bob Woodward that media mogul Rupert Murdoch tried to "buy the US presidency."  A taped conversation shows that in early 2011 Murdoch sent Roger Ailes, the boss of his most important US media outlet, Fox News, to Afghanistan to persuade Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of US forces, to run against Barack Obama as the Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential election. Murdoch promised to bankroll Petraeus' campaign and commit Fox News to provide the general with wall-to-wall support. Murdoch's efforts to put his own man in the White House failed because Petraeus decided he did not want to run for office. "Tell [Ailes] if I ever ran," Petraeus says in the recording, "but I won't " but if I ever ran, I'd take him up on his offer."

Guardian, Why the US media ignored Murdoch's brazen bid to hijack the presidency; Did the Washington Post and others underplay the story through fear of the News Corp chairman, or simply tin-eared judgment? Carl Bernstein, Dec. 20, 2012. The Ailes/Petraeus tape made clear to many that Murdoch's goals in America have always been nefarious. So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch's ultimate and most audacious attempt – thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance – to hijack America's democratic institutions on a scale equal to his success in kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic institutions of Great Britain through money, influence and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press. In the American instance, Murdoch's goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire – notably Fox News – to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election.

CNN, Congressional ethics investigators could soon be silenced, Scott Bronstein, Joe Johns, and Rachel Solomon, Dec. 29, 2012 (Video). The Office of Congressional Ethics was created in 2008 amid a wave of scandals. If it's not reauthorized soon, it could be shut down. It has investigated 100 instances of possible misconduct by members of Congress. Critics say some of their charges are based on "flimsy" evidence. Inside an ordinary office building six blocks from the Capitol, investigators sift through evidence of possible violations against ethics and laws committed by the nation's elected representatives.This is the Office of Congressional Ethics, also known as the OCE. It is one of the most important watchdogs in Washington. That's because the OCE is the only quasi-independent government body whose sole mandate is to formally investigate members of Congress. But it could soon be silenced by the very people it investigates. "What is outrageous about it is that you see members of Congress on both sides saying they have zero tolerance for unethical conduct," said Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who now directs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Huffington Post, A Massive Mess of Forensics, Radley Balko, Dec. 26, 2012. The FBI's crime lab was at one point reputed to be one of the most elite, well-run labs in the world. Not so much anymore. For the last year, the agency has been embroiled in a huge and growing scandal in which its crime lab technicians have been found to have vastly overstated the value and conclusiveness of forensic evidence in criminal cases. The breadth and seriousness of the problem have only come to light in the last year or so, although there have been warning signs going back to the 1990s. The number of convictions affected is in the thousands, possibly the tens of thousands.

Paragould Daily Press (Arkansas), Armed task force to patrol streets; Police chief says citizens could be subject to ID checks, Ryan Saylor, Dec. 15, 2012. In response to a recent increase in crime, Paragould Mayor Mike Gaskill and Police Chief Todd Stovall offered residents at a town hall meeting Thursday night at West View Baptist Church what could be considered an extreme solution — armed officers patrolling the streets on foot. Stovall told the group of almost 40 residents that beginning in 2013, the department would deploy a new street crimes unit to high crime areas on foot to take back the streets. "[Police are] going to be in SWAT gear and have AR-15s around their neck," Stovall said. "If you're out walking, we're going to stop you, ask why you're out walking, check for your ID." Stovall said while some people may be offended by the actions of his department, they should not be. "We're going to do it to everybody," he said. "Criminals don't like being talked to."

Huffington Post, Roadside Body Cavity Search: Angel And Ashley Dobbs Sue Texas State Troopers For Body Search (VIDEO), Staff report, Dec. 19, 2012. Texas woman and her niece are suing a pair of Texas state troopers and the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety for what they claim was an unconstitutional and "humiliating" roadside body cavity search earlier this year. According to NBC News, 38-year-old Angel Dobbs and 24-year-old Ashley Dobbs from Irving, Tex., were driving along Highway 161 on July 13, when they were stopped for allegedly littering by State Trooper David Farrell. "In the dashcam video released by the women and their attorney, Farrell can be heard telling the women they would both be cited for littering for throwing cigarette butts out of the car," the news agency reports.

Juanita Jean blog, Texas State Troopers Declare War on Christmas, Dec. 22, 2012. As if the Texas Department of Public Safety haven’t has enough bad publicity lately, what with roadside strip searches, yesterday they arrested Santa Claus in front of the State Capitol with children watching.


Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

FireDogLake, FBI Report Mentions Plot To Kill Occupy Protesters, DSWright, Dec. 31, 2012. More revelations from the Occupy FOIA request.  It remains unclear as to who or what this report is referring to, yet the FBI decided to disclose it under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Partnership For Civil Justice Fund – the document is on page 61. All that is known is that this individual/group was identified by the FBI as having a plan to kill Occupy Protesters. Who was involved? How far did this plot go? Will there be charges?

Reader Comments: Were these sniper planning people arrested? The government seems to go nuts when somebody donates $1 to the wrong charity and the feds swoop in to arrest. Was the same vigilance applied to those who want to shoot OWS leaders? And why didn’t we hear about it?....Does anyone recall how quickly and vehemently Naomi Wolfe was castigated for her November, 2011 reporting about the coordination among DHS and local authorities in crushing OWS, and on so-called progressive websites? I do. Makes you wonder who’s controlling content on “progressive” websites, doesn’t it?

Guardian, Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy, Naomi Wolf, right, Dec. 29, 2012. New documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves – was coordinated with the big banks themselves. The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, in a groundbreaking scoop that should once more shame major US media outlets (why are nonprofits now some of the only entities in America left breaking major civil liberties news?), filed this request. The document – reproduced here in an easily searchable format – shows a terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center, and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole is, in fact, one entity: in some cases, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council. And it reveals this merged entity to have one centrally planned, locally executed mission. The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens.

The documents, released after long delay in the week between Christmas and New Year, show a nationwide meta-plot unfolding in city after city in an Orwellian world: six American universities are sites where campus police funneled information about students involved with OWS to the FBI, with the administrations' knowledge (p51); banks sat down with FBI officials to pool information about OWS protesters harvested by private security; plans to crush Occupy events, planned for a month down the road, were made by the FBI – and offered to the representatives of the same organizations that the protests would target; and even threats of the assassination of OWS leaders by sniper fire – by whom? Where? – now remain redacted and undisclosed to those American citizens in danger, contrary to standard FBI practice to inform the person concerned when there is a threat against a political leader (p61). Why the huge push for counterterrorism "fusion centers", the DHS militarizing of police departments, and so on? It was never really about "the terrorists." It was not even about civil unrest. It was always about this moment, when vast crimes might be uncovered by citizens – it was always, that is to say, meant to be about you.

Huffington Post, Reject the Deal, Jeffrey Sachs, Jan. 1, 2012. The White House and Senate have agreed to make the Bush tax cuts permanent for 99 percent of households, starving the federal government of funds. Even Mitt Romney could never have accomplished for the Republicans what Obama has just done for them. The Democrats in the Senate would have soundly rejected the plan if the Republicans had put it forward. There has been a special absurdity to the entire negotiating process. Obama has insisted that his top aim is to protect Bush's tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans. In the process he has lost sight of the even more basic need to protect the long-term finances of the federal government.

Legal Schnauzer, Don Siegelman, Paul Minor And The End Of Russian Adoptions: The U.S. Abandons Its Moral Authority, Roger Shuler, Dec. 31, 2012. Russian president Vladimir Putin has signed a law that bans adoptions to the United States, taking effect tomorrow (January 1). The story has special resonance here in the Deep South because it raises questions about  America's fading moral authority--and nothing shines light on that issue like the flagrantly unlawful prosecutions of prominent figures in Alabama and Mississippi. Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, has resided at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, since Sept. 11. He reported there after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal, even though the trial court and the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals both misapplied the settled legal standard for cases of alleged bribery in the context of a campaign contribution. Paul Minor, a highly successful attorney from Biloxi, Mississippi, is in a federal prison at Pensacola, Florida, on charges that largely mirror those in the Siegelman case.

MSNBC, Up w/ Chris Hayes, The President's chance to offer mercy: Don Sielgeman and Clarence Aaron Cases, Chris Hayes, Dec. 22, 2012 (Video).

New York Times, The Scourge of Concealed Weapons, Editorial, Dec. 22, 2012. As the nation’s leaders devise new gun control strategies following the Connecticut shooting, they should look for ways to strengthen state laws that govern the possession and use of firearms. In too many states, these laws are weak and, in some cases, seem almost designed to encourage violence. Over the years, states have made it increasingly possible for almost any adult to carry a concealed handgun in public, including on college campuses, in churches and in state parks — places where people tend to congregate in large numbers and where, in a rational world, guns should be strictly prohibited. Some state legislators like to argue that citizens must be allowed to arm themselves because law enforcement cannot be trusted. Among the arguments advanced for these irresponsible statutes is the claim that “shall issue” laws have played a major role in reducing violent crime. But the National Research Council has thoroughly discredited this argument for analytical errors. In fact, the legal scholar John Donohue III, left, and others have found that from 1977 to 2006, “shall issue” laws increased aggravated assaults by “roughly 3 to 5 percent each year.”

The federal government could help protect the public from lax state gun laws. For starters, the Fix Gun Checks Act, proposed last year in Congress, would close gaping loopholes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and make a huge difference in identifying many people who should be denied permits under “shall issue” laws yet slip through the state systems. Similarly, Congress could require that states set higher standards for granting permits for concealed weapons, give local law enforcement agencies greater say in the process, and prohibit guns from public places like parks, schools and churches. It could also require record-keeping and licensing requirements in the sale of ammunition, and strengthen the enforcement capabilities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The one thing Congress absolutely must not do is pass a law requiring all states to grant legal status to permits from others; that would undercut states that have relatively strong laws and would turn a porous system into a sieve.

Washington Post, FBI forensic flaws may mar local cases, Spencer Hsu, Dec. 22, 2012. Exaggerated hair “match” claims that led to wrongful convictions weren’t limited to rogue examiners or the FBI, former agents say.

ProPublica, Pardon Attorney Misrepresented Facts to White House in Clarence Aaron Case, Dafna Linzer, Dec. 18, 2012. The U.S. Pardon Attorney failed to accurately share key information with the White House regarding a federal inmate seeking a commutation, the Justice Department's Inspector-General concluded today in a detailed 20-page report. The findings determined that in overseeing the case of Clarence Aaron, the pardons attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, engaged in "conduct that fell substantially short of the high standards expected of Department of Justice employees and the duty he owed the President of the United States."

Commentary by Scott Horton: Exactly one year after the ProPublica/Washington Post series on “Shades of Mercy” began, the Inspector-General found that the US Pardon Attorney has engaged in "conduct that fell substantially short of the high standards expected of Department of Justice employees and the duty he owed the President of the United States." The report finds the Pardon Attorney effectively worked to vindicate and support the breast-thumping posture of DOJ prosecutors, failed to honestly review the facts, and continuously blocked legitimate pardon requests.  While it doesn't get down to specific names, it is important to note that this report is all about the conduct of one man:  David Margolis, the key figure at the senior DOJ level responsible for the persecution of Don Siegelman, who directly supervises the office of US Pardon Attorney.

ProPublica, Obama has granted clemency more rarely than any modern president, Dafna Linzer, Nov. 2, 2012. A former brothel manager who helped the FBI bust a national prostitution ring. A retired sheriff who inadvertently helped a money launderer buy land. A young woman who mailed ecstasy tablets for a drug-dealing boyfriend, then worked with investigators to bring him down. All of them and hundreds more were denied pardons by President Obama, who has granted clemency at a lower rate than any modern president, a ProPublica review of pardons data shows. The Constitution gives the president unique power to forgive individuals for federal offenses. While pardons do not wipe away convictions, they can restore a person's full rights to vote, possess firearms and obtain business licenses, as well as remove barriers to certain career opportunities and adoptions. For many applicants, a pardon is simply an opportunity for a fresh start. But Obama has parceled out forgiveness far more rarely than his recent predecessors, pardoning just 22 individuals while denying 1,019.

Huffington Post, An All-American Nightmare, Peter Van Buren, Dec. 18, 2012. A widely praised new movie about the assassination of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, opens with a series of torture scenes. The movie scenes are brutal, yet sanitized. The president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has made it clear that no further investigations or inquiries will be made into America’s decade of torture. His Justice Department failed to prosecute a single torturer or any of those who helped cover up evidence of the torture practices. But it did deliver a jail sentence to one ex-CIA officer who refused to be trained to torture and was among the first at the CIA to publicly admit that the torture program was real.  At what passes for trials at our prison camp in Guantanamo, Cuba, disclosure of the details of torture is forbidden, effectively preventing anyone from learning anything about what the CIA did with its victims. Torture does not leave its victims, nor does it leave a nation that condones it. As an act, it is all about pain, but even more about degradation and humiliation. It destroys its victims, but also demeans those who perpetrate it. I know, because in the course of my 24 years as a State Department officer, I spoke with two men who had been tortured, both by allies of the United States and with at least the tacit approval of Washington. While these men were tortured, Americans in a position to know chose to look the other way for reasons of politics. These men were not movie characters, but complex flesh-and-blood human beings. Meet just one of them once and, I assure you, you’ll never follow the president’s guidance and move forward trying to forget.

Washington Post, ATF, charged with regulating guns, lacks resources and leadership, Sari Horwitz, Dec. 18, 2012. Amid an intense debate over gun control in the wake of the mass shooting in Connecticut, the federal agency at the heart of firearms regulation in America is so beleaguered and under-resourced that it has not had a confirmed director in six years. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a division of the Justice Department, is supposed to regulate the nation’s gun industry. But many within ATF say it is the industry that dominates the agency.

Legal Schnauzer, Bonnie Wyatt's Attorney Appears To Have a Conflict As Judge Prepares To Rule On Incarceration, Roger Shuler, Dec. 18, 2012. A judge is scheduled today to hear arguments about the incarceration of an Alabama woman who has been in the Chilton County Jail since July 26 because of a property-related debt connected to her divorce case.  Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, at least in theory, could be freed in time for the Christmas holidays. But a review of court records raises serious doubts about whether Wyatt is receiving vigorous legal representation in the case. Angie Avery Collins, Wyatt's Clanton-based attorney, filed a Motion to Reconsider Incarceration on December 6--and it is due to be heard, along with a number of other cases, on a motion docket beginning at 9 a.m. today at the Chilton County Courthouse. Collins' motion, however, might be described as "watered down" (at best) and "ineffectual" (at worst). To muddy the waters even further, Collins is engaged in her own divorce, in the same circuit court. Might she be tempted to go soft on Bonnie Wyatt's defense in order to gain favor for her own divorce battle? Does that represent a conflict of interest that threatens Bonnie Wyatt's fundamental rights to due process?

Associated Press, Hollywood hacker sentenced to 10 years in prison, Anthony McCartney, Dec. 17, 2012.  A federal judge sentenced a hacker to 10 years in prison on Monday after he broke into the personal online accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera and other women and posted revealing photos and other material on the Internet.U.S. District Judge S. James Otero sentenced Christopher Chaney after hearing from a tearful Johansson in a videotaped statement.

Atlanta Progressive News, Occupy Atlanta Claims City Deceived Court, Spied on Protesters, Matthew Charles Cardinale, Dec. 21, 2012.  At a press conference at City Hall, activists with Occupy Atlanta alleged that the City of Atlanta deceived them and the Atlanta Municipal Court with respect to 800 pages of documents that the activists say they subpoenaed months ago. In addition, recent court proceedings have revealed a significant spying operation by the City of Atlanta in connection with other agencies including the federal Department of Homeland Security, on Occupy Atlanta. All week long, over 80 Occupy Atlanta activists have been on trial, including 53 who were arrested during a massive arrest at Woodruff Park that occurred October 25 and 26, 2011. Most of those were charged with being in the park between 11pm and 6am, a petty misdemeanor. Other activists faced charges stemming from additional arrests that occurred on November 1, 2011, involving a protest that spilled out into the street; and from a later protest at a Chase Bank branch.

Mother Jones, A Guide to Mass Shootings in America; There have been at least 62 in the last 30 years—and most of the killers got their guns legally, Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan, Dec. 15, 2012. On December 14, a mass shooter killed 27 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Among the fatalities were 20 children, six adults, and the shooter, who also killed his mother at her home. More details here. This guide and map have been updated with data from the Newtown massacre. It's perhaps too easy to forget how many times this has happened. The horrific mass murder at a movie theater in Colorado on July 20, another at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on August 5, another at a manufacturer in Minneapolis on September 27—and now the unthinkable nightmare at a Connecticut elementary school on December 14—are the latest in an epidemic of such gun violence over the last three decades. Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders* carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. We've mapped them below, including details on the shooters' identities, the types of weapons they used, and the number of victims they injured and killed.

Boston Globe, Cahill, the lottery, and the demands of democracy, Harvey Silverglate, Dec. 15, 2012. http://bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/12/17/podium-cahill/qWsgQ0kpCQTILG6WzZEFmK/story.html  Timothy Cahill avoided the axe when a jury was unable to agree on Attorney General Martha Coakley’s charge that the now-former state treasurer engaged in corruption when he used state lottery advertising dollars for his own political ends. While the promotional ads did not mention Cahill’s name, in reality they were meant to promote his quixotic and foundering gubernatorial campaign. So went Coakley’s theory. Cahill’s critics (and Coakley’s supporters) admit, as the Globe put it in a recent editorial (“Cahill gets a mistrial, but tough law still warranted,” Dec. 13th), that “it’s certainly true that the line between self-promotion and the outright diversion of resources can be hard to find in politics.” Yet they conclude that because Cahill spent $1.5 million of lottery promotional funds to tout his own management of the lottery while he was a candidate for higher office, he crossed that hard-to-find line. Taking a step back, however, there’s the other side of the story: Democracy surely demands (not just allows) that government officials inform the public of how they have fulfilled their official duties. When the Republican Governor’s Association attacked Cahill’s management of the lottery and hence the lottery itself, the treasurer had not only a right, but a duty to defend the lottery and his own performance. For one thing, public confidence in the lottery is essential for its success. For another, Cahill owed it to the voting public to make the case that he was doing a good job managing it, particularly since he was standing for reelection to an even higher state office.

Rolling Stone, Glenn Hubbard, Leading Academic and Mitt Romney Advisor, Took $1200 an Hour to Be Countrywide's Expert Witness, Matt Taibbi, Dec. 20, 2012.

New York Magazine, Why Is Obama Caving on Taxes? Jonathan Chait, Dec. 31, 2012. The discouraging thing about the “fiscal cliff” negotiations is not that they have gone into the eleventh hour, or that they may go into the new year, or even that they won’t resolve the long-term budget deficit. It’s that President Obama has retreated on his hard line on taxes. In the months before the election, and in the weeks after his victory, Obama had a clear position: The Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000 were ending. He would not sign any extension, and if Republicans refused to extend tax cuts for income below that level, he would hold them responsible for it until they did. Now, by all accounts, Obama is prepared to extend the Bush tax cuts up to $400,000 a year. Or maybe more.

As of Friday, Obama had told Republicans they could have the tax cuts extended on income up to $400,000 if they would accept the estate tax rising from its Bush-set rates. As of last night, Democrats were conceding the estate tax plus the higher exemption on tax rates, which had risen to $450,000. And Republicans still hadn't agreed to it! Why would they, when Democrats keep hurling money at them? By midnight, Republicans might be getting the Saturday Night Live version of Obama's offer ("a 1% raise on the top two Americans — just two people"). 

The erosion signals not only a major substantive problem in its own right, but it also raises disturbing questions about Obama’s ability to handle his entire second term agenda.


From Recent Archives: Mississippi Murder and Cover-up

The Agitator, Jesse Lee Williams, Jr., Radley Balko, August 2, 2006. Here’s another one for Justice Scalia’s files on “the new police professionalism.” Jesse Lee Williams, Jr. was apparently beaten to death last February by sheriff’s department officials in Harrison County, Mississippi. I’m not sure why he was originally arrested — what I’ve found thus far only mentions “misdemeanors.” What is clear, however, is that he was severely and savagely beaten while in police custody, and died as a result of that beating. Sheriff George Payne originally told the media that Williams was under the influence of drugs at time of his beating. That excuse proved difficult to defend when Williams’ post-mortem toxicology report later came back clean. He wasn’t even too drunk to drive. The beating was apparently videotaped by four separate cameras. But six months later, neither the media nor Williams’ estate has been given access to the tapes. None of the officers responsible for Williams’ death have been arrested, though Deputy Ryan Teel, who seems to have been the one who inflicted the most abuse, was finally fired from the police force. Thus far, the more lurid details of Williams’ death have come from nurses on duty at the time in the jail and a taped interview with a man named Paul McBee, who witnessed the beating.

Biloxi Sun Herald,

, and witnessed by other jail employees, medical personnel and inmates. Yet a code of what amounts to official silence involving the U.S. Attorney, the local district attorney and the Sheriff of Harrison County continues to leave the people of South Mississippi in the dark about this case where justice delayed seems to spotlight the notion of justice denied. How much investigation is necessary to conclude that a crime may have been committed? How many times must the video be viewed, how many times must the witnesses be interviewed or their words evaluated to determine whether murder most foul took place in the Harrison County jail? 

Biloxi Sun Herald, Murder suspects to turn themselves in, Robin Fitzgerald, June 6, 2011. Two cousins wanted in a shooting that turned deadly on Friday are expected to turn themselves in today, a Gulfport attorney said. Anthony Joseph Williams, 25, and Jessie Lee Williams Jr., 18, are wanted on charges of murder and two counts of aggravated assault in a shooting that killed 23-year-old Melvin Presley and wounded two other men on 32nd Avenue. Jessie Williams' father, known by the same name, was beaten to death by guards at the Harrison County jail in 2006. The slaying resulted in the settlement of a $3.5 million lawsuit for the father's estate and a federal criminal case with related convictions including murder and deprivation of civil rights under color of law.