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67 posts from November 2007

November 30, 2007

Mongoose and cobra Starbucks ad

Brilliant.

Trent Lott's brother-in-law and nephew indicted on federal bribery charges

Trent Lott's brother-in-law and nephew were indicted by a grand jury for allegedly conspiring to bribe a judge.

November 28, 2007

Free Bilal Hussein

Bleak news for imprisoned Iraqi journalist Bilal Hussein:

No one knows when Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein will have his day in court. It could be tomorrow. Or Thursday. Or any other day.
 
The lack of a schedule is a telling detail of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, or CCCI, where Hussein's case will be heard.
 
Hussein, an Iraqi who has been held by the U.S. military as a security detainee since April 2006, will be brought before the court in Baghdad and accused of terrorist activity, the military says.
 
People familiar with the CCCI describe a crowded system where cases are decided quickly by judges who toil under constant threats.
 
Already, elements of the court system are working against Hussein. Hussein and his lawyer will probably not see the charges against him until a hearing where they are expected to present a defense.
 
What's more, even if the court acquits Hussein or dismisses his case, the U.S. military says it has the right to keep him in prison. [E&P/PDN]

It was announced last week that Hussein would face unspecified terror-related charges in Iraq's justice system. The free press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on US authorities to maintain tranparency, now that they have finally publicly charged Hussein after more than a year-and-a-half of detention.

The authorities won't say exactly why they're holding Hussein, nor have they produced any evidence against him. Hussein told his lawyer that he was arrested after he invited two men into his home after an explosion rocked his neighborhood.

Photo District News thinks that a concerted propaganda campaign by right wing blogs may have been a factor in Hussein's arrest. The 36-year-old AP stringer had been bombarded with unsubstantiated accusations of faking his graphic war photographs and collaborating with insurgents:

Last week, The Jawa Report said a military source e-mailed to thank the blog for helping in the case against Bilal Hussein. The source told the blog he was an investigator at Abu Ghraib prison who recognized Hussein (who was held there for a time) as the much-criticized AP photographer, and notified his superiors. [PDN]

It's entirely possible that Hussein, as a journalist, had connections with insurgent groups. That was his job. To hear the right wing blogs, being embedded with our side is a great and glorious adventure. According to the author of the Jawa Report, being embedded with their side is a crime.

In an e-mail interview, the blogger known as Rusty (who refused to give any details identifying himself) told PDN why he initially thought Hussein's work was so suspicious. He said Hussein was producing photographs of two particular insurgent groups in Fallujah, the Army of Ansar al Sunnah and Tawid wal Jihad, or al-Qeada in Iraq.

"The groups, at the time, routinely murdered any one they believed to be a 'collaborater' or 'spy'. It was also when any foreigner they found they held hostage and then beheaded," the blogger wrote. "Yet Hussein was given free access."

Asked if he stood by his posts that implied Hussein should be killed, the blogger answered, "Ha, no. Not in the sense that I wish him dead. I don't believe in the death penalty. But I do believe in the killing of enemy combatants during actual battle. And propagandists are enemy combatants and should be treated as such." [PDN]

Hussein's attorney told investigators from the AP that his client was blindfolded for 9 days, offered a chance to become a paid mole inside the news organization, and told by an interrogator that his photographs were a threat.

Military Reporters and Editors delivered an open letter of protest to Pentagon on Hussein's behalf today. MRE declares Hussein's imprisonment "contrary to every notion of justice, fair play and the U.S. Constitution, which every member of America's military swears to uphold and defend."

The Digital Journalist is asking readers to email the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to protest the detention of Bilal Hussein. Click through for email addresses of all committee members.

News of our deaths greatly exaggerated, say Iraqi journalist's family

Voice of Iraq reported on Monday that gunmen in Eastern Baghdad slaughtered 11 relatives of an Iraqi journalist over the weekend.

I blogged the story as fact, so a major correction is in order.

It turns out that the alleged victims are very much alive, and very angry at the family member who reported that they had been murdered en masse:

BAGHDAD (AFP) — The angry family of an Iraqi journalist went on local television on Wednesday to blast him for claiming they had been massacred three days ago by Shiite militiamen in Baghdad.

"We are still alive. Thank God!" the sister of the journalist said, before bursting into tears.

The journalist, Dia al-Kawwaz, had said she was among the 11 family members slaughtered by militamen on Sunday in his home in Baghdad's northern Al-Shaab neighbourhood.

Al-Hurrah television paraded the relatives of Kawwaz, clearly alive -- and clearly angry.

"No one attacked us ... militias or special forces. Nobody stormed our home. He even organised a condolence meeting to mourn our deaths. But we are alive. We are ashamed that he is our brother," said the sister, wearing a green dress and headscarf. [AFP]

Nobody knows why the journalist reported his family dead and held a wake for them.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) adds a further surreal twist to this story: The journalist in question later wrote that his non-dead family had been "pressured to deny the facts."

This bizarre scam should not be allowed to overshadow the fact that violence against journalists is a very real problem in Iraq. Since the US invasion, 206 journalists and media assistants have been killed in Iraq and 14 have been kidnapped. Two media workers are still missing. The most recent victim was 27-year-old reporter Shehab Mohammed al-Hitti, whose body was discovered in northern Baghdad on Oct. 27th.  

Immigration chief Myers took question from plant

Nick Juliano of Raw Story reports that Julie Myers began her career as the nation's top immigration enforcer by taking a planted question:

A top immigration official, who has been criticized for her youth, inexperience and poor judgment, took a question from a government employee posing as a reporter during her very first press conference last year, RAW STORY has learned.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief Julie Myers called on an agency spokeswoman who was standing with about a dozen other reporters during a February 2006 press conference in San Antonio. Critics had criticized Myers as an unfit nominee because of her lack of immigration experience and close ties to the Bush administration. Her performance at that first press conference was panned when she "struggle[d] to pronounce Nuevo Laredo," a Mexican border town that is a hot spot of criminal activity and drug trafficking into the US.

The ICE employee was told not to ask any questions, and she was verbally reprimanded after doing so, according to a letter delivered last week to the House Committee on Homeland Security. [RS]

Interesting that a spokeswoman had to be specifically instructed not to pose as a reporter at a press conference.

Reminds me of the old joke about the sailor who writes in the ship's log: "The captain was drunk today."

His shipmate exclaims, "You can't put that in the log!"

So, the sailor appends the record to read, "The captain was not drunk today."


 

Sneaky Giuliani billed obscure agencies for travel expenses

Ben Smith of the Politico has a great investigative scoop today. Smith used New York's Freedom of Information Law to obtain Rudy Giuliani's spending records as mayor.

The documents reveal that Giuliani racked up tens of thousands of dollars in security costs for personal business, and that his office billed these expenses to obscure city agencies:

The expenses first surfaced as Giuliani's two terms as mayor of New York drew to a close in 2001, when a city auditor stumbled across something unusual: $34,000 worth of travel expenses buried in the accounts of the New York City Loft Board.

When the city's fiscal monitor asked for an explanation, Giuliani's aides refused, citing "security," said Jeff Simmons, a spokesman for the city comptroller.

But American Express bills and travel documents obtained by Politico suggest another reason City Hall may have considered the documents sensitive: They detail three summers of visits to Southampton, the Long Island town where Nathan had an apartment.

Auditors "were unable to verify that these expenses were for legitimate or necessary purposes," City Comptroller William Thompson wrote of the expenses from fiscal year 2000, which covers parts of 1999 and 2000.

The letter, whose existence has not been previously reported, was also obtained under the Freedom of Information Law. [Politico]

As mayor, Giuliani was entitled to 24/7 police protection, no matter where he happened to be. So, there was nothing improper about bringing the NYPD on his weekend getaways.

Long trips and overnight stays with security do cost the city more in gas and lodging. For example, the city spent over a thousand dollars to put up for officers at the Atlantic Utopia Lifestyle Inn, according to the Politico. (You can't make this stuff up.) But that's not sinister, either. Even the mayor needs to get out sometimes. Nobody's suggesting that he should have been a prisoner in Gracie Mansion to save the city some money.

Still, Giuliani hasn't explained why he chose to bill these expenses to the New York Loft Board, Office for People With Disabilities, and the Procurement Policy Board. 

Why all the secrecy surrounding services that Rudy was entitled to anyway? The Politico's sources speculate that Giuliani's office didn't want to tarnish the boss's reputation for fiscal discipline, or let on that he was visiting his mistress on a regular basis. 

I hope that none of these agencies did without because the mayor's lifestyle was cutting into their budgets.

Here's are some municipal accounting questions: Would anyone those agencies have known that Giuliani was charging tens of thousands of dollars to their offices?  If any officials knew, did they break the rules by letting these illegitimate charges ride? If nobody noticed, it doesn't speak well of accounting standards under Giuliani.

November 27, 2007

Luis Montalvan on NPR's Morning Edition 11/28/07

Veteran and outspoken Iraq war critic, Luis Montalvan will be on NPR's Morning Edition on Wednesday morning.

ME airs weekdays at 5AM on 93.9 FM and 6AM on AM 820 in New York.

Listen on demand to the latest Morning Edition stories.

Here's the interview: Army Captains Critique War

Gunmen slay 11 relatives of Iraqi journalist

Unidentified gunmen slaughtered 11 family members of an Iraqi journalist in Eastern Baghdad:

Baghdad, Nov 26, 2007 (VOI) –Unidentified gunmen killed eleven members of a family of an Iraqi journalist residing in Jordan, including his wife and children, in a raid on his house in the area of al-Shaab, eastern Baghdad, an Iraqi press watchdog said on Monday.

About seven gunmen raided the house of Diaa al-Kawwaz, the editor-in-chief of the Shabakat Akhbar al-Iraq (Iraq News Network), during the early hours of Sunday, shot down eleven members of his family, including his wife and children, and escaped to an unknown place," Ibrahim al-Siraji, the head of the Iraqi Association to Protect Journalists, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

Shabakat Akhbar al-Iraq is a web site posting news reports about Iraq from the Jordanian capital Amman.

Iraqslogger is reporting this item as well, but it's behind the pay wall.

November 26, 2007

Feds drop "no match" rule that threatened 12.7 million legal jobs

The Department of Homeland Security privately dropped its proposed "no match" rule over the Thanksgiving break, according to a statement issued by the ACLU:

SAN FRANCISCO – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) abandoned its attempt to enforce its proposed "no match" rule that would improperly use social security records for immigration enforcement. In a late Friday afternoon court filing the day after Thanksgiving in federal court in San Francisco, DHS requested that a lawsuit challenging the rule be put on hold until March 2008. The government plans to publish a revised rule in December 2007 that it claims will pass legal muster.

The lawsuit was brought by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and labor groups to block the proposed "no match" rule which would require employers to penalize or fire U.S. citizens and legal workers whose social security numbers don't match up with the Social Security Administration (SSA) database. The lawsuit charges that the SSA database is fundamentally flawed and error-prone, and that the rule would result in the firing of countless legal workers as well as discrimination against those who look or sound "foreign." (emphasis added) [ACLU]

The government opted to take its plan back to the drawing board, rather than fighting to justify the flawed proposal in court:

The government’s proposal was a response to an indefinite delay to the rule ordered Oct. 10 by the judge, Charles R. Breyer of Federal District Court in San Francisco. Judge Breyer found that the government had failed to follow proper procedures in issuing the rule and that it should have completed a survey of its impact on small business.

He also found that the Social Security database the government would use to verify workers’ status was full of errors, so the rule could lead to the dismissal of many thousands of workers who were American citizens or legal immigrants. [NYT]

These errors are not trivial. Nearly 13 million legal workers could have lost their jobs because of errors in the database:

Some businesses welcomed the rule because it clarified what they had to do to avoid immigration raids. But the labor unions cited a report from the inspector general of the Social Security Administration finding that 12.7 million of the records of United States citizens in the agency’s database contained errors that could lead to them being fired. (emphasis added) [NYT]

The immigration authorities are zealots.

Estimates vary, but there are probably only about 6 million undocumented migrants working in the US today. So, DHS was willing to threaten 12.7 million legal jobs in the hopes of penalizing 6 million undocumented workers!

Now, remind me again, who's trying to take jobs away from Americans?

Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book...

"Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book."--Cicero

Jill links to an essay from the November 1957 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, entitled "Sex and the College Girl." It could have been written yesterday.

Try substituting "Boomers" for "Jazz Age" in this paragraph...

Or parents kicked over so many traces that there are practically none left for us. That is not to say, of course, that all of our parents were behaving like the Fitzgeralds. Undoubtedly most of them weren't. But the twenties have come down to us as the Jazz Age, the era described by Time as having "one abiding faith—that something would happen in the next twenty minutes that would utterly change one's life," and this is what will go on the record. The people living more quietly didn't make themselves so eloquent. And this gay irresponsibility is our heritage. There is very little that is positive beneath it, and there is one clearly negative result—so many of our parents are divorced.

And again, here:

These are all the things that a liberally educated girl must do, and there has been in her background a curious lack of definition of the things she must not do. Parents who have lived in the Jazz Age can not very well forbid adventurousness, nor can they take a very stalwart attitude about sex. Even if they do, their daughters rarely listen. What or what not to do about sex is, these days, relative. It all depends. This is not to say that there are no longer any moral standards; certainly there are—the fact that sex still causes guilt and worry proves it. But moral generalizations seem remote and unreal, something our grandparents believed in.

The piece also touches on the wanton promiscuity of young women, the vexing double standards, the competing desires "have it all" or give up and have babies, the moral relativism of youth today, the decline of Christian values, the alleged burdens that personal freedom and education impose on women, the malaise of modern life...

It seems like every "trend" piece for the last fifty years has been a direct or indirect ripoff of this essay. Except, I have a hard time believing that these points were fresh in 1957.