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36 posts from January 2008

January 31, 2008

Agency chief alledges political interference in US Attorney probe

The head of the Office of Special Counsel sent a letter to Attorney General Mukasey complaining that his independent probe into the US Attorney firings has been stymied for political reasons.

In a 5-page letter to Mukasey, J. Scott Bloch wrote that his office had been asked to suspend its probe until Main Justice had completed its own US Attorney investigation. (The Washington Post doesn't say which official asked the OSC to step aside, or what the official rationale was.)

Bloch observed in the letter that waiting on Main Justice would put off the OSC's report until the very end Bush presidency, when it would be too late to take any meaningful action.

The OSC has already embarrassed the administration by revealing that Bush officials broke the law when they subjected General Services Agency employees to political briefings:

[One high proile OSC investigation] centered on a PowerPoint presentation that a Rove aide, J. Scott Jennings, made at the General Services Administration this year.

That presentation listed recent polls and the outlook for battleground House and Senate races in 2008. After the presentation, GSA Administrator Lorita Doan encouraged agency managers to "support our candidates," according to half a dozen witnesses. Doan said she could not recall making such comments.

The Los Angeles Times has learned that similar presentations were made by other White House staff members, including Rove, to other Cabinet agencies. During such presentations, employees said they got a not-so-subtle message about helping endangered Republicans. [LAT]

Basically, the GSA buys stuff for the government. Now, why would the people who draft billions of dollars in government contracts need to know which House races were most hotly contested? Hmmm.

Maybe we should ask David H. Safavian, the former GSA official who was convicted of obstructing justice and lying under oath. It's worth noting that Safavian told these lies to conceal his dealings with disgraced Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It's also worth noting that Safavian's appointment as Director of the Office of Federal Procurement stunned government contracting experts because Safavian was so blatantly unqualified for the job. Before his appointment, he was a lobbyist in business with Grover Norquist.

The GSA wasn't the only agency to get regular briefings on how policy decisions affected Republican electoral prospects. According to the LAT article cited above, Karl Rove, J. Scott Jennings, and Ken Mehlman took their PowerPoint road show to multiple government agencies each year, including the Department of the Interior (another Abramoff stronghold).

The Office of Special Counsel started looking into these presentations because Rove and company disregarded the Hatch Act, which should have protected most federal employees from Rove's attempts to fix policy around elections.

So, it wouldn't be surprising if someone at the DOJ tried to stifle Bloch and his independent investigators.

January 30, 2008

Afghan MPs support blasphemy death sentence for journalist

A 23-year-old journalist in Northern Afghanistan was sentenced to death in municipal court last week for downloading and distributing allegedly blasphemous material.

Today, members of Afghanistan's upper house of parliament issued a statement affirming the legality of the sentence:

Now the Afghan Senate has issued a statement on the case - it was not voted on but was signed by its leader, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, an ally of President Hamid Karzai.

It said the upper house approved the death sentence conferred on Mr Kambaksh by a city court in Mazar-e-Sharif. [BBC]

The statement also criticized the various governments and organizations that have denounced the sentence. The Senators resent the input of the international community for attempting to pressure Afghan judges as they crack down on blasphemy. 

The journalist was charged and sentenced to death for downloading and distributing information about the status of women in Islamic societies. He never got a lawyer.

At least he still has two rounds of appeals left. According to AP, president Karzai will have the final say over the execution.

So, this is the wonderful democratic government we're propping up in Afghanistan?

Ironically, Karzai appointed Mojaddedi to lead the Afghan National Commission for Peace in Afghanistan in 2005.

January 29, 2008

Negroponte acknowledges waterboarding in Reuters interview

Former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte slipped up and admitted to the National Journal that the US has waterboarded detainees--not on his watch of course:

Negroponte: I get concerned that we're too retrospective and tend to look in the rearview mirror too often at things that happened four or even six years ago. We've taken steps to address the issue of interrogations, for instance, and waterboarding has not been used in years. It wasn't used when I was director of national intelligence, nor even for a few years before that. We've also taken significant steps to improve Guantanamo. People will tell you now that it is a world-class detention facility. But if you want to highlight and accent the negative, you can resurface these issues constantly to keep them alive. I would rather focus on what we need to do going forward.

Content-wise, Negroponte isn't revealing anything we don't know. Moreover, I'm not prepared to believe that waterboarding is thing of the past on Negroponte's say so.

Still, every bit of official, on-the-record acknowledgment is important.

The administration tries to shut down debate about the merits of its programs by cloaking them in spurious self-protective secrecy. Officially, these "extraordinary" programs are too secret do talk about. So, Negroponte screwed up.

When the torturers are called to account, statements like Negroponte's will help establish what people knew and when they knew it.

January 28, 2008

Turkey moves against ultranationalists

Thirteen people have been arrested in Turkey for alleged ties to a violent ultranationalist group within the Turkish government.

This is a big deal. Turkish government has finally acknowledged that an organized faction of high ranking officials is orchestrating terrorist attacks from within the government:

The arrests have riveted Turks, many of whom have long suspected underground links between political violence, such as the killings of members of ethnic and religious minority groups, and illegal groups within official state institutions like the military and the judiciary. But the connections have proved elusive, often because of insufficient evidence and suspiciously sloppy prosecutions.

“Everyone suspected something fishy was happening,” said Ilter Turan, a professor of political science at Istanbul Bilgi University. “But the evidence was imperfect.”

“Then suddenly this thing got uncovered.” [NYT]

January 24, 2008

Union organizer banned from Facebook for making too many friends

A Canadian union organizer has been banned from Facebook for making too many friends.

CUPE organizer/Labour Start correspondent Derek Blackadder's foray into labor-related social networking was rudely interrupted by a warning from Facebook saying that he was making too many friends. Blackadder ignored the warning.

John of jonninit explains:

Derek got a note from the good book, telling him he was trying to add too many friends, and should calm down a bit, or else. Now as a union organiser, he’s quite likely to want to add lots of friends - it’s kind of what he does.  So he waits a bit and tries again, and is told he can’t add any more at the moment and to wait and try later. Fair enough. He waits a bit more and tries again, same message. By now, he’s probably frothing at the mouth and muttering “must organise, must organise”, so he has another go to see if the coast is clear, and promptly gets himself a ban.

That being a ban from Facebook itself - no more profile, no access to the stuff he’s built up, no appeal.

It's not clear exactly how many people Blackadder "friended" during his online organizing stint, or how quickly he racked up the contacts.   

So far, nobody is alleging that the ban was politically motivated. The Facebook Terms of Use stipulate that Facebook is for personal non-commercial use only-that line is blurry for people like Blackadder who effectively make friends for a living. Besides which, work-related networking is one of the main reasons people use Facebook in the first place. Almost every Facebook user I know uses it to keep track of clients, colleagues, sources, political allies, and so on.

In fact, Facebook is full of professional activists and organizers plying their trade openly. These organizers come from across the political spectrum. Facebook hosts thousands of politically-oriented groups. It seems odd that Blackadder would be singled out for the content of his profile.

Apparently, it's not uncommon for users to get banned for adding too many friends.

The tech blog Scobelizer reported last year that Facebook engineers imposed a 5000-friend limit on all users because the system isn't designed to handle such large sets of contacts.

Still, the question remains: Why did Facebook kick Blackadder out, instead of just regulating his friending? By disabling the account, Facebook has deprived Blackadder of a potentially valuable contact lists and whatever else he may have uploaded.

Blackadder and his many friends are taking the ban in stride. Naturally, they've started a Blackadder solidarity Facebook group. As of one o'clock this afternoon, over 600 people have joined the group to lobby for Blackadder's reinstatement.

I guess it's sort of backhanded compliment for an organizer to be too connected for Facebook.

January 23, 2008

Young goth couple wins attention sweepstakes

Medium_maltby012308In the age of the Internet, something as simple as getting kicked off the bus in costume can attract global attention. Well played, kids.

January 21, 2008

Realizing the Dream

Realizing the Dream, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Last year's Martin Luther King Day commemoration at Riverside Church, Harlem, NY.

Super Heroes

Super Heroes, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

A plaque at the World Peace Rose Garden at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia.

Birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Happy King Day!

The house on Auburn Avenue where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born.

President "outsourcing" exclusive interviews abroad

President Bush is feeling left out. His favorite campaign plane reporters are off covering the primaries, and nobody is taking his trip to the Middle East seriously:

Reporters covering President Bush 's Middle East trip, which ended last week, were in for a bit of a surprise when they showed up at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem for Bush's statement on peace negotiations. There they found an unexpected colleague -- NBC News correspondent David Gregory, who had not been on the press charter or on Air Force One.

Gregory, it turned out, flew to Israel solely for a one-on-one interview with Bush. He was one of three network reporters to fly in during the eight-day trip for separate, specially arranged sit-downs with the president, the others being Greta Van Susteren of Fox News and Terry Moran of ABC News. With television's heavy hitters having abandoned the White House to suffer the wilds of New Hampshire and South Carolina, the Bush team figured the best way to get attention for his trip in the midst of the primaries was to dole out "exclusive" interviews. [WaPo]

Bush's strategists are concerned about the president's sinking profile he enters the last lame duck year of his presidency. Republican primary candidates are no doubt extremely grateful