Friday, March 30, 2007


I’m bored with the imploding Justice Department and politics in general today. I’d rather write about music. Have any of you come across the singer Joss Stone? I generally shun pop stars and all the marketing hype that accompanies their releases, but somehow I-Tunes decided that this singer would appeal to me and who am I to question the holy algorithm? Anyway, Joss’s new album is a kaleidoscope of funk and pop and is very listenable without being too “American Idol”. Check it out.

I have a strange relationship with my I-Pod. I count myself among the millions of people who came into the computer age with the idea that music was something you obtained for free, from places like Napster and Limewire. There I was back in the go-go 90s, a luddite anarchist with a 56k connection downloading everything I could get my hands on at bit rate transfers that seem Precambrian when compared to cable modem speeds. It took a long time for me to go back to accepting the concept that one should pay for music, and in fact, I’m still deeply ambivalent about the concept. So what I do now is talk myself into believing that instead of paying for songs, I’m paying the highly inflated salaries of Apple’s brilliant software engineers. Somehow this makes me feel less like a sell-out. The genius of Apple is that the interface between customer and web-site is so seamless that you almost forget that every time you hit the “buy” button next to the song you’ve just sampled, a dollar flies out of your checking account and lands on Steve Job’s desk. In the two years I have owned an I-Pod (and I have owned several I-Pods) I have spent over $400 at the I-Tunes store. This is markedly less than I spend on other essentials like coffee, but much more than I would have spent on CD’s in a similar period.

So what the hell have I been spending all that money on, you might ask? The following three artists are in the Patriot’s heavy rotation:

1. Bradley Walker: If you hate country music you won’t like this guy, but if you do, you should know that “Bradley Walker is simply one of the greatest young country singers alive. He belongs to a tradition that includes such outstanding stylists as Vern Gosdin, Merle Haggard, Mel Street, Gene Watson, George Jones, Lefty Frizzell, and Keith Whitley, all of whom he cites as influences.” Walker is also a good example of an artist in the growing bluegrass-country genre. What makes his talent all the more impressive is that he was born with Muscular Dystrophy, and has been in a wheelchair his entire life. Trust me there isn’t a bad song on his debut album, Highway of Dreams.

2. Adrienne Young: Pretty good fusion of past and present in her somewhat pop-inflected old time music. Her band (Little Sadie) is incredibly tight and her vocals impeccable. I think her second album, The Art of Virtue is stronger than her first, but traditionalists will probably prefer Plough to the End of the Row, released in 2003.

3. Hem: Lots of good tunes on the 2006 album Funnel Cloud, which was featured on an NPR story back in the fall. They are another bluegrass/country/pop fusion band (in this case called “country-politan” ) but their songs are more, I don’t know, modern. My favorite on Funnel Cloud is “The Pills Stopped Working”. From their site: “This Brooklyn Americana outfit consolidates its strengths on Funnel Cloud, almost becoming a genre unto itself with aching, heartfelt laments supported by just-right orchestral backing. The band expertly employs dynamics, wth heart-quickening shifts between quiet and forceful passages, plus a memorable foray into (for them) all-out rock.”

If this is at all mildly interesting to any of you I could go on for hours, and probably will when I have some more time.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Staten Island Politics

While I am principally concerned with politics on the national level, occasionally a local race catches my eye. On Tuesday night Staten Island Democrat Matt Titone won a special election for state assembly which was held in order to fill John Lavelle’s seat after Lavell’s unexpected death in January. Staten Island is perhaps the most Republican place in the City; voters there were instrumental in ensuring the election of the last two Republican mayors, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg. The Island is divided in its party affiliations with the liberal north shore usually siding with the Democrats against the south shore’s Republicans. It is an interesting place to practice both law and politics since despite the Island's soaring population, its institutions are run as if the place was still the same small fishing village it was before the Verranzano bridge was built. Personal relationships and connections are everything here and Staten Island natives are preferred in the candidate selection process over more recent interlopers. My friend always jokes that her obituary in the Staten Island Advance will probably identify her as a "long-time resident" rather than a native, despite the fact that she's lived there since she was two years old. That's small town life in the big city I guess.

A small race like this is always exciting because the results can be directly influenced by the turn-out effort. For example, with 100 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Titone received 2,888 votes, his Republican challenger Rose Margarella 1,846 and independent candidate Kelvin Alexander 1,122. That means the total number of voters pulling the lever in this election was 5,856. Granted Democrats in the north shore have a 3-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans, but the presence of Alexander in the race was a concern. Alexander, an African American, had the potential to split the Democratic vote thus allowing Margarella to become the first Republican to occupy the seat in recent history.

Titone is the boro’s first openly gay elected official. While acknowledging the historical significance of his election, Titone ran on education and hopes tofind ways to increase health care financing in the borough, reduce class sizes in the Assembly district’s schools and make prekindergarten programs available for all 4-year-olds.

The Patriot attended the victory celebration at the Staten Catering Hall and enjoyed rubbing shoulders with the local politicos. The Democratic clubs on the north shore of are full of engaged and interesting people. Hopefully an invasion of the south shore can be planned in time for the 2008 election. Congratulations Matt!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

DOJ Follies

Spring has finally returned to New York after a most dreary winter. Hopefully I’ll be able to take JB out of the house this week since I think we’re both getting a little bit of cabin fever. Someone bought him a pair of wrap around shades which will look pretty cool when we saunter the boardwalk at South Beach. (That’s South Beach on Staten Island folks, not it's more well-heeled cousin in Miami.)

While the weather is improving here in New York, the Bush administration is facing an onslaught of political storms down in Washington which seem destined to last until the current White House occupants lurch across the finish line some 20 months hence. The consensus among the blogosphere is that Gonzalez is finished and that he’d be lucky to make it to Friday with his job, never mind his dignity, intact. I am less sanguine about the possibility of him jumping ship before “total victory is achieved”, however Bush presently envisions the term. Bush’s appointees are like New York City bedbugs; impossible to get rid of without the use of heavy industrial solvents. Since the only known alcoholic exterminator in Congress was recently run out of town himself, the task of fumigating the justice department falls to the democrats.
To that end, hearings are being held on the FBI’s recently discovered but ongoing abuse of the power to issue national security letters. “We're going to be re-examining the broad authorities we granted the FBI in the Patriot Act," Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, told Mueller. Mueller, in one of the odder arguments used to justify the evisceration of the Constitution urged the panel not to revise the law."The statute did not cause the errors," Mueller said. "The FBI's implementation did." "What I did not do and should have done is put in a compliance program to be sure those procedures were followed," the FBI chief added. If Mueller is accepting responsibility on behalf of the agency, shouldn’t his resignation be forthcoming? “Taking responsibility” for mistakes implies that the person taking said responsibility pay some sort of price for the error or omission. Not in this administration.

"I still have very serious qualms," Leahy replied. Yes, well, we all have serious qualms. What is being discussed at this hearing is a power granted by Congress in the Patriot Act for the FBI to snoop around in the underwear drawers of America extra-judicially based on an agent’s representation that the snooping is necessary for an ongoing investigation. In 2001, the Patriot Act eliminated any requirement that the records belong to someone under suspicion. Now an innocent person's records can be obtained if FBI field agents consider them relevant to an ongoing terrorism or spying investigation.

Anyone who has studied the law, heck, anyone who has ever watched an episode of Law and Order, knows that granting this kind of discretion to the FBI eviscerates the Constitutional protections granted by the Fourth Amendment. As snarlin’ Arlen Spector somewhat inartfully stated to Meuller in a rare moment of legal lucidity: “You asked for these powers; we gave you them. If these applications are wrong, you're subjecting people to an invasion of privacy that ought not to be issued."

Since the FBI is a DOJ agency, it can be argued that the ultimate responsibility for adhering to the Patriot Act lies with Gonzalez. He testifies on April 17th, if he’s still around.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Recent Picture of Jack

He's getting bigger every day.

Would You Like A Hot Towel?

The following entry was written somewhere over the continental United States yesterday:

My 7:45am flight from LAX to Newark was canceled just before boarding due to “mechanical errors.”.As a fairly seasoned traveler, the minute I heard the gate agent make the announcement I hustled to get on line to be rebooked. (One especially annoying feature of the airline industry is the fact that it rewards the most pushy passengers in the face of adversity; by the time the little old lady at the back of the line gets to the front of the line to be re-booked every available seat on the remaining flights is usually long gone, meaning a wait in or around the airport of infinite duration.) My fellow travelers were milling around like a herd of frightened animals and, being for the most part New Yorkers, began to complain almost immediately. The four people ahead of me on line all harangued the gate agent which predictably resulted in their being rebooked on the Monday morning red-eye with a three hour layover in Des Moines. As I learned from my own travel meltdown over Thanksgiving, screaming at underpaid airline employees rarely results in a desirable outcome. When I got to the head of the line I smiled and said something like, “as inconvenient as this is for me it must be much harder on you because you’re the face of the airline and no matter how awful they treat you, you still have to run interference for them in the face of this angry mob.” The result of my small act of kindness? A rebooking on a flight leaving 45 minutes later from 2 gates away and an upgrade to first class. Granted I had to change planes in Dallas, but when you are flying 1st class, who the hell cares. I was content to fly all day.

Treatment of first class passengers is so far and away superior that it makes flying coach the 21st century equivalent of a trip through Alabama on a Greyhound. Being a good anarchist I had heretofore never enjoyed this particular pleasure of the blessed upper middle-class. I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it. Since our government has gone out of its way to make moving around the country as onerous as possible in a post 911 world, first class may be the only salvation left to the weary traveler seeking respite from the nasty, brutish and not very short ordeal that air travel has become. While the coach passengers are offered the opportunity to purchase a sandwich of grey meat in a plastic sack for $5, 1st class passengers are plied with top-shelf wine and enjoy entrees like salmon in hoisin marinade with a wild rice timbale, brie and a salad of field greens served on actual china.

I suppose the lesson here is to always be nice to underpaid ticket agents staring down an angry mob. It certainly paid off for me. This whole trip was a real mind warp. Among other things I learned that rich people apparently need a steady supply of hot and cold towels always available should anxiety need to be wiped away. But it was fun. I was living way beyond my usual means, on someone else’s money. Can’t complain about that I suppose. From 33,000 feet over the heartland, this is the Patriot wishing you happy travels wherever your final destination may be.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Rodeo Drive

Hey kids. the Patriot was taken to task last night by one of his five readers about the relative dearth of new posts lately. Also noted was the presence of the occasional spelling error. Were I professional blogger I would perhaps be chagrined and chastened, but since I am a mere hack and gadfly, I offer apologies and move on. This very posting will no doubt be frought with mistakes, since I am typing this entry on a portable keyboard in a hotel in Los Angeles which has the annoying tendancy to suddenly and without warning start writing everything in Kanji characters. As you can imagine, this is really 案老いんgあs用完野ど.

I have been in LA since yesterday for work. Not just LA, mind you, but swanky Beverly Hills. People who think New York City is the poster child for American excess and consumerism should tool around in a big white SUV on Rodeo Drive like I did this morning. Wallowing in wealth and privilege can be seductive and ultimately intoxicating. I just ran a fwe miles on a treadmill at the Equinox Beverly Hills and was greeted at the completion of my work-out by a man bearing a chilled towel who also gave me a glass of iced lemon water and directed me to the whirlpool. The strangest thing? It wasn't at all uncomfortable once I started thinking that I deserved such treatment. And there's the problem. Everyone deserves such treatment, but everyone isn't going to get it. The maids who cleaned up my hotel this morning aren't going to get it. The stratification of the classes is so much more obvious here than in New York; brown people clean things and white people drive around in silly cars talking on fancy cell phones. There are many nice things about California; Jamba Juice, the climate, the ocean, but the division of wealth here is so stark that it makes me uncomfortable. There are a lot of homeless people here, many more than the last time I was here two years ago. I hate to sound like a big buzz-kill but I think this country is heading for a reckoning and it might be coming sooner rather than later. I could go on and on, but I'm late for my nori-cucumber facial. Peace.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Subpoena Power II

Well, as I predicted the other day the administration is planning a full on war against the House Judiciary committee’s use of subpoenas to extract testimony from the White House and the DOJ over the US Attorney fiasco. I would have hoped that a Constitutional showdown with the White House would have occurred over something more germane to the flagrant abuse of power exhibited by the Rove cabal, but you take your victories where you find them. As with all scandals, the cover-up is probably worse than the underlying event. Practically speaking the President can fire some, or all, of the US Attorneys for any reason, including replacing them with patronage appointments. What the administration cannot do, what is actually illegal, is to attempt to direct the course of criminal investigations by applying political pressure. Replacing a US Attorney with Karl Rove’s friend? Ok. Replacing the same US Attorney because he wasn’t investigating more Democrats? Not Ok.

Bush’s churlish press conference yesterday was clear evidence that the administration hasn’t really changed its position on the issue of executive power since the election. Perhaps they think that the traditional presidential prerogative on attorney appointments will be given deference by their conservative packed Courts. Here they may have miscalculated. True conservatives are nervous about the concept of unbridled power no matter where such power is concentrated within the body politic. The right-wing Bush coalition is not as uniform as it appears and all that executive power makes libertarians nervous.

The administration is still trying to hoodwink Congress with its lies. The White House’s official position is that "The president expects everybody who talks to Congress to tell the truth, and so does the law. And they know that it would be illegal not to tell them the truth," he said. Which would be ok….if the administration had a shred of credibility left after lying about every significant issue in the last seven years. The administration’s lack of credibility isn’t lost on John Conyer’s, the head of the judiciary committee who commented that just having Rove and Meir come in for a friendly chat would be a pointless exercise. "We could meet at the local pub to have that kind of conversation," he said. "But in my judgment it would not advance us toward uncovering the simple truth in this matter."

And it isn’t as if the DOJ has been any more forthcoming than the White House on the motivations behind the firings. Pat Leahy complained about 3,000 documents the Justice Department handed over to the committees late Monday, saying redactions in the documents make them unworkable. "Instead of freely and fully providing relevant documents to the investigating committees, they have only selectively sent documents, after erasing large portions that they do not want to see the light of day."

Of course the administration’s promise to fight the subpoenas in Court has the potential to drag the whole matter into the presidential election, as it is unlikely that the Supreme Court would get the case within the 21 months left in the Bush administration. How typical of this president, who never finished anything he started in life, to dump this issue squarely in the lap of the Republican party as they try to figure out how to undo 8 years of damage in time for the next Presidential election. Good luck boys!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bold Divers

The picture to the left is of me diving on the Spiegel Grove last May. Note that I am outide of the ship. Yesterday three experienced divers from New Jersey died while diving the same wreck, insude the vessel. Four men, friends from New Jersey who held advanced open water certifications (which was my certification at the time of my dive), hired a boat captained by Mark Cianciu of Scuba-Do Charters to take them to the wreck. During the fatal dive, one man was stationed at the entrance to the ship while the other three went inside. The man stationed outside the wreck began to run out of air and surfaced safely. The other three must have gotten lost inside; one made an emergency ascent and died before reaching a recompression chamber, the other two were found dead deep inside the wreck. All the divers had wreck reels that apparently weren't used. A wreck reel is a piece of equipment which allows a diver to set a guideline while swimming in that the diver then follows on the way out of a wreck. Think of it like like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. Rescue divers who entered the wreck found a great deal of silt had been kiclked up, seriously decreasing visibility. This may have led to the divers becomming disoriented and running out of air. The death toll onthe Spiegel Grove now stands at six.

It is always sad to hear that a member of the diving community has died. It is especially sad when it happens on a wreck that you have also been diving on. The Grove is not a dive for beginners, although I certainly was a beginner when I dove it. The currents around the wreck are brutal and it takes a concerted amount of energy just to get down the anchor line to the wreck. The full story of my own near fatal mishap on the Grove can be found here. Even with the advance certification I hold I would never consider entering the wreck without additional ship penetration training. Even wrecks like the Grove, which was deliberately sunk to create an artificial reef and had all the doors cut off making fairly wide penetration openings are deathtraps for the uninitiated. As a diver it is your responsibility to “plan your dive and dive your plan” and not to dive outside the limitations of your abilities and experience. All divers know this. What concerns me, and concerned me at the time I dove the wreck is the somewhat cavalier attitude of many of the dive operators in Key Largo who don’t carefully scrutinize divers experience levels before agreeing to take them out to the wreck. The Spiegel Grove is an attractive wreck because it seems deceptively benign; a 500 foot boat upright on the bottom at only about 100 feet. The dive outfits I chartered often made both morning and afternoon trips to the wreck and put as many as 20 divers at a time down the line. It seems like a miracle to me that more divers haven’t bought it, considering the disguised hazards of a strong current and low visibility inside the wreck. Of course, ultimately the responsibility for safety on a dive rests with the diver. Those poor souls who didn’t make it back reflect the adage that there are old divers and there are bold divers, but there are no old bold divers. RIP gentlemen.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Plame Game

Does anyone else think that Valerie Plame-Wilson is kind of hot? I guess the CIA goes for that sort of fresh faced all American look in an under-cover operative. Probably not such a great look for the middle-east, but what the hell. And what did Plame actually do for the CIA anyway? Funny you should ask, Mr. Patriot: According to a September 6, 2006 article in The Nation by David Corn she was no mere paper pusher, but an operations officer working on a top priority of the Bush Administration in a unit of the agency focused on Iraq. Plame was recruited in 1985 after graduating from Penn State. After two years of training to be a covert case officer, she worked at headquarters at Langly on the Greek desk; she subsequently was posted to Athens where she posed as a State Department employee while engaging in her true mission; spotting and recruiting agents for the agency. In the early 1990s, she became a “nonofficial cover officer” (NOC). NOCs are CIA's frontline officers. According to Corn, “They do not pretend to work for the US government; they do not have the protection of diplomatic immunity. They might claim to be a businessperson. She told people she was with an energy firm. Her main mission remained the same: to gather agents for the CIA.”

In 1997 Wilson returned to CIA headquarters and joined the Counterproliferation Division and assigned to the Iraq branch. Now get this: in the summer of 2001, *--before 9/11--*word came down from the top office that they were “ramping up on Iraq.” Her unit was expanded and renamed the Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI). The JTFI was charged with interviewing top Iraqi scientists and defectors to determine the status of Saadam’s WMD program. In that sense JTFI’s mission was a complete failure; the few scientists it managed to reach insisted Saddam had no WMD programs. Remember this is all either well before the 911 attacks or shortly thereafter.

The logical conclusion to be drawn from the fact that the Bush administration was seeking covert intelligence on Sadaam Hussein’s weapons programs long before 911 is that the invasion was already a fait accompli and that 911 was used as an excuse to invade. This observation will of course surprise no one who lives in a state without a NASCAR track. Despite the fact that the JTFI couldn’t find a shred of evidence that Iraq even had an unconventional weapons program, never mind an impending “mushroom cloud”, the administration overtly lied to Congress (and the United Nations) about its pre-war WMD intelligence and manipulated the emotions of a fearful country so it could invade Iraq for its own twisted ideological reasons. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; lying to Congress is an impeachable offense. Unless the illicit reasons for going to war are given a full airing in the Court of public opinion the Democrats and Republicans will never reach a consensus on how to get out of the quagmire in Baghdad.

As for Plame, “as a CIA employee still sworn to secrecy, she wasn't able to explain publicly that she had spent nearly two years searching for evidence to support the Administration's justification for war and had come up empty.” Instead her cover was blown by the White House and she was left to twist in the wind; all because her husband tried to stop a corrupt and criminal administration from throwing American boys into the desert to die in Iraq for nothing but corporate profits.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Subpoena Power

It seems that the Bush administration is going to have its date with destiny after all. The Democratic leadership in the Senate, joined by John Sununu and other Republican defectors are calling for Alberto Gonzalez’s head for his deliberate lying to Congress when he testified last week about the politically motivated firing of Federal attorneys. Of course Gonzalez’s head isn’t really the best one for the chopping block, the best head which could be severed here is attached to the corpulent body of Bush’s wonder boy Karl Rove, who orchestrated the firings as part of his slash and burn political strategy. I think Gonzalez is a toast; a very positive development for the Constitution, but as usual the real criminals in the administration have thus far eluded punishment for their sins.

The difference this time is that Congress has begun to remember that they have the authority to issue subpoenas to force a recaltricent administration to explain its actions. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee pat Leahy said that he wants answers. To that end the committee today authorized issuing subpoenas to five Justice Department officials in the investigation into the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys. Unfortunately Leahy postponed a vote on the authorization to use subpoenas to compel White House officials to testify, including President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.

Please, oh please get Rove under oath in Congress; that would be high political theatre. The Country can finally see in the flesh the deranged puppet master who has been pulling Bush’s strings for the last seven years. The million dollar question is whether the administration would fight the subpoenas. I suspect that they would. At this point they have nothing to gain by testifying under oath before a hostile Congress and contempt for Congress’s subpoena power fits rather nicely into their view of the limitless boundaries of executive power. This may yet blow up into a full-on Constitutional crisis. We’ll all have to stay tuned…

Friday, March 09, 2007

Specter of Incompetence

All the major news outlets have jumped on the FBI story, but predictably they are downplaying the seriousness of the civil rights violations and dutifully reporting the FBI’s lame excuses as factual. CNN was apparently so concerned about the disappearance of the Fourth Amendment that it left the story up in a prime location on its web site for almost a whole hour before it was replaced by some ground-breaking journalism on how the new daylight savings time is bound to confuse masses of McDonalds addled Americans this week-end. Here are some fun facts about the National Security letters and the DOJ’s audit:

· The audit said there were no indications that the FBI's use of the letters "constituted criminal misconduct." (Now there’s a surprise)
· The FBI has made as many as 56,000 requests a year for information using the letters since the Patriot Act was passed in October, 2001, the audit found. (And how many pertained to terrorism? We’ll never know since its classified)
· A single letter can contain multiple information requests, and multiple letters may target one individual.
· The audit found that in 2004 and 2005, more than half of the targets of the national security letters were U.S. citizens.
· The audit also found problems with "exigent letters," which are supposed to be used only in emergencies when time may not permit the NSL procedure to be followed.
· The audit found exigent letters were not used in emergencies and gave the agency access to telephone records it should not have had.

Director Meuller has been designated as fall guy by the administration and seems prepared to commit public seppuku within the next few days. Republican Senator Arlen Spector, who’s having a really bad week what with finding out that he was the one responsible for the provision in the Patriot Act authorizing Bush to appoint attorneys general into the Patriot Act declared, "There will be oversight hearings," Not prosecutions. Not indictments. Oversight hearings. He also said the Patriot Act may have to be changed and power given the FBI curtailed because "they appear not to be able to know how to use it."

My question is, "Who really doesn’t know how to use his power Senator?" You were the one that granted the FBI this power to begin with. Despite warnings from civil libertarians and, well, regular libertarians, you abdicated your responsibility to the American people and helped ram the Patriot Act down America’s throat. Now you are all over the media whining about how the FBI is out of control? Who do you think you’re fooling? Lest we forget, Specter has been fooling Americans for quite a long time. His dicey relationship with the truth started way back when he was a member of the Warren Commission and the principal architect of the single-bullet theory. But that’s a story for another day.

Uncivil Liberties II

Ever have one of those days when you read the paper and all the stories you read seem to be connected to each other in some way? Today’s Times has a front page article on how Gonzalez’s DOJ is about to issue a “scathing” report criticizing how the FBI has been abusing its power to issue administrative subpoenas. These subpoenas have allowed the feds to obtain thousands of telephone, business and financial records without any prior judicial approval. The DOJ issuing a report criticizing the FBI is sort of like Hitler writing Stalin a letter criticizing his treatment of political prisoners. Nevertheless, the embattled Justice Department has apparently decided to do something to burnish its image which has been seriously tarnished by the attorney general firing scandal. Of course, I would argue that DOJ’s image took a nose-dive shortly after Ashcroft started shilling for the Patriot Act in 2002; after all it was the Patriot Act which granted the FBI the discretion to issue these extra-judicial subpoenas in the first place.

DOJ’s report apparently concludes that the procedures put in place by the FBI to govern the program are being ignored by the agency. Sound familiar? Read yesterday’s post pertaining to the NYPD. The report also alleges that the program lacks effective management, monitoring and reporting procedures. It seems that big brother has trouble behaving itself when granted unfettered and unsupervised power to violate the rights of the people. This is true at the local level (see, NYPD) as well as the national level. So what are these National Security Letters? Unlike search warrants, they are issued without prior judicial approval and require only the approval of the agent in charge of a local F.B.I. office. From the Times:

“The use of national security letters since the September 2001 attacks has been a hotly debated domestic intelligence issue. They were once used only in espionage and terrorism cases, and then only against people suspected as agents of a foreign power.

With the passage of the Patriot Act, their use was greatly expanded and was allowed against Americans who were subjects of any investigation. The law also allowed other agencies like the Homeland Security Department to issue the letters.”

I fail to see how the Fourth Amendment even exists at the Federal level where the FBI has been granted the authority to conduct extensive searches of records merely by asserting that an individual is subject to an investigation. The Democrat’s need to make repealing this sort of nonsense the centerpiece of the Democrat’s need to make their legislative agenda. The Patriot is encouraged by the fact that the Democrats appear to be finding the ground beneath their feet and exercising the position of their majority to push for hearings on a variety of issues, but it isn’t enough. The liberal caucus in the party must become more aggressive and continue its efforts to pry the lid off the DOJ, no matter what nastiness comes crawling out.

Another story in the Times reported that violent crime rose by double-digit percentages in cities across the country over the last two years. The Times failed to note that the increase occurred despite the overwhelming increase in law enforcement power (see above, and below)and a huge influx of money. According to the Times, “Local police departments blame several factors: the spread of methamphetamine use in some Midwestern and Western cities, gangs, high poverty and a record number of people being released from prison. But the biggest theme, they say, is easy access to guns and a willingness, even an eagerness, to settle disputes with them, particularly among young people.” Bullshit. The real culprit here is the government’s approval of violence as a means to solve social problems. From the “pacification” of Baghdad to the extra-judicial torture of unindicted suspects, to the unfettered power granted the police, the message has gone out across the land that the government approves of violence. Until we stop our insane slide into brutality and totalitarianism, the crime rate will continue to rise. One can only hope that the people will at some point realize that there is a better target for their ire than their neighbors.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Uncivil Liberties

Those of you who live in New York are no doubt familiar with the right-wing drift of the police department since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Some of you may be familiar with the Handschu litigation. A consent decree, negotiated in 1985, ostensibly ended the 1971 lawsuit which had accused the NYPD with harassment of political organizations by the NYPD’s “Red Squad.” From ACLU’s web site, “The case began as a challenge to various police practices that involved the maintenance of dossiers on political activists and the use of various undercover and surveillance techniques to monitor the activities of political organizations and individuals. The case was settled with a consent decree entered in 1985, in which the Police Department was prohibited from investigating political and religious organizations and groups unless there was "specific information" that the group was linked to a crime that had been committed or was about to be committed. The decree also established a system of record-keeping and procedures for approval of investigations by a three-member body, called the Handschu Authority. The system was designed to create a "paper trail" in order to ensure against abuse.”

In 2002 the NYPD sought modification of the consent degree asserting that the changed global circumstances in a post 911 world warranted a loosening of the terms of the decree and favored granting the police more latitude to conduct surveillance to thwart the evil terrorists who were at that very instant plotting to destroy various New York landmarks. On February 11, 2003, the same Federal District Court court that crafted the original decree approved modifications to the agreement conditioned upon the Police Department developing new guidelines consistent with those developed by the U.S. Department of Justice for investigations conducted by the F.B.I. The Police Department’s modified guidelines were accepted by the District Court on April 8, 2003. (Doesn’t that make you feel safer? The NYPD had merely to meet the FBI’s standards for protecting American’s civil liberties. Makes you wonder about their prior standards).

Rather than the NYPD going out and rounding up actual terrorists, they used their newly expanded power almost immediately to begin spying on political protests and Critical Mass bike rides. During anti-Iraq war demonstrations in February and March 2003, the NYPD employed certain "debriefing" practices in which arrested protesters were subjected to inappropriate interrogation into their past political associations. The NYPD’s conduct prompted the judge to make the NYPD’s own guidelines a part of the decree, thereby rendering the NYPD bound to follow its own internal regulations; something that under developed municipal law the department is ordinarily not required to do.

Despite these restrictions, the NYPD continued its unlawful activities by engaging in photographic and video surveillance of protestors during the Republican National Convention and during the monthly critical mass bike rides. The NYPD’s clear violations of its own rules necessitated a trip back to Court which brings me (finally) to the subject of today’s post.

Several weeks ago Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. issued a blistering 47 page decision threatening the city with contempt if it again violated its own guidelines by videotaping or photographing political protestors without some evidence that a crime was to be committed. He noted that he originally made the guidelines part of his 2003 Order modifying the decree, “after senior N.Y.P.D. officers misbehaved themselves by ordering that arrested protesters held in precinct station houses be interrogated in inappropriate ways before being released.” As for the guidelines themselves, they require that before the police would be allowed to record people at public gatherings they would have to show that some unlawful activity might occur and they would still be required to apply for permission to the deputy police commissioner in charge of the Intelligence Division.

The Corporation Counsel’s office has taken a page from the Bush administration by advancing the argument that the Federal Court has no authority to limit the NYPD's surveillance activities. In it's brief the City argued that although Judge Haight was apparently within his rights to modify the decree (after all they requested the modification), he was wrong in asserting that the new rules could be enforced by the Court. The logical inconsistency makes my head spin. They further averred that “the N.Y.P.D. never had any intention of agreeing to the incorporation of detailed operational guidelines into the consent decree subjecting itself to contempt for a plethora of potential violations.” The hubris! The City can't have it both ways. Let's review: The NYPD pushed for a loosening of the original consent decree’s restrictions, which was granted. They then came up with their own internal guidelines as required by the Court. These guidelines were incorporated into the consent decree by the Judge. The City consistently violated its own guidelines, and now advances the argument that the Judge has no right to enforce the decree because it never had any intention of following the guidelines it drafted for the purpose of amending the decree! Simply shocking. If Haight has any balls he’ll cite the City for contempt and sock Corporation Counsel with sanctions for advancing such a frivolous argument and wasting the Court's time.

Visit Kevin's New Blog Before He Kills Me

My dear friend and erstwhile law school buddy portinexile a/k/a/ Kevin has a new blog that you should all go and check out. Kevin is “Just trying to hold it together for now and get back in the game.” Whatever game he wants to get back into, I suggest you all help him along by visiting his site and commenting on his posts. I promise that he is a more prolific poster than the Patriot has been lately.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Domestic Disturbances

It looks like the story about the Bush Administration’s purge of local federal Attorney General offices has some legs after all. The House and Senate have both scheduled hearings for this week just as evidence surfaces that the removals were politically motivated after all. I also doubt its coincidence that the DOJ apparatchik responsible for the firings has just announced his resignation. As odious as the replacement of otherwise qualified AGs with Karl Rove’s golf buddies appears there is a more disturbing issue. Namely, from where is the President deriving his authority to stage his mini night of the long knives? Can you guess? Yes, it’s our old friend the Patriot Act. An article on today asks the pertinent questions, “[w]ho changed the Patriot Act to make it easier to replace U.S. attorneys without oversight, and how did it happen with nobody looking?” As usual, the provision in the Act which granted the President power to replace U.S. Attorneys was designed to consolidate executive power and diminish the power of the other branches by removing both judicial and congressional oversight of interim U.S. attorney appointments and letting DOJ anoint them indefinitely. According to the Slate article, “[t]his served three important goals: consolidating presidential power, diminishing oversight, and ensuring that "interim" prosecutors had permanent jobs.” The President’s power to appoint these indefinite lackeys was written into the law when Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act last year. Senators on both sides of the isle have come up with increasingly lame excuses for why they rubber-stamped the President’s power grab. From Arlen Spector: “"The first I found out about the change in the Patriot Act occurred a few weeks ago when Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein approached me on the floor." From Chuck Schumer: [The Republicans] "slipped the new provision into the Patriot Act in the dead of night." So, the best our elected officials could come up with to explain their abdication of responsibility as a co-equal branch of the government is something along the lines of “I don’t know how it got there” and “I didn’t read it but voted for it anyway.” Well done ladies and gentlemen, well done.

The provision was actually introduced by the DOJ through a Rove operative named Michael O’Neill who joined Republican senator Arlen Spector’s staff right about the time he was being pilloried by the White House for being soft on supporting the President. (O’Neill also formerly clerked for Clarence Thomas) So Spector’s excuse is really that O'Neill had merely been following orders from the Department of Justice when he snuck new language into the Patriot Act that would consolidate executive branch authority without informing Spector about what he was doing. Or, as Slate put it, “either the DOJ snookered O'Neill, O'Neill snookered Specter, or Specter snookered his colleagues. But any way you slice it, the executive seems to have encroached on congressional turf in order to expand executive turf.”

The most disturbing but perhaps least surprising thing about this is that this administration is willing to subvert not just the Democrats but even Hill Republicans to push its agenda. I wonder what else was slipped into the Patriot act while Congress was sleeping?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

An Open Letter to the Legal Aid Society

My Dear Friends,

I wanted to express my deep appreciation for all of your support over the past month. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t received a card, a heartfelt note or a phone call from someone at Legal Aid asking how Jack and I are getting along and offering whatever help it is within their power to give. It is clear by the overwhelming response to Becky’s passing that she touched all of our hearts, and by extending yourself in this difficult time you have touched mine.

What is especially comforting to me is how the Legal Aid community’s overwhelming response to her passing validates her core belief in the essential goodness of humanity. It takes a special sort of person to do the kind of work that you all do on a daily basis. The case load is unmanageable, the stress level is often intolerable and the clients aren’t exactly falling all over themselves to shower you with their undying appreciation. As you can imagine (and as some of you have overheard) I had endless conversations with Becky about her cases and about working as a public defender in general. The one thing that stands out in my mind is that no matter how objectively awful her client appeared on paper, and no matter how overworked and burnt out she was, at some point in our conversation she would comment that her client was essentially a good person who did a bad thing and how it isn’t fair to take measure of a man by looking at his worst acts.

That is the sort of view of humanity that Becky had and it’s a view that is in short supply in today’s world. It has been my experience that it is a view of the world that can be more readily found at organizatoins like Legal Aid than in most other areas of the legal profession. Your generous financial contributions and offers of support to Jack and I are a reflection of that world-view and they are appreciated from the bottom of our hearts.

Mark & Jack