Don Siegelman Update

| Fri Nov. 14, 2008 11:13 AM EST

DON SIEGELMAN UPDATE....Remember the Don Siegelman case? He was the popular Democratic ex-governor of Alabama who was planning to run again in 2006 but was conveniently prosecuited on flimsy corruption charges and thus put out of action. Background here, here, and here.

Today, Time reports that John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has yet more evidence that Leura Canary, the U.S. Attorney in Alabama who was a major supporter of Siegelman's Republican opponent, remained involved in the case even after she claimed she had recused herself:

Conyers says the evidence raises "serious questions" about the U.S. Attorney in the Siegelman case, who, documents show, continued to involve herself in the politically charged prosecution long after she had publicly withdrawn to avoid an alleged conflict of interest relating to her husband, a top GOP operative and close associate of Bush adviser Karl Rove. Conyers' letter also cites evidence of numerous contacts between jurors and members of the Siegelman prosecution team that were never disclosed to the trial judge or defense counsel.

....The documents — whose authenticity is not in dispute — include e-mails written by Canary, long after her recusal, offering legal advice to subordinates handling the case. At the time Canary wrote the e-mails, her husband — Alabama GOP operative William J. Canary — was a vocal booster of the state's Republican governor, Bob Riley, who had defeated Siegelman for the office and against whom Siegelman was preparing to run again...."A recused United States Attorney should not be providing factual information ... to the team working on the case under recusal," Conyers wrote Mukasey last week.

Will Mukasey do anything about this? Who knows? But if he doesn't, a Democratic replacement just might. Stay tuned.

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Wanna Work for Obama? Prepare for a Strip Search

| Fri Nov. 14, 2008 8:58 AM EST

CNN has the scoop on the background check it takes even to be considered for a 'Bama job:

The Obama transition team is sending a seven-page, 63-item questionnaire to every candidate for Cabinet and other high-ranking positions in the incoming administration.

The questions cover everything from information on family members, Facebook pages, blogs and hired help to links to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, American International Group and troubled banks as well as lawsuits, gifts, resumes, loans and more.

...It also asks about writings, speeches, testimony, online communications and even personal diaries.

An entire section requests details on any criminal or civil legal action in which the applicant may have been involved. The last question in that 11-item section asks for details on any child support or alimony orders.

In an apparent effort to avoid the problems faced by several nominees in the last two administrations, a block of four questions is devoted to ferreting out details—including the immigration status—of any domestic help the applicant may have hired....

I include these details (follow the link for the full Monty) just to camouflage which, of many, would disqualify me. But I think this one is enough without his henchmen ever getting to that pesky marijuana farm I, or someone who bore a striking resemblance to 'me,' ran. Allegedly.

Four Dams Down...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 11:58 PM EST

Wpdms_shdrlfi020l_klamath_river.jpg A tentative agreement has been reached to begin decommissioning four aging dams on the Klamath River—the largest dam-removal project ever undertaken. The agreement marks a major shift in the battle over Klamath water, reports AAAS.

The Klamath flows from southern Oregon through northern California. It's the third most important salmon river in the lower 48 after the Columbia and Sacramento. The dams provide cheap renewable energy and irrigation for farmers but not enough water for salmon. During the 2001 drought, federal officials shut off the irrigation water for the sake of the fish. In 2002, after protests from farmers, they reversed course and shunted flows back to Oregon's potato and alfalfa fields. At least 33,000 salmon died as a result of that decision, in one of the worst salmon kills in US history. In 2007 declining salmon in the Klamath produced a severely curtailed commercial fishing quota. Everyone got burned. Fish worst of all.

According to the new agreement, the dams will come down starting in 2020. Before that, scientists and engineers have to figure out what to do with all the silt accumulated behind them. Loosing the silt into the river's flow will likely suffocate everything downstream. Meanwhile Oregon and California will also use the time until 2020 to raise money to pay for the dam removal. Under the agreement, PacifiCorp customers will pay a 2% surcharge on their utility bills to raise up to $200 million for the dam removal. California is expected to issue general obligation bonds to raise an additional $250 million.

Hedge Fund Managers To Congress: Go Ahead, Regulate Us

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 6:18 PM EST

What a difference two years and a financial crisis make. When Congress last floated the idea of regulating the hedge fund industry in 2006, proposing a bill that would have forced them to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the industry revolted and the bill died in committee. But on Thursday, in the face of growing economic tumult and an incoming pro-regulation Democratic administration, top hedge fund managers signaled they are now willing to deal on the thorny issue of oversight.

Testifying before a congressional oversight committee, fund managers Philip A. Falcone, Kenneth C. Griffin, John Paulson, James Simons, and George Soros agreed that hedge funds may require increased government regulation. Even minor regulation or increases in transparency would be a big change for the hedge fund industry. "Currently, hedge funds are virtually unregulated," said Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held the hearing. (Mother Jones also covered Waxman's previous hearings on Lehman Brothers, AIG, credit rating agencies, and federal regulators.) The 1998 rescue of Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) demonstrated that the failure of just one highly leveraged, unregulated fund could require government intervention. Because LTCM was considered "too interconnected to fail," the Clinton administration arranged for a bailout of the fund by Wall Street banks. Most of the committee members (and, naturally, the hedge fund managers) believe that hedge funds were not the cause of the financial crisis. But with the economy already in dire straits, members of Congress are determined that the hedge fund industry not produce another LTCM. "In our prior hearings, we have focused on what went wrong in the past," Waxman said. "Today's hearing lets us ask what could go wrong in the future so we can prevent damage before it occurs." With President-elect Barack Obama entering office in January, the writing is already on the wall when it comes to increased regulation of the financial sector. By demonstrating their willingness to accept some increased regulation, the hedge fund managers who testified on Thursday made the imposition of new rules on their funds' behavior almost inevitable.

Crank-Call Scandal Turns BBC Upside Down

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 5:35 PM EST

mojo-photo-brandross.jpgAnglophiles out there may have already been watching this saga unfold with amusement (as we sip our tea), but it's finally reached the hallowed pages of the New York Times, so here's the story for the uninitiated. British comedian Russell Brand (far right), known to US audiences as a recent host of the MTV Video Music Awards, has a weekly show on BBC Radio 2 every Saturday night. On the October 18th episode, Brand and guest Jonathan Ross (near right) left multiple "lewd" messages on the answering machine of Andrew Sachs, the actor who played Manuel on Fawlty Towers, after being unable to reach Sachs for a pre-scheduled interview. Part of the messages' gist was that Brand had had an affair with Sachs' granddaughter, Georgina Baillie. While only a few complaints were received after the initial broadcast, The Mail on Sunday took notice eight days later, writing an article and a commentary piece calling the show "verbal sewage." Complaints skyrocketed, reaching nearly 40,000 within a week, and even Prime Minister Gordon Brown jumped in the fray, saying the episode was "unacceptable." The fallout was severe: Brand was suspended and then quit, Ross was suspended from his popular Friday night television show for three months, and two BBC executives resigned. So, what the heck did they say?


| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 4:56 PM EST

SPAM....Wow. One spam host got taken offline Tuesday and the worldwide volume of spam dropped by two-thirds:

The volume of junk e-mail sent worldwide dropped drastically today after a Web hosting firm identified by the computer security community as a major host of organizations allegedy engaged in spam activity was taken offline, according to security firms that monitor spam distribution online.

....The servers are operated by McColo Corp., which these experts say has emerged as a major U.S. hosting service for international firms and syndicates that are involved in everything from the remote management of millions of compromised computers to the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and designer goods, fake security products and child pornography via email....Immediately after McColo was unplugged, security companies charted a precipitous drop in spam volumes worldwide. E-mail security firm IronPort said spam levels fell by roughly 66 percent as of Tuesday evening.

I suppose the spam purveyors of the world will find another host before long, but still. One server farm was responsible for more than half the spam traffic in the entire world? Wow again.

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Dingell Defeats Waxman

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 4:25 PM EST

DINGELL DEFEATS WAXMAN... Tim Fernholz of the Prospect has some sad news:

At least two people who would know (blind quotes suck but that's the way of the world) don't expect the Waxman challenge to Dingell at the Energy committee to get anywhere, in part because the last two classes of new representatives are more conservative on the whole than other members and will support the incumbent. The leadership hopes that it won't come to a vote, because Waxman, who is more closely identified with Pelosi (who isn't taking a position on the challenge) will drop out when he realizes he doesn't have the votes.

Dingell, who has been in the House for over 50 years, is a caretaker of Detroit's interests and an impediment to bold action on climate change. It's a shame that he'll be chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce during the Obama Administration.

You would think that as the House gets more and more Democratic, liberal priorities would get a stronger hearing. But every blue district in the country is already held by a Democrat. At this point, the DCCC is using conservative and moderate Democratic challengers to pick off seats in red areas. The paradoxical effect is that as the Democratic caucus grows more powerful, it also grows more conservative.

Dingell claims that he deserves the chairmanship because of his deep knowledge of and connections to the auto industry. But all Dingell has done with that knowledge/those connections is stand by and watch as the industry has driven itself into the ground. In fact, Dingell held the industry's hand the whole way. I'm not sure why he demands such respect, nor why anyone should consider his supposed qualifications as valid any longer.

Will Hillary Clinton Be Taking Those 3:00 am Calls After All?

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 4:18 PM EST

While Sen. Hillary Clinton has been discussed as a possible contender for various appointments in an Obama administration, her name didn't officially enter the short list of those reportedly under consideration to serve as Obama's secretary of state until today. The Washington Post reports:

There's increasing chatter in political circles that the Obama camp is not overly happy with the usual suspects for Secretary of State these days and that the field may be expanding somewhat beyond Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and maybe former Democratic senator Sam Nunn of Georgia.
There's talk, indeed, that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) may now be under consideration for the post. Her office referred any questions to the Obama transition; Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment.
The pick of the former presidential contender and Senate Armed Services Committee member would go a long way toward healing any remaining divisions within the Democratic Party after the divisive primaries. Also, Clinton has long been known for her work on international women's issues and human rights. The former first lady could also enhance Obama's efforts to restore U.S. standing amongst allies worldwide.

While the appointment might rub some Obama partisans still bitter over the prolonged nomination battle the wrong way, Hillary Clinton would have many advantages for the post. The Clintons are revered and familiar faces abroad, the appointment would please her own partisans, and one of the most coveted cabinet jobs would go to a woman.

It also would solve one possible problem. Senate staffers say if Obama picks Sen. John Kerry to be secretary of state, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) would be next in line to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and that might cause the new administration something of a problem, as Feingold has voted differently from Obama and Biden on key issues in the committee.

Similarly, if Obama asks Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense (for a year or more), he might not want to give a second top cabinet post to a Republican, that is, retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel. Every appointment has its repercussions.

And that sometimes makes it hard to figure out what moves are under way. But more to come as we hear it.

The Christmas Wars MMVIII: Attack of the Atheists

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 3:52 PM EST

mock_interior.pngSeems like every year Christmas decorations in stores go up earlier. Even the Banana Republic across the street from Mother Jones' offices has installed its celebratory, yet demure, holiday displays well in advance. Appropriately, the "War on Christmas" is also getting an early start this year. Already a pro-atheist group, the American Humanist Association, has launched a literally godless ad campaign that's riling up the pro-Christmas soldiers at Fox News and other conservative outlets. The ads (seen left) are shamelessly posted on 200 secular buses throughout D.C. In addition, the American Humanist Association will post billboards in Lamb's-blood-red Colorado Springs and Denver that say, "Don't believe in God? You are not alone."

The congenial press contact for the campaign, Fred Edwords, says he will appear on CNN and Bill O'Reilly's show tonight. That promises to be interesting since O'Reilly prophesized that a lack of a properly Christian Christmas could lead society to embrace other "...secular progressive programs, like legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage, because the objection to those things is religious-based, usually." Instead of leading to gay marriage, O'Reilly would prefer Christmas lead to religious celebrations and the purchase of specialty, fleur-de-lis emblazoned doormats sold on his site which boldly proclaim "We Say Merry Christmas."

Bill O'Reilly isn't the only one worried about Christmas, though. The book publishing world is pinning its hopes not on a Jewish guy in sandals, but on a blonde British woman in pointy boots: J.K. Rowling. Her new book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, is reportedly the shining hope of what promises to be an otherwise rather gloomy time for Border's. Christmas will also be not-so-fun for folks at Hearst. And Morgan Stanley. And Viacom. Merry Christmas!

Of Mortgages and Macoutes

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 2:49 PM EST

ConstantResizedGood.jpgIn a surprising twist in the American housing crisis, Judge Abraham Gerges in Kings County, New York, handed down a stiff sentence to Haitian-born Emanuel "Toto" Constant on October 29: 12.3 to 37 years for mortgage fraud.

If almost four decades in prison seems rather severe for white-collar crime, observers point out that, as Mother Jones wrote of Constant, he was also a violent criminal, responsible for numerous beatings, kidnappings, rapes and murders in his native Haiti during the early 1990s. Constant founded the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), which can be characterized as part political faction, part charity, part gang, and part terrorist organization whose goal was to intimidate supporters of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Leaving Haiti when the situation became politically difficult, Constant sometimes bragged that he enjoyed a close relationship with the CIA. A federal immigration judge signed an order to deport Constant to Haiti in September 1995 but the Clinton Justice Department later ordered the INS to release Toto. After 1996 the former torturer lived openly in Queens. Many believed the American government protected Constant because of his role in suppressing supporters of Aristide. Free from legal pressure, Constant went into real esate. He also got involved in new and more complicated crimes. Apparently while working as a real estate agent in Queens, he took part in a scheme that defrauded several banks of more than $1 million.

Like Al Capone, sentenced to 11 years for tax evasion in 1931, the judicial system has now nailed Constant for the least of his crimes, but nailed him all the same. Judge Gerges reportedly took Constant's crimes against the Haitian people into account when determining sentencing. Jennie Green of the Center for Constitutional Rights said of Constant's jail time: "One day, when the Haitian government and courts are in the position to hold him accountable, Constant will return to Haiti to be tried for murder, rape and other torture in his campaign of terror as head of a paramilitary death squad."

Anyone want to bet on when that will happen?

—Daniel Luzer

Image by flickr user CCRPics