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(July 25, 2005)

You are viewing the archives for January 2012

Anthrax and Conspiracy Theories

Jan 30, 2012 by Ugh | 2 Comments
From the Washington Post: In documents deep in the files of a recently settled Florida lawsuit, Justice Department civil attorneys contradicted their own department’s conclusion that [Bruce E.] Ivins [who killed himself before he could go to trial] was unquestionably the anthrax killer.

Uh, whut? I try not to pay too much attention to the Conspiracy Theory crowd and 9/11 Truthers and shit, but this kind of thing really makes me wonder. What, the fuck, is the DOJ doing? I mean, it's interesting how the whole anthrax mailings seems to have been whitewashed from America's collective consciousness, as opposed to 9/11 (which may be good or bad), but...

This just does not cut it, "Justice Department prosecutors and FBI officials said they stand firmly behind their conclusions that Ivins prepared and mailed the anthrax-laced letters, which killed five people and terrified the nation just after Sept. 11, 2001. They said the civil filings were legal hypotheticals designed to shield the government from a negligence lawsuit filed by the family of an anthrax victim." Seriously, "legal hypotheticals!" IOW, "we're making up stories to tell the Court!" How does that not merit some kind of sanction if the government stands "firmly behind their conclusions" in the anthrax case? I mean, I know judges are happy to get cases off their docket, but if I were the district court judge involved I might wake up from my nap and say, at least, "Hmm?"

Also: After the documents were filed publicly, the civil attorneys, who had not checked beforehand with the FBI or U.S. attorney’s office, “got scolded, and rightly so,” said one person familiar with the events, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal matters. “If you file something in court that you don’t word perfectly and you have to go back and refile it, you should get yelled at for that.”

Right, "word perfectly." Are you really laughing at us?

And: The Justice Department initiated settlement discussions in August, about a month after filing its controversial motions, according to people familiar with the discussions. The settlement, finalized Nov. 28, paid $2.5 million to the Stevens family. Federal officials denied any relationship between their filings and the settlement and characterized it as a victory, since the family initially sought $50 million and the government did not admit liability.

A victory! Just shut-up, really.

Before the settlement, [Plaintiff's attorney] questioned under oath several scientists whom the government had put on a list of witnesses for the civil trial. In their depositions, William Russell Byrne and Gerard P. Andrews, Ivins’s supervisors before and after the anthrax mailings, said they were virtually certain of his innocence. (emphasis added)

O Rly?

In a sane country this kind of story would lead the evening news, but I've yet to see anything of it outside the WaPo.

Point Shaving in College Sports

Jan 26, 2012 by Ugh | 4 Comments
There is an article on that discusses a federal case recently brought against 10 individuals, including a couple college basketball players and an assistant coach, for allegedly fixing college basketball games. The article focuses on problems with the case, primarily with the informant.

I bring this up not because I want to discuss this particular case, but because of a broader issue that has always puzzled me: why is point shaving in college sports (which usually occurs in basketball) illegal at all, especially at the federal level? Betting on college sports is illegal in the U.S. everywhere except for Nevada, so I can see how Nevada might look askance at point shaving, though they wouldn't have much authority/jurisdiction to go after someone who shaved points in, say, Florida. But federally?

I guess one might argue that point shaving is an interstate conspiracy to defraud Nevada casinos, and thus there is a federal interest here. But, what duty does a college basketball player owe to those casinos? If he (or she, though I've not heard of that) wants to accept cash and play at less than his best, what's wrong with that? How is that any different than someone paying, say, a New England Patriot employee to disclose before last year's NFL playoff game that Tom Brady will be playing with an ankle injury, which the Patriots subsequently lost (though maybe that would be illegal too)?

A weaker justification for this illegality may be that the ticket holders were defrauded as they were misled into purchasing the tickets to a sporting event that didn't turn out to be so. But that's not the rationale I think for the federal law. Instead, it seems to be designed to protect the interests of gamblers, even though no one can legally place such bets unless they're in Nevada. Indeed, this takes place against the backdrop of the DOJ shutting down internet gambling sites, including sports gambling sites, for violations of U.S. gambling laws.

It really is just bizarre. Am I missing something obvious here as to the rationale/justification behind such laws?


Jan 23, 2012 by Ugh | 21 Comments
While I think that Romney will ultimately win the GOP nomination for President this year, that Newt won so convincingly in SC yesterday casts a fair bit of doubt on that conclusion. Since the possibility of a Gingrich GOP win is now greater, and thus the possibility of President Gingrich is also much greater, I've started to wonder what a Gingrich Administration would look like.

This seems an impossible task. It's like wondering what a Palin Administration would look like. Who would be Gingrich's Defense Secretary? State? Treasury? How would he otherwise staff the Executive Branch? And foreign policy? Do we bomb Iran in January 2013? I just have no idea. Maybe it would just be the usual GOP suspects, such as those that would populate the branch if Mitt won, but I really have no idea.

Further, what would it mean if we had a President that has shown his utter and publicly displayed contempt for his political/ideological opponents, whomever they might be at the time, to have all that narcissism validated by being elected as "Leader of the Free World?" I mean, as bad as George W. Bush was as president, I never got the feeling that he was someone who thought of himself as smarter than everybody else and entitled to be POTUS and whose general mode of thinking was "why can't you stupid fncking people recognize my fncking genius you morons." This seems to be Newt's m.o.

I wrote this Kos* diary more than five years ago as a joke that folks should vote for the GOP in 2006 because the alternative would be too boring. A Gingrich Presidency represents the best kind of such faux-excitement. Just how horrible would it be? I don't know, but morbid curiosity makes me (almost) want to find out.

*I also wrote this Diary which I entitled "Negotiating a Stimulus Package with the GOP's Cheese Shop", that I was quite proud of at the time and it seems it holds up, as long as I'm talking about narcissism.

This Week in the Fall of Rome

Jan 14, 2012 by Ugh | 3 Comments
Let's see...

Roman Legions videoed urinating on the bodies of enemy dead.

Roman client state (AKA the cossacks) engaging in terrorist assassinations of civilians of a perceived enemy.

Transcripts emerge of fiddling while Rome burns.

Leader of Loyal Roman Opposition is officially insane.

Roman paper of record asks if reporting on the accuracy of public figures' statements should be included in its reporters' job descriptions.

Roman gulag celebrates its 10th Birthday.

Roman High Court validates convictions obtained with unreliable evidence.

Evidence of continued Carthaginian sympathies grows.

Update: Former high Roman officials sought for criminal prosecution for acts of torture.

Obama's Latest "Recess" Appointments

Jan 09, 2012 by Ugh | Add comment
This past week President Obama made several "recess" appointments to staff various executive branch agencies, including Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Obama made these so-called recess appointments despite that the Senate (AFAICT) considers itself to be "in session" and not "recess." If true, there would be no basis upon which Obama could recess appoint someone under the Constitution, it seems to me.

I'm sure I'm missing some of the history here but these "pro forma" sessions of the Senate appear to have originated (at least in their modern form) under the Democrats during the GWB administration to prevent him from recess appointing persons to his administration that the Democrats didn't like (legitimately or not). These sessions continue today despite the current Democratic control of the Senate, presumably because the Constitution requires the consent of one house to allow the other to go into recess for more than three days, and the GOP controlled House won't consent.

Constitutional arguments against this pro-forma tactic ring hollow to me, as the Constitutional allows each House to set the rules of its own proceedings (which is why we have the filibuster). One argument is that respecting these pro forma sessions - where no business is conducted - effectively nullifies the President's recess appointment power, and interpreting one part of the Constitution to nullify another is somehow improper. But, the Senate could unambiguously never go into recess if it wanted to, so I'm not sure this "nullification" argument holds much water, other than as a means of extracting some cost from the Senate. Further, I don't think it would be too hard for a court to come to the conclusion that "whether or not the Senate is in session is wholly up to the Senate and its rules," and not dismiss a case under, e.g., the political question doctrine.

More broadly, I like these pro forma sessions for the same reason I liked them during the GWB administration - they represent a rare instance of Congress telling the Executive to eff off. It would be nice if we saw this more often, especially in the area of military policy and national security. Yes, it can be taken too far, such as the serial blocking of Obama administration appointees to non-cabinet head positions as currently conducted by the GOP via the filibuster, but we've had too much of the imperial presidency for my taste.

Finally, can we get rid of the filibuster now, at least for appointments by POTUS to the Executive Branch? They really do wreak a lot of unnecessary havoc (for example, we haven't had a Senate-confirmed top tax policy person at the Treasury Department for the whole of Obama's Presidency, nearly 3 years).

Self Censorship

Jan 02, 2012 by Ugh | 14 Comments
Joan Walsh Anglund wrote many children's books, including one called "The Brave Cowboy." First published in 1959 (I believe) I received a copy of this book in 1976 from my then "best friend" (I was 3). The book got passed around my family until I finally received it back a couple years ago to read to my first son, who is almost three himself now.

Needless to say, the book is in serious disrepair, having been a family favorite to read to little boys for over 35 years. So for Christmas my wife bought a new copy of the book, figuring that our almost three year old wouldn't notice if we switched from the old, ratty version with the disintegrating binding to a new version, so long as the story and pictures were the same.

But they were not. Most of the book is the same, but there is one major difference (and a few other minor ones). In the original, or at least, in my original copy, the Brave Cowboy is not afraid of "Indians" it says, on the second page of the story. And later, when the book tells tales of the cowboy's adventures, it says that "maybe he would hunt wild Indians that might be in the territory...."

In the recently acquired version, "Indians" has been replaced with "mountain lions" and the Brave Cowboy now hunts bank robbers. In addition, the illustrations have been replaced, such that there are no Indians in the "new" version.

When I first read the original book to my son (not remembering it being read to me) I was put off by the references to the Cowboy's "hunt[ing] wild Indians," for all the reasons I'm sure readers of this blog are familiar with. But I was also put off by the changes in the new version and, in particular, that there was no acknowledgement in the new version that the original story had been altered in any way, a peculiar form of self-censorship, it seems to me.

This was disturbing as it seems to be a sort of whitewashing of history, in the hopes that no one will notice and thus not somehow be critical of the author and/or publisher (and reminds me of the revisions to Disney's Fantasia ). Problematic because, well, it makes it appear as if everyone was always perfect and held the mores of today. It seems to me the "right" thing to do would be to change the book, while acknowledging the changes, but I would be interested in others' thoughts.