Saturday, March 31, 2007

Quote of the Day

Leading Amerian trial lawyer, Martin Garbus, on politics and the US Supreme Court (from a Buzzflash interview):

The first thing to acknowledge is that there is not some immutable law that people can pull out. In the abortion area you have twelve circuit courts. You probably have 300 decisions by the various circuit courts on various aspects of abortion. Of the 300 decisions, 150 will go one way, 150 will go the other way. Then it goes up to the United States Supreme Court, and by and large, you have 5-4, 5-4, 5-4. One really can’t believe that when you have, let’s say, 299 to 298, that those 298 judges are wrong on the law, or that they’re right on the law. The law is fundamentally, in my belief, 100% subjective, and is applied 100% politically, depending how you define political.
Garbus has quite an impressive track record, including numerous appearances before the Supreme Court. His career has included early defence of comedian Lenny Bruce on obscentity charges, and civil rights, intellectual property and First Amendment advocacy. According to his his website, Garber's client roll includes Nancy Reagan Michael Bloomberg, Al Pacino, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Richard Gere, Robert Redford, Spike Lee, Michael Moore, and Tom Brokaw.
-Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Funny Man

From tonight's Washington Press Correspondents' Dinner:

"A year ago my approval rating was in the 30s, my nominee for the Supreme Court had just withdrawn, and my vice president had shot someone," President Bush said Wednesday night during the annual gathering.

"Ah," he said, "those were the good ol' days."

Well, at least he can tell a joke.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Florida Judge: Ex Still Due Alimony After Sex Change

More from the legal oddity department, this time from CNN:

CLEARWATER, Florida (AP) -- A woman's sex change operation does not free her ex-husband from his alimony obligation, a judge said Wednesday.

Attorneys for Lawrence Roach, 48, had argued his 55-year-old ex-wife's decision to switch genders and change her name from Julia to Julio Roberto Silverwolf voided their 2004 divorce agreement.

"It's illegal for a man to marry a man and it should likewise be illegal for a man to pay alimony to a man," said John McGuire, one of Roach's attorneys.

Circuit Judge Jack R. St. Arnold, however, ruled that in the eyes of the law, nothing changed significantly enough to free Roach from his $1,250-a-month obligation...

The judge said since Florida courts have ruled sex-change surgery cannot legally change a person's birth gender, Roach technically is not paying alimony to a man.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Courtroom Drama

Don't blame me for this.

Blame my friend Mike Fata, who sent it to me after receiving it by email...

Toronto, Ontario - A seven year old boy was at the centre of a Toronto courtroom drama yesterday when he challenged a court ruling over who should have custody of him. The boy has a history of being beaten by his parents and the judge initially awarded custody to his aunt, in keeping with the child custody law and regulations requiring that family unity be maintained to the degree possible.

The boy surprised the court when he proclaimed that his aunt beat him more than his parents and he adamantly refused to live with her. When the judge suggested that he live with his grandparents, the boy cried out that they also beat him. After considering the remainder of the immediate family and learning that domestic violence was apparently a way of life among them, the judge took the unprecedented step of allowing the boy to propose who should have custody of him.

After two recesses to check legal references and confer with child welfare officials, the judge granted temporary custody to the Toronto Maple Leafs, whom the boy firmly believes are not capable of beating anyone
I would have liked very much to change the punchline to refer to the Montreal Canadiens or the Conservative Party, rather than our beloved Leafs.

I will leave it as it is, however, confident in the knowledge that the perpetrators of this email outrage will ultimately pay their karmic dues tenfold.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Law of the Road

Two interesting "road stories" caught my eye today. First, from Yahoo News:

New Delhi court: Don't smoke and drive

Smoking poses serious health risks. So does driving in New Delhi. And combining the two is deadly, according to two New Delhi judges who have barred smoking at the wheel, officials said Tuesday, apparently the first such ban in the world.

Declaring "New Delhi roads dangerous to human life," the city's High Court on Monday imposed a slew of new measures aimed at deterring habitually bad drivers, including the smoking ban and a prohibition on using a mobile phone while at the wheel.

"Anything that distracts the attention of driver is dangerous. The human mind cannot do two things simultaneously," said New Delhi's traffic commissioner Qamar Ahmed, welcoming the ruling, which goes into effect April 9 and only covers New Delhi, a city of 14 million people.

And then there was this crazy one, from

Florida: City to Seize Homes Over a $5 Parking Ticket

Brooksville, Florida proposes to foreclose homes and seize cars over less than $20 in parking tickets.

The city council in Brooksville, Florida voted this week to advance a proposal granting city officials the authority to place liens and foreclose on the homes of motorists accused of failing to pay a single $5 parking ticket. Non-homeowners face having their vehicles seized if accused of not paying three parking offenses.

According to the proposed ordinance, a vehicle owner must pay a parking fine within 72 hours if a meter maid claims his automobile was improperly parked, incurring tickets worth between $5 and $250. Failure to pay this amount results in the assessment of a fifty-percent "late fee."

After seven days, the city will place a lien on the car owner's home for the amount of the ticket plus late fees, attorney fees and an extra $15 fine. The fees quickly turn a $5 ticket into a debt worth several hundred dollars, growing at a one-percent per month interest rate.

The ordinance does not require the city to provide notice to the homeowner at any point so that after ninety days elapse, the city will foreclose. If the motorist does not own a home, it will seize his vehicle after the failure to pay three parking tickets.

Any motorist who believes a parking ticket may have been improperly issued must first pay a $250 "appeal fee" within seven days to have the case heard by a contract employee of the city. This employee will determine whether the city should keep the appeal fee, plus the cost of the ticket and late fees, or find the motorist not guilty. Council members postponed a decision on whether to reduce this appeal fee until final adoption of the measure which is expected in the first week of April.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Monday, March 26, 2007

Bill Maher: New Rules For Bush and Cheney

Watch this for a no-holds-barred critique by Bill Maher:

(h/t: Seeing the Forest)

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Hagel: Bush Impeachment an Option


WASHINGTON - With his go-it-alone approach on Iraq, President Bush is flouting Congress and the public, so angering lawmakers that some consider impeachment an option over his war policy, a senator from Bush’s own party said Sunday...

GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a frequent critic of the war, stopped short of calling for Bush’s impeachment. But he made clear that some lawmakers viewed that as an option should Bush choose to push ahead despite public sentiment against the war.

“Any president who says, I don’t care, or I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else, or I don’t care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed — if a president really believes that, then there are — what I was pointing out, there are ways to deal with that,” said Hagel, who is considering a 2008 presidential run.

-Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Boston Globe: Impeach A.G. in "Attorneygate"

A Boston Globe op-ed (from Raw Story):

THE HOUSE of Representatives should begin impeachment proceedings against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Gonzales, the nation's highest legal officer, has been point man for serial assaults against the rule of law, most recently in the crude attempt to politicize criminal prosecutions. Obstruction of a prosecution is a felony, even when committed by the attorney general....

It's hard to imagine a more direct assault on the impartiality of the law or the professionalism of the criminal justice system. There are several other reasons to remove Gonzales, all involving his cavalier contempt for courts and liberties of citizens, most recently in the FBI's more than 3,000 cases of illegal snooping on Americans.

Why impeachment? In our system of checks and balances, the Senate confirms members of the Cabinet, but impeachment for cause is the only way to remove them. The White House, by refusing to cooperate, has now left Congress no other recourse...

In refusing to cooperate, Bush puffed himself up to the swaggering truculence that has worn so thin, declaring, "We will not cooperate with a partisan fishing expedition." But this investigation is hardly partisan, since several Republican senators and congressmen have called for Gonzales to resign. And if there were ever a legitimate subject of full congressional investigation, tampering with criminal investigations on political grounds is surely one.

Frank Rich of the New York Times also pipes in:

But why go to the mat for Alberto Gonzales? Even Bush loyalists have rarely shown respect for this crony whom the president saddled with the nickname Fredo; they revolted when Bush flirted with appointing him to the Supreme Court and shun him now. The attorney general's alleged infraction -- misrepresenting a Justice Department purge of eight U.S. attorneys, all political appointees, for political reasons -- seems an easy-to-settle kerfuffle next to his infamous 2002 memo dismissing the Geneva Conventions' strictures on torture as "quaint" and "obsolete."

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Saturday, March 24, 2007

When Bloggers get Mainstreamed

I encountered this entry today at AMERICABlog, a leading progressive blog that I read regularly. It is published by John Aravosis, a Washington attorney and activist.

(By way of background, Mr. Aravosis is an increasingly well-known media figure, with numerous recent appearances on CNN and other US cable news outlets. He is described in his profile as "a Washington DC-based writer and political strategist, specializing in using the Internet for political advocacy.")

Had a really interesting day today. Atrios, KagroX from DailyKos and I were invited to sit down to lunch in the US Capitol building with a group of 20 or so Democratic Senators and talk about the blogs. The lunch was off the record, meaning I can't tell you what anyone said, but since the Washington Post already reported the other day that the talk was talking place, I'm not breaking any confidences by mentioning it. Basically, it was a chance to sit down with the Senators and help them get to know the blogosphere better. I worked in the Senate in the late 80s and early 90s, so I've met Senators before, but never as the expert in the room. It was really quite interesting, and fun, and I think mutually beneficial. (emphasis added)
Am I the only one who sees this kind of meeting as problematic?
By Mr. Aravosis' account, the only reason he is at liberty to even mention the meeting is that it was previously busted by the Washington Post. Otherwise, I presume there would have been no disclosure at all.
Why should any blogger, influential or otherwise, agree to "off the record" terms and conditions from elected officials?

The independence of the "blogosphere" as a media entity will not long survive the kind of co-opting pressures that are by definition associated with acceptance of invitations to hush, hush special meetings with legislators.

These meetings essentially create an elite group of favoured, political bloggers with special access - and special restrictions. And while I genuinely do congratulate those who have achieved the stature (for good reason) to be included in these high-level encounters, I do not see this as a good, long-term thing at all.

Soon, I suspect, there will be a Democrat in the White House.

Will liberal bloggers be carrying that new Administration's water, as their right-wing counterparts now so transparently do, or will they maintain an unaligned and objective stance that favours truth above party loyalty? Will they be truth-tellers or agents of party apparatus, formulating and spouting talking points?

In short, are these bloggers going to be independent journalists or political operatives ?
It is on this question that the future of political blogs, as we know them, will turn.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Goodman and Carr Winding Down

The buzz on Bay Street this week was all about the untimely demise of a flagship Toronto law firm, Goodman and Carr.
The Globe and Mail reported last week on the decison to close this once vital, and apparently still profitable firm:

Goodman and Carr LLP, which once reigned as one of Canada's top tax and real estate law firms, is closing its doors after suffering a steady exodus of partners.

The Toronto firm's partners voted to disband the mid-sized practice of about 90 lawyers at a meeting in its downtown head office Tuesday night, marking what is believed to be Canada's largest law firm closing. People familiar with the session said the vote was triggered by growing uncertainty about the firm's future following failed merger talks with a variety of competitors, including Chicago-based Baker & McKenzie.

After talks with Baker & McKenzie failed last month, people close to Goodman and Carr said some senior partners began to explore moves to other firms. Further departures would have been devastating to a 42-year-old practice that has seen its lawyer strength shrink dramatically from 140 in 2004.

Similar reports are found in the National Post and the Toronto Star which noted,

Toronto law firm Goodman and Carr LLP is closing its doors after the firm experienced difficulties keeping and attracting staff.

Eighty-five lawyers and 170 support staff will be affected by the closure of the mid-size firm. Goodman and Carr's 45 partners voted Tuesday night to dissolve the partnership. Staff were told about the closing yesterday morning.

The 42-year-old commercial and litigation law firm will cease formal business operations around June 6.

Donald Carr, one of the firm's founding partners, was awarded the Order of Ontario last year and heads up the firm's personal planning services group. Wolfe Goodman, the other founding partner, died last year.

In addition to his role as a founder of the firm in 1965, Carr is also highly respected for his charitable work in Canada and Israel.
All in all, tough news for the firm and the profession.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Friday, March 16, 2007

California Trademark Infringement Case: The Italian "Oscars"

From Yahoo News:

Is "Oscar" a generic term? It may be in Italian, a Los Angeles judge has found in a decision to deny summary judgment in a case brought by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organizes the world's most prestigious movie awards...

The Academy, which aggressively protects its "Oscar" name and image, filed suit against Italian broadcaster RAI International for trademark infringement over its broadcast of several awards programs using the word "Oscar." Among the programs: Wine Oscars, Fashion Oscars, TV Oscars and Music Oscars, according to AMPAS' attorney, David Quinto.

In denying AMPAS' motion for summary judgment, U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins wrote that there is no question that the Oscar mark is strong in the English language and, "The use of 'Oscar' to describe an award or awards program is arbitrary or fanciful and deserves maximum protection. However, EchoStar has presented evidence showing that the word 'Oscar' could be considered generic in Italy and in the Italian language."

...EchoStar's Los Angeles attorney, Kathy Jorrie, said the decision by Collins was significant because the court recognized that words have different meanings in different languages...

"In our case, because 'Oscar' means 'award' to the Italian language, it is not likely that an Italian viewer would confuse Italian titles such as 'Oscar del Vino' (Wine Award) or 'La Kore -- Oscar della moda' (La Kore Fashion Award) to have any connection with (AMPAS) simply because of the inclusion of the word 'Oscar' in the title of such foreign-language programs," she said.

-Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Another Quote of the Day

From Rolling Stone Magazine

“This is a dark chapter in our history. Whatever else happens, our country's international standing has been frittered away by people who don't have the foggiest understanding of how the hell the world works. America has been conducting an experiment for the past six years, trying to validate the proposition that it really doesn’t make any difference who you elect president. Now we know the result of that experiment. If a guy is stupid, it makes a big difference.”

- General Tony McPeak (retired), Member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Quote of the Day

Commenting on the state of administrative affairs at the Family Court Branch, Newmarket:

"It is obvious that the system here is so judicial-resource poor that it is in crisis."
- Madame Justice Margaret Scott, March 13, 2007 (at Newmarket Trial Scheduling Court, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Family Court Branch)

See also our recent blog on "chaos days" at Newmarket.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Say it Ain't So... Please!!!!

Worth a thousand words (at least):

-Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Viacom Sues You Tube for $1 Billion

From Associated Press via MSNBC:

NEW YORK - MTV owner Viacom Inc. said Tuesday it has sued YouTube and its corporate parent Google Inc. in federal court for alleged copyright infringement and is seeking more than $1 billion in damages.

Viacom claims that the more than 160,000 unauthorized video clips from its cable networks, which also include Comedy Central, VH1 and Nickelodeon, have been available on the popular video-sharing Web site.

The lawsuit marks a sharp escalation of long-simmering tensions between Viacom and YouTube. Last month Viacom demanded that YouTube remove more than 100,000 unauthorized clips after several months of talks between the companies broke down.

-Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

More Impeachment Drumbeats

Now, from American conservatives:

Senator Chuck Hagel (R- Nebraska)

"The president says, 'I don't care.' He's not accountable anymore," Hagel says, measuring his words by the syllable and his syllables almost by the letter. "He's not accountable anymore, which isn't totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends how this goes."

The conversation beaches itself for a moment on that word -- impeachment -- spoken by a conservative Republican from a safe Senate seat in a reddish state. It's barely even whispered among the serious set in Washington, and it rings like a gong in the middle of the sentence, even though it flowed quite naturally out of the conversation he was having about how everybody had abandoned their responsibility to the country, and now there was a war going bad because of it.

Andrew Sullivan:

Something is rotten in the heart of Washington; and it lies in the vice-president's office. The salience of this case is obvious. What it is really about - what it has always been about - is whether this administration deliberately misled the American people about WMD intelligence before the war. The risks Cheney took to attack Wilson, the insane over-reaction that otherwise very smart men in this administration engaged in to rebut a relatively trivial issue: all this strongly implies the fact they were terrified that the full details of their pre-war WMD knowledge would come out. Fitzgerald could smell this. He was right to pursue it, and to prove that a brilliant, intelligent, sane man like Libby would risk jail to protect his bosses. What was he really trying to hide? We now need a Congressional investigation to find out more, to subpoena Cheney and, if he won't cooperate, consider impeaching him.

-Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sidney Blumenthal on the Libby Conviction

Former Clinton aide, Sidney Blumenthal comments on yesterday's conviction of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, on criminal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice:

The means and the ends of Bush's White House have received a verdict from the bar of justice.

Foreign policy was and is the principal way of consolidating unchecked executive power. In the run-up to the Iraq war, professional standards, even within the military and intelligence agencies, were subordinated to political goals. Only information that fit the preconceived case was permitted. Those who advanced facts or raised skeptical questions about sketchy information were seen as deliberate enemies causing damage from within. From the beginning, the White House indulged in unrestrained attacks on such professionals. Revealing the facts, especially about the politically-driven method of skewing policy, was treated as a crime against the state. But Libby committed his crimes to cover-up the role of his boss and to protect his own position in the attack on Wilson. At base, then, the reasons for war were the scandal...

Libby was no mere factotum. He was a central member of the neoconservative cast of characters, who began as a protégé of Wolfowitz and was elevated to the role of Cheney's indispensable man. Libby's conviction not only indelibly stains neoconservatism.

It is a damning condemnation of the Bush White House belief that the ends justify the means and its aggrandizement of absolute power. Ultimately, this is a verdict that can never be erased from the history of the Bush presidency.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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U.S. Attorney Purge - Congressional Hearings Begin

Andrew Sullivan has this hard-hitting commentary from an observer of the Congressional hearings that began today into the dismissals of eight US Attorneys in December, 2006:

On another explosive front, a lawyer writes:

I have spent much of today watching the webcast of the Judiciary Committee hearings with the dismissed US Attorneys - from California, New Mexico and Arkansas. The testimony has been the most riveting I can remember in many years, and what's coming out is shocking.

Remember, all of these US attorneys are highly qualified, smart, professional REPUBLICANS. People who expect to have a career in elective politics, usually picked, among other things, for their long-term potential as political candidates. No problem with that after all. And that's what makes their testimony so compelling. Because they're portraying Alberto Gonzales and his deputy Paul J McNulty like figures out of a play by Bertolt Brecht.

The key is crude political direction of the prosecutorial service - go get Democrats, and do it in a way to get maximum electoral benefit; lay off the corrupt Republicans; use your prosecutorial authority for voter suppression projects targeting minorities. This is exactly the sort of conduct that the system is constructed to make impossible. For three years now I've heard a steady flow of whispers from DOJ professionals that this sort of stuff is going on, and even I (certainly no friend of the Administration) kept thinking: no, it can't be. But it is. This will call for very stringent action: the appointment of a special prosecutor, an independent investigation, and certainly the dismissal of Gonzales and McNulty.

Ultimately perhaps their prosecution.

-Garry J Wise, Toronto
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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Jury: Libby Guilty on Four of Five Counts

From MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - Former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was convicted Tuesday of obstruction, perjury and lying to the FBI in an investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s identity.

Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was accused of lying and obstructing the investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity to reporters. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

Libby was acquitted of one count of lying to the FBI.

The verdict came on the 10th day of deliberations by a panel of seven women and four men. The announcement was made by Randall Samborn, a spokesman for special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. It was read in the courtroom where jurors heard 19 witnesses during the five-week trial.

Libby is the only person charged in the case, which grew out of an investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.

- Garry J. Wise Toronto
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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Were Firings of Eight US Prosecutors Politically Motivated?

Was there a series of politically-motivated dismissals in December 2006 of US federal prosecutors who had actively pursued corruption charges against elected Republican officials or otherwise been at odds with the Bush Administration?

This week, a congressional committee will begin investigatory hearings into the alleged prosecutor purge, following the issuance of subpoenas last week to a number of the terminated, former US Attorneys.

The New York Times reported on this emerging scandal today in A New Mystery to Prosecutors: Their Lost Jobs:

The ouster of Mr. Bogden and seven other United States attorneys has set off a furor in Washington that took the Bush administration by surprise.

Summoning five of the dismissed prosecutors for hearings on Tuesday, the newly empowered Congressional Democrats have charged that the mass firing is a political purge, intended to squelch corruption investigations or install less independent-minded successors.

Interviews with several of the prosecutors, Justice Department officials, lawmakers and others provide new details and a fuller picture of the events behind the dismissals. Like Mr. Bogden, some prosecutors believe they were forced out for replacements who could gild résumés; several heard that favored candidates had been identified.

Other prosecutors may have been vulnerable because they had had run-ins with the Justice Department, not over corruption cases against Republicans, but on less visible issues.

Paul Charlton in Arizona, for example, annoyed Federal Bureau of Investigation officials by pushing for confessions to be tape-recorded, while John McKay in Seattle had championed a computerized law enforcement information-sharing system that Justice Department officials did not want. Carol C. Lam of San Diego, who successfully prosecuted former Representative Randy Cunningham, had drawn complaints that she was not sufficiently aggressive on immigration cases.

Justice Department officials deny that the dismissals were politically motivated or that the action resulted from White House pressure.

Joshua Marshall's Talking Points Memo has given much attention to this unfolding issue, and he commented today on the Times article:

Oddly, The Times lets stand a Justice Department assertion that none of the firings were prompted by politics: "Justice Department officials deny that the dismissals were politically motivated or that the action resulted from White House pressure."

That's simply not true in the case of the removal of Bud Cummins in Arkansas, which Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has already conceded in congressional testimony was done in order to provide a post for Karl Rove aide Timothy Griffin. The piece notes then-White House counsel Harriet Miers' intervention with DOJ officials on Griffin's behalf, but makes no mention of McNulty's testimony.

The Times also makes no mention of the Patriot Act provision that allows the Attorney General to appoint interim USAs for indefinite terms, an essential ingredient to the purge story that is inextricably wrapped up in politics.

There is one interesting tidbit in the piece that deserves further exploration: "The White House eventually approved the list and helped notify Republican lawmakers before the Dec. 7 dismissals, officials said."

Which lawmakers were notified? Those in the home states of the purged USAs?

Those on the judiciary committees? What were they told by the White House and DOJ? How does that square with what the White House and DOJ are saying now?

Concurrently, related allegations have been raised that two Republican lawmakers attempted to influence ongoing criminal investigations handled by one of the terminated prosecutors.
Raw Story today reports:

According to Newsweek, David Iglesias, one of the eight former US attorneys fired late last year, has gone public with the charge that, "he had gotten phone calls from two unidentified GOP lawmakers in D.C. last October, pressing him to bring indictments in a high-profile corruption case involving a prominent local Democrat before the November election." Iglesias refused and six weeks later was forced to resign.

When Iglesias takes the stand to testify before Congress, he will name Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) as the two congressmen who called him in October, writes Michael Isikoff.

The Congressional investigation may well be the first of many efforts by the Democratic-controlled Congress to dig more deeply into the inner-workings of a Republican Administration that was largely shielded from such investigation by the previous Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Saturday, March 03, 2007

The "No Asshole Rule" - Professor Robert Sutton

As an employment lawyer who quite regularly acts on behalf of employees who have been victimized by workplace harassment, discrimination and bullying - often with very dire professional and medical consequences - I was intrigued by this review of Stanford Professor Robert I. Sutton's new book, The No Asshole Rule - Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn't:

This meticulously researched book, which grew from a much buzzed-about article in the Harvard Business Review, puts into plain language an undeniable fact: the modern workplace is beset with assholes. Sutton (Weird Ideas that Work), a professor of management science at Stanford University, argues that assholes-those who deliberately make co-workers feel bad about themselves and who focus their aggression on the less powerful-poison the work environment, decrease productivity, induce qualified employees to quit and therefore are detrimental to businesses, regardless of their individual effectiveness. He also makes the solution plain: they have to go.

Lawyer-coach Julie Fleming-Brown also reviews Professor Sutton's work in her blog, Life at the Bar:

Dr. Robert I. Sutton is a champion of the civilized workplace, created and maintained through careful enforcement of the “no asshole rule.” Expanding and deepening his 2004 Harvard Business Review article entitled “More Trouble Than They’re Worth,” Sutton’s forthcoming book The No Asshole Rule (to be published on February 22, 2007, by Warner Business Books, but apparently shipping now through Amazon) offers valuable tips for eliminating or avoiding nasty people in business. In less than 200 pages, Bob explains how to identify a workplace asshole (even how to tell if you’re the asshole) and describes the damage these assholes wreak on the organizations in which they work and the clients and colleagues with whom they come into contact. He even addresses how to handle a workplace asshole, while warning of the dangers of “asshole poisoning.” This is a must-read. Seriously.
With a bit of Googling, I came upon Work Matters, Professor Sutton's blog, and this short video clip, in which he introduces himself and his basic thesis.

In the video clip, he also shares a rather humourous anecdote. In his original article submission to the pristine Harvard Business Review, he intentionally included the "a-word" in the draft an exaggerated eight times, hoping that at best, perhaps one might survive editing. When the article was ultimately published, however, Sutton was surprised to find that all eight remained intact. His career path thus becase inexorably linked to this epithet.

Finally, for the courageous, take this self-test to find out if you might just be one of the people Professor Sutton is talking about...

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

Friday, March 02, 2007

Obama, McCain, Edwards - Genealogy, Politics and Slavery

Another story about genealogy, modern politics and American slavery from the Baltimore Sun:

WASHINGTON // Many people know that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's father was from Kenya and his mother from Kansas.But an intriguing sliver of his family history has received almost no attention until now: It appears that forebears of his white mother owned slaves, according to genealogical research and census records.

...According to the research, one of Obama's great-great-great-great grandfathers, George Washington Overall, owned two slaves who were recorded in the 1850 census in Nelson County, Ky. The same records show that one of Obama's great-great-great-great-great-grandmothers, Mary Duvall, also owned two slaves.

... An Obama spokesman did not dispute the information and said that the senator's ancestors "are representative of America.""While a relative owned slaves, another fought for the Union in the Civil War," campaign spokesman Bill Burton said last night. "And it is a true measure of progress that the descendant of a slave owner would come to marry a student from Kenya and produce a son who would grow up to be a candidate for president of the United States."

... Reitwiesner's research identifies two other presidential candidates, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, as descendants of slave owners. Three of McCain's great-great-grandfathers in Mississippi owned slaves, including one who owned 52 in 1860. Two ancestors of Edwards owned one slave each in Georgia in 1860.

With this story following last week's Sharpton-Thurmond genealogy exposé so closely, one might be inclined wonder whether we are seeing the beginnings of an organized smear campaign here. Stay tuned.

-Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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