Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bernie Kerik a Free Man Again

Controversial ex-New York police Commissioner Bernard Kerik is a free man again — at least for now.

A federal judge in White Plains, N.Y., who tossed him in jail Oct. 20 for violating his pre-trial conditions, released him Tuesday so he could go home to his New Jersey mansion pending his Feb. 18 sentencing.

Kerik pleaded guilty last week to eight felony counts that included tax crimes and lying to the White House during his failed confirmation as head of the Department of Homeland Security.

His plea agreement calls for a sentence of 27 to 33 months, though the judge does not have to abide by that.

“This is not home confinement with morning strolls and afternoon strolls,” U.S. District Judge Stephen Robinson warned Kerik, according to the N.Y. Daily News. Kerik will have to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet.

The judge also raised his bail from $500,000 to $1.4 million, the paper reported. To read more click here.

Gotti Case Goes to Jury; Gotti Pulls Last Minute Drama

The case against mobster John Gotti Jr. went to the jury for deliberations in Manhattan federal court, but not before some last minute drama on Tuesday.

Yes, for a while Tuesday morning, the defendant himself did not want to leave his jail cell to show up in court for the closing arguments in a case in which federal prosecutors have accused him of everything from conspiracy to murder to drug trafficking.

The New York Times reported that “in the middle of closing arguments, it evinced a new, unexpected — and rather odd — level of legal fatigue when the defendant himself, perhaps annoyed by the drawn-out process, or maybe just bored by the ordeal — refused to leave his cell and come to court.”

Mr. Gotti “did not wish to continue with the trial,” a United States marshal told the judge, according to the Times.

The paper reported that Gotti’s attorney Charles Carnesi was surprised by his client’s antics, saying: “No one knows anything from Mr. Gotti directly.”

A couple hours later, Gotti, without any real explanation, showed up in a “short-sleeved shirt and an irritated scowl”, the paper reported.

This is Gotti’s fourth trial. The other three resulted in mistrials. The big question is: Will the prosecution give up if it fails to get a conviction this time?

Sales Price of Madoff’s Homes Dropping

Let’s just hope Bernie Madoff’s ego isn’t bruised knowing that people aren’t immediately snapping up his swanky properties in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Fla.

Reuters news service reports that the government has had to lower the asking price, the result of a a soft market.

“Madoff’s 4,000-square-foot duplex Manhattan penthouse, ‘perched atop a distinguished white-glove prewar cooperative’ according to the broker Sotheby’s International Realty, is now being offered for $8.9 million, 10 percent below its initial $9.9 million asking price,” Reuters reported.

The price of the 8,750-square-foot Palm Beach home was slashed 7 percent to $7.9 million, the news agency reported. The proceeds will go to help pay back some of the folks Madoff ripped off.

Irish missionary priest freed after month of captivity

After being held hostage for just over a month, Irish missionary priest Fr. Michael Sinnott was freed on Nov 12. Despite a serious preexisting heart condition, Fr. Sinnott was reported to be in good health.

On Oct. 11, Fr. Sinnott was taken at gunpoint by six men who stormed his home in Pagadian City on the island of Midano. According to Reuters, witnesses said the elderly priest was bundled into a van and later dragged into a boat.

Combined efforts from the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities for the Government of the Philippines and the Moro-Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) helped negotiate Fr. Sinnott's release.

The MILF has not disclosed where they found Fr. Sinnott or any details about the kidnappers.

Mohager Iqbal, chairperson of the Maguindinao-based MILF peace panel did however say that members of his task force had spoken with relatives of the abductors and applied “moral pressure” but insisted that no violent tactics were used. He also stressed that no ransom was paid for Fr. Sinnott, though “hundreds of thousands of pesos were spent by the MILF in its efforts to recover Fr. Sinnott.”

Local news stations reported that Fr. Sinnott is receiving medical care at a clinic in Zamboanga City.

Carlos Sol, head of the secretariat for the Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, has said that although Fr. Sinnott is slightly confused, he is in good condition. “I told him he looks strong,” said Sol, who went on to explain that once Fr. Sinnott has recovered, he will most likely be taken to Manila to be presented to the president of the Republic of the Philippines

Blackwater bosses approved bribes after guards killed Iraqis, paper claims

US security firm describes allegations by New York Times as ‘baseless’

by Mark Tran

Senior executives at Blackwater Worldwide, the US security company, approved secret payments of $1m (£600,000) to buy the silence of Iraqi officials after its guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007, it was alleged today.

Blackwater, which changed its name to Xe in February, approved the cash in December 2007, the New York Times reported, following an outcry in Iraq over the killings. The paper said that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater’s president, approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company had an office, to a top manager in Iraq.

But executives who revealed the payments to the newspaper said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients.

In the shooting at Nisour square in September 2007, 17 Iraqis were killed when guards protecting a convoy of US diplomats opened fire a crowded at a crowded crossing. The guards were accused of acting like trigger-happy cowboys, who shot with no fear of consequences. The killings shone a harsh light on the role of private contractors in war zones and hardened Iraqi sentiment against the company, which had already been criticised for its mistreatment of Iraqi civilians.

The attempt to bribe Iraqi government officials – which would be illegal under American law – created friction within the company, the Times reported.

Cofer Black, then the company’s vice-chairman and a former top CIA and state department official, confronted Erik Prince, the company’s chairman and founder, when he learned of the plan. Black resigned the following year.

A spokesman for Xe dismissed the allegations as “baseless”, adding that the company would not comment about former employees. Black also disputed the Times’s story, saying that he met US embassy officials to discuss the best course of action after the incident.

“Blackwater was directed to provide some financial compensation to relatives of those Iraqi victims which embassy officials described as called for by Iraqi custom,” Black said in a statement. “During these meetings with embassy officials, Blackwater sought state department leadership in dispensing any such good faith compensation from Blackwater to the victims’ relatives as Blackwater was subordinate to the state department as its security contractor. I never confronted Erik Prince or any other Blackwater official regarding any allegations of bribing Iraqi officials and was unaware of any plot or guidance for Blackwater to bribe Iraqi officials.”

A senior state department official told the New York Times that US diplomats were unaware of any payoffs to Iraqi officials.

Five Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour square shooting are scheduled to face trial on federal manslaughter charges in February in Washington. A sixth guard pleaded guilty in December. Iraqi victims are also suing the company and its founder, Prince.

The Iraqi government suspended the firm’s licence after the shooting and demanded that Blackwater be expelled from the country within six months. The Iraqi government denied Xe an operating licence in early 2009, but the company still has a presence in Iraq. In September the state department announced it had extended a contract with a Xe subsidiary to provide air support for protecting US diplomats in Iraq.

Blackwater grew rapidly from 2001 through security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also carries out classified work for the CIA that included taking part in a now defunct programme to assassinate leaders of al-Qaida and to load missiles on Predator drones. Xe earned more than $600m in revenues last year – about a third of that from its state department contract to provide security in war zones.

'Oprah': Chimp victim Charla Nash reveals face, life since attack

Charla Nash is speaking up ever since she was attacked by her friend's chimpanzee Travis in February 2009, losing most of her face and some of her scalp and jawbone as a result.

She appeared on the "Oprah Winfrey" show Wednesday to discuss her life recuperating at the hospital since that incident and to show her face on her own terms.

Nash, 55, had never revealed her face to the public until that point. Winfrey discussed why during her interview with Nash below:

The following Celeb TV segment, which obtained footage from "Oprah," actually reveals Nash's face, which she usually keeps hidden with a veiled hat. Warning: The image may be disturbing for some. Skip the video if you'd rather not see it.

At the time of the February attack, Travis was shot and killed by police officers.

Nash is hoping to get a face and hand transplant. She can no longer see since her eyes were removed.

Although we're saddened and horrified by this heartbreaking story, we're always amazed by human resilience and respect Nash for choosing how she'd like to be seen by the world and how she's going to proceed with her life.

Your thoughts?

3 Vol Football Players Arrested For Armed Robbery

The KNOXVILLE NEWS-SENTINEL reports this morning that three Tennessee football players have been arrested for attempted armed robbery.

(Jackson, Richardson, Edwards)

Janzen Jackson, Michael Edwards and Nu’Keese Richardson, all 18, were charged this morning after an armed robbery attempt at a Pilot station on Cumberland Avenue, according to the Knoxville Police Department. Each player faces three counts of attempted armed robbery.

Both Richardson and Jackson are coming off a week in which they faced discipline from coach Lane Kiffin, the former for missing a practice and the latter for a violation of team rules.

Ironically, Kiffin had “touted the discipline in his program and a clean arrest record as recently as Wednesday’s SEC teleconference.”

The details of the case are simple. And damning.
Three men identified the three football players as driving a Prius and later demanding money from them at gunpoint - while they wore black hoodies late last night. When police pulled over the football players in the same Prius outside the UT athletic dorm later that night, the black hoodies were found in the car “in plain sight.”

Marijuana was also found in the car, along with a pot grinder. A 22-year-old woman, Marie Montmarquet, was driving the car and claimed the weed was hers.

The UT athletic department released a statement saying it is aware for the incident but that no action with the players has been taken yet. No word yet from Kiffin. Guessing we’ll hear something shortly from him.

This one has me a little confused…..

Harvard University is casting aside Eliot Spitzer’s moral lapses and has invited the scandal-scarred former governor to do a star turn as a speaker today — for the school’s highly esteemed ethics center.

“Client No. 9″ will be lecturing as part of a series of talks which aim to “promote philosophical reflection on some of the most challenging ethical issues in public life,” according to the Web site for the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics.

Spitzer’s talk will focus on Uncle Sam’s role on Wall Street.

The idea of the steamy steamroller at an ethics forum has some Ivy Leaguers seeing crimson.

Read more

The President announces White House will convene a meeting of business leaders, economists and labor representatives to brainstorm about job creation.

President Obama, facing a 10.2% unemployment rate, said Thursday he would hold a jobs forum at the White House in December.

He noted the encouraging signs of economic growth and a slowing of the loss of jobs in recent months, but said employers are still reluctant to hire and millions are desperate to find work.

"Even though we've slowed the loss of jobs -- and today's report on the continued decline in unemployment claims is a hopeful sign -- the economic growth that we've seen has not yet led to the job growth that we desperately need," the President said in a statement delivered at the White House.

"We all know that there are limits to what government can and should do, even during such difficult times. But we have an obligation to consider every additional responsible step that we can to encourage and accelerate job creation in this country," he added.

Those invited to the forum will include CEOs, small business owners, economists, financial experts, and representatives from labor and non-profits.

Thumb up, it is about time getting to the fundamental, and it is never late to do good things to help employments creations.

Keeping Corpses Straight: Rhode Island Governor Bars Same Sex Couples From Joint Funeral Arrangements

It appears that opponents of same-sex marriage cannot even tolerate the thought of gay couples being buried together. Rhode Island Governor Donald L. Carcieri (R) has vetoed a bill that would have added “domestic partners” to the list of people authorized by law to make joint funeral arrangements. He feels that idea of joint burials smacks too much of a marriage.

What is particularly arbitrary is the fact that these couples can presumably make such arrangements for themselves in life and be buried in the same plot. The governor simply does not want them making arraignments for each other if one is suddenly killed without such preparations.

In his veto statement, Carcieri stated “This bill represents a disturbing trend over the past few years of the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage, which is not the preferred way to approach this issue.” Here is the full statement: veto_s0195_funeral_directors

Under the legislation, a domestic partner can make funeral arrangement if they can show “exclusive, intimate and committed relationship” with the deceased and had lived with him or her for at least a year prior to the death.

Carcieri noted that not only does such a power suggest something close to a traditional marriage but such a “partner” could take precedence over “traditional family member.” He also wants to see more of a commitment than a year –despite the fact that a day is sufficient for a heterosexual couple.

With his veto, the good people of Rhode Island reaffirm that they prefer their corpses straight and segregated.

Police: Mike Tyson in scuffle at LA airport

Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson and a photographer are being investigated for misdemeanor battery after an airport scuffle that injured the paparazzo, police said Thursday.

Tyson and Tony Echeverria, 50, made citizens' arrests of each other after a confrontation at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Los Angeles International Airport, airport police Sgt. Jim Holcomb.

Police were called and they were fingerprinted and photographed, then released without bail, Holcomb said. The city attorney will decide whether to file criminal charges.

Echeverria, who described himself as a freelance photographer, told police that Tyson struck him once. The photographer fell to the ground and was treated for a cut to his forehead at a hospital.

Tyson had stopped at LAX while traveling from Europe to Las Vegas when several photographers began snapping him near a ticket counter, Holcomb said.

Tyson's spokeswoman Tammy Brook said the boxer was traveling with his wife and 10-month-old child when he was attacked by an overly aggressive paparazzo.

"Mike acted in self defense as a father protecting his child," she said.

Echeverria's camera was booked as evidence and police also were checking if there was any surveillance video of the incident.

Tyson was cooperative as he waited in a holding cell at the airport police station, Holcomb said. Echevarria was treated at a hospital while Tyson continued his trip, Holcomb said.

Holcomb said both men were released without any restrictions and free to go wherever they want.

Paparazzi often camp out at Los Angeles' largest airport to get shots of celebrities in transit.

Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion ever in 1986 when he won his title as a 20-year-old. But his life since then has been marred by accusations of domestic violence, rape and cocaine use.

Tyson was convicted of rape in Indiana in 1992 and served three years in prison. He was disqualified from a 1997 heavyweight title fight when he bit off part of Evander Holyfield's right ear, and in 1999 he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault charges in Maryland.

In 2003, Tyson filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. He served 24 hours in an Arizona jail in 2007 after pleading guilty to cocaine possession and driving under the influence.

ACORN says US funding cut was unconstitutional

A non-profit organization filed a lawsuit against the federal government Thursday morning, seeking to overturn a law stopping the flow of federal funds to ACORN.

The suit, filed in federal court in New York, claims that bills passed by the House and Senate to defund the group qualify as bills of attainder, legislation that unfairly targets one group. Such bills are unconstitutional.

The suit will seek to restore funding and roll-back the ban, which was passed as part of the legislative branch appropriations bill in September.

ACORN claims that the legislation was of “malicious and punitive intent.” The suit also claims Congress violated the Fifth Amendment by skirting due process before doling out the punishment of the funding cut. OMB Director Peter Orszag and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are listed as co-defendants in the suit.

Efforts to defund ACORN became popular among Democrats and Republicans after conservative activists caught the organization’s employees in several offices advising actors posing as a politician and his prostitute girlfriend on how to evade taxes and set up a brothel.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and others in Congress quickly moved to ensure no federal funds were steered to the group – measures that got support from even the most ardent liberals like Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

The lawsuit, which was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, says that ACORN has been subject to “heavily funded and orchestrated political campaigns.”

But this effort represents a complete reversal from ACORN, which emphasized to reporters and the public that the money it received from the federal government was not essential to its existence.

Now the group is taking a bold step to restore its federal funding by accusing Congress of violating the Constitution

Lou Dobbs resignation: What next for controversial CNN anchor?

Lou Dobbs appears in this 2001 photo. Dobbs announced Wednesday that it would be his last broadcast of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" and that he had been released from his contract, which ran through 2011.

For Lou Dobbs, resignation isn't the end. He says he won’t leave the public arena. Like Glenn Beck, will he jump from CNN to Fox News? Maybe run for public office? Stay tuned.


After an apparent resignation, Lou Dobbs, an anchor at CNN for 27 years, is picking up his populist marbles and going … elsewhere. For now, Mr. Dobbs has left his options open, but he made one point clear: He is not leaving the public arena.

In his surprise departure statement, delivered on his last cable-cast Wednesday evening, Dobbs asserted that “some leaders in media, politics, and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN” and remain involved in “the great issues of our day.”

The suggestion was that Dobbs had resigned and was not fired, though his presence on the network had seemed increasingly out of step with its push for neutral reporting.

Dobbs is best known for stirring controversy on illegal immigration and, most recently, raising questions about President Obama’s citizenship. On both CNN and especially his radio show, which is not affiliated with CNN, Dobbs fanned theories that Obama was born abroad, causing consternation within CNN. Network president Jon Klein reportedly suggested to Dobbs that he cool it on the sharp opinions.

A lightning rod for liberals

Liberal media watchdogs have long been on Dobbs’s case. And Dobbs revealed on his radio show last month that a bullet had struck his home, while his wife stood outside, and that he had had “weeks and weeks of threatening phone calls.”

CNN announced Thursday that Dobbs’s nightly 7 p.m. EST time slot will be filled by John King, the anchor of CNN’s Sunday show “State of the Union” and onetime AP reporter. The move demonstrates that CNN is pushing for an identity centered on straight news in a primetime cable environment dominated by Fox’s conservatives and MSNBC’s liberals.

Dobbs’s departure may not cost CNN much in the ratings game.

“Lou Dobbs’s positions on major policy issues are more consistent with those expressed by the opinion-talkers on Fox than with those on CNN,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “Since those who watched Dobbs because they share those views were unlikely to watch CNN’s other programs for news, the effect on audience ratings for other CNN programs will probably be minimal.”

Dobbs’s next step

So what next for Dobbs, the last of the original CNN anchors?

Will he in fact move to Fox News? When former CNN-er Glenn Beck switched to Fox, his career took off. Dobbs met last month with Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, but Fox says there’s been no discussion about hiring Dobbs.

Might Dobbs run for office, even president? One website,, is promoting that theory.

In his resignation statement, Dobbs listed what he considers “the major issues of our time”: “the growth of our middle class, the creation of more jobs, healthcare, immigration policy, the environment, climate change, and our military involvement, of course, in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Each of those issues, he said, is “informed by our capacity to demonstrate strong resilience of our now weakened capitalist economy and demonstrate the political will to overcome the lack of true representation in Washington, D.C.”

Dobbs lamented a public arena now defined by “partisanship and ideology” rather than “empirical thought and forthright analysis and discussion.”

“I’ll be working diligently to change that as best I can,” he said.

In a written statement, CNN president Klein called Dobbs “a valued founding member of the CNN family.” In an e-mail to staff, Klein called the parting “extremely amicable.”

Dobbs started at CNN as an economics correspondent and host of the show “Moneyline.” After conflicts with previous network president Rick Kaplan, Dobbs left CNN for a time to start the website, which focuses on astronauts. Dobbs returned to the network in 2001.

The Power of Song: How Protest Music Was Ahead of Mainstream Media

By Richard A. Lee

Forty years ago this week, Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre, in which hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians were killed by U.S. soldiers. Hersh later was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting, but he may have been scooped – not by another journalist, but by a then 20-year-old singer/songwriter named Arlo Guthrie.

Two years before Americans learned about civilian casualties from Hersh, Guthrie addressed the issue in “Alice’s Restaurant,” an 18-minute musical narrative that begins with his arrest for littering and ends at the Draft Board, where a Sergeant notes the arrest on young Arlo’s record and asks him if he has rehabilitated himself. Arlo replies with a mixture of anger and sarcasm: “Sergeant, you got a lot a damn gall to ask me if I've rehabilitated myself. You want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after being a litterbug.”

During the 1960s, young Arlo was not the only singer/songwriter running ahead of mainstream media outlets. Protest music actually functioned as alternative media during the Vietnam War era, regularly asking questions and raising issues that were absent from the mainstream media.

To support this argument, I recently authored a chapter on protest music for War and the Media: Essays on News Reporting, Propaganda and Popular Culture, a book published by McFarland & Company this fall. In my essay, I point to songs such as “Alice’s Restaurant” to demonstrate that protest music offered the public information about the Vietnam War that was not being provided on a regular basis by mainstream media.

For example, during the early stages of the war when it was U.S. policy to deny that American military personnel were engaged in active combat in Vietnam (and most media reports described the situation this way), Phil Ochs suggested that American military involvement was being described as a “training mission” in order to avoid embarrassment should the U.S. lose the war: “Well training is the word we use, nice word to have in case we lose,” he sang in the opening verse of “Talking Vietnam.”

Later in the song, Ochs expresses mock chagrin that the enemy in Vietnam fails to recognize the (false) claim that Americans are only offering assistance and not engaging in combat:

Well the sergeant said it's time to train
So I climbed aboard my helicopter plane.
We flew above the battle ground
A sniper tried to shoot us down.
He must have forgotten, we're only trainees.

The chapter I authored includes similar mentions of songs written by Country Joe McDonald, Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger – all of whom wrote lyrics that addressed issues that were absent from the mainstream media. In many ways the essay provided an opportunity to synthesize the work I have conducted over my career as a music critic, as a political reporter and as a media studies doctoral student. I especially enjoyed tracking down some of the influential singer/songwriters from the 1960s, most of whom were happy to talk about their work and lend support to my theory about the role protest music played during the Vietnam War era. Paxton agreed that it filled a void left by mainstream media. Buffy St. Marie called protest music “an alternative news outlet” and noted that she wrote the song “Universal Soldier” at a time when most news reports did not even acknowledge that there was a war in Vietnam.

Some people familiar with my research on this issue have suggested that bloggers are playing a similar role today by driving mainstream media outlets, much as they did when they raised questions about the accuracy of Dan Rather’s reporting on former President Bush's military records. This is an interesting theory that will require much additional research before it can be proven right or wrong, but I did make a similar observation when I was exploring the work of Bruce Springsteen for an academic symposium at Monmouth University earlier this fall.

My goal was to learn how Springsteen has kept in touch with his working class New Jersey roots while becoming a multi-millionaire and international superstar. I began by searching for connections between Springsteen’s music and the major news stories that have taken place in New Jersey during his career.

When I found none, I realized I was looking in the wrong place. I was looking at the major stories the New Jersey news media had reported, but I didn’t take into account the possibility that the items the news media deemed most important to cover might not be the same as the issues on the minds of working class New Jersey families – and that these working-class New Jersey families have more in common with the messages of Bruce Springsteen’s songs than they do with the news that makes headlines.

A number of media scholars have suggested that there is a gap between the type of news that is reported and what is actually of importance and interest to the citizenry. Much like protest music did in the 1960s, Springsteen’s music fills this gap. For example, people may gain a better understanding of the dire economy from the characters and the stories in Springsteen’s songs than they do from news reports filled with numbers, percentages and statistics.

Regardless of whether it is Bruce Springsteen in 2009 or protest singers in the 1960s, music has always had the potential to be just as powerful and influential as a news report. As Buffy St. Marie explained when I asked about the impact of protest music: “A good song is immediate, small, easy to remember, makes a point quickly and strategically, and is portable, flexible, replicable, transferable to other people and other languages, and can last for generations. A song never goes out of print.”

# # #

Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey. A former journalist and Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at Rutgers University, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies. His essay, “Protest Music as Alternative Media During the Vietnam War Era,” is included in War and the Media: Essays on News Reporting, Propaganda and Popular Culture, a book published this fall by McFarland & Company of Jefferson, N.C.