Monday, January 30, 2006

Sweeney Holding His Ground... in DC... not NY-20

Our friends over at News Copy, New York (a very good blog for reading up on the Republican side of things by the way) seem to be big fans of Rep. John Sweeney. Fair enough. It would be nice however, if they got all their facts straight... or at least shared all of them... while engaging in defense of their favorite son.

(Speaking of favorite sons they seem quite fond of Democrat Tom Suozzi over there as well - given the state of affairs amongst Republican Gubernatorial candidates I can understand why they would like a quality Democrat and given the dearth of quality Republican candidates at any high level it becomes easy to understand why they are trying so hard to find likeable qualities in John Sweeney)

As posted here previously Mr. Sweeney's calls for new Republican leadership are nothing more than window dressing. The petition he has been circulating is for no purpose other than to call a meeting. It is not in actuality a petition to call for new leadership just a petition to call for a meeting at which a call for new leadership can be made.

Funny thing is though... such a meeting is already scheduled so the petition serves no practical purpose whatsoever except to get John Sweeney's name in the news. Something he has been doing a lot of recently after not being heard of much (or seen) in his district during his first 6 years in office.

Indeed the AP reports that Sweeney's relationship with the Freshman PAC is of concern to some democrats. What is not reported, that also has been questioned here, is his relations with the recently closed Alexander Strategy Group, the likely to be indicted soon Ed Buckham, Jack Abramoff's former firm Greenberg Traurig, and TYCO International... all of whom he has taken substantial money from... amongst others, many others.

Over 40% of Sweeney's money comes from PAC's and if one fished through his records that number would assuredly jump well over 50% when adding in lobbyists. So questioning who John Sweeney is responsive to is a legitimate question. There is little to no evidence of his being responsive to the constituents of the 20th Congressional District and there is a great deal of evidence that he may be far too beholden to lobbyists and the corporate interests they represent.

Sweeney's "bad boy" reputation goes back much farther than his recent feud with the Governor. He has been known for strong arm tactics since his days as Pataki's henchman at Labor. A reputation only enhanced by his role as Bush's mob leader in Florida in 2000.

And we aren't even talking about his personal reputation here just his political one.

And this quote from Minarik is just priceless:
State GOP chairman Stephen Minarik charged Gillibrand "is nothing more than an out-of-touch New York City trial lawyer whose political patron is one of New York state's best-known lobbyists."

Where do you come up with these guys? One can only assume that Minarik is in fact referring to Kirsten Gillibrand's father. Political patron? George Pataki and Bill Powers were Sweeney's patrons just as Al D'Amato was Pataki's. When Sweeney went to Washington he quickly took action to get the indicted Tom DeLay and then George Bush to adopt him. Those are political patrons. Trying to tar someone because they have a father that supports them is... well... let's just say we hope you guys keep Minarik around for awhile cuz he provides the rest of us with lots of amusement.

Unfortunately our friends at News Copy, New York must have caught a little Minarik fever themselves. They followed Minarik's prime cut of humor with a little obtuseness of their own:
The first explanation we would want from Ms. Gillibrand is why she accepted nearly $80,000 in donations ($79,600) from employees connected with David Boies.

Kirsten Gillibrand is a partner at the firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. These are her friends and colleagues we are talking about here. It is probably a very good sign that the people she's been working with these last several years think highly enough of her to contribute to her campaign. To imply that this somehow shady is... ummm... reaching... to say the least. To further imply that a bunch of lawyers might not have money of their own to contribute to a friends campaign is... just... plain... silly.

There is one thing Mr. Fois was absolutely correct about though:
Let's not pull any punches.

The political correct and incorrect of the nation are about to go to war in New York's upper Hudson Valley.

John Sweeney is going to have to pull all his dirty tricks out of his bag in order to survive this year. The people of the 20th Congressional District are good people. Good people fed up with Republican run Washington. Republicans, Democrats and independents alike, and they (we) deserve a real representative that looks out for us and not someone that ignores us and yes, jets off to Park City, Utah, rather than doing his skiing and bringing his business here.

What is it his mouthpiece had to say about his Upstate New York district during his first annual Park City ski trip?
"You don't get four feet of powder on the East Coast,"

Way to represent and promote your district John!

I mean really... just what has John Sweeney done for this district in his 4 terms?

Steroids? Puh-leeze. I want them out of pro sports as much as the next guy but my representative needs to be working on jobs and healthcare and lower fuel costs and more funding for schools and help for the needy. As much as I love baseball and football steroids are way down the priority ladder.

Horses? Ok, I like horses and think they should be treated humanely. I'll give him that one (I noticed MaryLou only contributed $250 to poor John though). But again, just where is that on the priority list for the 20th District?

And... uh... ummm... just what has John done for this district?

Needless and poorly run War.
Skyrocketing gas costs.
Unaffordable fuel oil costs.
Cuts to services for the elderly.
A completely screwed up Medicare Drug plan (we're just seeing the start of the trouble on that one).
Deficits through our grandchildren's grandchildren's generation (unless we get fiscally sound Democrats back in charge again).

The list can and does go on. Other than a few rare pork projects (almost all of which are in the one county he seems think his district consists of) the fact of the matter is that John Sweeney spends far more time with his lobbyist friends (that list goes on and on too) and getting cozy with the Tom DeLay's and George Bush's of the world then he does representing the people that sent him to Washington. Gerald Solomon must be rolling over in his grave.

I'd ask "Who does John Sweeney serve?"

But the answer is the same as it has always been... himself.

And that is why this little gem opening the News Copy, New York post:
"... but his constituents know who he is."

... should scare the living daylights out of John Sweeney. Because, yes, we do know who he is.

Chaplain shares reality of Iraq; Exxon sets record profit;

The Albany Times Union reports today on Army Chaplain Lt. Col. Eric Olsen of Saranac Lake, NY. Olsen, a Lutheran Minister, addressed the First Unitarian Society in Schenectady Sunday about his experiences in Iraq and since coming home after serving 10 months with the 108th Infantry Battalion.

When Olsen came home in August he said he could not go into a bar or diner in uniform without someone buying him a beer or cup of coffee.

"I would rather have the answers than all the beer I can drink," Olsen said.

Olsen says he thinks a better method for showing support for the troops is a public debate about the war that brings answers as to why 135,000 troops are still in Iraq.

Since returning to the United States, Olsen said he is finding that soldiers coming home from Iraq often have a difficult time figuring out what it is they have achieved while serving. He said he has had to deal personally with the deaths of three soldiers -- two from drug overdoses and one from suicide.

"When you are in the service, you only have to make it through until the next day," Olsen said. "We are there for the guy next to us, we're there for the mission."

Olsen doesn't care much for yellow ribbon magnets.

But when servicemen and women get home they enter a gray area, he explained, as they leave the structured world of the military and re-enter the civilian world where there are no visible signs of sacrifice by the general population and the war is reduced to a nightly news feature and headlines.

"We are so isolated," Olsen said of the all-volunteer U.S. military. "We no longer represent the American people."

I debate how much I should discuss the Iraq War with my granddaughter. How can she understand the reality of war when there are no signs of it here at home? I was her age during Vietnam and the signs were there everyday in our living room. Even more so after my sister brought her Marine future husband home.

Today's "modern war" is so sanitized for American consumption that there is reality of it brought home through traditional media. And there is no effort being made by the government here at home to reduce dependence on foreign oil and therefore the causes of this war.

By contrast my parents told me the tales of gathering old pots, pans and other metals to support the war effort during WWII. He did that until he was old enough to sign up for the Army. After the war she went to Europe to help as a nurses aide.

Before leaving he asked the congregation if it would be willing to accept gas at $6 a gallon instead of the cost of a war.

"Part of the problem is we are not troubled at all," Olsen said of the public. "We are very bold as long as it does not require sacrifice."

In related news...

Exxon Mobil reported a second straight record setting quarter of profits. The highest quarterly profits of any U.S. company ever. They also reported a second straight year of the highest profits of any U.S. company ever.

AP reports:
Exxon Mobil Corp. posted record profits for any U.S. company on Monday -- $10.71 billion for the fourth quarter and $36.13 billion for the year -- as the world's biggest publicly traded oil company benefited from high oil and natural-gas prices and solid demand for refined products.

The results exceeded Wall Street expectations and Exxon shares rose more than 3 percent in afternoon trading.

The company's earnings amounted to $1.71 per share for the October-December quarter, up 27 percent from $8.42 billion, or $1.30 per share, in the year ago quarter. The result topped the then-record quarterly profit of $9.92 billion Exxon posted in the third quarter of 2005.

Exxon's profit for the year was also the largest annual reported net income in U.S. history, according to Howard Silverblatt, a senior index analyst for Standard & Poor's. He said the previous high was Exxon's $25.3 billion profit in 2004.

The company said its average sale price for crude oil in the U.S. during the quarter was $52.23 a barrel, compared with $38.85 a year earlier. It sold natural gas in the U.S., on average, for $11.34 per 1,000 cubic feet, compared with $6.61 during the same period a year ago.


To put that into perspective, Exxon's revenue for the year exceeded Saudi Arabia's estimated 2005 gross domestic product of $340.5 billion, according to statistics maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency.

And finally, Wind Power projects begin to take hold in New York State despite the objections of some that "say the benefit of clean energy does not outweigh the cost of a marred view."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Motion to Dismiss: Courts previously, abundantly, ruled against Warrantless electronic surveillance - pt. 1

The Introduction:

Pizza parlor owner Mohammed Hossain and Imam Yassin Aref were arrested in a pre-dawn raid on their homes and an Albany, NY Mosque Aug. 5, 2004. The story splashed across national headlines then quickly disappeared. The men had been trapped in a FBI sting operation after being enticed into laundering money by an informant the FBI had used to infiltrate the mosque in trade for reducing his sentencing on unrelated charges.

Last Friday, Jan 20, 2006, Aref's attorney Terence Kindlon filed motions in the US District Court for Northern New York to throw out the evidence against his client and dismiss all charges. Kindlon argues that all the evidence against his client is tainted by illegal and unconstitutional warrentless electronic surveillance authorized by the Bush Administration.

In the document Kindlon points to the New York Times story of December 17, 2005 where it was revealed that the NSA had been engaged in illegal domestic spying on the orders of President George Bush. On December 23, Kindlon wrote to the prosecutor, Assistant United States Attorney William C. Pericak, asking him to immediately "affirm or deny the occurrence of (any such) alleged unlawful act [as defined in 18 USC 2510]" pursuant to 18 USC 3504(a)." Pericak did not respond. The United States legal code mentioned here, 18 USC 2510 and 3504(a), is part of the code of law that "exclusively" governs electronic surveillance. More on that below.

On Jan. 5, 2006, Kindlon and Kevin Luibrand, attorney for co-defendant Mohammed Hossain, filed "The first formal challenge of a controversial national spying program..." when they "filed motions in U.S. District Court asking the government to disclose whether the pair [Aref and Hossain] were subjected to the domestic surveillance measures...."

Subsequently, on Jan 11, 2006, Kindlon again wrote prosecuting attorney Pericak, this time included a letter from Harvard Law Professor Laurence H. Tribe in which he describes his "inescapable conclusion" that the surveillance program is illegal. Kindlon's letter asked Pericak to provide a summary of dates and times of any and all warrentless electronic surveillance along with a statement of any information gathered.

To date there has been no response from Mr. Pericak to either request.

On Jan. 17, 2006, another New York Times article printed a photograph of Yassin Aref in a report on the failures of the NSA spying program. The article, and Kindlon's motion, quotes General Michael V. Hayden, who was NSA director when the program began, as stating:
"I can say unequivocally that we have gotten information through this program that would not otherwise have been available."

The article also stated, "Some of the officials said the eavesdropping program might have helped uncover people with ties to Al Qaeda in Albany, Portland, Ore.; and Minneapolis."

Most significantly of all however, the motion cited these paragraphs from the article:
"By contrast [to cases where the NSA surveillance played only a minimal role], different officials agree that the N.S.A.'s domestic operations played a role in the arrest in Albany of an imam and another man who were taken into custody in August 2004 as part of an F.B.I. counterterrorism sting operation.

The men, Yassin Aref, 35, and Mohammed Hossain, 49, are awaiting trial on charges that they attempted to engineer the sale of missile launchers to an F.B.I. undercover informant."

Just to clarify the misstatement by the New York Times in the previous sentence, Aref and Hossain are charged with money laundering in the sting operation. The FBI informant falsely stated to them that he was engineering the sale of a missile launcher and talked them into laundering the money on this purely fictitious sale.

Motion to Suppress Part A:

The NSA Warrentless Surveillance Program is Clearly Illegal and Unconstitutional

Congress enacted two statutes which together provide "the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance... and the interception of domestic wire, oral and electronic communications may be conducted."

18 USC 2510, and the following one's govern the use of electronic surveillance in criminal investigations and require prior judicial approval upon a showing of probable cause and that normal investigative procedures have failed or are reasonably expected to fail.

FISA, or 50 USC 1801 and following, governs electronic surveillance for "national security purposes." FISA also requires prior judicial approval with noted exceptions of a 15 day grace period at the start of a declared war and a 72 hour emergency period that must be followed by governmental application for judicial approval.
"While the President claims the NSA program is legal, that claim is entirely specious, as shown by the plain language of the above mentioned statutes, the overwhelming consensus of legal scholars, two Congressional reports and case law."

On January 6, 2006, Harvard Law School Professor Laurence H. Tribe wrote a letter in response to a request from Congressman John Conyers, Jr, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Tribe called the program, "as grave an abuse of executive authority as I can recall ever having studied."
"[T]he [NSA surveillance] scheme in question, far from being authorized by Congress, flies in the face of an explicit congressional prohibition and is therefore unconstitutional without regard to the Fourth Amendment....

Tribe goes on to cite the Supreme Court case Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 US 579 (1952) (in which President Truman attempted a government takeover of a steel corporation), to show that such action "falls outside that tiny category of congressionally illimitable acts and is indeed unconstitutional unless affirmatively authorized by Congress." In regard to Bush's NSA program, he says it "not only falls outside that category but misses it by a mile."
"The presidential power at issue in this case is therefore subject to the control of Congress. And that Congress has indeed forbidden this exercise of power is clear. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 unambiguously limits warrantless domestic electronic surveillance, even in a congressionally declared war, to the first 15 days of that war; criminalizes any such electronic surveillance not authorized by statute; and expressly establishes FISA and two chapters of the federal criminal code, governing wiretaps for intelligence purposes and for criminal investigations, respectively, as the 'exclusive means by which electronic surveillance... and the interception of domestic wire, oral and electronic communications may be conducted.'

Kindlon's filing goes on to quote Tribe taking apart the claim of Attorney General Gonzalez that the program was authorized, in particular his December 19 press briefing:
To argue that one couldn't have gotten congressional authorization (in late 2001, when the NSA program was secretly launched) after arguing that, by the way, one did get congressional authorization (in late 2001, when the AUMF was enacted) takes some nerve....
The inescapable conclusion is that the AUMF did not implicitly authorize what the FISA expressly prohibited. It follows that the presidential program of surveillance at issue here is a violation of the separation of powers - as grave an abuse of executive authority as I can recall ever having studied."

AUMF is the Authorization to use Military Force passed by Congress on Sep. 18, 2001.

Further, on Jan 8, 2006 another letter to Congress, this time by 14 different constitutional law scholars and former government officials, states that the Bush Administrations defense of the NSA program "fails to identify any plausible legal authority for such surveillance." The letter concludes that it is "beyond dispute that, in such a democracy, the President cannot simply violate criminal laws behind closed doors because he deems them obsolete or impracticable."

Kindlon then cites case law. In the case know as Keith (United States v. United States District Court, 407 US 297 - 1972):
"the Supreme Court pointed out that even in a time of widespread civil disorder, when the government claimed there were 1,562 domestic bombing incident in one six month period, warrentless domestic surveillance was unconstitutional and unacceptable in a free society.

Further, the Court stated:
Fourth Amendment protections become the more necessary when the targets of official surveillance may be those suspected of unorthodoxy in their political beliefs...

... The warrant clause of the Fourth Amendment is not dead language...

In Keith, the Supreme Court cited Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 US 443, 481:
... "It is not an inconvenience to be somehow "weighed" against the claims of police efficiency. It is, or should be, an important working part of our machinery of government, operating as a matter of course to check the "well-intentioned but mistakenly overzealous executive officers" who are part of any system of law enforcement."

These Fourth Amendment freedoms cannot properly be guaranteed if domestic security [i.e. "Homeland Security"] surveillance may be conducted solely within the discretion of the Executive Branch....

... We recognize, as we have before, the constitutional basis of the President's domestic security role, but we think it must be exercised in a manner compatible with the Fourth Amendment. In this case we hold this requires an appropriate prior warrant procedure.

Finally, Kindlon cites two different 1982 cases, "both involving IRA operatives who were charged with smuggling arms (including attempts to obtain SAMS) to the IRA...." (SAMS are surface to arm missiles similar to what the FBI operative said he was trying to sell) In the IRA cases quoted below we have real terrorists involved in real purchases of real military equipment unlike the Aref/Hossain case were we have an FBI sting setting up a false sale of military equipment to non-existent terrorists with no known terrorists or terrorist organizations or actual military equipment involved.

In United States v. Megahey et. al., 553 F. Supp. 1180, 1184, 1190 (EDNY 1982), the Eastern District of New York District Court upheld the constitutionality of FISA precisely because the Executive Branch was not given unlimited discretion over the surveillance.
"... The Senate report [on FISA] notes the infringement of and chilling effect on the constitutional rights of surveillance targets and those with whom the targets communicated caused by the previously unregulated nature of national security surveillance. Thus, FISA was 'designed... to curb the practice by which the Executive Branch may conduct warrentless electronic surveillance on its own unilateral determination that national security justifies it'...

... [T]he FISA warrant is a warrant in the meaning of the fourth amendment, since it provides for the interposition of independent judicial magistrates between the executive and the subject of the surveillance which the warrant requirement was designed to assure...."

In the second case, United States v. Falvey, 540 F. Supp. 1306 (EDNY 1982) "the court, in an opinion which is especially pertinent given the facts of the instant case, and the illegal surveillance herein, stated:"
"The defendants mount a superficially attractive First Amendment attack on FISA. They argue that another problem with FISA is that it gives the government the opportunity to use politically-motivated surveillance of whatever group it chooses at a particular time. According to the argument, at this time the Polish labor union, Solidarity, is in; and the IRA is out....

Note that similarly, at one time bin Laden and the Muhjahideen were in and that bin Laden and Al Qaeda are now out; Saddam Hussein and Iraq were in against Iran but are now out.
"This argument, however, ignores two things. First, abusive political surveillance is precisely what Congress intended to control by providing that a judge - and not the Executive branch - make the finding that the target is truly the agent of a foreign power.... Second, because one man's terrorism is another man's holy war, FISA explicitly admonishes that 'no United States person [which includes Yassin Aref, a permanent resident] may be considered... an agent of a foreign power solely on the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States...' 50 USC 1805(a)(3)(A).

Hence, to obtain a FISA surveillance order, the Government must provide the FISA judge with something more than the target's sympathy for the goals of a particular group, in this case the IRA [which] ... engages in international terrorism....

Moreover, requiring the FISA judge to find that the target is involved in these acts of international terrorism as part of its finding of probable cause to believe that the target is an agent of a foreign power, serves to limit the generality of the terms 'agents of a foreign power' and 'international terrorism.'"

Consequently, Aref's attorney's state:
It is submitted that the government could not have legitimately obtained a FISA warrant for the surveillance of Yassin Aref because he was not ever "involved in" international terrorism.

The government engaged in illegal electronic surveillance of thousands of US persons, including Yassin Aref, then instigated a sting operation to attempt to entrap Mr. Aref into supporting a non-existent terrorist plot, then dared to claim that the illegal NSA operation was justified because it was the only way to catch Mr. Aref! That sequence of events is truly breathtaking as it shows the Administration's arrogant dismissal of our Constitution and of everything that makes it worthwhile to be an American.

In part II I will write about part B. of the motion filed on behalf of Mr. Aref, All Evidence in this Case is the Fruit of the Illegal Electronic Surveillance and Must be Suppressed," and the doctrine of the "fruit of the poisonous tree", evidence obtained by illegal means.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Jail the Innocent or Free the Guilty

Those are the options that Patricia DeAngelis and the Rensselaer County District Attorney's office leave us with in far too many cases.

Today's Albany Times Union lead editorial calls for DeAngelis to step down...

Enough, Ms. DeAngelis

The Rensselaer County district attorney could serve justice by stepping down.

In an article Thursday the Times Union reported that yet another case prosecuted by the Rensselaer County D.A.'s office has been reversed.

A county judge, in a stern rebuke of the office of District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis, vacated the conviction of a man serving 25 years for sodomy saying prosecutors purposely withheld crucial evidence about the victim from the defense.

In his ruling Judge Patrick McGrath said:
... prosecutors should be "admonished" for their shortcomings.

"Even considering their contention that the information was not Brady material, which the court has ruled to the contrary, there was no valid legal reason why the information should not have been disclosed prior to trial for the court to make the decision," McGrath wrote. "The only reason not to divulge it would be for the people (prosecutors) to gain some tactical and unfair advantage that clearly violates the people's professional responsibility."

McGrath ordered that Hunter get a new trial.

While DeAngelis argues that Ken Bruno and not she was the District Attorney at the time this case was tried, it was DeAngelis that handled the case through pre-trial and another attorney, Mark Protin no longer with the office, that tried the case. The Times Union article then points out the recent track record of DeAngelis and the Rensselaer County D.A.'s office:

Three times in past two years, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court has reversed convictions obtained by DeAngelis or her office for reasons of prosecutorial errors or misconduct. DeAngelis was admonished by the court system's Committee on Professional Standards for inappropriate courtroom behavior.

In their subsequent editorial they ask:

When does it end? Only when Ms. DeAngelis steps aside as district attorney.

At the polls last November DeAngelis was soundly rejected by the people in an ill-conceived attempt by Republican party bosses to solve the problem in the D.A.'s office by moving her into a newly created Judgeship. Her term as D.A. continues until 2008. The Times Union is correct that the situation has gone too far. It is time for DeAngelis to step down and for Gov. George Pataki to step up by appointing a replacement of unquestionable qualifications with a proven track record of competence and understanding of law.

In multple cases now either guilty men have been set free due to the misconduct and incompetence of the D.A.'s office or innocent men have been wrongly prosecuted and railroaded into jail by them. Neither option is very pretty for the residents of Rensselaer County any one of whom could be the next victim (one way or the other) of the D.A.'s misconduct or incompetence.

As the editorial concludes:
How much longer must the people of Rensselaer County put up with such ignorance of the law in, of all places, the district attorney's office? The same voters who so wisely rejected Ms. DeAngelis' candidacy for a judgeship of her own last year remain stuck with her as county prosector.

"The prosecution has a duty to seek justice and not merely convict," notes Judge McGrath.

The County Executive and the Governor have a duty to ensure the safety and well being of the people of the county. The innocent have no such assurances in Rensselaer County today.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sweeney proves incapable

Congressman John Sweeney (R-Park City, Utah) has shown himself to be incapable of rallying his fellow Republicans to his call for new and ethical leadership in the House of Representatives according to a report today from The Hill.

Sweeney, whose attempt to claim the mantle of reformer in the House was doubtful from the start and shown to be just plain silly when he subsequently jetted off to for a "Skiing with Sweeney" weekend with lobbyists, has only been able to gather 18 signatures on the petition he has been circulating.

The petition was nothing more then political posturing to begin with. The purpose of the petition was to call a meeting at which the issue of calling for new elections could be raised. Signatures of 50 Republican Congressmen were necessary to call the meeting. At 18 he is well shy of the number needed to do nothing more than call a meeting.

The sham part of this whole thing is that a meeting has already been scheduled for Feb 2 to consider the issue of electing a new Majority Leader to replace Sweeney's good friend the indicted Tom DeLay. No petition is necessary to make the call for elections for all leadership positions at the Feb 2 meeting.

Sweeney's sham is a weak attempt to cast himself as independent from the troubled Republican leadership he has so recently and vocally defended. What in the world made him think he could pull a fast one like that is beyond me. John Sweeney has tied himself as close to Tom DeLay and George Bush as he possibly can. Funny thing is he has very little to show for it... or at least... his real district...

New York's 20th Congressional District... has very little to show for it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

House Insurgents Pressing to Oust Entire Leadership

Rep. John "Shut it down" Sweeney (R-Park City, Utah) is continuing his efforts to appear a reformer attempting to shake up the House Republican leadership in the wake of the Jack Abramoff - Tom DeLay - Grover Norquist - Ralph Reed bribery and corruption scandal. What is more likely is that he is bringing the disarray of the New York Republican Party to the national party that is ripe for disintegration.

Sweeney began circulating a petition amongst House Republicans calling for new elections for all leadership positions. He then jetted off to Park City, Utah for a fund raising weekend of skiing and other fun with his own lobbyist friends.

Mr. Sweeney had previously stated that Republicans needed to engage in "soul searching" and I guess the slopes of Park City are as good a place as any to do it... apparently it is better than the ski slopes around Lake Placid, NY in Mr. Sweeney's actual congressional district (NY-20) or the Catskill Mountain resorts in the southern portion of his district.

A new leadership election can only be called at an official meeting of the House Republican Conference. It requires a petition signed by 50 members to call the meeting. Melissa Carlson, spokeswoman for Sweeney said yesterday, "We're confident." She says they have 30 congressmen supporting Sweeney's initiative and that the proposal would almost certainly receive sufficient backing to bring it before the conference as it gathers on February 2 to replace TomDeLay.

Public support for Sweeney was harder to identify but an article in today's New York Sun stated:

Mr. Sweeney's office has declined to make the full list of supporters public, but was willing to disclose that, in addition to Mr. Lungren, Reps. Anne Northup, of Kentucky; Melissa Hart, of Pennsylvania; Mary Bono, of California; J.D. Hayworth, of Arizona; Christopher Cannon, of Utah; Gil Gutknecht, of Minnesota; Thaddeus McCotter, of Michigan, and Howard "Buck" McKeon, of California, have signed their names to the petition.

Sweeney had this to say:

"The time has come for those who wish to lead this Conference to rise to the challenge, unite the party and stand before the Conference to outline a clear agenda for returning to the values that we as Republicans hold dear," Mr. Sweeney wrote in a letter that will go to the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, Rep. Deborah Pryce, of Ohio, if the signature threshold is crossed, pursuant to conference rules.

... making one wonder if his over-arching ambition was the driving force in this. Stymied in his desire to become Governor of New York perhaps Sweeney has delusions of grandeur in the House leadership. As for values... well... let's just say that there is plenty of evidence that values is a subject Mr. Sweeney does not want to bring into the discussion in an election year.

Sweeney is facing the very real possiblity of an upset by Democratic challenger Kirsten Gillibrand who makes her formal announcement this coming Tuesday, Jan 31.

Sweeney's new mouthpiece, Melissa Carlson (his old one Kevin Madden now has the unenviable job of trying to cover for Tom DeLay), had this to say...

"He's not running for any position, he's not endorsing any candidate for any position," Ms. Carlson said. "But he feels that in the wake of the Abramoff scandals, anyone who wants to lead our conference ought to be able to come forward and ... address the issues we've been tainted with, and say we're not a part of them."

Which is particularly rich given that just a few days ago Sweeney and Carlson were unable "to come forward and... address the issues we've been tainted with, and say we're not a part of them."

Rather than coming clean regarding his frolicking weekend of fund raising fun with big pharma lobbyists Carlson instead took the very lowest political road of attacking their opponent with their own sins...

"Sweeney spokeswoman Melissa Carlson called those barbs "malicious, self-serving, and hypocritical." She said Gillibrand had "chosen the low road in her first campaign for office in a district she barely knows, for people she's never met, for reasons we may never know."

And never did answer the question of why Sweeney thought it was ok to jet off for a skiing weekend with lobbyists in the midst of this scandal.

Indeed, when challenged to reveal the names of all the lobbyists that had high priced access to Mr. Sweeney and his seat on the House Appropriations committee that weekend Carlson was less than forthcoming stating that Sweeney's next FEC filing, due April 15, would include the details. Hardly the way to show that you are not a tainted part of a bribery and corruption scandal enveloping the entire Republican caucus of which Mr Sweeney is an engrained part. FEC filings will not show the level of information necessary to answer these questions and clear Mr. Sweeney's name.

One wonders what they have to hide that they can't follow their own call for honesty, openness and transparency.

It is Sweeney's choice. Follow his own advice and clear his name or spend the rest of the campaing season tainted with the stench of a lobbying scandal. As Fred LeBurn of the Albany Times Union had to say:
You'd think after all the grief Republican Congressman John Sweeney has taken for holding a fat fundraiser at the home of a lobbyist out in Utah that there'd be at least a hint of recognition that this was reasonably dumb.


But no, not a sign of contrition. In fact, Sweeney all but said on Friday that if he had to do it all again, he would. And probably will.


There's a certain political tone-deafness in Sweeney's response to the flap, it strikes me. As if advocating for lobbying reform even as he is cashing lobbyists' checks, so to speak, wouldn't raise the stink of hypocrisy.

Stating on the fundraiser invitation that he's a member of the House Appropriations Committee is a nice touch, but more irony than I can handle in one column.

Of course, the perception he created is grotesque, and the congressman has to know that, I think.

But then again, all that is par for the course for John Sweeney.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Kirsten Gillibrand Formal Announcement

You are cordially invited to the announcement of

Kirsten Rutnik Gillibrand

Democratic Candidate for U.S. House of Representatives in 2006 (NY-20)

with introduction by special guest

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

11:30 am

The Historic Canfield Casino
Congress Park, Broadway
Saratoga Springs, New York

event will run from 11:00 am to 1:30 pm
light refreshments will be available

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sweeney caught... and complaining about it

UPDATE: Enjoy a little "How I spent my weekend" video.

Republican Rep. John Sweeney (NY-20) is on the defensive and complaining about it.

For the first time since he was elected to congress to replace Rep. Gerald Solomon in 1998, Sweeney has a real challenge on his hands in the person of Democratic candidate Kirsten Gillibrand of Hudson, NY.

Sweeney has recently been working hard to get his name in the papers. First, complaining about the disarray amongst his fellow Republicans in New York and most recently calling for the heads of the Republican leadership in Washington in the wake of the Jack Abramoff-Tom DeLay-Grover Norquist bribery and corruption scandal.

Sweeney had called for elections of all Republican House leadership positions. He quickly retreated from his call to replace Speaker Dennis Hastert and has instead circulated a petition calling for a vote on all leadership positions below Speaker.

But no sooner had Sweeney, known for his defense of the indicted Tom DeLay and his close ties to Bush's inner circle, begun circulating his petition, loudly proclaiming his mantle of reformer and the Republicans need for "soul searching," then he jetted off to Park City, Utah for a "Skiing with Sweeney" weekend, a $2,000 event that included dinner at the home of Jeffrey Kimbell, a pharmaceutical lobbyist. His second annual "Skiing with Sweeney" weekend.

"An invitation to the "Skiing With Sweeney" event notes the congressman's membership on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. It asks for a contribution of $2,000, which didn't cover trip expenses. The invitation noted a block room rate of $349 per night was available at the Hotel Park City, where rooms typically run more than $500.

According to the invitation, attendees were to check in last Thursday, ski on Friday and then go to dinner at the home of Jeff Kimbell, whose D.C. lobbying firm, Jeffrey J. Kimbell & Associates, lists among its clients pharmaceutical heavyweights like Novartis and Allergan.

Another day of skiing was to follow Saturday; on Sunday, participants were to return home."

The Democratic challenger for the 20th district seat in Congress this year, Kirsten Gillibrand, who grew up in the Albany area, has made accountability and responsibility main planks in her campaign in light of the Republican corruption scandals in the House and Sweeney's lack of attention to his own district and constituents.

"Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic attorney who hopes to unseat Sweeney this fall, criticized the congressman for the event, saying the fact that it came on the heels of his call for change demonstrates he's not serious about reform. Gillibrand's campaign manager, Bill Hyers, pointed out New York has "a lot of great skiing" and questioned why Sweeney went to Utah to raise money."

Caught defenseless, the Sweeney campaign attempted to swing back at the challenger...

"Sweeney spokeswoman Melissa Carlson called those barbs "malicious, self-serving, and hypocritical." She said Gillibrand had "chosen the low road in her first campaign for office in a district she barely knows, for people she's never met, for reasons we may never know."

Gillibrand, who served as Special Counsel to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Andrew Cuomo during the Clinton administration and is a partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner, one of the premier law firms in the United States, grew up in the area and has deep family ties throughout the capital district of New York. Since coming home a couple years ago she has made it a point to travel to every town and hold open forums around the district every few weeks. She will continue this throughout the campaign and has pledged that if elected she will continue to hold open forums as a way for her constituents to be heard and to hold her accountable.

John Sweeney, who has been in office as the representative of the district since 1998, rarely makes it out of Saratoga County and has never been seen in most of the towns of the 10 county district. Sweeney did not live in the district when he first ran for office. Constituents had to chase Sweeney down and force him to hold a public event in order to hear their concerns about the Republican proposed dismantling of Social Security. Even then his handlers attempted to control who could participate in the one event he held. Constituents held their own forums on the topic to which he was invited but he declined to meet with them. Sweeney has also made a career of strong arm tactics playing a lead role in the 2000 Presidential recount fiasco by giving the order to "Shut it down"that lead to the mob action that was the worst aspect of that whole sorry episode.
"John Sweeney may talk reform, but his actions speak much louder than his words," Hyers said. "As a career politician he may think he can get away with saying one thing and doing another, but New Yorkers have had enough."

Sweeney's actions have garnered him a flurry of criticism from Democrats and local good government groups....

"Five Democratic county chairs from Sweeney's district and state Democratic Chairman Herman "Denny" Farrell Jr. wrote an open letter to the Clifton Park Republican asking why he went to Utah last weekend when New York has some of the nation's "finest ski resorts."

"Your decision to spend a weekend frolicking in Utah with lobbyists instead of here on the slopes in New York sends a terrible message and does nothing to encourage the all-important tourist industry here," wrote Farrell and the county chairs of the Washington, Essex, Saratoga, Greene and Warren Democratic parties.

Citizen Action of New York, a coalition of community and labor groups that has been critical of Sweeney, wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter on behalf of the "struggling families" in his district asking him to reconsider his support of budget cuts and tax breaks for those wealthy enough to afford skiing."

His actions also earned him a strong rebuke in the Albany Times Union today:

"There was Mr. Sweeney, a Clifton Park Republican, soliciting money last weekend on a Utah ski holiday where access to power was literally for sale.


Not very subtle, especially when the invitation to this gathering so crassly noted that Mr. Sweeney is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which controls a big portion of the fruits of access to government."

Sweeney, who has not been directly implicated in the Abramoff scandal, is yet one of those who...
"Just two weeks ago... was among a stampede of congressmen, Republicans and Democrats alike, who couldn't get rid of their otherwise zealously collected campaign contributions fast enough. Any money connected, in any way, to lobbyist-turned-felon Jack Abramoff or any of his evermore suspicious associates wasn't worth keeping. It instead went to charity -- $2,000 to St. Jude's Research Hospital, in Mr. Sweeney's case."

Except that the Times Union is incorrect in stating... "Any money connected, in any way, to lobbyist-turned-felon Jack Abramoff or any of his evermore suspicious associates...." The fact of the matter is that Mr. Sweeney's $2,000 divestment only represented the money received from Indian tribal clients that were being taken for a ride by Mr. Abramoff. Mr. Sweeney, along with the rest of his Republican colleagues in Congress... including Speaker Dennis Hastert who Sweeney backed off from challenging... have yet to take action to divest themselves of the money from Abramoff's... "evermore suspicious associates."

In the case of John Sweeney there has been no divestment of, nor explanation for, the following contributions that show up on his FEC filings:

Edwin Buckham, Alexander Strategy Group, 9/29/05, $500
Edwin Buckham, Alexander Strategy Group, 9/30/05, $200
Michael Mihalke, Alexander Strategy Group, 8/9/05, $100
Michael Mihalke, Alexander Strategy Group, 8/9/05, $2,100
Michael Mihalke, Alexander Strategy Group, 6/13/05, $2,000
Daniel Gans, Alexander Strategy Group, 6/13/05, $1,000
Allison Shulman, Alexander Strategy Group, 6/13/05, $250

Greenberg Traurig PAC, 3/31/05, $1000
Greenberg Traurig PAC, 9/12/05, $1,500
Greenberg Traurig PAC, 9/22/05, $500
Karl Reichelt, Greenberg Traurig, 3/14/05, $250
Karl Reichelt, Greenberg Traurig, 6/13/05, $250
Karl Reichelt, Greenberg Traurig, 9/12/05, $500
J. Daniel Walsh, Greenberg Traurig, 9/12/05, $250

TYCO International PAC, 6/13/05. $1,000

Preston Gates Ellis Roouvelas Meeds PAC, 6/28/05, $1,000

Alexander Strategy Group is the lobbying firm run by former Tom DeLay staffers, Ed Buckham and Tony Rudy, that announced that it would be closing operations in the wake of the Abramoff guilty plea. The plea deal with Abramoff gives all the appearance that indictments of Mr. Buckham and his associates will be forthcoming.

Greenberg Traurig is one of the lobbying firms that Jack Abramoff was using as a front for his bribery and corruption enterprise. Preston, Gates, Ellis is another.

TYCO International, that model of responsible corporate behavior, has recently revealed that it hired Abramoff and Greenberg Traurig during this time to lobby congress on their behalf.

As they said in the Times Union editorial...

Mr. Sweeney's office promises that his next report to the Federal Election Commission will disclose who -- as in which lobbyists -- attended the Utah fundraising event. That ought to make for some interesting reading.

As with skiing with lobbyists, we have yet to hear what Mr. Sweeney has to say about these contributions and his relationship to the companies and individuals involved. There too, his explanations "ought to make for some interesting reading."

FEC reports also show that at a minimum 40% of Mr. Sweeney's contributions throughout his career, continuing to his latest reports, come from PAC's, lobbyists, and other political committee's. Ms. Gillibrand reported 97% of her fund raising has come from individuals.

If you would like to be one of those individuals and help remove yet one more member of a bought and paid for congress please visit Kirsten Gillibrand at her web site and consider contributing while you are there.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Crisis of Separation

Advance magazine (Diocese of Chicago)
July, 1963

The Crisis of Separation

By the Rev. Warner C. White
Rector, The Church of the Redeemer, Chicago

When I was asked to attend the funeral of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss., last month, I expected to find a small, sleepy, dusty town with a main street of white clapboard stores and lazy hound dogs. Instead I found a bright modern city of 150,000. I found tall brick buildings and up-to-date stores.

Nor is a demonstration-torn and riot- threatened town what I expected it to be. If we read in the headlines “20 Persons Jailed in Jackson Demonstration” we expect to find tense groups of men clustered in the streets, closed stores, and menacing bands of white hoods and Negro freedom marchers; we expect the whole city somehow to be occupied with the demonstrations and tensions. Yet it takes only a few minutes for a dozen teenagers to throw rocks at police and be arrested. It can happen in one street with out anyone being aware of it in the next. Few citizens of Jackson see demonstrations; most just hear about them. It is possible, therefore, for many people in Jackson to live as remote from the problem as any northerner.

In fact, the outstanding note of my trip to Jackson was the absurd contrast between racial crisis and life-as-usual. For example, the other clergy and I who came for the funeral stayed in a down town hotel which never seemed quite real to me. We went on Saturday afternoon, a few hours after the funeral and after a near-riot, to a meeting of the NAACP strategy committee in which plans were being laid to try to prevent bloodshed. The committee was making arrangements to man a sound truck and drive through the Negro area asking people to stay home and refrain from violence; arrangements were also being made for ministers to go around to the bars and poolrooms to keep things calm.

From this meeting, held in a church basement, the men dressed in shirt sleeves because of the heat — it was over 100° — we returned to our air-conditioned hotel with its thick carpets and careful decor, there to find a convention of Rainbow Girls, teenagers in party dresses. Throughout Saturday and Sunday they partied. They ran in and out of each other’s rooms, strewed potato chips and bits of paper up and down the hotel corridors, and giggled. In Jackson we lived in two worlds — the world of racial strife and the world of the Rainbow girls.

But it wasn’t only the Rainbow girls who struck a note of absurdity. Even our church-going on Sunday morning did. We split into pairs to go to the various Episcopal churches in town. The very normality of what we found gave me a sense of unreality. Everything was familiar. The congregation at the early celebration of Holy Communion in Jackson, Mississippi, looks just like the congregation at an early celebration in Chicago or Boston. A new housing development in Jackson and late Morning Prayer are just like housing developments and Morning Prayer anywhere else.

Episcopalians are the same everywhere and in the midst of any situation. We are always well dressed and proper and controlled. But in Jackson, Mississippi, this seems absurd. How can life go on as usual, how can we be as usual on the brink of bloodshed?

There are at least two answers. Some white people in Jackson just don’t know any better. They do not understand the gravity of their situation — ”Our Negroes are happy,” they say; “it’s all the work of outside agitators and a few malcontents.” They do not know what is actually happening and in most cases they are morally confused.

Other white people, those who know better, as a rule feel helpless; they do not see what they can do to prevent bloodshed or to protest effectively against the wrongs of segregation. A Methodist minister of Jackson who had been pastor of his church for 19 years resigned a few days before our trip be cause kneeling-in Negroes had been turned away by ushers the previous Sunday. His resignation was accepted immediately and without dissent. Uncompromising segregationists are in control of Jackson. In such a situation men and women carry on life as usual, whether they understand the situation or not, because they seem able to do nothing else.

I have returned to Chicago with two firm convictions. One is to see to it that I learn a lot about my brothers in Christ, that I find out what is going on in the Negro ghetto, that I try to get other Christians to do the same. The crisis in Jackson is a crisis of separation; one man is separated from another and does not understand him. We must not permit that separation to exist here; we must not only be concerned to help our brother, we must listen to him; we must try to understand one another. To my shame I know little about what it is like to live in the Negro ghettos of Chicago, nor do I know what sorts of steps I can best take to help my brothers in Christ who live there. It is time I found out.

My second conviction is that it is time we Christians began seriously to pray about this matter. Think of the prayers we clergy usually bid on Sunday: “Pray for John Smith who is ill, for Henry who is in personal difficulties, and for the repose of the soul of Mary Jones.” We pray as a rule for the sick, for those in various personal difficulties, and for the dead. Only once in a while do we bid prayers on some matter which concerns us corporately. Our attention is usually confined to the personal lives of parishioners.

It is time the Church as a whole became actively involved in the crises of our time, in the problems which engross us as a society. As a rule our involvement, where it is explicitly Christian, is limited to pronouncements — by pope or council of churches or national council or bishop, or whatever. Here and there small groups of clergy and occasionally of laity take action explicitly as Christians — protesting or picketing or demonstrating or the like. Both of these forms of involvement seem very remote from the ordinary parish church. Our parish churches as a whole — that is to say, the Church as a whole— is in no way involved in such matters.

I am recommending no specific course of action. I am not suggesting that we all become political activists or that we all man picket lines. Those seem to me to he specific callings for specific persons.

What I am suggesting is that we take up the basic element in our corporate Christian calling — that we begin systematically and knowledgeably in our parish churches to pray for one another and for one another’s problems, that we seek to learn who our brothers in Christ are and what wounds are being inflicted upon the Body of Christ in their persons.

A separated, isolated parish church concerned only with its own problems is cut off from the life of the whole Body. Such a parish — and most of our parishes are of that kind — must take steps to bring itself back into communion with the Church. We need not worry at first about action. Appropriate Christian action follows from Christian prayer and Christian communion.

I am starting now to pray regularly for Episcopal clergy of Jackson, and for others in Jackson. I hope that other Christians will do the same, and that we will all let those we pray for know that we are doing so. I should like to see the Christians of Chicago form a Company of Prayer in which we unite our prayers concerning the corporate problems of man, and I will be glad to hear from those who are interested in forming such a Company of Prayer.

Prayer is the necessary foundation of all Christian action. If we seriously intend to act as Christians in the world, then we must seriously and unitedly pray.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

NYS Election Reform Groups React

For Immediate Release:
Thursday, January 12, 2006

NYS League of Women Voters, New Yorkers for Verified Voting
Say Department of Justice Action Makes
Selection of Optical Scan Voting System Essential

Election reform groups today reacted to the Department of Justice threat to sue New York State for HAVA non-compliance. Organizations opposed to electronic touchscreen voting systems (DREs), said the DOJ action makes the case for adopting optical scanners/ballot marking devices (PBOS) more compelling than ever.

Widespread concerns have been raised about the security, accuracy, and costs of electronic touchscreen voting systems by computer experts, legislators, and citizens. Optical scan systems, a reliable, mature, auditable and cost effective voting system, are being adopted in states around the United States to meet HAVA compliance and should be used in New York State as well.

“By moving quickly to certify precinct based optical scan voting systems which have already been federally approved New York State can be in full compliance with HAVA requirements.” said Aimee Allaud, Elections/Government Specialist of the League of Women Voters of New York State. “PBOS voting systems with the addition of a ballot marker will provide secure, accurate, recountable and accessible voting. DREs currently being demonstrated in NYS cannot, at present, meet that standard.”

“The impending action by the Department of Justice to enforce HAVA compliance makes it urgent that New York adopt optical scanners now.” said Bo Lipari, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting. “If the DOJ action results in New York’s loss of HAVA equipment funding, we would still be required to replace lever machines. But without HAVA funds, New York’s taxpayers will pay the full purchase cost out of their own pockets. Adopting optical scanners rather than touchscreen voting machines will save New Yorkers over $100 million dollars in acquisition costs. There are many excellent reasons for adopting scanners. More than ever, the scanner alternative has become a no-brainer.”

The groups called on the State and local Boards of Elections to adopt statewide use of optical scanners and ballot marking devices as New York’s plan for rapid HAVA compliance.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

"It is beyond dispute that New York is not now in compliance..."

"In fact, based on information we received at our most recent meeting on December 2, 2005, it is clear that New York is not close to approaching full HAVA compliance, and , in our view, is further behind in that regard than any other state in the country."

- a letter dated Jan. 10, 2006 from Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, to Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General and Todd Valentine, General Counsel, New York State Board of Elections.

Your state tax dollars hard at work.

HAVA, the Help America Vote Act, is a poorly crafted piece of legislation put in place following the disastrous 2000 Presidential election that exposed the gaping holes in our electoral process.

The New York State Legislature, called the "most dysfunctional in nation," showed why in the legislation it used to punt the issue of voting technology to the state Board of Elections and the counties...

... One of the issues exposed in 2000 was the vast difference in the reliability of voting methods from county to county. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled because of these vast differences that a recount in some counties but not others would be a violation of the "equal protection" clause...

... thus setting New York up for the very problem that was already declared a violation of The Constitution.

The New York State Board of Elections has since dithered around in certifying machines as compliant therefore the 62 County Legislatures and Boards of Elections have been unable to make decisions on machinery.

And now the U.S. Department of Justice is threatening to sue the State of New York over HAVA non-compliance.
A Justice Department letter told state officials this week that it had authorized a lawsuit against New York for failing to comply with the law. The letter said that the department hoped to settle the matter by negotiating a court order with the state instead going to court but that "we are prepared to file a complaint if the matter is not resolved expeditiously."


New York's failure to address the issue is in part the result of gridlock in Albany, which took years to pass legislation to put the state into compliance. Some of the delay was caused because legislation to comply with the federal law was held up by a partisan squabble over appointments at the state's Board of Elections.

New York State Legislature, the "most dysfunctional in nation...."

The Board of Elections is still hearing public comments about what kind of standards to require for voting machines. Once it publishes its guidelines, voting machine manufacturers (and their legions of well-paid lobbyists) will scramble to try to get their machines approved and then to sell them to local elections boards. Some local officials say it is unlikely that they will be able to get the new machines up and running for the 2006 elections, when New Yorkers will choose a governor, a United States senator and 212 state lawmakers.

"Somewhere down the line we will have to advise the boards whether we think they're going to have time to get this done properly before the election," Mr. Daghlian [State Board of Elections spokesman] said.

New York City declared long ago that it could not possibly be prepared in time to use new machines in 2006 no matter which machines were chosen.

Dan Seligson, the editor of a nonpartisan Web site,, that tracks the compliance with the Help America Vote Act, said New York was "dead last nationally."

"I think that other states can demonstrate that they have made a good-faith effort to comply, but that they had difficulties with vendors, problems with machines," he said. "In New York, they can't claim that."

Connecticut declared last week that it would not be able to comply and would continue to use lever machines in 2006. Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said the state will use its mechanical lever machines one more time, because no vendor offered a replacement that meets state and federal requirements. "We were misled by the finalist company, because they said they could meet all the requirements," Bysiewicz said.

"The governor and the Legislature dragged their feet for so many months, it put New York behind the eight-ball," said Miriam Kramer, the government policy analyst for the New York Public Interest Research Group. "Now is the time to urge the federal government for a waiver, so we can do it right, within an appropriate time frame, but not rushing, while maintaining an open and transparent process and enfranchising as many New Yorkers as possible."

The DOJ letter concluded...

"We are hopeful that we will be able to resolve this matter through a negotiated consent decree rather than through costly and protracted litigation. We request that you contact us as soon as possible to indicate whether the State is willing to enter into negotiations for a fair and equitable settlement of this matter that will remedy these violations. To that end, we are prepared to meet with the State promptly to discuss terms of a possible consent decree. We are prepared to file a complaint if the matter is not resolved expeditiously."

"Somewhere down the line we will have to advise the boards whether we think they're going to have time to get this done properly before the election," Mr. Daghlian said.

Your state tax dollars hard at work... losing you your federal tax dollars.

A new battle for hurt soldier

Can we stop this madness please? From today's Albany Times Union:

A new battle for hurt soldier
Injured in Iraq, Lansingburgh private has long recovery ahead

By TIM O'BRIEN, Staff writer
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Saturday, January 14, 2006

TROY -- Army Pfc. Marissa Strock, the Lansingburgh woman seriously wounded in a Thanksgiving Day attack in Iraq, is still

[text missing from on-line version of report]

Now, Strock is undergoing surgery every few days and withstanding grueling physical therapy to battle back from her combat injuries.

Her mother, Sandra Ogden, is by her side at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

"She's hanging in there. She's got a long fight ahead of her," Ogden said Friday. "She woke up from her coma 2 weeks ago. It was kind of sketchy how much of her we'd get back. She's barking orders at everybody, so we know she's doing fine."

Strock, 20, lost her left leg below the knee, and doctors are fighting to save her right leg.

She told her mother she wanted people to know she is "doing fine and she wants to thank everybody for their support."

Strock serves with the Army's 170th Military Police Company, 504th Military Police Battalion, 42nd Military Police Brigade, based in Fort Lewis, Wash.

The 2003 Lansingburgh High School graduate was riding in a Humvee on Thanksgiving Day with two other soldiers. A bomb exploded beneath their vehicle. Strock was riding in the gun turret.

"The blast was so strong it sent her flying," Ogden said. "It separated the top of the Humvee from the bottom, sent her flying back 30 meters."

She broke her right arm in multiple places, as well as her collarbone and shoulder blade. The other two soldiers were killed.

"She doesn't remember the blast at all, which is a blessing at this point," her mother said.

Strock likely will remain at Walter Reed for a year, and her mother plans to be there with her. Ogden credits her employer, a medical case management company called The Reed Group, with granting her the time to be with her daughter.

"I'm here until I bring her home," she said.

Strock is undergoing minor surgery every three to four days, her mother said, and she gets regular physical therapy.

"It's grueling," Ogden said. "It's hard for me to watch."

The soldier spends her time in a hospital bed or a wheelchair.

Her family, including her father, Thomas Strock, has been with her regularly.

"We have family come down to break it up over the weekend," her mother said.

She is at a loss when asked if there is anything her daughter needs. "I am trying to get her a collection of movies and CDs," her mother said, a little entertainment for the long hospital stay ahead.

O'Brien can be reached at 454-5096 or by e-mail at

Thursday, January 12, 2006

4th Quarter Fund Raising

UPDATE: The numbers reported below for John Sweeney are his third quarter totals and not his fourth quarter numbers. Mr. Sweeney's 4th quarter fundraising numbers are not yet available on-line.

2005 fourth quarter fund raising summaries are out today. Detail reports will be available at a later date. A cursory review of the two main candidates in New York's 20th Congressional District show a real race in this district.

Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic challenger, shows total receipts of $370,680 according to available FEC reports. Ms. Gillibrand has already outraised the total of Jean Bordewich who raised $339,883 when she ran against John Sweeney for Gerald Solomon's open seat in 1998. Bordewich captured 42.1% of the vote that year in what was then a differently configured 22nd district. Her's was the highest previous number raised against Sweeney in any of his four previous elections.

In her first fundraising numbers Gillibrand posted about $119,000 which was just shy of the three previous challengers combined. The numbers this quarter show that she more than doubled her previous quarterly total and is well on her way to catching up to Sweeney's money advantage. Ms. Gillibrand reported cash on hand of $286,158.

Rep. John Sweeney, the incumbent since 1998, showed total receipts of $677,045. With beginning cash of $495,774 this leaves Sweeney with a cash on hand advantage with $712,933 despite his habit of spreading his largesse around key supporters with Total Disbursements of $459,885.

With the incumbents advantage of left-over money from previous campaign basically spent the FEC report shows where his remaining funding advantages lies... Lobbyists, PAC's, and other committees.

Gillibrand matched Sweeney virtually dollar for dollar in contributions from individuals with Gillibrand's raising $358,655 or 97% of her campaign contributions from individuals.

Sweeney raised $409,098 or only 60% of his contributions from individuals.

A full 40% of his contributions came from lobby and PAC money. This is in keeping with Mr. Sweeney's previous elections in which his reliance on big money has ranged anywhere from 35% to 45% of his total receipts.

In 2006 Mr. Sweeney has had to donate to charity $2,000 he received from one of tribal clients involved in the Jack Abramoff bribery and corruption scandal. FEC reports show the following lobby money amongst Sweeney's receipts during the 2006 cycle:

Greenberg Traurig - $1,000 on 3/28/2005
Greenberg Traurig - $1,500 on 8/23/2005
Preston Gates Ellis - $1,000 on 6/22/2005
TYCO International - $1,000 on 5/11/2005

In addition, according to Open Secrets the Alexander Strategy Group, run by Tom DeLay's former staffer Ed Buckham which announced just days ago that it was closing operations due to it's implication and the likely future indictements in the Abramoff scandal, has contributed a total of $6,050 to Sweeney. Greenberg Traurig is listed at $4,750. I believe their numbers include executives and other employees of the company in the total.

There are no reports of Sweeney returning or divesting himself of any of these highly questionable contributions.

Mr. Sweeney has recently been vocal in calling for sweeping change in House Leadership. Yesterday he backed down however from calling for a vote on a new Speaker of the House. He had previously singled out Speaker Dennis Hastert who is one of the largest recipients of money from Abramoff clients.

Sweeney's reformist words rang hollow at the time and even hollower in light of today's MSNBC report showing an unrepentant John Sweeney as a prime example of the influential and ubiquitous role of lobbyists in Republican Washington. They list a series of separate lobbyist events being held on this past Dec. 14, 2005 in which Promia, Inc.'s VP for Government Affairs, Adrian Plesha...
hosted a reception for Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) at his East Capitol Street home --
$5,000 for "sponsors,"
$1,000 for PACs
and $500 for individuals.

Kirsten Gillibrand has made accountability in government a centerpiece of her campaign. She has singled out Sweeney's lack of accountability to the people and the fact that he has never bothered to travel the district and get to know the citizens of the 20th district. Gillibrand has said she will hold regular open forums around all 10 counties in the district. She has already held events in every county and is continuing an aggressive schedule of the same. Gillibrand's fundraising totals to date reflect her commitment to the citizens and rather than lobbyists.

Radical fundamentalist cleric says God's Word is " inappropriate and insensitive"

Radical fundamentalist cleric Pat Robertson apologized for his interpretation of God's Word today.

Robertson on his television show The 700 Club last Thursday said that God had struck down Ariel Sharon as divine punishment for "dividing God's land."
"God considers this land to be his," Robertson said on his TV program "The 700 Club." "You read the Bible and he says 'This is my land,' and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, 'No, this is mine."'

Robertson stated that the prophet Joel "makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who 'divide my land.'"

And Robertson himself added, "I would say woe to any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations, or the United States of America." Further, he point to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who was assassinated.

Robertson said God's message is, "This land belongs to me. You'd better leave it alone."

Immediately and continuing over the course of the past week Robertson's remarks drew condemnation and disbelief from religious leaders in America and abroad, from the White House and the Israeli government, and from watchdog groups that track the comments of radical cleric's such as Robertson.

Israel yesterday announced that it was backing out of a $50 million dollar deal with Robertson to build a Christian theme park near the Sea of Galilee.

Today, Robertson issued an apology for his remarks in a letter to Sharon's son Omri.
"My zeal, my love of Israel and my concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father's illness," Robertson wrote.

Striking a conciliatory and contrite tone, Robertson expressed his "profound sympathy" for Sharon, and called the Prime Minister "a kind, gracious and gentle man" who was
"carrying an almost insurmountable burden of making decisions for his nation."

"I ask your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the people of Israel for saying what was clearly insensitive at the time."

When first challenged regarding his remarks Angell Watts, Robertson's spokeswoman said:

"What they're basically saying is, 'How dare Pat Robertson quote the Bible?'"

"This is what the word of God says," Watts said. "This is nothing new to the Christian community."

So has Robertson refuted the Word of God? Or the Word of Pat Robertson? Are God's words "inappropriate and insensitive," or are Robertson's?

Is Robertson an accurate interpreter of the bible or is he expressing his own opinion? Is he sorry for his insensitive comments regarding a man still in a coma from a massive stroke?

Or is he sorry he is out of his $50 million Christian themed Disneyland?

Today... in Washington Crime!

UPDATE: A far better article on Brig. Gen Miller and Col. Pappas of Abu Ghraib fame can be found here at the WaPo.

I was considering writing a new regular feature called "This Week in Washington Crime!" However, a quick review of today's news features, police blotters, Congressional Investigations (both into and out of), as well as Inspectors General, and International news showed that in order to keep up with the doings of Republican Washington it will be necessary to cut the time frame down to 12-24 hours. So... Welcome to... "Today... in Washington Crime!"

Today's lead story is a sleepy little article from Reuters in which it is reported that U.S. Army Major Gen. Geoffrey Miller has invoked his 5th amendment right not to incriminate himself in the courts-martial of two soldiers accused of mistreating detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld placed Miller in charge of setting up operations at Abu Ghraib in Iraq using the techniques he had perfected during his stint in command of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba.

Miller, who had previously spoken freely and denied any wrong doing, perhaps took this action due to the recent development of Col. Thomas Pappas, the commanding officer at Abu Ghraib, having accepted immunity this week prior to being ordered to testify at upcoming courts martial.

As of this time, no senior officers have been charged in the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

In the meantime, International pressure to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay is growing daily. Dutch Defence Minister Henk Kamp said today that the prison should be closed as soon as possible. German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed similar sentiments in advance of a visit to the United States in which she said she would be raising the issue with President Bush:
In an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel, published over the weekend, Merkel said: "An institution such as Guantanamo cannot and ought not to exist long term in this way. Means for different treatment of the prisoners need to be found."

Kamp also said he disagreed with the term "illegal combatants", who are said to fall outside the terms of the Geneva conventions.

Meanwhile, hunger strikes amongst prisoners continue at the prison and the U.S. reports that it is "humanely" force feeding the strikers despite international prohibitions amongst nations and medical associations against force feeding.

Controversial military tribunals of prisoners at Guantanmo have restarted.

In a related item, American citizen Jose Padilla, who was held as an "enemy combatant" for three and a half years in a military brig in South Carolina before finally being charged with a crime and subsequently transferred to civilian custody, plead not guilty today in federal court in Miami.

Padilla is charged with conspiring to murder U.S. nationals and providing material support to terrorists as part of a North American cell that provided money, material and fighters for violent Islamic jihad. He was originally declared an enemy combatant and held incommunicado by order of George Bush alone under an accusation of plotting to explode a "dirty bomb" and blow up apartment buildings in major U.S. cities. None of the accusations under which he was held are referenced in his current charges.

Internationally, the European Union Parliament launched an investigation on Thursday into allegations that the CIA used EU countries for the illegal transport and detention of prisoners.
Leaders of the Parliament's seven political groups and assembly president Josep Borrell voted in favor of setting up a temporary committee consisting of 46 members to investigate the allegations.

The inquiry will have no legal powers, but the committee will recommend what political action should be taken against any countries found guilty of involvement, including the U.S.

The inquiry is to work in tandem with a probe by the Council of Europe, the 46-nation human rights watchdog, and has been given four months to carry out the investigation.

Back home in the states the NSA Inspector General is reported to have started an internal probe into whether the domestic spying program order by George Bush has broken any laws. The Department of Justice meanwhile is not investigating the illegal program but is instead investigating how information about the program was leaked.

NSA Whistleblower Russ Tice has been warned by the National Security Agency "that he should not testify to Congress about accusations of illegal activity at NSA because of the secrecy of the programs involved."

In a Jan. 9 letter to Mr. Tice, Renee Seymour, director of NSA special access programs stated that members and staff of the House and Senate intelligence committees do not have the proper security clearances for the secret intelligence. A stunning statement to say the least. Members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees do not have the security clearance to hear about an intelligence program.

Miss Seymour stated that Mr. Tice has "every right" to speak to Congress and that NSA has "no intent to infringe your rights."

However, she stated that the programs Mr. Tice took part in were so secret that "neither the staff nor the members of the [House intelligence committee] or [Senate intelligence committee] are cleared to receive the information covered by the special access programs, or SAPs."

Meanwhile, President Bush again defended his orders to spy on American citizens saying:

"I understand people's concerns about government eavesdropping," Bush said in response to a question about the program during a citizens forum here. "I share their concerns as well."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has announced plans to hold hearings on the spying program.

In a statement released after Bush's remarks, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said that rather than protect the nation, Bush's program may compromise efforts to fight terrorism by resulting in hundreds of cases against suspected terrorists being thrown out of court.

"President Bush's decision to sidestep the rule of law and spy on Americans without a court order may have dealt a serious blow to our ability to fight and win the war on terror," Dean said.

And finally, in a report from ABC
"Former CIA General Counsel Jeffrey Smith will testify in House hearings that there is no legal basis for President Bush's controversial National Security Agency domestic surveillance program."

ABC News has obtained a copy of a 14-page memo Smith wrote to the House Select Committee on Intelligence in which he argues that the wiretaps are illegal.

Sweeney retreats - calls for half measures

Republican Rep. John Sweeney of New York's 20th Congressional District retreated today from his earlier call for wholesale change in Republican House leadership.

Sweeney who had called for a confidence vote on Speaker Dennis Hastert as well as the rest of the Republican leadership retreated by saying that he would put forth a petition calling for new elections of all seven positions under Hastert.

"There ought to be a full review and commitment by those who present themselves as leaders to a new agenda so we can re-instill the confidence of the American people," said Sweeney.

But Sweeney's actions fell short of his words leaving Hastert, a crony of the indicted former Republican majority leader Tom DeLay, in power. Hastert, whose actions are in question in the Jack Abramoff-Tom DeLay-Grover Norquist bribery and corruption scandal, owes his position as Speaker of the House to Tom DeLay and has long been seen as a puppet whose strings DeLay pulls. John Sweeney, a leading defender of DeLay, appears to be calling for the DeLay regime to remain in power even in the wake of this growing scandal that threatens to engulf several more Congressmen before it is over.

Sweeney has donated $2,000 received from the Tigua and Coushatta tribes to charity but has taken no action regarding several thousand dollars more received from firms Abramoff and his suspected co-conspirators, former DeLay aides Tony Rudy and Ed Buckham, used as a front for their operation. Alexander Strategy Group, which announced it's closure in the wake of the scandal, contributed $6,050 to Sweeney during the current campaign cycle while Greenberg Traurig contributed another $4,750. Sweeney is known to have also received money from another of Abramoff's former firms Preston, Gates, Ellis et al.

For his part, Dennis Hastert has refused to declare how much of the at least $63,500 he has received from Abramoff and his clients he is divesting himself of. Hastert appears to have been the third largest recipient of Abramoff's largesse.

In a belated effort to get ahead of the bribery and corruption storm that some unnamed Republican criticize him for letting get away, Hastert has signaled his intent to reform House travel rules. Unfortunately this part of the scandal only scratches the surface and reaches nowhere near the tumor that has metastasized inside the Republican Party in Washington. The travel issue only admits the clear problems Rep. Bob Ney will have staying out of jail but does not touch on the wider issue of purposeful selling of congressional votes and favors through the DeLay-Abramoff-Norquist K Street Project.

The Center for Public Integrity and Public Citizen's Lobbyinginfo.Org have some mind boggling numbers on the staggering growth of lobbying and influence peddling in Republican Washington.

Despite being obviously implicated in the corruption Hastert appears to be getting a pass... for the moment. But if Republicans have any hope of regaining credibility with the American people and any hope of maintaining control of Washington they are going to need to do it with a new set of leaders. Sweeney was right the first time around when he called for a complete change of leadership. His hasty retreat from this position has cost him any chance of gaining credibility on the subject with his constituents back home.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

NSA to investigate itself

At the request of House Democrats the Pentagon's Acting Inspector General has announced that his counterpart at the NSA is investigating the domestic spying program initiated by President George Bush.

39 House Democrats have requested both the Pentagon's Inspector General and the Department of Justice's Inspector General to investigate the warrentless spying program. Thomas Gimble declined responding in a letter to the House Democrats that the NSA Inspector General "is already actively reviewing aspects of that program" and has "considerable expertise in the oversight of electronic surveillance," indicating that the internal investigation was already underway. Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine declined stating that he did not have jurisdiction.

The Democrats responded with a letter to Fine on Monday, arguing that both the inspector general statute and the USA Patriot Act require Fine's office to get involved.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said NSA's inspector general should not be conducting an investigation if the office has played a role in approving the program.

"The inspector general for NSA has repeatedly reviewed this and okayed it, . . . so I don't know how his investigation is going to get a new set of eyes on this," Lofgren said. "How are they going to be able to investigate themselves?"

The Bush administration, from President George Bush to Vice President Dick Cheney to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, has aggressively asserted it's claim to authority to override the Bill of Rights and spy on American citizens.

In the wake of the NSA eavesdropping revelation American's have recently learned that their mail is also subject to being opened and read by the Bush administration.

In related news indicted Rep. Tom DeLay has announced that he has assigned former staffers Tony Rudy and Ed Buckham to investigate his dealings with them and his close friend, convicted lobbyist and conman Jack Abramoff. In a subsequent press release Rudy and Buckham announced that they have hired Abramoff and his new firm, Capone, Gambino, and Rove, to launch an investigation of the prosecutors in DeLay's case. The firm has also been hired by the NSA to assist in the off-shoring of the NSA's work to a firm in Uzbekistan. It is estimated that the off-shoring of the NSA's spying will save the government $5 billion. The cost of the Abramoff sub-contract was announced at $3.5 billion.