Monday, November 30, 2009

Threats Are a Common Tactic for the Alabama GOP

A Republican insider who revealed apparent campaign-funding irregularities now is receiving death threats in Alabama.

Bill Johnson, a GOP candidate for governor in 2010 and a former member of current governor Bob Riley's cabinet, recently said that Riley's 2002 campaign received millions of dollars from Mississippi Choctaw gambling interests, which were represented by Jack Abramoff. Johnson announced last week that he had received several letters he considered death threats. The Montgomery Advertiser reported over the weekend that Johnson still is receiving harassing mail.

To others who have exposed Republican wrongdoing in Alabama, including your humble blogger, the threats directed Johnson's way are no surprise.

Just ask Alabama attorney Jill Simpson, a former Republican operative who revealed a GOP conspiracy to initiate a political prosecution against former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman. In the weeks and months after her revelations, Simpson experienced a mysterious house fire and saw her vehicle run off the road.

I've called the GOP tactics financial terrorism. And I've experienced them personally. I've received more threatening anonymous comments on my blog than I can count. And they have not been idle threats.

After a February 2008 post about connections between U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and Alabama GOP political consultant Dax Swatek, we received an anonymous comment: "Nut case, yours is comong (sic)."

After an April 2008 post, we received an anonymous comment claiming that I was blogging at work, and my employer, UAB, needed to be notified. On the date in question, I was taking a vacation day, so I was not blogging at work--then or any other time.

Roughly a month later, I was fired at UAB, after 19 years on the job, amid vague allegations that I was blogging at work. For the record, UAB's own IT expert testified at my grievance hearing that those allegations were not true. But did someone with GOP political ties get in the ears of UAB leaders and pressure them to unlawfully fire me? Sure looks that way. And evidence suggests it was all because I was writing a blog that was critical of the Bush Justice Department and it's handling of various political prosecutions, including the Siegelman case.

Jill Simpson has a pretty good idea of what Bill Johnson is experiencing. Says Simpson:

"I am a little worried about Bill Johnson. He bravely spoke out about Alabama Republican corruption and now has received a death threat. I know what that is like. It is my belief that the DOJ should give him and others protection from this gang of thugs, but as of yet, have not done so. . . .

"I take the threat to him very seriously and hope law enforcement does as well. I once was proud to be a Republican, but these actions sadden me. Then again, you only have to look at the current leadership to understand these are thugs, not Republicans."

Is Right-Wing Pundit Losing His Mind Over Health-Care Reform?

Conservative bloviators have written and said so many outrageous things about health-care reform that it's hard to determine who has gone most over the top. But Cal Thomas makes a strong case for himself with a recent column that is so out of touch with reality that one can only wonder if the veteran columnist's sanity has permanently left the building.

Our guy Cal informs us that, with the possible coming of health-care reform, our country will become the U.S.S.A.--the United Socialist States of America.

This is not a joke column, like something out of The Onion. Thomas is as serious as a heart attack--one that strikes when you don't have health insurance. Consider this paragraph:

Great horrors don’t begin in gas chambers, killing fields, or forced famines. They begin when there is a philosophical shift in a nation’s leadership about the value of human life. Novelist Walker Percy examined the underlying philosophy that led to the Holocaust and wrote: “In a word, certain consequences, perhaps unforeseen, follow upon the acceptance of the principle of the destruction of human life for what may appear to be the most admirable social reasons."

Gee, sounds like Cal's about to stroke out here. One can only wonder if Walker Percy, a Birmingham native and a noted humanist, is spinning in his grave at the notion of Cal Thomas twisting his words to oppose health-care reform.

But that's not the only indicator that Cal has lost it. Consider this:

Why would anyone trust government—which has a difficult enough time winning wars—to properly administer health care? What track record does government have in living up to its economic forecasts and competence in running anything?

Memo to Cal: The federal government already is up to its eyeballs in our health-care system. Don't believe it? Try asking someone who has worked at a university with a major medical center. You could, in fact, ask me.

In my almost 20 years working at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), I learned a thing or two about how American medicine works. And remember, this is a system that many conservatives say provides "the best health care in the world."

Consider just a couple of tidbits I learned from my time at UAB:

* UAB receives more than $400 million a year in federal research funding, mostly from the National Institutes of Health. What does that mean? If your doctor prescribes a medication, recommends a therapy, or performs a procedure, it almost certainly has been exhaustively tested under the auspices of . . . the federal government.

* UAB receives $100,000 a year for each resident in its graduate training programs. This applies to other academic health centers across the country, and the funding comes from Medicare, a federal program. What does that mean? Surveys regularly show that most Americans are pleased with the quality of care they receives from their physicians. That indicates that patients perceive their caregivers to be well trained. Because physician training largely is underwritten by Medicare, Americans who respond positively in these surveys should send a letter of thanks to . . . the federal government.

Heck, there even is good news for Cal Thomas. American research and training in mental health is world class, thanks largely to the federal government. A guy like Cal, who could stand to get reacquainted with the real world, should take comfort in that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are Football and Fraud Connected in Alabama?

The University of Alabama and Auburn University meet on the football field Friday in the annual Iron Bowl game.

College football unquestionably is the most-discussed topic in our state. And the Iron Bowl easily is our most anticipated event. The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, typically is one of the biggest shopping days of the year. But it is likely to be quiet in Alabama, particularly between the hours of 1:30 and 5:30 p.m.--roughly when the Iron Bowl will be played at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Many experts consider Alabama vs. Auburn to be the most fierce rivalry in college football, and it has produced many classic moments. But if you look beneath the surface, you see that the Iron Bowl also might represent the worst part of college athletics.

For example, consider this question: Is it coincidence that the most prominent boosters at both Alabama and Auburn--Paul W. Bryant Jr. and Bobby Lowder, respectively--have been connected to financial shenanigans in recent years?

Are their shaky business practices driven by a desire to keep up in the escalating financial "arms race" that envelopes high-level college football? Programs such as Alabama and Auburn must come up with huge sums of money to attract and retain top coaches and develop essential infrastructure--stadium expansions, practice facilities, recruiting budgets, etc.

Consider the coaches. Alabama's Nick Saban, one of the highest paid coaches in college football, recently signed a contract extension that will pay him an average of about $4 million a year. Auburn's Gene Chizik is a relative pauper, making about $2 million annually.

Where does all of that money come from? In Alabama, it generally is assumed that quite a bit of it comes from Paul W. Bryant Jr. and Bobby Lowder. Both men serve on their school's board of trustees. Both men have varied business interests--Lowder in banking and real estate; Bryant in reinsurance, ready-mix concrete, catfish, casino management, dog tracks, and more. As we have reported here at Legal Schnauzer, both men have ties to troubling business practices.

Lowder's woes recently were chronicled by Senior Editor Brian O'Keefe in a story titled "The Man Behind 2009's Biggest Bank Bust" for Fortune magazine.
O'Keefe, focusing on Colonial Bancgroup, reports that Lowder is under investigation for possible wrongdoing connected to the federal government's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). In ominous tones, O'Keefe writes:

As the man who signed Colonial's financial statements, Lowder could face civil or even criminal charges if evidence of fraud is found in the bank's TARP application.

Bryant's business history might be even more alarming. One of his companies, Alabama Reassurance, was implicated in a massive fraud case that resulted in a 15-year federal prison sentence for a Pennsylvania lawyer named Allen W. Stewart. The Stewart case had such a strong Southern accent that prosecutors and forensic experts from Alabama were heavily involved.

Bryant and his company came through the episode relatively unscathed. Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that's because someone in the U.S. Department of Justice at the time (late 1990s) called off an investigation. Was that to protect Bryant, the son of the late Paul "Bear" Bryant, the hall-of-fame coach who turned Alabama into a football powerhouse?

Alabama, ranked No. 2 in the country, is expected to beat Auburn on Friday--probably in fairly comfortable fashion. If the Crimson Tide beats Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game, it will be playing for a national title.

It all has been driven by Coach Nick Saban, the $4-million man that Paul W. Bryant Jr. played a key role in hiring. As you watch Saban patrol the sidelines on Friday--and the game will be nationally televised on CBS, you might ask yourself the following questions:

* How much of Saban's salary--and other University of Alabama football expenses--are funded by Paul W. Bryant Jr.?

* Given Bryant's connections to a huge insurance-fraud case, where does that money come from?

* Is the University of Alabama's dominant football program built on a foundation of fraud?

Giving Thanks for Our Four-Legged Friends

As Thanksgiving approaches, it's a time that many of us give thanks for our loved ones. In the Schnauzer household, that definitely includes our four-legged friends.

We named this blog in honor of Murphy Abigail Shuler (1993-2004), the wonderful miniature schnauzer who helped keep us sane and somewhat functional during the worst moments of our legal battles.

Our current pets--the brother/sister Tonkinese cat combo of Baxter and Chloe--have continued a tradition that Murphy started.

As regular readers know, 2009 has not been an easy year in our home. We entered the year with me having been cheated out of my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) because I dared to write a blog that was critical of the Bush Justice Department and supportive of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. About two months ago, Mrs. Schnauzer was cheated out of her job at Infinity Property & Casualty Corporation, apparently in retaliation for a lawsuit we filed against unethical debt collectors. (Much more on that coming soon.)

This all happened in the midst of the worst U.S. economy since the Great Depression, so we have not exactly been filled with holiday cheer. But like Murphy before them, Baxter and Chloe have done their best to keep us upbeat--and putting one foot in front of the other.

They do it in their own peculiar kitty-kat way. But they do it nonetheless. And Mrs. Schnauzer and I are deeply grateful that they came into our lives about six months after Murphy died.

We introduced you to Baxter and Chloe with this video:

We wanted to honor our two special kitty kats by borrowing from the Web site, which provides so many laughs--and also says a lot about what "pooties" and "woozles" mean to their "hoomans."

Chloe is the calming force in our household. She's a big, soft girl, with gorgeous blue eyes, and her face hardly ever changes expression. There's almost a Buddha-like quality about her. But she definitely enjoys her "noms," and her face does change expression at meal time. This "LOL Cats" photo reminded us of Chloe:


Baxter is the court jester in our home. He enjoys goosing me with his right front paw whenever he wants something. And he takes great pleasure from the simple things in life. One of his favorite duties, when the weather conditions are just right, is to lick condensation off our windows. In fact, he seems to be able to determine when the weather is just so. We're starting to think he was a meteorologist in a previous life. He won't go to our windows when the weather is too warm to produce condensation. But when the conditions are just right, he knows to go to our windows--and that's a sign that we are to raise the blinds so some serious licking can commence. This "LOL Cats" photo reminded us of Baxter:


Like most kitty kats, Baxter and Chloe are world-class "chillers." If there was a professional chilling circuit, they would undoubtedly be on it, making lots of money. Cats innately seem to know the value of rolling over on your back, kicking your feet up in the air, and taking a nice siesta--something we humans often forget to do. So here's hoping you will take time during the holidays to relax and maybe . . . ponder the ceiling. Happy Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sarah Palin Flaunts Her Fertility in Birmingham

In the hours leading up to Sarah Palin's book-signing appearance yesterday in Birmingham, we theorized that much of Palin's appeal comes from her demonstrated fertility--and her ability to maintain a svelte figure after producing five (count 'em, five) children.

Well darned, if Palin didn't help affirm our theory--sort of--when she appeared at Colonial Brookwood Village to sign copies of Going Rogue. According to The Birmingham News, Palin arrived in our fair city with three of her kids--Willow, Piper, and Trig--in tow, along with her mother and father.

Did Palin use her kids as campaign props for her Alabama visit? That's probably being a bit cynical of us. Who can blame a mother for wanting to have her kids nearby as Thanksgiving approaches?

But hey, that's rational thinking, which has no place in the blogosphere. So forget I ever wrote that.

Regardless of Palin's motives, the Birmingham throng seemed thrilled to be in her presence--and to have her entourage along. Gosh, you would think John and George had risen from the grave and joined Paul and Ringo for a reunion concert at one of our area's finest shopping venues.

You can check out a video of the Palin event here:

Sarah Palin Book Signing

Before we conclude, let's reconsider our question from yesterday: What do people find appealing about Sarah Palin? A video from a book signing in Columbus, Ohio, offers some insight. When people are asked for reasons they support Palin, most of them are stumped. We hear vague phrases like "she'll protect our freedoms," "she'll get spending under control," "she's a breath of fresh air."

But when asked specifically about Palin's policy agenda, the folks get blank looks on their faces. One young woman, who first appears about the 1:55 point in the video, is particularly interesting. She is nice looking, well dressed, and obviously intelligent--and the camera comes back to her several times.

Eventually, she gets this look on her face that seems to say, "You know, I really can't explain rationally why I support Sarah Palin. But darn it, I'm a bright person and there's a microphone in my face, so I'm going to try it anyway."

Monday, November 23, 2009

What On Earth Explains Sarah Palin's Appeal?

The Sarah Palin book-signing tour comes to Birmingham today, and our local newscasts were awash last night with video of people waiting in long lines, hoping to get wristbands for admittance to the blessed event.

When Palin begins signing copies of Going Rogue at 4:30 p.m. today at the Books-A-Million store in Colonial Brookwood Village, it sounds like the place will be packed with people who can't wait to get a glimpse of the former Republican vice-presidential candidate.

As I watched video reports of people standing in line--if there were any folks with brown skin in line, they escaped my attention--this question came to mind: Why would people go to this trouble to see Sarah Palin?

Regular readers know that we like to play amateur psychology from time to time. So we've surveyed the literature and come up with an answer that we think explains Palin's appeal.

Let's get to our answer by asking a few questions:

* Are people drawn to Palin because of her qualifications for high public office? C'mon! All but the most radical Palin devotees probably realize that she was stretching herself by getting elected mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Palin was part of one of the most bungled national campaigns in American history, so it's hard to see why her appeal would have much to do with politics.

* Are people drawn to Palin because she's famous? The Palin story does have a postmodern, reality-TV quality to it, and quite a few folks probably find that charming. Palin's message seems to be: "If I can be nominated for vice president of the United States, who knows what you can do?" But we suspect her appeal goes beyond fame. After all, former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was signing his book at the same store yesterday, and he's famous. Huckabee drew a respectable crowd, but sounds like it paled in comparison to Palin Mania.

* Are people drawn to Palin because she's good looking? We're getting warm now. Even I have to admit that Palin is easy on the eyes. But does that fully explain her appeal in Birmingham, Alabama? I don't think so. As we noted in an earlier post, Alabama might have more good looking women per capita than anywhere on the planet. Is a woman from Alaska really going to cause a stir here? You could go to Colonial Brookwood Village on any reasonably busy shopping day and see plenty of women who are in Sarah Palin's league--or way beyond. And they probably know more about foreign policy than Palin does. So I don't think we've quite reached our final answer.

* Are people drawn to Palin because of her demonstrated fertility? Bingo! We think this is our answer--or at least the main part of it. Palin, at age 45, has pumped out five white children. And we suspect a segment of the Republican base finds a certain comfort--and primal appeal--from that part of her biography. Why would that be? Well, consider that the U.S. Census Bureau issued a report in 2008 stating that whites will be a minority in this country by 2042. I suspect that causes quite a few white folks to feel like they are under siege--and in red states such as Alabama, it causes them to reflexively vote Republican, against their own economic interests. I think this is part of what Barack Obama was trying to get at during the 2008 presidential campaign when he referred to "bitter" Americans who "cling to guns and religion" during difficult times. In our view, Obama was right on target, but he didn't go far enough. We suspect, subconsciously, many embittered Americans also cling to hopes for white fertility rates. After all, the "brown hordes" can't take over if whites get busy in the baby-making business, right? And who embodies that ethos more than Sarah Palin? Our guess is that Palin's fertility is a big reason she hit the national stage in the first place. What if she and the "First Dude" were like Bill and Hillary Clinton and had only one child? Would the McCain campaign have picked her out of obscurity for the No. 2 spot on a national ticket? I don't think so. Fertility is a central issue in the Palin story, and we suspect it's still at work, driving the Going Rogue book-selling train.

* Are people drawn to Palin because she has demonstrated her fertility while maintaining a svelte figure? Bingo, again! This is the second part of our answer to Sarah Palin's appeal. According to research at the Legal Schnauzer School of Amateur Psychology, anecdotal evidence indicates that society has a special pedestal for women who can bear multiple children and still maintain an eye-catching figure. Women admire this in a "how in the hell does she do that?" kind of way. Men admire this in a "hubba, hubba, what a hot mama" kind of way.

So there you have it: Sarah Palin has become a mayor, a governor, a vice presidential candidate, and a celebrity--all while producing five white children and still looking mighty fine in a tight skirt.

Is it any wonder she's a cultural phenomenon? Gee, I wonder if it's too late for me to get a wristband.

Is "Double Dipping" in Alabama a Crime for both Democrats and Republicans?

Republicans in Alabama have made a crusade out of "double dipping," which is commonly defined as taking two incomes from the same source--and seems to be particularly troubling when Democrats do it.

With the help of Bush-appointed U.S. attorney Alice Martin, Republicans crowed after the prosecution and conviction of Alabama Rep. Sue Schmitz (D-Toney) on corruption charges that amounted to double dipping.

So isn't it interesting to learn that Republican Governor Bob Riley and his administration have themselves been engaging in double dipping? For good measure, the story has connections to the controversial $13-million no-bid contract Riley approved for Paragon Source, a Virginia company with no headquarters, business address, or Web site.

Will double dipping be considered a crime now that Republicans have been caught red-handed at it? Stay tuned.

In the kind of hard-hitting journalism that is all too rare in Alabama, Bob Lowry of The Huntsville Times reports that Riley's former finance director brought a state employee out of retirement to work on a contract basis while she also drew a pension. Writes Lowry:

Gov. Bob Riley has campaigned vigorously against the practice called "double dipping," commonly defined as receiving two incomes from the same source, such as a government job and a government pension.
Riley apparently wasn't so concerned about double dipping when his own finance director, Jim Main, was doing it--paying a former state employee $60,000 a year while she collected a pension of about $30,000. Reports Lowry:
Main rehired the employee, Sandra Porter, under a contract with Auburn University Montgomery. After a year she began working for Paragon Source, a company that had a $6 million no-bid, sole-source contract to work on the Finance Department's computer system. She has since returned to the state payroll, receiving $66,000 a year.

Porter in 2007 received $58,275 from the AUM contract and $30,516 from her state pension. During her 34-plus years of state service the average of her highest three years of salary was $34,724, according to the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

Had she returned to work as a regular state employee she would not have been allowed to collect her state pension benefits.

What does the Porter deal make Riley look like? Can we say "hypocrite"?

(Porter's) hiring under the AUM contract appears to conflict with Riley's 2006 campaign promise to fight double dipping. He complained about legislators working in two-year community colleges, drawing pay both as lawmakers and state employees.

Neither Main, appointed by Riley in May to a vacant seat on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, nor Porter returned phone calls seeking comment.

What do you know? Main now serves as a state judge, but he apparently engaged in the same behavior that was considered criminal when a Democrat did it. No wonder Main didn't want to return phone calls.

A Riley spokesman tried to spin the story, saying the Main-Porter deal was not double dipping. But Lowry did not seem to be buying it:

Jeff Emerson, Riley's chief spokesman, said Main's hiring of Porter is not double dipping because she had earned her retirement benefits.

"Actual double dipping is when an elected official holds two or more taxpayer-funded jobs and faces potential conflicts of interests or can't devote needed time to each job," he said. "Being retired isn't a job, and merely receiving retirement benefits isn't a conflict of interests."

Double dipping, however, is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms as: "Working for wages while receiving pension benefits from the same organization." Other dictionaries offer similar definitions.

Where does Paragon Source and its mysterious CEO, Janet Lauderdale, fit into the equation? Under the AUM contract, Porter worked for Andy Hornsby, then deputy finance director. But that changed. Writes Lowry:

After the AUM contract expired at the Finance Department, Porter became a subcontractor for 10 months for Paragon Source, which was already working with the department.

During that period, she also continued to draw her state retirement.

Hornsby, who is now retired, said Janet Lauderdale, the CEO of Paragon Source, asked that Porter be placed on Paragon Source's payroll effective Jan. 1, 2008.

According to documents released by the Contract Review Committee, Porter was paid $50an hour with totals of up to $6,680 a month under a Paragon Source contract.

Over 10 months with Paragon Source, Porter received $54,976, according to documents Newton turned over to the Legislature's Contract Review Committee after it questioned Paragon Source's contract with the Finance Department.

During that 10-month period, Porter also received $25,430 in state retirement pay.

It's important to remember that this is not just a matter of Republicans and Democrats throwing political charges at each other. Under the Bush Department of Justice, "double dipping" came to be considered a "crime." Is it a crime now?

At least one Alabama Democrat seems to be thinking along those lines:

Sen. Quinton Ross Jr., D-Montgomery, director of adult education at Trenholm State Technical College in Montgomery and one of the Riley administration's targets, said the Porter case "shows how hypocritical this administration has been about certain issues."

"With people closely associated with the administration, it (double dipping) doesn't apply," he said. "It's only applicable outside the realm of the administration."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lie Detector Confirms Tale of GOP Dirty Money in Alabama

An Alabama Republican passed a lie-detector test regarding his statements that Mississippi gambling interests sent millions of dollars to the 2002 campaign of Governor Bob Riley.

Bill Johnson, a GOP candidate for governor in 2010 and a former member of Riley's cabinet, said a top official in the Riley campaign told him about the donations from the Mississippi Choctaws, who operate casinos and were represented by disgraced Republican lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon.

The campaign official, Dan Gans, said Johnson's assertions were wrong. But Johnson released a statement yesterday, saying that he had passed a polygraph test on the matter. In the statement, Johnson provides background on what prompted him to step forward:

Two weeks ago, I stood before you and shared first-hand knowledge regarding promised contributions to Riley’s ’02 gubernatorial campaign by Mississippi Indian casino owners. When I learned that 600 jobs were in jeopardy—jobs filled by hard working men and women in the Wiregrass--it dawned on me that those contributions could be the driving force for the Governor’s legal counsel threatening shipment of what I have been assured was and is legal equipment to Houston County’s multi-million dollar country music entertainment development.

When the Governor has his legal team stopping shipments to economic development projects, there is some underlying cause. Those calls reminded me of my conversation with former Riley chief-of-staff Dan Gans. For the first time, I felt there could be a correlation between those promised contributions and the Governor’s determination. I felt it was only right to share what I had been told.

As expected, the Governor’s office and Dan Gans both denied that conversation between me and Gans ever took place. They asserted that I stood before the citizens of this state and told ‘outrageous lies.’ It only added to the irony that they enlisted someone who represents casino interests to aid their attack.

They are wrong. I told the truth and I will prove it. Citizens across this country have lost all confidence in the honesty and transparency of our public officials. It’s time for us proactively to provide assurance to the citizens of this great state that our campaign is working to restore confidence in state government.

Johnson then provided evidence that he takes the issue seriously:

I stand before you today to introduce Mr. Clyde Wolfe, Licensed Polygraph Examiner for over 34 years and a member of the American Polygraph Association. With a B.S. degree from the American University in Washington, D.C., in administration of justice, Wolfe has administered over 10,000 polygraph exams. He will share his findings from my polygraph test conducted last week. All questions relating to statements I made about Gans were addressed in the polygraph test. As Mr. Wolfe will reveal, all of those statements were evaluated as truthful.

Gans, in an e-mail response to The Birmingham News, said he stood by his earlier statement on Johnson's allegations. A Riley spokesman said lie-detector tests are unreliable, and the results can be manipulated. But Wolfe, the man who administered the test, provided background about the tests. Wrote the News:

Wolfe acknowledged that polygraph tests are generally not admitted in court testimony and that polygraph results aren't infallible.

Wolfe later said, "If I wasn't right more than I was wrong, I wouldn't be in business."

Said Johnson:

I am running for the highest office in the state of Alabama. Credibility and trust in the Governor’s Office is critical for the future of this great state. I want to assure citizens across the state that as Governor, I will stand firm for truthfulness and full transparency from the Office of the Governor, throughout the cabinet and staff and down throughout all state agencies. When I see questionable practices, regardless of who is at the helm, I will courageously call them out and report through appropriate channels. If the Governor doesn’t lead by example, who will?

Let’s get our priorities straight. I highly encourage the Governor to better utilize those serving on the anti-gambling task force to quit raiding bingo halls and start raiding the meth labs that are killing our children. I encourage him to redirect the millions of dollars and thousands of hours of effort spent from anti-gambling efforts to putting unemployed citizens back to work, to resolving the ever-increasing seriousness of the Jefferson County sewer debt, and get back to identifying solutions to the upcoming shortages in this year’s budgets.

My test results validate I have spoken the truth. Let’s get back to the business of serving the people of Alabama

The full polygraph report can be viewed here:

Bill Johnson Polygraph

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Obama Cedes Too Much Power to Southern GOP Senators

Why have U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) been able to stall the appointment of a new U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama? It's because the Barack Obama administration has allowed it to happen, giving the conservative Southern senators more power than they actually have over a presidential nomination.

That's the assessment of Alabama attorney Jill Simpson. And it explains why Leura Canary, the corrupt Bush appointee who oversaw the Don Siegelman prosecution, remains in office more than a year after Obama's election.

Even worse, the stalling tactics that Shelby and Sessions have been allowed to employ could have dire consequences in the future. They could lead, according to recent reports, the appointment of Tamara Matthews Johnson, a DOJ attorney in Birmingham who has strong Republican leanings. One insider says the choice of Johnson would be "disastrous."

None of this had to happen, Simpson says. The No. 1 choice among Democrats appears to be Montgomery attorney Joseph Van Heest. He probably would already be on the job, but Shelby voiced objections to the appointment. The Obama administration should have, in so many words, told Shelby to stick it, Simpson says:

In recent weeks, Alabamians have seen numerous articles appearing across the state that suggest Senator Shelby can single-handedly block the appointment of the new Middle District United States Attorney by turning in a blue slip. For this reason, I decided to research the Senate blue-slip procedure to see if this was true. And I found that it is not true.

What did Simpson discover?

The Senate blue slip is an opinion written by a senator from the state of residence of a federal judicial-position nominee, such as a United States Attorney. Apparently, both senators, any time there is a new appointment, are sent blue slips to fill out to tell their fellow senators what they think about the appointment. At that point, they are able to submit a favorable report and opinion, or an unfavorable report and opinion, of a nominee. They may also choose to not return the blue slip at all. It is then the option of the Senate Judiciary Committee to determine what weight it will give the blue slip when considering whether or not to recommend to the Senate to confirm a nominee. The blue slip is considered a senatorial courtesy. But it is not a unilateral right for a senator to be vexatious in the appointment of a judicial-position nominee.

Simpson found a law-journal article that shines considerable light on the subject:

In fact, during President George W. Bush's reign, a professor at Cumberland School of Law in Alabama named Brandon Denny, wrote an article called, "The Blue Slip: Enforcing the Norms of Judicial Confirmation Process." The article appeared in The William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 10, 2001. In that article Professor Denny accurately stated, "that the Executive Branch needs to take a more active role in identifying what is perceived to be an abuse of procedure during a confirmation process." What he meant was that we cannot allow senators to abuse the blue-slip process, causing perfectly good nominees to be denied. The executive branch should take active steps to notify the public when a senator is abusing the procedure of blue slips in an effort to get his way.

It is clear that in Alabama today we have that very situation. Richard Shelby took weeks to object, so we have been told, to Mr. Joe Van Heest. However, the White House has not released what Sen. Shelby put in his blue slip when he objected to Van Heest. The White House should tell the Democrats in Alabama, who helped elect President Obama, what Senator Richard Shelby put in his objection. If Sen. Shelby is just objecting, without having made a formal report, then he is clearly perverting the process of the blue slip. He should be forced to state why he is objecting, and it should be for a good reason. This thwarting of the process is causing a good nominee to be denied, all because a Republican senator is being allowed to run roughshod over the White House.

Surely, President Obama is not going to allow a little senator from Alabama to tell him not to appoint a good candidate, one who is approved by both Alabama Democratic groups that made recommendations for the appointment.

Shelby is not the only senator who has been allowed to abuse the process. Jeff Sessions nixed Michel Nicrosi, an attorney from Mobile. Says Simpson:

Additionally, Jeff Sessions supposedly objected to Michel Nicrosi. I am calling for the White House to also see that we are released the reasons in the blue slip for Jeff Sessions' opposition to Ms. Nicrosi.

One has to wonder what on earth is going on in the White House. Are they being held hostage from appointing a United States Attorney by two little senators in Alabama from the Republican party? Clearly the news coming out of Washington that the administration might appoint Tamara Matthews Johnson is unsettling, considering that she clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was a Ronald Reagan appointee. And Johnson was a key member in Alice Martin's legal team that repeatedly targeted Democrats in political prosecutions.

Simpson says Democrats--of all stripes, from all states--should confront the White House on this issue:

It is time for all the Democrats in America to call Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, and demand that he take steps to prove to the Democrats in Alabama that the White House is standing up to the two Republican Senators who are abusing the blue-slip system. The process is being abused to defeat two perfectly good nominees for the Middle District of Alabama. Please tell Mr. Emanuel that we want Obama to push one of these nominees--Joseph Van Heest or Michel Nicrosi.

President Obama can win this fight, even without these two Republican Senators, and it is time for him to stand up for the Alabama Democrats who voted for him to see that change is brought about in the Middle District. For far too long, Alabama Democrats have been politically targeted by a small group of Republicans called "the Alabama Gang." And it is well known that Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions run the gang, so their recommendations should mean virtually nothing.

After all, it was not the Alabama Republicans who voted for President Obama. In fact, they did everything they could to defeat him. The time has come for President Obama to support the Alabama Democrats in their fight against Richard Shelby, Jeff Sessions, and "the Alabama Gang."

Possible Obama Nominee Really Is A "Rabid Republican"

Tamara Matthews Johnson, the frontrunner as the new U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, was described as a "rabid, right-wing Republican" in an investigative piece yesterday at Locust Fork News-Journal.

Was the source who used this term on target? Would the Barack Obama administration actually appoint such an individual to lead the office that directed the Don Siegelman prosecution?

The answer to the first question, based on our research, is yes. The answer to the second question appears to be yes--unless outraged Democrats rise up to stop it.

We learned all we cared to know about Johnson from a brief bio that was published on October 18, 2009, in The Birmingham News. That was almost exactly a month ago, and the article was about the team of federal prosecutors who were handling the case against former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford.
Here is the section on the woman the Obama administration apparently wants to lead the politically sensitive office in Montgomery:

Tamarra Matthews Johnson
Alice Martin said Tamarra Matthews Johnson joined the office about five years ago. Johnson clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and was a fellow in the solicitor general's office.

"She is exceptionally bright and perceptive," Martin said. "She is likable and easily able to express her thoughts and convictions."

Johnson was on the two-person team that successfully prosecuted state Sen. E.B. McClain this year. Her name was initially among the ones discussed in legal circles as a successor to retired U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon on the federal bench, but she did not apply.

What do we learn from this segment--other than The Birmingham News has spelling problems? Johnson's first name has one "r," not two.

One, we learn that Johnson clerked for retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was a Ronald Reagan appointee. O'Connor certainly was not a right-wing ideologue in the mold of Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas. But she could hardly be labeled a friend to progressives. After all, she joined the majority in 2000 that put George W. Bush in the White House. Johnson clerked for Sandra Day O'Connor, and that indicates pretty strong conservative leanings.

Two, we learned that Johnson's name was raised in legal circles as a possible successor to retired U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon. This indicates that indeed the Obama administration has had its eye on Johnson.

Three, and perhaps most alarmingly, we learn that Johnson has close ties to Alice Martin, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and one of George W. Bush's most notorious appointees. You will recall that Scott Horton, legal-affairs contributor at Harper's magazine and a law professor at Columbia University, has described Martin as perhaps the most "corrupt and crooked public official" in the country.

Here's the kicker: We learn from the 2009 article that Johnson joined the Northern District of Alabama office "about five years ago." That would have been in 2004, in the midst of Alice Martin's reign. That means Alice Martin did not just inherit Tamara Matthews Johnson; she hired her.

And consider this quote from Martin about Johnson: "She is likable and easily able to express her thoughts and convictions." That sentence should send chills down the spines of everyone who cares about justice.

One definition of a "conviction" is a "fixed or firmly held belief." To say that Johnson easily expresses "her thoughts and convictions" sounds like a compliment, and Martin undoubtedly meant it as one. But the "compliment" comes from one of the most politically motivated prosecutors in American history--a woman who oversaw the first Don Siegelman case, plus the cases of Alex Latifi and Sue Schmitz, three of the most blatant political prosecutions in recent memory. In fact, Alice Martin is under investigation for possible criminal misconduct in the Alex Latifi case.

In describing Tamara Matthews Johnson, Alice Martin unwittingly described someone who almost certainly is not fit to be a U.S. attorney. The position does not call for someone who is easily able to "express her convictions." The position is about justice, not "firmly held beliefs."

The U.S. attorney will be "the people's lawyer" in the Middle District of Alabama. As such, he or she will represent the interests of people from all walks of life--and from all political persuasions. The position calls for someone who can dispassionately analyze the facts and the law and prosecute crimes, not people.

Alice Martin was an abject failure in that regard. And there is every reason to think that Tamara Matthews Johnson, Martin's acolyte, would be a failure, too.

If the Obama administration is seriously considering Johnson for the U.S. attorney position in Montgomery, Alabama, someone needs to receive a wake-up call--quickly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Will Obama Appoint a "Rabid Republican" to Key Alabama Post?

The Barack Obama administration is leaning toward appointing a "rabid, right-wing Republican" as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, site of the Don Siegelman prosecution.

Tamara Matthews Johnson, an African-American woman with Republican leanings, has the inside track to the job, according to a report at The Locust Fork News-Journal Web site.

A source tells Locust Fork editor and publisher Glynn Wilson that a Johnson appointment would be "disastrous." Reports Wilson:

Ms. Johnson ostensibly has the inside track in part because of a close friend on the White House staff from law school, but her appointment “would be disastrous,” the key source says. In spite of being black, she is a right-wing Republican in the mold of Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas, and would be the “absolute worse thing that could happen” to the Middle District of Alabama.

The Middle District of Alabama currently is led by George W. Bush appointee Leura Canary, who oversaw the Siegelman prosecution and reportedly failed to abide by her recusal in the case. The Obama administration has floated several names that have been rejected by Alabama's two Republican U.S. senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions.

A source says the process for naming a new U.S. attorney in Montgomery has been deeply flawed. Reports Wilson:

The Obama administration has charted a policy of not naming new U.S. attorneys until replacements can be found, in what our key source calls “a bad policy.” The administration is also reportedly searching for candidates who would not face controversial confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate, thus the reason Republican Senators such as Shelby have a voice at all with a Democrat in the White House and a solid Democratic majority in both houses of Congress.

Johnson has served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Alabama under controversial Bush appointee Alice Martin. Johnson has been involved in a number of high-profile corruption cases against Democrats, amid charges that the Bush Department of Justice was driven by political motives. Most recently, she was involved in the prosecution of former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford. Writes Wilson:

Tamara Matthews Johnson, on the other hand, was involved in the public corruption unit in Birmingham that brought the original charges against Siegelman that were eventually dropped by U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon. She worked on every case brought against Democrats in the Alabama Legislature, sources say, as well as the Langford case, in what is being described as “an ethically challenged office.”

Ms. Johnson “is exceptionally bright and has a hell of a resume,” the key source says. She attended Duke Law School and clerked with a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. “But she is a rabid, right-wing Republican.”

Wilson's source says a Johnson appointment is a strong possibility unless Democratic Party activists step in to stop it. The source is not sure who is pushing for Johnson's appointment. But the Obama administration has taken pride in the non-partisan nature of its appointments, and Johnson could fit the mold of a "moderate Republican."

The source, however, says Johnson is anything but moderate. And she has served under some terrible role models. Writes Wilson:

Our key source does not know who is directly driving the train in this case, but he urged people to call and voice objections with President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senior adviser David Axelrod and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

They should say “this is wrong,” the source said. “Yeah, we want Leura Canary out of there, but we don’t want somebody who is worse.”

Ms. Johnson, the source says, “would be another Alice Martin.”

Alabama Democrat Fights Back Against Raging Republican Hypocrisy

A prominent Alabama Democrat is fighting back against Republican allegations regarding two nonprofit organizations that have not been audited as required by law.

As we reported yesterday, the issue appears to be designed to divert attention from recent charges of corruption connected to Alabama Republican Governor Bob Riley.

State Sen. Roger Bedford (D-Russellville), one of three Democrats targeted in the GOP attacks, struck back yesterday after Alabama Republican Party chairman Mike Hubbard called for expedited audits of the nonprofits. Reports The Birmingham News:

Bedford defended the nonprofits Tuesday and attacked his critics. Bedford said he has asked the examiners to perform an audit and he said he looked forward to sharing the results.

"I believe in transparency and accountability. That is why I put in the law that these funds are to be audited," Bedford said. "The people of my district deserve to see how this money is used. What they will find is that 100 percent of these tax dollars go to people of my district for important projects without any overhead expenses like salaries or staffs."

Bedford and two other Democrats started the nonprofits in 2006, and the organizations have received $800,000 in state funds but they have not received annual audits as required by law. The official in charge of the Examiners of Public Accounts (EPA) said audits have not been done because of a lack of resources--and he said the audits would be completed by the end of 2009.

But that was not enough for Hubbard. He said the audits should be expedited and hinted that Bedford, chair of the Senate General Fund Budget Committee, had applied pressure to keep the audits from being done.

That seemed to incense Bedford. Reports The Birmingham News:

Bedford said having Hubbard lecture him on credibility "must be some kind of bad joke. This is like having Bernie Madoff criticize you for the way you handle other people's money. He is the most ethically challenged member of the Alabama Legislature who's made millions of dollars on insider deals with Auburn University and has pushed legislation that benefits his own bank accounts."

Hubbard once owned a company that owned the broadcasting rights to Auburn athletic events, and sold that company several years ago to an out-of-state firm, which employs him. Democrats have accused Hubbard for years of voting on matters related to the state higher education budgets that affect his pocketbook as it relates to those broadcasting rights. Hubbard has consistently denied those charges.

Hubbard and State Sen J.T. "Jabo" Waggoner (R-Vestavia) said any irregularities should lead to a state and federal investigation.

The two Republicans, however, failed to mention that the nonprofits have existed since 2006, and no one had publicly expressed concerns about audits until late last week--just days after revelations about apparent unethical actions by Gov. Bob Riley.

One set of allegations against Riley involve a no-bid, $13-million computer contract that the governor has approved for a Virginia-based company called Paragon Source, even though it has no headquarters, business address, or Web site. A lawsuit has been filed over the Paragon Source deal, but law-enforcement officials have not been able to locate the company, or CEO Janet Lauderdale, to serve the complaint.

The other allegations against Riley involve recent statements by GOP insider Bill Johnson that the governor's 2002 campaign received millions of dollars in funds from Mississippi Choctaw gambling interests, who were represented by disgraced GOP lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. A 2006 U.S. Senate report quoted one source as saying the Choctaws had spent $13 million to help get Riley elected over Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman.

Have Mike Hubbard and his GOP colleagues called for an "expedited" investigation of Bob Riley's ties to Jack Abramoff? Have they called for an investigation of Riley's sweetheart deal for Paragon Source? Nope.

Gee, wonder why not. Well, let's ponder the headline we used on our recent post about the Bill Johnson's story: "Could Revelations About Campaign Funding Blow the Roof Off GOP Corruption in Alabama?"

Is that what Hubbard and Co. are really concerned about? Is that why they have this sudden urge to conduct audits on nonprofits started by Democrats?

Remembering Alabama's Four-Legged War Heroes

On Veterans Day 2008, the Alabama War Dogs Memorial monument was unveiled at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile. It is a tribute to war dogs and their handlers--from World War II through today.

Alabama has produced at least 1,000 such teams, but the monument to honor them is in danger. The Alabama War Dogs Memorial board paid down half of the $50,000 it cost to create the monument, but fund-raising dried up as the economy soured. That has left the board some $24,000 shy of paying for the monument.

A fund-raising deadline of December 1 has been set, and if sufficient funds are not raised quickly, the board might look into melting down the statue to pay off the debt. "We are in a dire situation," said John O'Malley, of Birmingham, president of the board.

You can donate by mailing a check to:

Alabama War Dogs Memorial
337 Turnberry Road
Birmingham, AL 35244.

You can visit the organization's Web site at And here is more background about the memorial:

Alabama War Dogs Memorial

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Don Siegelman Goes to Washington

The push for justice in the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman has taken on a Washington, D.C., flavor. And that makes sense because a federal trial court in Montgomery, Alabama, and the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta have shown that they are not going to let the facts and the law influence their findings in the case.

Joan Brunwasser, of OpEdNews, reports that Siegelman spent late last week in D.C. --and it was hardly a sightseeing trip. For one thing, a veteran Washington attorney, Peter L. Sissman, has joined Siegelman's legal team, and another D.C. lawyer might be coming on board. Siegelman tells Brunwasser:

I should hear "yes" or "no" from the U.S. Supreme Court in December or early January. I'm going to D.C. today, [Thursday the 12th] to talk with another lawyer whom I hope will join my team to argue my case before the USSC [United States Supreme Court] if they should grant our petition.

I will also be working with my Georgetown Law classmate, Peter Sissman, who has taken the lead in our motion for a new trial, which is now pending before Judge Fuller (who enhanced my sentence for speaking out about the political origins of my prosecution, and who had me handcuffed, shackled, and put into solitary confinement in a maximum security prison).
More evidence apparently has surfaced that Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, did not abide by her recusal in the case. Sissman has played an important role in unearthing that evidence. Says Siegelman:

While this effort is moving slowly, waiting on the USSC, Peter has found more evidence (smoking gun e-mails) which proves the Bush/Rove prosecutor who said she had recused . . . actually remained involved in the case. This evidence is very important because, as you will remember, my prosecutor's husband was not only my Republican opponent's campaign manager but was also identified by a Republican whistleblower as having talked with Karl Rove about getting the DOJ to prosecute me ("to take care of Siegelman," I think were the exact words used).

Siegelman did not go to Washington empty-handed. He is trying to get documents to several key Congressional committees, including the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform.

The documents focus heavily on reported campaign-funding irregularities in the 2002 gubernatorial race between Siegelman and Republican Bob Riley. That topic has grown hotter with recent revelations from former Riley cabinet member Bill Johnson that the campaign received millions of dollars from Mississippi Choctaw gambling interests, who were represented by disgraced GOP lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon.

Siegelman and his team have prepared a packet of information for U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which includes a subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

Why have President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder taken no substantive action on Siegelman's case or the overall issue of Bush-era political prosecutions? That question continues to bother Siegelman:

While there have been revelations of gross government misconduct in my case, DOJ seems invested in the current outcome. Professor Bennett Gershman, of Pace University School of Law, a preeminent scholar in the field of prosecutorial misconduct, said in a letter to AG Holder:

". . . I have never encountered another prosecution in which it appears so clearly that the prosecutors were zealously bent on pursuing an individual, rather than on a crime. . . . As an example of bad-faith prosecution, the Siegelman case may be without parallel. There is no better example of the corrosive effect on the reputation of the Department of Justice . . . than the prosecution of Don Siegelman."

I can't figure out why OUR president has left Rove prosecutors in place to keep making our fight harder. I understood when I was fighting Bush and Rove . . . but, why now? This has never happened in the history of American politics.

Does Siegelman have a legitimate gripe? This post from today's Raw Story indicates the answer is yes.

Still, Siegelman sees encouraging signs. In late September, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) called on Holder to appoint a "fresh set of eyes" to review the case. Says Siegelman:

We will win in the end because we are right on the law. Ninety-one former state attorneys general pointed out to the United States Supreme Court the danger to our democracy if the ruling is not reversed.

Is An Alabama Newspaper Again Protecting a Corrupt Republican Governor?

Signs of corruption connected to Alabama Governor Bob Riley are everywhere these days. So how does The Birmingham News, one of the state's rightward-leaning metro dailies, react? It conducts an "investigation" that shows three state legislators created two nonprofit organizations that have yet to undergo a required state audit.

And get this: The legislators just happen to be Democrats. What a shocker!

Does this amount to the state's largest newspaper conducting a political-payback campaign on behalf of a "conservative" governor? Sure looks that way from here.

Let's recall the substantial doo-doo that has leaked out from under the Riley administration in recent days. First, we had the governor signing a $13-million no-bid computer contract with Paragon Source, a Virginia-based company that has no headquarters, no business phone listing, and no Web site. Then, we had a former member of Riley's cabinet stating that the governor's 2002 campaign received millions of dollars from Mississippi Choctaw gambling interests, who were represented by disgraced GOP lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon.

You might think that a real newspaper would want to follow up on those stories. But The Birmingham News long ago proved that it is a Republican Party house organ, not a real newspaper. So we get a story stating that three state legislators--Sen. Roger Bedford (D-Russellville), Rep. Mike Millican (D-Hamilton) and Rep. William Thigpen (D-Fayette)--formed two nonprofits in 2006 that have not yet been audited as required by law.

According to the report, the nonprofits have received $800,000 in state coal-severance tax funds but have not undergone a required yearly audit by the Examiners of Public Accounts.

Is this story worthy of being on the front page of The Birmingham News for two of the past three days? Something important could come out of it. But the News itself reports today that the audits haven't been done because of a lack of resources--a problem probably exacerbated by the Bush recession. The chief of the Examiners of Public Accounts says they will be done by the end of 2009.

Doesn't sound like much of a story, so far. But the News is treating it with utmost seriousness. In a sternly worded editorial, the paper intones:

At best, this looks like a case of ever-more-creative lawmakers finding a new way to steer taxpayer dollars to their districts for pork projects. Regardless, state examiners are correct in planning to audit the nonprofits quickly.

At worst, well, this is the sort of thing federal prosecutors, in particular, take note of. That's not to suggest anyone has done anything illegal. But with so many questions about the nonprofits and how they are spending taxpayer dollars, it is easy to think the worst in a state where public corruption convictions of late are as common as a cold.

Bedford, Millican and Thigpen have some explaining to do. They owe the public some thorough answers, starting with a to-the-penny accounting of how the two nonprofits have spent $800,000.

Ah, the newspaper brings up the old federal-prosecutor angle--but it's not suggesting that anyone has done anything illegal!

Are we talking about a double standard here? Consider that the News is aflutter about an audit involving $800,000. But it doesn't seem to care a whit about the $13 million Riley shipped off to a virtually unknown company in Virginia, owned by a mysterious woman named Janet Lauderdale.

The News' editors could see the double standard clearly--if they would bother to read their own newspaper. On page B3 of today's paper is a story from Bob Lowry of The Huntsville Times about the Paragon Source deal.

Turns out a lawsuit over the contract has been put on hold. Why? Lowry explains:

A judge in Montgomery hasn't set a hearing yet in a suit over a $7 million no-bid computer contract for the state Finance Department because officials can't find the company or its CEO.

State Rep. Alvin Holmes filed suit on Oct. 29 to block the contract with Paragon Source, an Oakton, Va., company that has no corporate address, business phone listing, fax number, e-mail address or Web site.

Tyrone Means, the attorney representing Holmes and the Legislature's Contract Review Committee, said Monday the lawsuit is stalled because law enforcement officials in Virginia have been unable to locate Paragon Source and its CEO, Janet Lauderdale, to serve the complaint.

You read that right, folks. Paragon source, and its CEO, are so obscure that law-enforcement officials can't find them to serve a lawsuit! But The Birmingham News isn't investigating the company and the $13-million contract it is about to receive. Wonder why not.

Here's something else that will make you go, "Hmmm." Bob Lowry seems like one of the few legitimate reporters in Alabama. But his latest story, curiously, changes the amount of the Paragon Source contract to $7 million. Every other report I've seen says it was for $13 million.

I've found no explanation for the new $7 million figure. Call me paranoid, but it makes me wonder if Bob Lowry's editors are tampering with his figures to make the Paragon Source story seem less serious.

Are Alabama newspaper editors trying to drum up a Democratic "scandal" in order to take attention away from the blatant corruption surrounding our GOP governor? I certainly would not put it past them.

Meeting Jesus--The Hard Way

We've been on a mini crusade recently against distracted driving. So it's nice to learn that we aren't the only folks in these parts who are concerned about it.

Spotted recently on a bumper sticker, while negotiating Birmingham traffic:

Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Will Greg Craig's Exit Lead to Justice on Political Prosecutions?

When Greg Craig stepped down late last week as White House counsel, it might have been the single most positive sign progressives have seen on justice matters from the Barack Obama administration.

Jill Simpson, Alabama lawyer and whistleblower in the Don Siegelman case, calls Craig's exit a "terrific step in the right direction." Simpson brought to public attention Craig's connections to Republican strategist Karl Rove. And she pointed out that his former law firm, Williams & Connolly, represented numerous figures from the George W. Bush years.

Why has the Obama administration taken no action on political prosecutions, such as the Siegelman case in Alabama and the Paul Minor case in Mississippi? Simpson places the blame at Greg Craig's feet:

The damage Greg Craig has done in the political prosecution cases is immeasurable, and people are still wrongfully in prison as a direct result of actions he has taken. For months he has been a thorn in the side of Democrats who have claimed that political prosecutions occurred in America under George W. Bush--and Craig refused to hear their pleas.

For months Greg Craig has been throwing up road blocks to those who want to get at the truth--and to evidence that will show that Bush officials engaged in political prosecutions. Many of those officials are clients of Craig's former law firm. Maybe now the truth will be allowed to march forward since Greg Craig has been removed from the White House.

In a post titled "Rove's Buddy Resigns Post as WH Counsel," Larisa Alexandrovna of the at-Largely blog nicely summarizes Craig's disturbing ties to Karl Rove. And Simpson says those ties had consequences when Craig joined the Obama administration:

Greg Craig is the guy at the White House who crafted the deal that is known in Alabama, and political-prosecution circles, as "the deal with the devil." That deal allowed Karl Rove to testify not under oath in secret hearings, where the full information he testified about may never be released--and even if it is, it will be worthless in legal proceedings.

That deal treated Karl Rove as above the rule of law and allowed him to testify not under oath. And the deal was done by none other than Greg Craig, who was Rove's friend for many years--the guy whose former firm was representing Rove in a book deal and is the same firm to which Greg Craig will likely return. It was very sad that Greg Craig never thought to recuse himself from the matter, when he knew how long and close his ties were with Karl Rove.

Published reports indicate that Craig's exit was driven by his role in controversial decisions related to the prison at Guantanomo Bay, Cuba. But Simpson has sounded the alarm for months about Craig's ties to Karl Rove and other Republicans. She even pointed out Craig's financial ties to Ogilvy Government Relations, a well-known Republican PR firm.

A growing number of progressives seem to be listening to Simpson's concerns. And that might have played a significant role in Craig's ouster, particularly in light of recent disappointing elections results for Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey.

Simpson's concerns about Craig should resonate because she's had firsthand dealings with him. Leading up to Simpson's testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in fall 2007, she received several communications from Craig about the possibility of him representing her. After hearing Simpson's full story, Craig backed away, citing a conflict of interest.

In a letter from her lawyer to Craig earlier this year, Simpson makes it clear that she suspects Craig took her information and shared it with Rove. And her opinion of Craig has not improved in the intervening months:

Mr. Craig dishonored his important position in the White House by not taking steps to recuse himself from matters related to political prosecutions. And he continued to take this stance even when clear conflicts were raised in writing to him by my attorney. By the way, he has never responded to the letter because he knows what was said in it is true.

Simpson says Craig's conflicts of interests probably went beyond Rove and the issue of political prosecutions:

I still believe today that Greg Craig used his position at the White House to protect his former firm's Republican clients, such as Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

I believe the new White House counsel should review the deals Craig cut with former Bush officials. Greg Craig had conflicts from all directions--and he apparently didn't give a rip about ethics.

Simpson is hopeful about Robert Bauer, the veteran Democratic attorney who will replace Craig:

It is my understanding that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has worked with President Obama in selecting the new White House counsel. It also is my understanding that Mr. Bauer has an impressive resume of working on issues of importance to all Democrats, in addition to having been President Obama's personal legal counsel. I think this removes the ugly Karl Rove influence from the Obama White House.

I suspect now we will begin to see the "changes" that Obama promised when he ran for election in 2008. It is my hope and prayer that, with Greg Craig removed from power in the White House, we will see the folks wrongfully imprisoned by political prosecutions freed in a short time. They have suffered for far too long at the hands of Karl Rove and his enabler, Greg Craig.

Did Coming Health-Care Reform Drive the Exit of UAB's medical dean?

UAB recently announced that Dr. Robert Rich, dean of the School of Medicine, will step down in 2010.

Rich is 68 years old and has been dean at UAB since October 2004, when he was recruited from Emory University in Atlanta. Rich certainly is in the age range where folks often get into retirement mode, and at first glance, nothing appears to be unusual about his planned exit.

But UAB's handling of the story makes me think something else could be going on. And our guess is that Rich's exit might have been precipitated by the possible arrival of health-care reform. (More on that in a moment.)

Here is the official UAB release, and you will notice that it is dated November 13, last Friday. Having been in the news business for 30-plus years, I know that organizations often choose Friday as the release date for stories they do not want to receive much attention. That is because:

(A) Something about the story is less than positive, and a Friday release means it will be in Saturday newspapers, the least read of the week;

(B) News staffs--print, broadcast, Web, etc.--tend to start gearing down for the weekend on Friday. That means reporters are less likely to ask tough questions on the last day of the work week. And when the following Monday rolls around, they probably have moved on to other news items; or

(C) All of the above.

Why might UAB try to "hide" the announcement that Dr. Robert Rich is stepping down? A quick check of the Legal Schnauzer archives provides several clues:

* UAB admitted in 2005 that it had engaged in research-funding fraud, essentially stealing millions of dollars from Medicare and other federal agencies that fund biomedical research. The Bush Justice Department let UAB off with barely a wrist slap, the university paying a $3.4-million penalty that was way less than one percent of the alleged total fraud. But the Obama administration, as part of its efforts to control health-care costs, has indicated that it intends to take a tough stand against such fraud, which is widespread at academic medical centers. Is UAB worried about that? Perhaps it should be. To be fair to Robert Rich, he inherited the research-funding fraud problem at UAB. Federal-court documents in Birmingham, indicate the problem started in the 1990s, long before Rich arrived. But given the virtual free pass UAB received from Bush-appointed federal prosecutor Alice Martin, it's safe to assume that the university has not cleaned up its act. Could Robert Rich be the fall guy for that failure? Could UAB be saying to the Obama administration, "Hey look, we've pushed our medical-school dean out the door, and we're going to play fair now. And by the way, please don't look too closely at our books"?

* UAB also has gone through an embarrassing episode of scientific research fraud, which resulted in the exits of Dr. Judith Thomas and Dr. Juan Contreras. This apparently happened solidly on Rich's watch, and several sources have told Legal Schnauzer that Contreras and Thomas almost certainly were the fall guy and gal for a more widespread problem.

* Perhaps most interesting to us is the fact that the UAB School of Medicine has become a haven for discriminatory treatment of international medical graduates (IMGs), particularly at its family-medicine residency program in Huntsville. As we have reported in several posts, at least five IMGs have left the UAB residency program in recent years after claiming that they had been the victims of discrimination. A federal jury in Birmingham found that UAB discriminated against Dr. Seema Gupta, an IMG from India, based on her Hindu religion. Dr. Edward Stellmacher, an IMG from Germany, has a pending discrimination lawsuit against UAB. And Dr. Rehan Puri, an IMG from Pakistan, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. Two other IMGs from India had to return to their home country before they could file legal actions. This all happened while Rich seemingly was sound asleep at the controls, and the whole problem could wind up costing UAB hundreds of thousands of dollars. If federal agencies hold the university accountable for its failure to abide by anti-discrimination laws, hundreds of millions of dollars that flow into Birmingham might be at risk.

Could I be making too much of this story? It's possible. Bob Rich is closing in on 70 years of age, and he might be ready to kick back for awhile. As far as I know, Rich's health is fine, but folks have been known to step down from stressful positions because of health concerns.

It should be noted, however, that the UAB press release says nothing about Rich planning to retire. It says he will assume a faculty position after giving up his role as dean. That makes me think that Rich's exit as dean was not his idea.

One thing, though, is certain: All is not hunky-dory on the medical side of the UAB campus. The administration has spent the past eight years sucking up to a Bush administration that was both corrupt and clueless. The new sheriff in Washington, D.C., has stated that he does not intend to look kindly upon universities that cheat the government out of health-care dollars.

Our guess is that, by kicking Robert Rich to the curb, UAB is trying to tell the Obama administration, "Hey look, clean hands!"

If the Obamaphiles decide to look beneath the surface, they will find that UAB's hands actually are filthy. And it is not all Bob Rich's fault--not by a long shot.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Could Delay on Alabama U.S. Attorney Have a Happy Ending?

A number of Democrats are getting impatient with the Obama administration's attempts to name a U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, based in Montgomery. Some are concerned that indecision and confusion will lead to the appointment of an individual who is not suited for the post.

That is particularly troubling when you consider that Montgomery, home to the Don Siegelman prosecution, was one of the primary outposts for justice-related sleaze during the George W. Bush administration. The federal prosecutor's office there desperately needs a tough, principled leader to clean up the substantial mess left by Bush appointee Leura Canary.

We've seen one sign in recent days that the delay in Montgomery could wind up having a happy ending. And if that happens, some Alabama Republicans could be staining their tighty whities.

The hopeful sign comes from an article about the Montgomery appointment at the Alabama-based blog Doc's Political Parlor. After noting that the names of Montgomery lawyers Joseph Van Heest and George Beck have been prominently floated, Doc closes with this passage:

Our source familiar with the process believes that there is a very good chance that the matter will be resolved in a matter of weeks in one of three ways in this order of likelihood: 1) Shelby will release the hold on Van Heest, 2) George Beck will be nominated, or 3) the Obama Justice Deparment will send in a career person from outside the state, similar to what George W. Bush’s Justice Department did when it sent Deborah Rhodes to the Southern District of Alabama.

Option No. 3 is what gives us hope. A person from outside of Alabama is exactly what the Middle District needs. A Justice Department source even has given us the name of an excellent external candidate--Christa Deegan of Columbus, Ohio.

Deegan served briefly in the Middle District of Alabama, and our source said she resisted the toxic culture in Canary's office and wound up being replaced by Anna Clark Morris, who was more than happy to go along with the dysfunctional status quo. Ironically, Morris has family ties to prominent Democrats, and her name has been floated as the possible new U.S. attorney in Montgomery. Our source says such a choice would be "disastrous."

But Deegan, according to our source, is exactly what the office needs. Here is what we wrote about Deegan in an earlier post:

Christa D. Deegan, who had 16 years as a federal prosecutor in Cleveland, Ohio, moved to the Montgomery office in March 2007. "She was an excellent prosecutor, a mover and a shaker, very competent--too competent for such a mediocre office," the source says. "More importantly, she conducted herself in a professional manner and worked very hard. She immediately opposed the hostile work environment, refused to participate in the afternoon gossip sessions, and refused to conform to the toxic culture of the office."

After about seven months on the job, Deegan was fired because she "didn't fit in." Said our source: "She was replaced by Clark Morris, who was more than willing to conform, even embrace the culture."

Deegan now is Ohio's director of industrial relations, where she took over an office that was plagued with allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation. Deegan has vowed to restore staff morale in the Ohio agency. "Except for her experience in Montgomery, Alabama, she has a spotless record for competency, ethical conduct, and professionalism," the source said.

Could the Obama administration be pulling a fast one on Alabama Republicans? Could it be letting the state's U.S. Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, block several nominees, planning all along to bring in an outsider to be the serious "new kid in town"?

We've seen little sign that Obama intends to play such a crafty version of political hardball. And we've seen no sign that Alabama Republicans fear the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But progressives, and folks interested in seeing that justice is served, can dream can't we?

Who might be extremely nervous if Christa Deegan, or someone like her, were appointed as U.S. attorney in Montgomery, Alabama? The list would start with Leura Canary herself and her husband Bill Canary, who according to the sworn statements of Alabama attorney and whistleblower Jill Simpson, ramrodded the bogus Siegelman prosecution. The list also would include Governor Bob Riley, and various staff and family members, who have been involved in a number of questionable activities.

And here is perhaps the most interesting name that would be on the list: Richard Shelby.

Alabama's senior senator reportedly has curious ties to Doss Aviation, the firm of which U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller (who handled the Siegelman case) is an owner. Scott Horton, legal affairs contributor at Harper's magazine, has written about the Shelby/Doss Aviation ties:

So now let’s look at another prominent Alabama government contractor with a recent streak of politically-linked successes: Doss Aviation. On Shelby’s own website, there’s a press release from February 2006 in which Shelby says “I am disappointed that the Air Force did not choose Selma as the site for their Introductory Flight Training program . . . ” It sounds like the story of an earmark gone wrong. But there at the end of the press release there’s this: “It was announced today that the program was awarded to Pueblo, Colorado, teamed with Doss Aviation.”

Horton goes on to note some curious connections between Fuller, the judge in the Siegelman case, and Richard Shelby:

Today, Fuller and Shelby even have offices in the same building–One Church St. in Montgomery. That’s also where Doss Aviation was registered, with Mark Fuller listed as the company’s president, from 1999-2002.

Sure, it was peculiar that Fuller listed a government building as the registered address of a private company that contracts with the government. But what’s also peculiar is that the offices for Fuller’s previous gig as District Attorney for the 12th Circuit, were at 98 North Edwards in Enterprise (see also). I have no idea why Doss Aviation, with Fuller as president, was registered at One Church Street (the home of numerous government offices including the office of Senator Shelby) years before Fuller became a federal judge. But it does raise a very curious question: who, exactly, was picking up that mail?

Indeed, who was picking up that mail? And here's an even better question: Was Richard Shelby using his power in the Senate to steer contracts to a company in which he held a financial interest? If that is ever proven, could the senator be in some serious doo-doo? Is that why he's so concerned about who becomes U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama?

This sounds like a job for Christa Deegan--or someone just like her. Could the Obama administration be thinking along those lines?

Legal Schnauzer Hits the Airwaves Today

I will be a guest today on the My Technology Lawyer radio show, hosted by Andrew Kreig and Scott Draughon.

We will be discussing recent revelations about campaign funds from Mississippi gambling interests that went to Alabama governor Bob Riley in the 2002 election. Those funds, apparently laundered through disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, helped Riley edge Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman in an election that was marked by mysterious changing vote totals overnight in Baldwin County, Alabama.

My segment will be on at 11:40 a.m. today, central time, and can be heard by going to the Web site and clicking on "Listen Now."

If you miss the segment live, you can click on "Past Programs" on the left side of the page for the show's archives.

Your Pets and Those Cold Rectal Thermometers

We have many fond memories of Murphy Abigail Shuler (1993-2004), our wonderful miniature schnauzer who inspired this blog.

In fact, we never drive by Caldwell Mill Animal Clinic in Birmingham without thinking about how much Murphy loved going to the vet. We're told that many dogs put up a major fuss about going to the doctor. But Murphy wasn't that way.

Actually, Murphy loved anything that involved a car ride. But even after she realized we were going to the vet, she always seemed delighted to be there. And she was crazy about Dr. Bill Christenberry, her "primary-care physician," and the other doctors and staff at Caldwell Mill.

Dr. Christenberry often commented on what a good patient Murphy was. (The same cannot be said for our current pets, the brother-sister Tonkinese cat duo of Baxter and Chloe. They do major whining and shedding of fur when they are headed to, and at, the vet.)

No matter what poking or probing needed to be done, Murphy took it in stride. The happy expression on her face only changed when it was time to take her temperature--with a rectal thermometer.

Even then, she didn't take it badly. Her expression went from "Gee, isn't it great to be here" to "Oooh, that's cold--and it's in my butt."

It's been five-plus years since Murphy died, on her 11th birthday. A day never passes without us thinking of her. Sometimes, the memories will bring tears to our eyes. But mostly they make us smile--or even laugh out loud. Murphy had a wonderful, playful spirit, and she seemed to take special delight in doing things that we found funny.

So we could not help but think of Murphy--and her experiences with rectal thermometers--when we saw this recent post at

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures