Friday, December 31, 2010

Is Barack Obama Really Our First Black President?

Don "No Soul" Simmons

The year 2010 has been pretty crappy for progressives, and the country in general, with prospects for 2011 not looking much better. Republicans are determined to extend the Bush tax cuts for high-income folks--exactly what an economy strangled by low middle-class demand does not need--so don't look for things to get better any time soon.

We probably could use a few stiff drinks. But as non-drinkers--at least for now--we tend to look elsewhere for comfort. And that means we could use a good belly laugh. Thankfully, with the help of an alert reader, we know just where to find one.

We recently extolled the virtues of the 1987 movie classic Amazon Women on the Moon, which featured the unforgettable character Don "No Soul" Simmons.

Comedian David Alan Grier played the immortal "No Soul" Simmons and has gone on to appear in a number of TV shows, including Comedy Central's Chocolate News.

A reader saw our earlier post and let us know that Grier has revealed some shocking news--Barack Obama isn't black!

"For you white people out there who refuse to vote for a black man, I've got news for you," Grier says. "He's not black. He's half black; he barely passes the brown paper bag test."

What do we need in a truly black president? Grier offers some guidance:

"Would I like a black black president? Well, of course. But I'm talking Don Cheadle black. Dijmon Hounsu black. Wesley Snipes before he f----d up his taxes black. Stephen Hawking's black-hole black. I'm talking 'can't catch a cab in New York City' black.'"

What does Grier want? Someone with "undeniable, incontrovertible, unforgivable blackness."

Grier wants a black president who, when he steps to the podium at the United Nations, causes foreign dignitaries to go, "Oh no, not this m----f----r . . . "

The video below was filmed just before the 2008 election, and Grier has a hysterical take on the McCain-Palin ticket. Grier leaves us with perhaps the most important question of our age, particularly in the aftermath of the 2010 midterm elections: "White folks, have you lost your damned minds?"

Grier is one funny dude, and he will convince you that we still are a long way from having a black president. He also helps ring out a crappy year with some welcome guffaws:

Chocolate NewsWednesdays 10:30pm / 9:30c
First Black President?
Ugly AmericansNick Swardson's Pretend TimeThe Benson Interruption

Alabama's New GOP Governor Already Is Showing He Can't Be Trusted

Robert Bentley

Several of my fellow Alabamians have told me that I should feel OK about the election of Robert Bentley as governor, even though he's a Republican. "Bentley might not be your No. 1 choice, but at least he's an honest man--which is more than we can say about Bob Riley over the past eight years."

Bentley hasn't even taken office yet, and he's already showing that we can take that "honest man" business and pitch it out the window like yesterday's bath water. (Sorry, I'm revealing my Ozarkian, hillbilly roots.)

How do we know? Bentley has announced that he is going to take the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling and put it under control of incoming Attorney General Luther Strange. That's the same task force Riley used like a club to close Alabama gaming facilities that were providing competition for his financial benefactors, the Mississippi Choctaws of Jack Abramoff fame. That's also the task force that Bentley said during the 2010 campaign he would "dismantle."

Sebastian Kitchen, a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser, asked Bentley about his earlier statement regarding the task force. The governor-elect's reply was weak:

Bentley said leading up to the election that he would dismantle the task force. When asked about those comments by the Montgomery Advertiser in October, Bentley responded that "when I said dismantle the task force, I meant dismantle the current task force and current approach using state troopers."

He expressed concerns about using state troopers for raids and said "I just wouldn't use that approach." But, Bentley said, the law must be enforced and "I still want the attorney general to take care of that."

What happened to Bentley's campaign promise to dismantle the task force? He apparently forgot about it when he started receiving pressure from Riley's corrupt cronies.

Those cronies would include the fine lawyers at the august Birmingham firm of Bradley Arant, which received more than $530,000 to assist the Riley task force.

Bradley Arant, of course, is the firm that employs Rob Campbell, who just happens to be Riley's son-in-law. For good measure, guess which law firm used to employ Luther Strange as a partner? Why, that would be Bradley Arant, too.

We have seen an ever growing body of evidence that indicates Bradley Arant is one of the most corrupting influences in Alabama. The firm has helped pull the levers on the unlawful machinations of the Riley years, and Bentley now has signaled that he is going to let it continue.

Bentley did get one thing right. In saying that the task force will move under the attorney general's office, he seemed to distance himself from the Alabama Supreme Court decision that essentially made Riley the "supreme magistrate" of the state, giving him law-enforcement duties that supersede those of the attorney general. That decision overturned roughly 25 years of legal precedent, and Bentley's decision to move the task force out of the governor's office at least shows he has some clue about this notion called "separation of powers."

Still, Bentley's failure to keep a campaign promise was not an encouraging sign from a politician who is supposed to be a straight shooter. Before you know it, Bentley will be throwing off his glasses and poofing up his hair, looking more and more like "Boss Hog" Bob Riley.

Bentley has talked about changing the culture of Montgomery. That's not exactly the way to go about it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Julian Assange Case Is Being Driven by a Tangled Web in Sweden

Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin

A toxic mix of political, legal, and media elites is driving the prosecution in Sweden of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange--apparently with a helping hand from U.S. political guru Karl Rove.

We already have reported on Rove's ties to Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and noted similarities between the Assange case and the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

A source who is deeply familiar with Rove's history on the international stage has studied the Assange matter and found that it likely goes beyond the Rove/Reinfeldt alliance. Sweden, our source says, is a small country where the government, legal, and media communities are intertwined. The country is known for its neutrality and strong record on human rights. But our source says the incestuous nature of Swedish elites--and the country's burgeoning right wing--formed a perfect storm that helped create the peculiar sex-related charges against Assange.

Who are the players in this perfect storm? Here is how our source presents them:

* The Accusers--The women who have alleged that Assange committed sexual crimes, under Swedish law, are Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen. Our source says Ardin has a background in the foreign service and has spent time at the U.S. Embassy in Washington, D.C., and worked as a spy in Cuba. She has ties to the Swedish media and apparently has left the country for the Palestinian West Bank. Little is known about Wilen, other than that she is an aspiring photographer. Numerous Web sites have reported that the two women bragged about their encounters with Assange before going to the police.

* The Lawyers--The women are represented by the Stockholm law firm of Borgstrom and Bodstrom. Claes Borgstrom has been out front in the Assange case. His partner, Thomas Bodstrom, is former justice minister of Sweden and is the author of several novels in the legal-thriller genre. He has been called the "John Grisham of Sweden" and reportedly has moved with his family to Virginia.

* The Media Empire--The Assange story has been largely driven by the Swedish newspaper Expressen, and several reports indicate law-enforcement officials regularly are leaking information about the case to the paper. Expressen is owned by Bonnier AB, which is one of the 10 largest media companies in the world. The company is controlled by the Bonnier family, which has German Jewish roots. Our source says one family member serves as Sweden's ambassador to Israel. Bonnier AB controls numerous magazine titles that are familiar to U.S. audiences, including Popular Science, Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, and Parenting.

How do all of these pieces fit together? Our source spells it out:

* Anna Ardin has written op-ed pieces for a newspaper that is owned by Bonnier AB.

* Bonnier publishing concerns have produced all three of lawyer Thomas Bodstrom's books.

* Lawyer Claes Borgstrom has two sisters who have written books and newspaper articles for Bonnier companies.

* The Bonnier newspapers are described as maintaining a "centre-right" political profile. Their main competitor, Aftonbladet, is described as "social democratic." Our source says the Bonniers are neoconservative Jews, about as far to the right as one can get in Sweden.

* The Bonnier newspapers were highly critical of a 2009 Aftonbladet report that Israel had harvested the organs of Palestinians killed by the Israel Defense Force. Elisabet Borslin Bonnier, Swedish ambassador to Israel, broke with her own government in condemning the articles. The ambassador is a member of the Bonnier family, which owns Aftonbladet's competitors. An Israeli official later admitted that the stories essentially were true, that Israel indeed had, until the 1990s, harvested organs, especially corneas and skin, from the bodies of soldiers, Israeli civilians, Palestinians. and foreign workers, without getting consent from their families.

* When Karl Rove went to Sweden in 2008 to visit Timbro, a "free market" think tank, he was interviewed by TV4, which is owned by the Bonnier family.

The picture remains somewhat murky on the Julian Assange case. But our source says the WikiLeaks founder almost certainly walked into a well-planned trapped that was set by Swedish elites, with significant help from Karl Rove:

The Swedish government provides financial support to the press, and the largest media company in Sweden is Bonnier AB. That company happens to have many connections to the Borgstrom and Bodstrom law firm, which represents Julian Assange's accusers. Bonnier AB has numerous U.S. operations, and I feel certain Karl Rove is quite familiar with those. Plus, Bonnier AB has the largest circulation for a morning newspaper in Sweden, and Rove surely needed their help to get his candidate, Fredrik Reinfeldt, elected. I'm pretty sure the Bonnier family is well connected with the rich and powerful in New York and Washington circles, which probably helps explain how they were able to spring this trap on Julian Assange.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Obama's Support for Michael Vick Reveals Shallow Thinking

Michael Vick

President Barack Obama recently praised the Philadelphia Eagles football team for signing quarterback Michael Vick after his release from prison on federal convictions related to a dog-fighting operation.

Obama's words about the challenges faced by former prisoners are thoughtful. But when taken in conjunction with his actions and inactions as president, they reveal a thought process that seems wildly off kilter.

On one hand, Obama says he is concerned that former prisoners "never get a fair second chance." On the other hand, Obama has shown that he is not the least bit concerned about the plight of those who have been wrongfully imprisoned because of Bush-era political prosecutions. Thanks to his "look forward, not backwards" approach to the apparent crimes of Bush-administration officials, Obama essentially is telling victims of wrongful prosecutions, "Tough, get over it."

We have a president who, correctly, is concerned about the rights of prisoners who have paid their debt to society. But the same president does not seem to care about the rights of people who never should have been in prison in the first place.

As a resident of Alabama, "Ground Zero" for Bush-era shenanigans, I know this is not just a theoretical exercise. I know of at least four people who unquestionably are wrongfully imprisoned, in America, at this moment. I'm talking about Richard Scrushy, codefendant in the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, and three defendants (Paul Minor, Wes Teel, and John Whitfield) in the Paul Minor prosecution next door in Mississippi.

If Siegelman himself returns to prison, after his appeals are exhausted, that will make five known political prisoners based on bogus federal prosecutions brought in just two states.

I know of at least two other individuals who almost certainly qualify as political prisoners. I'm talking about former Alabama Representative Sue Schmitz and former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White. I include the "almost certainly" qualifier for them only because I have not studied the facts and the law in their cases to the extent that I have on the Siegelman and Minor prosecutions.

Aside from the facts in the Schmitz and White cases, there is almost no doubt that their prosecutions were driven by political considerations that are impermissible under the law. That alone means their convictions are unlawful, and they should not be in prison.

An eighth person from my neck of the woods, Huntsville defense contractor Alex Latifi, almost certainly would be a political prisoner right now. But he had the good fortune to have his case assigned to a competent federal judge, Clinton appointee Inge Johnson, and she kicked the bogus charges against him out of court before trial.

Political prosecutions no longer can be associated only with the Bush administration. As I write this, 11 individuals in my state are under indictment in connection with a federal investigation of actions surrounding gambling-related bills in the Alabama Legislature. The charges appear to be driven by outgoing GOP governor Bob Riley and his anti-gambling crusade, and they were brought under the direction of U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, a Riley ally and Bush appointee who inexplicably has remained in office under Obama.

Why would Riley be pushing such a federal probe? It's probably because he has received millions of dollars worth of support, laundered through GOP felon Jack Abramoff, from Mississippi Choctaw gaming  interests. Riley appears to be protecting his benefactors' market share against possible competition from a neighboring state.

At some point in 2011, we could have 11 more political prisoners here in the Deep South--on Obama's watch. And the president is concerned about Michael Vick?

I voted for Obama largely because I considered him a person of intelligence and integrity. I still believe the president holds those attributes. His real problem, I suspect, is a lack of political spine. He simply does not have the guts to go after the Bush criminals.

Is that because the president fears his life, or the lives of his family members, would be in danger if he were to give the go-ahead for a genuine investigation of Bush officials? I would not be surprised.

Is it because the Bush administration, in its waning days, had the FBI conduct surveillance on Obama and his associates, gaining information that could be used to blackmail the incoming president into taking a "look forward, not backwards" stance? I would not be surprised by that either.

We are left with an otherwise intelligent president who comes off looking shallow when he comments on matters of justice. Consider this comment that Obama reportedly made in his telephone conversation with Philadelphia Eages owner Jeffrey Lurie:

"He said, 'So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance,' " said Lurie, who did not indicate when the call occurred. "He said, 'It's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail.' And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.''

Obama wants to ensure a level playing field for former prisoners? That's an admirable goal. But what about a level playing field for innocent people who become ensnared in bogus federal prosecutions? For that matter, what about a level playing field for people who go into federal court on any matter--either criminal or civil? If my personal experience in the civil arena is any indication--and we will be writing numerous posts on that subject in 2011--such a level playing field does not exist.

Obama has to know that it makes no sense to voice concern about the rights of former prisoners while doing nothing about those who are wrongfully imprisoned.

Sadly, the president has allowed himself to be boxed into that indefensible position.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rove Might Be Trying To "Pull A Siegelman" With Julian Assange

Fredrik Reinfeldt and George W. Bush

Is Karl Rove helping to export American-style political prosecutions to Scandinavia? Is "Bush's brain" trying to fashion a bogus criminal case in Sweden against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, much like the one he helped build against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman?

The answer to both questions appears to be yes, based on a recent report by Andrew Kreig at Huffington Post. On top of that, we have information from Rove's own Web site that confirms his close ties to Sweden, the subject of an earlier Legal Schnauzer post. And we have unearthed a video from Rove's 2008 visit to Timbro, a "free market" think tank in Sweden.

Circumstantial evidence continues to build that Rove is behind, at least in part, the Assange case. If so, why? We will address that question in a moment.

Kreig, director of the D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project, says the Assange arrest in Sweden has many of the hallmarks of the Siegelman case. And he notes that Rove has strong ties to Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who has been called "the Ronald Reagan of Europe."

Here is what might be most disturbing about the Assange story: Rove appears to be working with the Obama administration to help muzzle WikiLeaks and its founder. Reports Kreig:

Karl Rove's help for Sweden as it assists the Obama administration's prosecution against WikiLeaks could be the latest example of the adage, "Politics makes strange bedfellows."

Rove has advised Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt for the past two years after resigning as Bush White House political advisor in mid-2007. Rove's resignation followed the scandalous Bush mid-term political purge of nine of the nation's 93 powerful U.S. attorneys.

These days, Sweden and the United States are apparently undertaking a political prosecution as audacious and important as those by the notorious "loyal Bushies" earlier this decade against U.S. Democrats.

The WikiLeaks case could have major repercussions for journalism in America and abroad. A source tells Kreig that the Assange arrest has some familiar footprints on it:

The U.S. prosecution of WikiLeaks, if successful, could criminalize many kinds of investigative news reporting about government affairs, not just the WikiLeaks disclosures that are embarrassing Sweden as well as the Bush and Obama administrations. Authorities in both countries are setting the stage with pre-indictment sex and spy smears against WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange, plus an Interpol manhunt.

"This all has Karl's signature," a reliable political source told me a week and a half ago in encouraging our Justice Integrity Project to investigate Rove's Swedish connection. "He must be very happy. He's right back in the middle of it. He's making himself valuable to his new friends, seeing the U.S. government doing just what he'd like ─ and screwing his opponents big-time."

WikiLeaks already has revealed that Reinfeldt is working with the U.S. to circumvent his country's system of checks and balances:

WikiLeaks created a problem for Sweden and its prime minister, at left above, by revealing a 2008 cable disclosing that its executive branch asked American officials to keep intelligence-gathering "informal" to avoid required Parliamentary scrutiny. That secret was among the 251,000 U.S. cables obtained by WikiLeaks and relayed to the New York Times and four other media partners. They have so far reported about 1,300 of the secret cables after trying for months to vet them through U.S. authorities.

That certainly would provide Rove with motivation to help his Swedish friends. And Rove's own Web site confirms his strong ties to Scandinavia. Consider this paragraph from Rove's official bio:

Before Karl became known as “The Architect” of President Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, non-partisan causes, and non-profit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional, and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.

In other words, Rove's ties to Sweden predate his ties to George W. Bush. But the Bush years probably are close to Rove's mind at the momentRove likely is concerned about information that WikiLeaks might reveal about the Bush administration, a source tells Legal Schnauzer. Such revelations, of course, could shine light on Rove's own unlawful actions, as we noted in a recent post:

Why would Rove be interested in corralling Julian Assange? To help protect the Bush legacy, our source says. "The very guy who has released the documents that damage the Bushes the most is also the guy that the Bush's number one operative can control by being the Swedish prime minister's brain and intelligence and economic advisor."

Could Rove also be trying to protect himself? What if WikiLeaks has documents--or Rove thinks it could get documents--that prove "Turd Blossom's" role in criminal activity during the Bush years? What if someone with a conscience from the Bush administration--if such a person exists--provided WikiLeaks with documents that show Rove's role in political prosecutions, the unlawful firings of U.S. attorneys, and more? Could Rove be trying to save his own doughy butt?

Kreig says Rove is relying on tactics that proved effective in the Siegelman matter:

The Siegelman case has turned into most notorious U.S. political prosecution of the decade, as readers here well know. It altered that state's politics and improved business opportunities for companies well-connected to Bush, Rove and their state GOP supporters.

Ultimately, the House Judiciary Committee's oversight questioning of Rove in July 2009 turned out to be a whitewash. The probe was crippled by restrictions on format that had been brokered by the Obama White House and, more importantly, by an unwillingness of House Democrats to risk antagonizing Rove and his backers by asking obvious questions. Call it speculation, but the federal bribery charges that imprisoned the wife of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) surely deterred him from building a thorough case regarding Rove's relationship with the DOJ, or at least calling relevant witnesses from the Justice Department and elsewhere for public testimony.

Has Rove, indeed, transported his American brand of dirty tricks to Sweden? Kreig decided that one way to find out was to ask him--and Kreig did just that, via Rove's chief of staff, on Dec. 14:

As readers here well know, Siegelman's convictions came only after years of pre-trial prosecutorial smears, witness sexual blackmail, and a bizarre trial before a judge enriched on the side by Bush contracts for the judge's closely-held company. No one column can encompass at reasonable length every important abuse in this tawdry, nearly decade-long tale. But my Huffington Post blog from last April, "Siegelman Judge Asked To Recuse Now, With Kagan, Rove Opposing Oversight," links to the scandals cited above.

Then, all of the wrongdoing was covered up by whitewashes by the Obama administration and congress. Siegelman, 64, is free on bail after a Supreme Court ruling last June created a new hearing for him in January, perhaps forestalling an Obama recommendation last year that he receive an 20 additional years in prison.

What about a response from Rove? Kreig still is waiting for that.

Meanwhile, let's check out Rove in action in Sweden, from July 2008. Is it a coincidence that Karl Rove clearly has strong connections in Sweden, and Julian Assange now faces what appear to be flimsy sex-related charges in that country? We don't think so.

How is this for irony? The subject of the interview below is . . . political dirty tricks. Imagine that! Why would the Swedes think "Bush's brain" has inside information on that topic?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How Far Will One Company Go to Avoid Hiring Blacks?

Campus Crest Communities

A North Carolina company, currently a darling among Wall Street investors, goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid hiring blacks, according to a federal lawsuit filed by one current and two former employees.

Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities, which develops student housing near college campuses, recently issued a $380-million IPO. But according to the lawsuit, the company takes specific steps to avoid hiring blacks for certain positions and fosters a racially hostile environment for the blacks who do work there.

Plaintiff Nicole McAuliffe says in the complaint that Campus Crest McAuliffe practiced blatant discrimination against people of color. She and other staff members were directed to hire predominantly young, white women to available positions at the company's various residential rental properties. She was directed to provide her superiors with photographs taken from the FaceBook or MySpace pages of all applicants she recommended to ensure they were not African American.

One supervisor told McAuliffe, “We have Southern investors; they do not like for us to hire blacks.” Another supervisor stated, "Once you hire an African American, you never can get rid of them because they think they are so entitled.” Several black administrative staff worked in a certain section of the corporate office, and that became known among higher-ups as the "hood."

Qualified blacks--as well as qualified applicants over the age of 40--routinely were excluded from employment opportunities at Campus Crest's residential properties around the country, McAuliffe says.

Plaintiff Heather McCormack states in the complaint that one investor referred to blacks as "Indians." This investor said in a board of directors' meeting that occupancy levels had been reduced because too many "Indians" had been hired.

Ted Rollins, CEO of Campus Crest, helped create the racially hostile environment, McCormack says. Rollins said one black property manager had caused a section of his apartment complex to fall into disrepair because he had been "throwing out his chicken grease at night."

McCormack faced questions when she hired a black female as one of her direct reports at the Charlotte office. "Who hired the black girl with the red hair?" said one of McCormack's superiors. McCormack says she was under constant pressure to terminate the new employee for false reasons.

Plaintiff Tammy Hughes-Brown says in the complaint that Rollins made it a practice to mimic the voice of a black male in her presence, insisting that he sounded just like Bernie Mac, the late African-American comedian.

For the company's 2009 annual meeting, Rollins and Chief Investment Officer Mike Hartnett presented a DVD that featured the two of them wearing large, 1960s-style "Afros." During a portion of the DVD, Hartnett mimics the voice of a black male, and both executives engage in sexually and racially charged remarks.

The Campus Crest story has strong connections to Alabama. Ted Rollins is a central figure in an Alabama divorce case that appears to involve rampant irregularities. Sherry Carroll Rollins had sued Ted Rollins for divorce in South Carolina, where the couple lived at the time. But contrary to black-letter law, he managed to sue her in Alabama, where she and the couple's two daughters had moved after being forced from their home in Greenville.

As we've reported here at Legal Schnauzer, Ted Rollins appears to have benefited from his connections to Bradley Arant Boult and Cummings, one of Alabama's largest and most conservative law firms. Lawyers from the firm's Charlotte office are defending Campus Crest Communities in the discrimination case.

The tawdry Campus Crest tale even has a roundabout tie to the Obama administration. Not long after the lawsuit was filed, a Birmingham-based Bradley Arant lawyer named Abdul Kallon initiated an investigation. Kallon's role in the case ended when he was nominated by President Obama to fill a federal judgeship in the Northern District of Alabama.

Kallon was born in Sierra Leone, and you might think that he would be sensitive to victims of racism. In fact, you would think he would be sensitive, in general, to regular folks who have been victimized by the powerful.

But at Bradley Arant, it appears that Kallon's job was to protect corporate interests, to work against the victims of discrimination. Did Kallon, now a federal judge who was appointed by a Democrat, make a serious effort to get at the root of what appear to be rampant problems at Campus Crest? Or did he simply try to find a way to cover them up?

Perhaps the answer to that question will become known as the North Carolina case moves forward in the litigation process. For now, we can ask these questions: By appointing someone from Bradley Arant, exactly what message has the Obama administration sent to progressives who supported them? And what kind of judge has Abdul Kallon turned out to be?

Here is Heather McCormack's complaint against Campus Crest. The three complaints are in the process of being consolidated into one federal claim:

Campus Crest McCormack

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Another Mysterious Death Darkens the Political Landscape in Karl Rove's Alabama

An investigator in the office of Alabama Attorney General Troy King recently died under mysterious circumstances, adding to a growing list of suspicious deaths in the final 12 months or so of Governor Bob Riley's two terms.

Robert William "Bob" Caviness died on November 15 in Alexander City, Alabama, where he lived. Multiple sources have told Legal Schnauzer that Caviness died from a gunshot wound to the head, and his death apparently is being considered a suicide.

Sources also say that Caviness was friends with Ralph Stacy, a Business Council of Alabama (BCA) executive who was found dead in his office in September from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Caviness and Stacy reportedly shared a common faith and both were lay ministers.

An obvious question: Was Bob Caviness investigating his friend's death and did he get too close to the truth for someone's comfort?

Another question: Is this toxic environment a natural by-product of efforts by Karl Rove and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to take over Alabama courts in the 1990s--which served as a precursor to the Don Siegelman prosecution and other nasty events in our state?

Caviness was 46 years old, with a wife and two sons. He had worked for the Montgomery Police Department, mostly in drug investigations, for 20 years before going to work for the Attorney General's Office. Here is his obituary from the Web site of an Alexander City funeral home:

Robert William "Bob" Caviness

April 20, 1964 - November 15, 2010

CAVINESS, Robert William “Bob”, age 46, a resident of Alexander City, AL; passed away Monday, November 15, 2010. Funeral services will be held Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 11:00 a.m. at Mountain View Baptist Church with Rev. Anthony Counts officiating. Burial will follow at Pine View Gardens with Gassett Funeral Home of Wetumpka directing. Mr. Caviness is preceded in death by his parents, George Walter Caviness, Sr. and Barbara Ruth McCarty Caviness. He is survived by his wife, Rebecca Caviness, two sons, Cole and  Parker Caviness, niece, Lauren Parker, nephews, Dallas Caviness, Devin Caviness, and Carson Parker. Pallbearers will be Devin Whittle, Dan Blackmon, Jeff Glass, Gene Sisson, Kyle Clark, Eddie Spivey, Jerome Hand, and Bill Hamil. Visitation will be held Wednesday, November 17, 2010 from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at Gassett Funeral Home. Mr. Caviness will lie in state one hour prior to service time at Mountain View Baptist Church.

Several of the pallbearers listed in the obituary work in the Attorney General's Office.

The Caviness case marks at least four suspicious deaths that we know of in 2010, all involving people with some connections to the Riley administration or its activities. Caviness' boss, Attorney General Troy King, is a Republican and once was a Riley ally. But the two have had a very public and ugly falling out over gambling-related issues. King has stated that electronic bingo generally is legal in Alabama, while Riley launched a crusade to shut down gaming facilities in Alabama.

Eleven lobbyists, legislators, and gaming figures--including the high-profile Milton McGregor and Ronnie Gilley--are under indictment on charges related to gambling legislation. The investigation has been led by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, a Riley ally and George W. Bush appointee who, inexplicably, has remained in office throughout the Barack Obama administration.

What are the other suspicious deaths? We have written several posts about Major Bashinsky, Zoa White, and Ralph Stacy:

* Major Bashinsky--The 63-year-old son of one of the state's best-known businessmen was reported missing in early March. About two weeks later, his body was found floating in a golf-course pond on Birmingham's Southside, and his death was ruled a suicide. His father, the late Sloan Bashinsky Sr., was the CEO of Golden Enterprises, the maker of Golden Flake potato chips and snack foods. In the months leading up to Major Bashinsky's disappearance, the Estate of Sloan Bashinsky was involved in a lawsuit with W and H Investments of Birmingham, seeking an accounting of some $37 million the elder Bashinsky had invested with the firm--mostly in oil wells. A settlement was approved in the lawsuit on March 1, two days before Major Bashinsky was reported missing. One of the partners in W and H Investments is William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, who once had a campaign contribution to Bob Riley returned when it was discovered that Hazelrig was a founding partner of a company called Paragon Gaming. Both Hazelrig and Rob Riley, the governor's son, had ties to a company called Crimsonica, which is based in Tuscaloosa and run by a man named Robert Sigler.

* Zoa White--A former Riley campaign worker, the 69-year-old White was found dead in her midtown Mobile home on June 28. News reports have said she was beaten to death with a hammer. White had worked in the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) under Bill Johnson, who went from being a member of the Riley administration to one of the governor's harshest critics. Johnson was so close to White and her family that he helped notify friends about funeral arrangements. Mobile police recently made an arrest in White's murder, but they have said little about evidence found in the case. The prosecution will be led by Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, who is commander of Riley's anti-gambling task force. Suspect Carlos Edward Kennedy has been denied bond in the case and is represented by a court-appointed lawyer.

* Ralph Stacy--He was in charge of strategic communications and was a chief lieutenant to BCA president Bill Canary. Canary, who is Leura Canary's husband, is a long-time associate of Karl Rove and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue. Montgomery police have released few details about Stacy's death, and the Montgomery Advertiser has written almost nothing about it. Stacy was 53, with a wife, Angel, and a daughter, Savannah. Friends and colleagues described him as a jovial man who was a popular public speaker. Before moving under the BCA banner earlier this year, Stacy had served as director of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, which represented the state's 120 Chambers of Commerce and had some 60,000 dues-paying members. The BCA, with about 5,000 members, reportedly had long coveted the sizable membership over which Stacy ruled.

Is it coincidence that these deaths happened in 2010, as Bob Riley's term was winding down and the governor was engaged in a high-profile crusade against gambling interests? Is it coincidence that these deaths occurred as questions continued to rise about Riley's financial support from the Mississippi Choctaw Indians, reportedly laundered through GOP felon Jack Abramoff? Is it a coincidence that Bob Riley has strong ties to Bill Canary, Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce--and Riley's term is ending amidst a disturbingly high body count? It could be. Is it possible that there is nothing suspicious about any of these deaths? Yes, that's possible.

Is it also possible that at least one or two of these deaths involved foul play connected to state government--and perhaps GOP shenanigans on a national scale? Solid information on these cases is hard to come by at the moment, but given the toxic environment that has engulfed Alabama for the past 15 years or more, we think the answer to that question is yes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Federal Prosecutors Are Breaking Out the Strong-Arm Tactics Again in Alabama

Larry Langford

Alabamians who keep up with the news have become deeply familiar with the tactics of federal prosecutors in recent years. Here's how the game works: The feds offer to drop charges or reduce sentences for certain individuals in exchange for testimony against other individuals.

This tactic was a favorite for the government in the Don Siegelman case. In fact, evidence strongly suggests that two individuals--Richard Scrushy and Gary White--currently reside in U.S. prisons mainly because they refused to provide the testimony the government wanted against Siegelman. Both Scrushy and White have stated that the feds' message essentially was, "If you don't lie in the way we want you to lie, we will make you pay."

Classy strategy, isn't it? Looks like it's being used again in the case involving alleged corruption connected to gambling bills in the Alabama Legislature. The tactic seems to be working with one individual, not so much with another.

Lobbyist Jerrod D. Massey has agreed to plead guilty to several conspiracy counts, according to a report today from TPM Muckracker. In exchange for the guilty plea, the government will dismiss various fraud charges against Massey.

The TPM Muckraker article does not spell this out, but our guess is that Massey will be expected to testify against some of the "bigger fish" among the 11 indicted in the case. Given that Massey served as a lobbyist for Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley, we probably can expect to see Massey turn on Gilley.

Interestingly, Gilley's lawyer is G. Douglas Jones, of the Birmingham firm Haskell Slaughter. As we have reported in previous posts, Jones is a strong ally of Homewood lawyer Rob Riley in federal litigation involving individuals and entities connected to HealthSouth. Riley, of course, is the son of Alabama Governor Bob Riley, whose raids on gambling facilities served as a precursor to the federal charges.

At last report, Jones and Rob Riley had helped plaintiffs' lawyers rake in some $28 million in attorney fees on the HealthSouth case. According to court documents, that will be spread among 50 to 100 lawyers, with much of it going to national firms based in New York and San Diego, respectively. Still, Jones, Riley, and their firms stand to make a nice chunk of change--and that $28 million figure does not include all of the attorney fees from the case. That's only a portion of them.

Given the windfall Doug Jones has reaped from his association with Bob Riley's son, you'd think he might have a conflict of interest in representing Ronnie Gilley. In fact, we've called Jones the Alabama "King of Conflicts," but no one in the legal community ever seems to call him on it.

Now that Jarrod Massey has decided to take the feds' bait, it will be interesting to see how Gilley fares in the federal prosecution. Our guess is that he won't fare very well.

Another individual refused to take the feds' bait. Former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, now a federal inmate after his conviction on corruption charges, revealed recently that he had received curious communications from the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the form of a phone call and a letter, the feds told Langford that he could receive a reduced sentence if he testified against gambling magnate Milton McGregor, the No. 1 target in an investigation that has led to indictments for 11 legislators, lobbyists, and gaming figures.

All of which raises this question: If the feds are trying to rely on Larry Langford's testimony, how strong is their case against McGregor and others? Alabamians have been inundated with stories about wires and phone taps being used in the investigation. But what kind of evidence did the high-tech gadgetry produce?

A lawyer source tells Legal Schnauzer that the feds probably are trying to come up with evidence of actions that McGregor might have taken, beyond words that are present on a recording. If so, that makes the Alabama probe sound like the investigation of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. In that case, Blago was convicted on only one of 24 counts and seemed to be guilty mostly of running his mouth a lot.

The focus of the Alabama case supposedly is on actions related to possible bills in the state legislature. How would Langford, as former mayor of Birmingham, have anything to do with that?

If the feds are looking for help from Langford, they might have to keep looking. The former mayor was less than thrilled with the season's greetings he received from the FBI:

It was, Langford said, pressure by the feds to convince him to roll on McGregor, who has been charged in Montgomery with bribery and fraud.

"The U.S. Attorney's office sent me a letter," Langford said. "If I testify against these folks, they would reduce my sentence."

He says he won't do it. He says he can't do it.

"A lie put me in here," Langford said. "Now I'm being asked to tell a lie on Milton McGregor and God knows who else, to reduce the sentence I should never have been sentenced to to begin with."

Here Is More Evidence That Republicans Think Americans Are Stupid

Bob Riley

One of the "endearing" qualities of modern conservatives is that they seem to think they can say most anything, and a large chunk of the American public will believe them. Sadly, conservatives often are right about this.

Consider the recent actions of Alabama Governor Bob Riley. As his two terms are winding down, he called the Alabama Legislature into special session to address a package of ethics legislation. The seven bills were passed, and Riley is expected to sign them today. The whole process seems to have raised hardly any eyebrows among the masses.

No one in the mainstream press, that we are aware of, raised questions about Riley's past actions regarding ethics bills. No one pointed out that putting Bob Riley in charge of ethics is like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank.

Is Bob Riley genuinely interested in ethics reform? His history indicates the answer is no. In 2007, a bipartisan ethics bill was passed in the House and Senate by a combined vote of 131-0. It landed on Riley's desk, and he refused to sign it.

Why? The bill, sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black (D-Muscle Shoals), would have expanded the definition of a lobbyist to include people who attempt to influence the awarding of state contracts that are not competitively bid. And that meant Riley's children, Rob Riley and Minda Riley Campbell, would have been inhibited in their efforts to make money off no-bid state contracts. Reported the Associated Press back in '07:

"It is widely held in Montgomery that Governor Riley's children lobby their father on behalf of entities desiring no-bid state contracts," Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, said.

"This legislation would have further shined the light of day on the lobbying activities of the governor's family, but Governor Riley vetoed the bill," Little said in a statement Tuesday.

According to a recent report in the Tuskegee News, the package that Riley is expected to sign today does not address no-bid contracts. Gee, isn't that a shock? Perhaps the governor wants Rob, Minda, and other family members to be able to continue sucking off the state teat--even after he's out of office. Our guess is that they will be happy to do that.

What is the real motivating force behind Bob Riley's ethics package? Senate Bill 2 will ban public employees from using payroll deduction to pay dues to the Alabama Education Association (AEA) and Alabama State Employees Association. Critics say that measure is driving the Riley's ethics train, and it's designed as payback for the AEA's efforts to defeat Bradley Bryne, who was to be Riley's hand-picked successor. With AEA's help, Robert Bentley beat Byrne in the Republican primary and then beat Democrat Ron Sparks in the general election.

It's hard to see how payroll deduction of dues to a professional organization can be viewed as an ethics matter, and Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) isn't buying it:

Opponents, mostly Democrats, said the bill had nothing to do with ethics and everything to do with Riley getting even with the AEA teachers' lobby, which supported Bentley in the Republican primary and runoff for governor over Bradley Byrne, who was Riley's favorite.

"I think that was purely a personal vendetta," Ford said. "All the other bills were a smoke screen just to get that bill passed."

Throughout Riley's tenure, he has been protected by Leura Canary, a Bush-appointed U.S. attorney in Montgomery. But if historians ever uncover the truth about the Riley years, he probably will go down as the most corrupt governor in Alabama history. Powerful evidence suggests that Riley:

* Benefited from election-night vote theft in Baldwin County, Alabama, giving him a razor-thin edge over Democrat incumbent Don Siegelman in the 2002 election;

* Benefited from $13-million of Mississippi gaming money that was laundered through GOP felon Jack Abramoff;

* Benefited from millions of Mississippi Choctaw gaming money that was distributed directly to the Riley campaign, according to public statements from former aide Bill Johnson.

* Misspent more than $340,000, which was intended to help elect candidates and instead went to anti-gambling initiatives.

* Saw his term winding down in 2010 as a string of mysterious deaths cropped up on Alabama's political landscape.

That's just the tip of a rather large iceberg. But Bob Riley is Alabama's Teflon governor. And quite a few of our citizens seem to believe he truly is interested in ethics reform. Of course, these same Alabamians have been buying GOP lines that originated with Ronald Reagan some 30 years ago.

You know the ones:

* We can cut tax rates for the wealthiest Americans and increase defense spending and have no problems with deficits.

* Deregulation is the way to free up businesses to drive the American economy. We can count on companies like Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns to do the right thing.

Those two tenets of the GOP gospel, adopted by George W. Bush from 2000 to 2008, are among the leading reasons we now are experiencing the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Here is one other reason that Bob Riley might be pushing ethics reform: We are hearing from multiple sources that the governor seriously is considering a run for president in 2012. One source says GOP kingmaker Karl Rove long has been fascinated by Riley because of the latter's resemblance to Ronald Reagan. With the GOP torn in one direction by Sarah Palin and in another direction by Mitt Romney, Riley apparently sees an opportunity to step in, with his poofed up 'do, and assume the role as "heir to the Reagan legacy"--such as it is. We even hear that Riley, like Reagan, insists he never dyes his hair. Gee, what a set of genes that guy's got!

Closing out his term with "ethics reform" might be an effort by Riley to paper over all the sleaze that has marked his term in office. For the rational folks who have witnessed Riley's actions in office, the notion of him running for president is laughable. He should be getting fitted for an orange jumpsuit on his way to federal prison. But with Eric Holder heading the U.S. Department of Justice, that isn't likely to happen. And if Riley were to run for the nation's highest office, God only knows how many people might vote for him because he he has . . . such nice hair. And he looks like . . . you know who.

Based on the 2010 midterm-election results, many Americans continue to fall for the same conservative con game, so who is to say that Bob Riley can't become president

Maybe modern conservatives are right about at least one thing. Maybe Americans really are stupid.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Federal Prosecutors Have Little to Fear for Gross Misconduct

Eric Holder

Why were lawyers in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) willing to pursue political prosecutions against Don Siegelman, Paul Minor, and other Democrats during the George W. Bush years? Probably because they knew they could get away with it.

That's the lesson to be taken from the latest installment in USA Today's series on misconduct among federal prosecutors. Scott Horton, of Harper's, has written that the series puts the newspaper in Pulitzer territory. The most recent segment, published last week, only enhances the paper's chances of earning a major prize. It's the kind of hard-hitting journalism that rarely is seen in the mainstream press these days. And we can only wonder about the kind of blowback the paper is receiving for daring to take an honest look at the American justice system.

We can't wait to see what angles USA Today will tackle next in the series. In fact, we can offer a few suggestions.

But first, let's examine the DOJ's disciplinary process for wayward prosecutors, which is so woefully lacking as to be almost nonexistent. Report Brad Heath and Kevin McCoy of USA Today:

A USA TODAY investigation has found that prosecutors have little reason to fear losing their jobs, even if they violate laws or constitutional safeguards designed to ensure the justice system is fair.

Justice Department officials say they take every violation of those rules seriously. But USA TODAY's investigation, based on an examination of tens of thousands of pages of court files and reviewed by a panel of legal experts, found:

* The Justice Department often classifies as mistakes violations that result in overturned convictions.

* Even when investigators conclude that prosecutors committed misconduct, they are unlikely to be fired.

* The Justice Department consistently conceals its own investigations of misconduct from the public.

Attorney General Eric Holder says the DOJ has instituted new training policies in the wake of the failed prosecution against former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. But the department apparently has taken no serious review of the Siegelman and Minor cases, which appeared to be infested with misconduct on a far grander scale than was present in the Stevens case. In fact, those convictions almost certainly should be overturned based on prosecutorial misconduct. But it hasn't happened yet, and we see no signs that it will.

Even those who have been close to the DOJ have little confidence in its ability to police rogue prosecutors:

For years, however, says Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., the bottom line was that the government allowed lawyers "who should not be federal prosecutors to continue in that role. The record on discipline is very, very poor. The history of serious discipline is basically non-existent."

USA Today focuses on the case of Sabrina Aisenberg, who reportedly was kidnapped from her Florida home in 1997 when she was 5 months old. A federal prosecutor, breaking numerous departmental rules in the process, charged Sabrina's parents with lying about her disappearance. The government wound up dropping the case against Sabrina's parents and paying defense lawyers $1.5 million.

The prosecutor, Stephen Kunz, still is a federal prosecutor in Florida. Sabrina never has been found:

Without stronger safeguards, Justice Department critics say, those problems will continue.

"It's a disgrace to the Department of Justice, it's a disgrace to the system, it's a disgrace to what we're supposed to stand for," says Barry Cohen, the Tampa defense attorney who represented Sabrina Aisenberg's parents. He says Kunz, the prosecutor, should have been fired--and prosecuted.

What about the victims of the DOJ?

"It's kind of a travesty," said Steven Aisenberg, Sabrina's father, who lives in Maryland with his wife and two other children. Kunz "fabricated information, and he still has a job doing what he did before. Now he lives to do it again, to somebody else."

Aisenberg said the family is still searching for Sabrina. She would have turned 13 last June.

Why do federal prosecutors have little to fear for cheating the public? For one, the department's "watchdog" has no teeth. It's called the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and it probably would have to improve to be worthless:

The Office of Professional Responsibility was founded in 1975 as part of an effort to restore public confidence after the Watergate scandal. Criticism soon followed. In 1990, for example, a congressional committee blasted the office, saying it failed to investigate some judicial findings that prosecutors had committed misconduct.

OPR's founder, Michael Shaheen, retired in 1997 amid an investigation by the Justice Department's Inspector General that ultimately concluded he and two top deputies had themselves committed misconduct by violating government travel regulations. Before he died in 2007, Shaheen told National Public Radio that OPR should be abolished, because it was "plagued by a history of delays and the bureaucratic layers superimposed on it, and by the end of an investigation--two, three years--you find that they've labored and brought forth … a squeak, or a mouse."

How bad is OPR? Consider the numbers:

Its investigations, run by agency attorneys, typically take at least a year to complete, and dozens have gone on for more than two years, a USA TODAY analysis of data obtained from the office shows. The vast majority of those investigations conclude that prosecutors did not break the rules, or that any violations were unintentional and should not be punished.

From 2000 to 2009, OPR's annual reports show, the office completed investigations of 756 complaints--fewer than 10% of the total complaints it received--and found that lawyers had actually committed misconduct in 196 cases.

What's the underlying problem? It goes back to an issue we've written about many times on this blog--lawyers simply cannot police themselves. They automatically try to protect one another:

"Government lawyers are likely to view the conduct most favorably to other government lawyers," says Ellen Yaroshefsky, the head of Cardozo Law School's Jacob Burns Ethics Center in New York. She said an outside watchdog is needed. "It's human nature that you're going to give the person the benefit of the doubt, because it could be you next. There just needs to be an independent evaluation of allegations of misconduct."

What about other angles for USA Today to examine? The paper already has examined cases of individuals who were wrongly prosecuted. It has indicated it will look at cases of a different kind--where individuals who apparently were guilty got off because of political connections.

We have written extensively about just such a case in Alabama. It involves Alabama Reassurance, a company that was owned by University of Alabama Trustee Paul Bryant Jr. The firm was implicated in a $15-million insurance-fraud scheme in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s, and investigators had been given the go-ahead to focus heavily on Alabama Re once a conviction was obtained in the Philadelphia case. A conviction was earned against Philly lawyer and entrepreneur Allen W. Stewart, but a change in leadership had taken place in the Birmingham U.S. attorney's office, and the Alabama Re investigation was called off. Is that because Bryant, the son of Hall of Fame football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, comes from one of the state's most powerful and well-known families? We will continue to examine that question.

What about the conduct of federal judges? We hope USA Today will examine that topic, especially in light of the Jack T. Camp case, where a federal judge in Atlanta recently was forced to step down from the bench after being caught buying illegal drugs with a stripper.

We suspect the Camp story is the tip of a sizable iceberg involving corrupt federal judges. In fact, we personally have witnessed multiple federal judges who appear to routinely issue unlawful rulings from the bench--and receive zero scrutiny as a result. That needs to change. We hope USA Today, by shining a spotlight on such sleaze, can help make it change.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Joe Scarborough, Bob Riley, and the Rising GOP Body Count

Joe Scarborough

We recently stumbled upon perhaps the most noxious video in the history of the Internet--and that's saying something.

It was a segment from MSNBC's Morning Joe, featuring an interview with host Joe Scarborough and Alabama Governor Bob Riley. The whole purpose of the interview apparently was to allow Scarborough to tout Riley as a GOP presidential candidate in 2012. To make the segment particularly nauseating, the cameras at one point panned to show Riley's oily son, Homewood attorney Rob Riley, in the background.

The interview was supposed to be about political issues. But I could not help but think about one thing Scarborough and the Rileys have in common--dead bodies seem to show up in their general proximity.

Scarborough went apoplectic earlier this year when he got into a Twitter face-off with Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos. It started when Scarborough made several sanctimonious Tweets about the story of the Obama White House possibly offering jobs to Congressman Joe Sestak in an effort to keep him out of a U.S. Senate race. Moulitsas fired back with a Tweet that took Scarborough to task and referenced "a certain dead intern."

Scarborough proceeded to allege that Moulitsas had, on several occasions, suggested he is a murderer. Moulitsas replied that he had done nothing of the sort, but had pointed out the media's tendency to tread carefully on sensitive stories about Republicans while providing blanket coverage on similar stories involving Democrats. As an example, Moulitsas cited the wall-to-wall treatment of the Gary Condit/Chandra Levy story.

According to a post from Moulitsas, Scarborough became so unhinged that he persuaded MSNBC officials to ban the Daily Kos founder as a guest on their programs.

Why is Scarborough so sensitive about this subject? Because he does have a "dead intern" problem--sort of. When Scarborough was a Congressman from Florida, Lori Klausutis worked for him as constituent services coordinator; she was a full-time employee, not an intern. Her tenure with the Congressman, however, had an unfortunate ending in summer 2001. Here is how American Politics Journal reported it:

Then, on Friday, July 20th, the body of Lori Klausutis, 28, was found slumped next to a desk on the floor of Florida Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough's Fort Walton Beach office where Lori had served as a constituent services coordinator since May, 1999. Her body was found around 8:00 a.m. on Friday morning by a couple arriving for an appointment. She had been dead for some time. A second employee, who would have normally arrived for work at around the same time, was away on vacation. Police cordoned off the area for investigation, later announcing that there was no reason to suspect foul play, nor were there signs of suicide.

What caused Lori Klausutis' death? Here is how the Online Journal reported it:

Lori Klausutis, 28, had been the picture of health and vitality, an avid runner who ran five miles a day. She was highly regarded by friends and co-workers who called her “Little Miss Mary Sunshine.”

On the day Lori Klausutis’ body was found, police denied finding any sign of trauma to the body or any indication of foul play. In an August 6 press release, Dr. Michael Berkland, the Okaloosa County associate medical examiner, acknowledged that there was “a scratch and a bruise” on her head, and said the original denials “were designed to prevent undue speculation about the cause of death.” He declared that the death had been an accident, with the proximate cause a subdural hematoma caused by a blow to the head. The blow to the head, he said, probably happened when Klausutis’ head had hit a desk after she fainted. The fainting, he proposed, was due to a prolapsed mitral heart valve which, he added, would have killed her even had she not fallen and struck her head.

Following this news release, further police investigation was effectively halted. The official
police report contains only a few notes after August 6 pertaining to interviews with the security guard of the building in which Klausutis worked and with employees at a nearby restaurant.

The mainstream press largely has ignored the death of Lori Klausutis. But a few reporters, including lawyer/author Jennifer Van Bergen (writing at Truthout), have taken a serious look at the story and concluded the medical examiner's explanation does not add up. We will examine in future posts the work of Van Bergen and other reporters who have concluded that the head trauma that killed Lori Klausutis probably was not the result of an accidental fall.

Does that mean Joe Scarborough is a murderer? No. But the investigation was handled in a highly irregular manner, raising this question: Did someone with access to Scarborough's office have reason to want Lori Klausutis dead? That is not CT (conspiracy theory). That is a clear question raised upon reading the few serious articles about the case.

What about Moulitsas? An MSNBC official accused him of taking an "ugly cheap shot" at Scarborough and then said the network would take a break from booking him as a guest. But did Moulitsas' reference to a "dead intern" constitute a cheap shot? Not if you read up on the facts surrounding the case. It's a fact that a woman died of head trauma and was found in Joe Scarborough's office. It's a fact that the medical examiner's finding of an accidental death is highly questionable.

If anything, Moulitsas was being charitable to Scarborough. After all, Lori Klausutis was not an intern, the sort who might work part-time on a "come and go" basis. She was a full-time employee, a full-fledged adult, who was close to the entire Scarborough operation.

Some background about the story: Scarborough was divorced in 1999 amid reports that his personal life did not match his conservative rhetoric. In May 2001, five months into his fourth term in Congress, he announced his resignation. Roughly two months later, Lori Klausutis was found dead in Scarborough's office.

Perhaps it is fitting that Scarborough shares a kinship with the Rileys For one thing, he went to the University of Alabama at about the same time as Rob Riley. But consider some of the curious events that have taken place in 2010, as Bob Riley's final term as governor was winding down.

We addressed the issue  in a post titled "Suspicious Deaths Are Piling Up on the Political Front in Alabama." The post focused mainly on Ralph Stacy, a former executive with the Business Council of Alabama who reportedly committed suicide at BCA headquarters in Montgomery back in September. The BCA has been a major backer of Bob Riley, and we noted other alarming events:

Is Stacy's death part of a disturbing pattern? It's hard to tell, but we know of at least two (and maybe three) other cases that raise questions:

* Major Bashinsky--The 63-year-old son of one of the state's best-known businessmen was reported missing in early March. About two weeks later, his body was found floating in a golf-course pond on Birmingham's Southside, and his death was ruled a suicide. His father, the late Sloan Bashinsky Sr., was the CEO of Golden Enterprises, the maker of Golden Flake potato chips and snack foods. In the months leading up to Major Bashinsky's disappearance, the Estate of Sloan Bashinsky was involved in a lawsuit with W and H Investments of Birmingham, seeking an accounting of some $37 million the elder Bashinsky had invested with the firm--mostly in oil wells. A settlement was approved in the lawsuit on March 1, two days before Major Bashinsky was reported missing. One of the partners in W and H Investments is William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, who once had a campaign contribution to Bob Riley returned when it was discovered that Hazelrig was a founding partner of a company called Paragon Gaming. Both Hazelrig and Rob Riley, the governor's son, had ties to a company called Crimsonica, which is based in Tuscaloosa and run by a man named Robert Sigler.

* Zoa White--A former Riley campaign worker, the 69-year-old White was found dead in her midtown Mobile home on June 28. News reports have said she was beaten to death with a hammer. White had worked in the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) under Bill Johnson, who went from being a member of the Riley administration to one of the governor's harshest critics. Johnson was so close to White and her family that he helped notify friends about funeral arrangements. Mobile police recently made an arrest in White's murder, but they have said little about evidence found in the case. The prosecution will be led by Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, who is commander of Riley's anti-gambling task force. Suspect Carlos Edward Kennedy has been denied bond in the case and is represented by a court-appointed lawyer.

What about that other possible curious death we mentioned earlier? Suzanne (Pilkerton) Bashinsky-Ash, age 57, died in mid June in Birmingham. She was Major Bashinsky's stepsister and the biological daughter of Joann Bashinsky, who was Sloan Bashinsky Sr.'s second wife and now is director of Golden Enterprises. Associates of Joann Bashinsky were heavily involved in the lawsuit against W and H Investments. The only reporting on Suzanne Bashinsky-Ash's death has been a standard obituary, and we've seen nothing to indicate it was anything other than a natural death. But she was adopted by Sloan Bashinsky Sr., meaning two of his four children died between March and July of this year, within roughly four months of settlement in the W and H Investments lawsuit. The surviving children are Elisabeth Burford Bashinsky and Sloan Bashinsky Jr., a lawyer who lives in Key West, Florida, and has written extensively about Major Bashinsky's disappearance and death at the blog

With that as a backdrop, try watching the recent Morning Joe segment at the link below. As you watch Scarborough and the Rileys yuck it up, think about some of the disturbing events that have connections to them and see if it doesn't make your stomach squirm--at least a little bit.

We actually have received reports from multiple sources about another death in Alabama that appears to be mysterious and politically connected. We still are researching that one. But when Joe Scarborough encourages Bob Riley to "do for America what he's done for Alabama," that should send chills down the spine of any human with a functioning conscience.

Bob Riley on MSNBC's Morning Joe

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is Karl Rove Driving the Effort to Prosecute Julian Assange?

Fredrik Reinfeldt and George W. Bush

Former Bush White House strategist Karl Rove likely is playing a leading role in the effort to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a source with ties to the justice community tells Legal Schnauzer.

Assange was arrested last week in London for alleged sex crimes in Sweden. A lawyer for Assange said Monday that the arrest was a ruse designed to give the United States more time to build a case against Assange on other charges. The lawyer said a grand jury is being prepared in Washington, D.C., to look into WikiLeaks' activities. Meanwhile, Assange has a court date today in the UK, where he is expected to seek a release on bail.

That Assange's legal troubles would originate in Sweden probably is not a coincidence, our source says. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has been called "the Ronald Reagan of Europe," and he has a friendship with Rove that dates back at least 10 years, to the George W. Bush campaign for president in 2000. Reinfeldt reportedly asked Rove to help with his 2010 re-election in Sweden.

On the hot seat for his apparent role in the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, Rove sought comfort in Sweden. "When [Rove] was in trouble and did not want to testify on the three times he was invited [by the U.S. Congress], he wound up in Sweden," our source says. "Further, it was [Reinfeldt] that first hired Karl when he got thrown out of the White House.

"Clearly, it appears that [Rove], who claims to be of Swedish descent, feels a kinship to Sweden . . . and he has taken advantage of it several times."

Why would Rove be interested in corralling Julian Assange? To help protect the Bush legacy, our source says. "The very guy who has released the documents that damage the Bushes the most is also the guy that the Bush's number one operative can control by being the Swedish prime minister's brain and intelligence and economic advisor."

Could Rove also be trying to protect himself? What if WikiLeaks has documents--or Rove thinks it could get documents--that prove "Turd Blossom's" role in criminal activity during the Bush years? What if someone with a conscience from the Bush administration--if such a person exists--provided WikiLeaks with documents that show Rove's role in political prosecutions, the unlawful firings of U.S. attorneys, and more? Could Rove be trying to save his own doughy butt?

Reporting from Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now!, lends support to our source's insights about Rove and Sweden. In a piece from December 2008, "Karl Rove in Sweden," Goodman wrote about the ties between "Bush's Brain" and Reinfeldt. This was just a few weeks after Barack Obama had won the presidential election in the United States:

Traditional Swedish politics also are in flux. Brian Palmer is an American, a former Harvard lecturer, who has immigrated to Sweden and become a Swedish citizen. Palmer has penned a biography of Sweden’s prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt. Palmer credits Reinfeldt, 43, with leading the shift away from the progressive social policies for which Sweden has become world-famous. He said Reinfeldt, in 1993, “wrote a book, ‘The Sleeping People,’ where he said that the welfare state should only prevent starvation, nothing beyond that. After being elected ... one of his first major visits abroad was to George Bush in the White House.”

Reinfeldt and his Moderate Party hired Karl Rove as a political consultant to help with the election coming in 2010. Palmer went on: “We have a real kind of silent war on the labor movement. We have a rather dramatic change in the tax system, abolishing the inheritance tax and most property taxes, cutbacks in social-welfare institutions.” This week, a new coalition of center-left political parties formed to challenge this rightward drift.

The U.S. electorate has thoroughly rebuked the Bush administration, handing Barack Obama and the Democrats a mandate for change on issues of war and health care, among others. One of the world’s leading laboratories for innovative social policies, Sweden is now wrestling with its own future. Those seeking change in the U.S. would be wise to watch Sweden, beyond Nobel week.

In December 2009, Goodman conducted an interview with Brian Palmer, Reinfeldt's biographer:

AMY GOODMAN: Brian Palmer, talk about the shift that’s going on in politics here—you’ve written a biography of the current prime minister—and how this fits in with the story we just talked about, the story of Alfred Nobel, both the Peace Prizes and his founding of, really, the weapons industry in this country.

BRIAN PALMER: One can begin by saying that the reasons for Sweden’s reputation as a progressive paradise, the strongest labor movement in the world with 87 percent of workers unionized, creating over many decades the strongest welfare state, the one that on the UN Human Poverty Index has the least poverty in the world. And then, what we’ve seen over the last twenty years, but particularly since the 2006 election, is a move away from all of that.

We have a prime minister who in the 1990s wrote a book, The Sleeping People, where he said that the welfare state should only prevent starvation, nothing beyond that, no other standard should be guaranteed. After being elected, Fredrik Reinfeldt, one of his first major visits abroad was to George Bush in the White House, this in spite of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, a visit that many people thought shouldn’t have happened, his coalition then getting—bringing over Karl Rove for advice and support—Karl Rove, the architect of President Bush’s electoral victories.

AMY GOODMAN: They brought Karl Rove here?

BRIAN PALMER: This past summer.


BRIAN PALMER: Because he can offer good advice on how to win the 2010 election. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Is this unusual for Karl Rove to do this kind of international consulting?

BRIAN PALMER: According to his website, it’s his only foreign consulting, for the Moderate Party of Sweden.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t the current prime minister visiting Bush in the White House?

BRIAN PALMER: Yeah, and there was much—many people writing that this shouldn’t happen. He justified the visit, that he would persuade Bush to sign the Kyoto Accord, but people who were there say that he didn’t even really attempt that.

An Alabama Idol Makes It Home for the Holidays

Reuben Studdard and Taylor Hicks

You might say that we have adopted Taylor Hicks as the "official musician of Legal Schnauzer." As a Birmingham-based blog, it seems natural that Hicks would be one of our musical favorites. He grew up in Hoover, just a few miles from where we live, and we have come to appreciate his "rootsy" music, his "up-by-the-bootstraps" back story, and his appreciation for those who came before him.

Mrs. Schnauzer and I had heard of Hicks before he won American Idol in 2006, but we had never seen him perform until the rest of the world--including Simon, Paula, and Randy--had discovered him. From listening to Hicks' two independent, pre-Idol CDs, we know he has the kind of writing chops that should serve him well over what we hope is a long and prosperous career.

We were pleased to see that Hicks made it back to his hometown for a holiday concert last week at WorkPlay. Mrs. Schnauzer and I were on hand for Hicks' post-Idol performance at Birmingham's now-defunct City Stages festival, and we were there for one of two sold-out shows at the Alabama Theatre on his first national tour.

Unfortunately, we have so many legal irons in the fire at the moment that we had to miss the WorkPlay show. But thanks to the miracle of YouTube, we can feel like we were there. And we hope Legal Schnauzer readers will want to share that feeling, appreciating a local boy who has shown that our community can turn out more than just football players and right-wing politicians.

Hicks opened the WorkPlay show with a rousing performance of the Stephen Stills classic, "Love the One You're With":

Reuben Studdard, Birmingham's original American Idol, joined Hicks for a cover of Bobby Womack's "Woman's Gotta Have it":

Carson James, an up and coming Birmingham artist, was the opening act, and Hicks joined him for a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition":

Finally, we have "Nineteen," a song from The Distance, Hicks' second post-Idol studio album. Hicks wrote the tune with Nashville-based songwriters Gary Nicholson and Jeffrey Steele. It tells the story of a high-school football star who joins the Marines after the attacks of 9/11. To our untrained ears, the song had the potential to be a major hit, but somehow it has floated under the radar. Hicks provides a vocal performance worth savoring: