Archive for October, 2009
Van Susteren was recently quoted as suggesting that the Obama administration’s comments regarding Fox News did not apply to her. I was wondering if she had any further comment.
It’s kind of amazing to me that she couldn’t bring herself to defend her employer…
Is it me, or did she have a profound case of the giggles?
Well, this is what it’s come to on the Senate side. And I’ve got to say, it sure didn’t take long.
Last week, I filmed David Vitter as he disembarked from a subway and made his way into an elevator. I asked him if he had any comment regarding the judge in Louisiana that refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple. Vitter smiled at me, silent while his staffer refused to allow me on the elevator, saying it was for Senators only. (It is, but there is also an element of discretion. Plenty of Senators have allowed me to ride the elevator with them as we continued our discussions.) Vitter let the elevator doors close on me and went on his way.
To me (and evidently thousands of other people), Vitter’s silence was newsworthy. I mean, really, it was a softball question and an opportunity to wipe aside any of the doubts that had previously been raised. Why would he refuse comment?
So Greg Sargent and others looked into it further. Vitter’s communications shop put out a statement:
First, Sen. Vitter thinks that all judges should follow the law as written and not make it up as they go along. Second, it would be amazing for anyone to do a story based on this fringe, left-wing political hack’s blog — he’s been handcuffed and detained in the past over his guerrilla tactics.
At first, I decided to say nothing in response to this comment because, well, I’m a reporter, not a story. But… Events have unfolded such that now, I think I need to address this.
First of all, the event Vitter’s office is referring to was the culmination of a series of events that occurred during 2006 election season. In late August 2006, then-Senator George Allen was dealing with the “Macaca” incident. He had given a series of evolving excuses for his choice of words, but the media never really honed in on what I thought the key question was – especially given the Senator’s history. So I attended a campaign event and did pretty much what I’m trying to do today: I asked the question that the media wouldn’t ask, but was on everyone’s minds. I asked, “Have you ever used the word n*****?” When the Senator said, “No,” I followed up, “Never in your life?” Allen repeated his answer and I followed up once more, “Can you explain the Confederate Flag and noose you kept in your office?” At that point, staff intervened and I was asked to leave the premises. I did.
Fast-forward two months. On Halloween, less than a week before the election, Allen returned to my neck of the woods for another campaign rally. Since his last visit, an arrest record of his had been discovered, and the blogosphere was abuzz with reports of Allen having abused his first wife. The divorce records were sealed, so, for all practical purposes, Allen was the only one capable of addressing the topic. At the end of Allen’s event, as a meet-and-greet line formed, I joined it. When he got close to me, I said, “Senator Allen, you can shut your Democratic critics up if you tell us why you were arrested back in the 1970’s.” Before I could get the last words out, Allen’s staffers were all over me, trying to push me away. I held my ground, and continued, “Senator Allen, did you spit on or otherwise abuse your first wife?” Allen walked alongside me, smiling silently. He made his way to the press gaggle. More of his supporters turned on me, telling me I had to leave. Things got physical. Eventually I was being pushed away from the Senator, he retreated down a hallway, and I called out, “Senator Allen, did you spit on your first wife?” At that point I was tackled to the ground.
The video was played all over the news networks for the rest of the day and much of the next.
The election was a week later. The day before the election, Allen decided to make a barnstorm airport tour of the state. I had been hired as a stringer by Air America and decided to cover the event. I intended to ask the Senator why he didn’t intervene when he saw me being assaulted. Alas, when I made my way to the spot I thought I’d most likely get my chance, a young theater student, Alex Davis, ran from behind me, dove to the floor and let out a yelp that got security’s attention. Within seconds, I was handcuffed and led to a waiting police car. They were waiting for me; I had been set up.
Well, that’s high-stakes politics, I guess. In the end, after the event had concluded, I was released without being charged.
Look, I’m the last person that wants to relive this. But it looks like I don’t have much of a choice. The Republicans in the Senate have closed ranks, and they are doing everything they can to nip accountability in the bud before it can get started.
How do I know?
One Senator told me as much. I’m not going to name the Senator right now; all you need to know is that he is a Republican and what he told me. I had approached him to ask about the DOJ’s new marijuana policy – they won’t enforce federal law against medical marijuana users where such use had been legalized. I saw a conflict between the “war on drugs” hardline that many elected’s take and the conservative “state’s rights” argument. I thought it would be cool to probe a little bit.
This Senator told me that he’d stop and talk to me, but he didn’t want to be filmed. He’s been informed (and he was sure it wasn’t me) that there was some guy running around with a video camera, springing questions on Senators when they hadn’t had time to think, and then, the next thing you know, these videos are up on YouTube.
I told this Senator that I was almost certainly the person he had heard about, but sheesh… Isn’t that the purpose of the press? I mean really, is it our job to give y’all time to put together talking points?
Anyway, to this Senator’s credit, he told me to give his press office a call and now that he knew what the topic was, he’d set up a phone call. It will be interesting to see if the promise is kept.
Later that day (yesterday), I visited the Russell Rotunda, where the networks have their cameras set up. Usually, it’s a great place to piggy-back on CNN’s or Fox’s or MSNBC’s interviews. And at first, I thought I was lucky. Senator John Kyl was there for an appearance on MSNBC. There’s been a lot of chatter on right-wing talk radio about former Representative J.D. Hayworth entering a primary to challenge so-called RINO, John McCain. To me, this is an explosive story – the Republican’s last Presidential candidate may not even survive his next Senate election? Amazing! (The parallels to Joe Lieberman are pretty interesting too…)
So I waited for the Senator to finish, and watched his staff confer in whispers just a couple of feet from me. One staffer approached the Senator, said something while nodding in my direction, and then returned to chat with the other staffer. Senator Kyl finished his interview and then raced to the elevators. As I uttered my question, the staffers positioned themselves between me and the Senator and then pulled the David Vitter trick – “This elevator is for Senators only.” Kyl ignored me the entire time (about 10 seconds).
Look… Nobody is entitled to an interview. Any Senator is entitled to say, “no comment,” or just to walk away silently. They can do it en masse if they want.
But I’m not going to stop doing this work.
For far too long, I’ve sat aside bitching with millions of others that we don’t have a media willing to serve the people. Whatever you want to call it… “MSM”, “institutional,” “corporate”… The dominant media has, for years now, been derided for valuing access over substance, fetishizing authority, and, in general, eating too many cocktail weenies.
My purpose for being on the Hill is to give my readers a more complete picture of the people that we’ve elected to make our rules. I’m there to perform the accountability function of the storied “Fourth Estate”. I may not be the best person to do the job, but hell… so far as I know, I’m the only one doing it in this direct and unfiltered style.
So, yeah… I expect that Republicans are going to make my job more difficult than it should be. They’ve grown used to a Fox News press that never asks the hard questions, gives them plenty of warning about what topics will be discussed and has forgotten how to ask the killer follow-up question. If I was an elected, I’d almost certainly prefer dealing with lapdogs rather than Rottweilers. But that doesn’t mean this Rottweiler needs to play dead.
Finally, one more irony… How many of these Republican lawmakers have criticized the Obama administration for cutting off the Fox News network? One thing I’ve never done is lie, distort or otherwise fabricate or spin my stories. What you get here is exactly what the byline says, “Unscripted, unvarnished and unedited” video reporting. Virtually by definition, nobody can accuse me of taking them “out of context” or otherwise misleading my audience. And honestly, I think that’s part of what they are afraid of – they just don’t like the idea of raw reporting. They need their prepared talking points.
Here is the Kyl video…
Congress won’t be in session forever. They are famous for taking long breaks; I’m pretty sure they are out of town for the entire Holiday Season (that terminology sure to piss Bill O’Reilly off, eh?)
Anyway, when they take their month-long breaks, I need to keep y’all coming back here.
Some of you will remember that I used to have a site called CallingAllWingnuts. The blog’s premise was simple: I called right-wing talk radio, said something truthful and relaxed as heads exploded all across America. Every now and then, the host went a bit crazy, and that was fun too.
Well… If I can’t be covering the Hill, I’m kinda figurin’ that I might as well stick to something I was good at. I’ll call ol’ OxyContin Rush, “Cranky Fred” Thompson, “Gamblin’ Bill” Bennett and the rest of the crew. I’ll record the audio, and post it here for y’all. It’s not rocket science, but it can be pretty entertaining from time to time.
Here’s an example from The Joe Scarborough Show:
John Barrow is wildly out of step with the Democrats he represents. When his district was last reshaped, he was gerrymandered into a district that is marginally Democratic (D+2, I believe), but the Democrats in his district are mostly African-American and very liberal. Last cycle he beat the very progressive Regina Thomas in the Democratic primary because President Obama endorsed and cut an ad for him. Barrow’s entire campaign consisted of little more than Obama’s endorsement repeated over and over again in radio ads on black radio stations.
Which is unfortunate. Because Barrow has paid the President back by continuing his ridiculously reactionary voting record. Most recently, he was one of 3 Democrats on the House Energy & Commerce Committee to vote against a health care bill.
Before launching this blog, I did similar work for FireDogLake’s health care efforts. Jane Hamsher had me running around the Hill asking Democrats to pledge to vote against any bill that didn’t contain a robust public option. I was tenacious in taking on the task; I made some reliable progressives fairly uncomfortable by bringing up campaign promises they had broken. I ended up leaving FireDogLake in part because I decided it was important for me to have some friends on the Hill… it didn’t make a lot of sense to be pissing off Republicans and Democrats. And it may be possible for me to do more good by growing the majority rather than whipping on Democrats from red districts that can’t be counted on for everything, but dammit, they are a long sight better than Republicans…
Barrow isn’t one of those Democrats. He’s a Democrat from a blue district that’s voted for George Bush’s wars, domestic spying programs, Patriot Act, etc, etc etc… At the same time, if legislation is progressive and helpful to the poor, you an count on Barrow to vote against it.
I asked him why:
The weirdest thing happened today. after not hearing back from Senator Cornyn’s office, I went to swear out a charge against him at teh Capitol Police headquarters. I wasn’t able to do that; evidently when Congress is in session, the Senate Sergeant at Arms is the only law enforcement officer Constitutionally authorized to arrest members on Capitol grounds. So I was given the Sgt at Arms’ phone number and turned away.
I stepped out of the Police Headquarters, and guess who was across the street…
It appears as if Senator Cornyn realizes that slapping a camera out of a journalist’s hand may not be the right way to approach things. Still… I can think of no other reason aside from a misplaced and inflated sense of pride for the Senator to turn down my offer.
I told him – in this video and in private communications with his staff – that I would not file a complaint if the Senator privately apologized to me and made a public statement about the critical need for a vigorous Fourth Estate.
The backstory for those that may have missed it:
Earlier in the week I attempted to ask the Senator why he voted against the Franken Amendment – an amendment that would ban corporations from contracting with the government if they force their employees to sign binding arbitration agreements for Title VII claims. The bill was designed to protect a rape victim’s right to sue employers that did not protect them from their rapists co-workers. Before I could ask my question, Senator Cornyn tried to slap the camera out of my hand. Seconds later, he tried to take my camera from me. I wasn’t physically hurt, but there is no doubt: if I had put my hands on the Senator in a similar fashion, I’d have been arrested and charged. If we are a nation of laws, not men, the Senator should be held to the same standards any other citizen is held to.
I ran into Congressman Joe Sestak a few nights ago and because he serves on the Armed Services Committee, I asked about rumors I had heard that the Franken Amendment would be stripped when the def. approp. went to conference. It was the first Sestak had heard of the possibility and it immediately enraged him. He remembered the heart-wrenching testimony given by gang-rape victim Jamie Leigh Jones and just couldn’t conceive of how Congress could betray her. He asked me for a day or two to look into it. At the end of that conversation, I told him I wanted to help him in his PA primary campaign.
Today, I followed up with him. His committee isn’t involved in the conference negotiations, so he instead signed on to a letter being circulated by Jan Schakowsky and provided this statement:
Congressman Sestak Calls for Justice for Rape Victims
Signs Letter to Chairman Murtha Urging Inclusion of Franken Amendment in Defense Appropriations Bill
Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Sestak signed a letter urging Rep. John Murtha, Chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, to include Senator Franken’s amendment to the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations Act in the final bill, which is currently in conference. The amendment, which was passed in the Senate by an overwhelming 68-30 votes, would prohibit federal funding from being used to pay defense contractors that force secretly binding arbitration on their employees in cases of sexual violence, sexual harassment, and sex and other unlawful job discrimination under Title VII.
“The rape and abuse suffered by employees of American defense contractors, such as Ms. Jamie Leigh Jones, who was stationed in Iraq as an employee of KBR, is inexcusable,” said the Congressman on Thursday. “Ms. Jones, who was drugged, gang-raped and locked in a container by other KBR employees, was denied her day in court by a clause in her employment contract which required her to arbitrate any future dispute against her employer. This mandatory term forced her to give up her right to argue her case in court, before an impartial jury of her peers.
“I call upon the conferees to include Senator Franken’s amendment in the final Defense Appropriations Bill. While arbitration has its place in our legal system — in instances such as commercial disputes — it is far from the appropriate mechanism in resolving abuse involving civil rights violations or crimes like rape. The 5th Circuit United States Court of Appeals recently ruled in Ms. Jones’s favor, finding that even when you sign an employment contract requiring arbitration, there are some rights to sue your employer than can’t be signed away, including assault and battery. This amendment, if signed into law, would make the Fifth Circuit’s findings the settled law across the entire United States, and I very strongly support this common sense measure.”
The full text of the letter, which was circulated by Rep. Schakowsky and signed by several other members, is included below.
The Honorable John Murtha
The Honorable William Young
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Defense
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Chairman Murtha and Ranking Member Young:
We are writing to respectfully request that the House conferees to H.R. 3326, the FY2010 Defense Appropriations Act, recede to the Senate bill with respect to the Franken amendment. The Franken amendment would protect the rights of contract employees to file sexual assault, sexual harassment and workplace discrimination suits and should be preserved in its entirety.
We are all aware of the horrific case of Jamie Leigh Jones, who was viciously assaulted, gang- raped, and sexually harassed by her co-workers while working for Halliburton/Kellogg Brown & Root in Iraq. After the attack, Halliburton isolated Ms. Jones in a shipping container with an armed guard out front. Ms. Jones only was able to contact her family after convincing her guard to lend her his cell phone.
Upon her rescue from Iraq and her return to the States, Ms. Jones filed a lawsuit against Halliburton for the harm she endured. Halliburton insisted that Ms. Jones submit her claims to forced arbitration, a private system that caters to the repeat business of corporations, instead of to a neutral judge and a jury of her peers.
After over four years of litigation, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that Ms. Jones’ sexual-assault claims could proceed to court. But her claims of discriminatory treatment and sexual harassment will still be forced into arbitration. In the meantime, Halliburton has filed an appeal to force all of Ms. Jones claims to arbitration and again deny her any hearing in court.
Ms. Jones is not alone. Countless women like her are being forced into this secret, biased system of arbitration when they are subjected to unlawful abuse, harassment, and discrimination. In fact, since Ms. Jones went public with her story, at least 38 women who worked as contractors in Iraq, Kuwait, and other countries have contacted her to discuss their own experiences with sexual abuse in Iraq. As Ms. Jones recognized herself,
Unfortunately, my case is not an isolated incident. If arbitration of these claims is forced, then there will be justice for none of the victims of these military contractors’ misdeeds. With the misuse of arbitration, we have made corporate entities in this country above the law.
An amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act that was adopted by the Senate addresses exactly this problem. Offered by Senator Franken, this amendment would deny federal dollars to contractors that force secret binding arbitration on their employees in cases of sexual violence, sexual harassment, and sex and other unlawful job discrimination under Title VII. It would ensure that women like Ms. Jones have the opportunity to seek justice against their perpetrators and to hold the corporate actors who allow sexual abuse accountable in a court of law.
The Franken Amendment passed the Senate on October 6, 2009, by a bipartisan vote of 68-30. Supporters of the amendment know that the federal government has no business doing business with companies that deny their employees the most fundamental legal protection: the right to equal justice under the law. And they know that the protections against sexual violence and discrimination that we all support are meaningless if they cannot be enforced in a court of law.
We agree. That’s why we strongly support the retention of the Franken Amendment in this year’s Defense Appropriations Act. Employees of federal contractors – contractors paid with taxpayer dollars – should not be denied access to one the fundamental principles of American democracy – the jury system — when they are the victims of wrong-doing.
For these reasons, we urge the House conferees to accept the Franken amendment in order to protect the rights of employees of federal contractors with regards to sexual assault, sexual harassment and workplace discrimination matters.
Member of Congress
Born and raised in Delaware County, former 3-star Admiral Joe Sestak served in the Navy for 31 years and now serves as the Representative from the 7th District of Pennsylvania. He led a series of operational commands at sea, including Commander of an aircraft carrier battle group of 30 U.S. and allied ships with over 15,000 sailors and 100 aircraft that conducted operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. After 9/11, the Congressman was the first Director of Deep Blue, the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit that established strategic and operations policies for the Global War on Terrorism. He served as President Clintons Director for Defense Policy at the National Security Council in the White House, and holds a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Government from Harvard University. According to the office of the House Historian, Congressman Sestak is the highest-ranking former military officer ever elected to the U.S. Congress.
I posted the following at the Huffington Post. I think it makes sense for me top post it at my own site as well.
Andrew Breitbart says he cares a lot about the truth, but it appears that’s only true when he isn’t the one being questioned.
You remember Breitbart as Matt Drudge’s junior partner, the proprietor of BigGovernment.com, and, apparently, babysitter for juvenile delinquents James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, the conservative, hidden-camera-wielding duo that went undercover to obtain footage of low-level ACORN staffers.
They continued their media assault yesterday at the National Press Club. With assists from Republican Congressmen Steve King and Thad McCotter, Fox News and the aforementioned Andrew Breitbart, O’Keefe and Giles unleashed their most recent attack.
Let’s review their story:
O’Keefe, dressed as a pimp, and Giles, disguised as a prostitute, visited ACORN offices where they asked for assistance purchasing a home. They claimed to have difficulty documenting income derived from the streets. But they had so much money! In fact, it wasn’t just the two of them — they had a whole crew of underage girls from El Salvador turning tricks for them. Hell, they had so much money, they needed help laundering it for the pimp’s run for Congress.
Now let’s tell the truth.
The truth is that O’Keefe never wore the pimp outfit into an ACORN office. Instead, he posed as a candidate for Congress that wanted to help a young woman caught in the trappings of prostitution. Supposedly, he wanted to help her, and her fellow prostitutes, escape the clutches of a brutal pimp by finding a place for them to live.
Look, the ACORN personnel aren’t blameless. Some did and said some pretty stupid things and deserved to be fired. But the world in which they work is vastly different from the world most readers of this blog post recognize. CNN, Desperate Housewives, even The Wire aren’t going to begin to convey the social chaos that defines the neighborhoods ACORN often serves.
Breitbart and his crew would have you believe that the ACORN staffers should have called the police when confronted with a prostitute.
I hope the staffers, at first, were celebrating. It’s not often you see a prostitute assert control over her life and try to break free from a pimp. The idea that this one was trying to take a whole crew of vulnerable underage women with her must have been amazing!
In the first video below, Breitbart asks me if I’m disturbed by what I saw in the videos.
If he had let me answer, I would have told him that I perceive ACORN’s mission to be helping the underserved. That I don’t understand how helping women out of sexual slavery is something that deserves to be condemned. That what I’m disturbed by is the behavior being demonstrated by those up on the stage that would demonize people trying to make a real difference in people’s lives.
In the end, I think I ruined their little press conference.
Evidently, it hadn’t occurred to them that they might face serious scrutiny. Why, for example, does O’Keefe dress up in the ridiculous pimp garb for the bumpers of the video when he didn’t wear that costume into the ACORN offices? Why is Breitbart attaching his name and credibility to someone that was kicked out of his Rutgers dorm for refusing to cease his use of racial slurs? Exactly why would Breitbart expect an ACORN staffer to call the police on a Congressional candidate trying to rescue a young prostitute from her vicious pimp?
Finally, in the second video, we learn all we need to know.
After hiding behind the lawsuit and using it as a shield to deflect questions they did not want to answer, they refuse to commit to releasing every full and unedited tape they have in exchange for ACORN dropping all of its lawsuits.
If they really wanted the truth out there, why do they need to edit these tapes in the first place? Why aren’t the unedited videos already in the public domain?
UPDATE: I’ve been questioned regarding my sourcing for the claim that O’Keefe was kicked out of his Rutgers dorm for frequently use of racial slurs.
After checking with my sources, neither of which were James O’Keefe or any of his public comments, writings or other communication regarding the matter, I do not feel compelled to change anything about my post.
You may believe I should have informed my readers that Mr. O’Keefe denies the allegations, but frankly, as a matter of my own personal judgment, Mr. O’Keefe is not credible. As such, it would be irresponsible for me to report what I consider to be O’Keefe’s prevarications. I’m in the business of reporting the truth as best as I know it. “Balancing” the truth with lies is not a practice I subscribe to.
This site has received its share of criticism regarding its name. The content here has drifted from what was originally intended. I am not chronicling “The Crooked Dope” (as opposed to ‘The Straight Dope’) spewed by right-wing media outlets as much as I am doing more serious reporting on people that actually matter – folks that are making decisions that shape our world.
The site needs a more serious and descriptive name.
Soon – the url already points here – the site will be redesigned and renamed: StarkReports.com is coming soon…
Please see ACORN Part 1, but this question really puts the lie to the entire operation… I asked, “If ACORN drops all of its lawsuits, would you be willing to release every second of unedited footage?” Brietbart dodged, saying he’s released transcripts and audio. He wouldn’t say he’d release the video.
I wonder why they wouldn’t jump at the chance to climb out from under the expensive lawsuits. If all that was required was releasing these damning tapes without editing them, well… If all we want is the truth… Won’t it be found in its most pure state on the unedited films? And these poor souls are laboring under the cloud of litigation – some of it criminal… Why not expose ACORN and escape the lawsuits?
They must be very attached to their editing process.