Archive for the ‘Obama Administration’ Category

Jersey Democrat, Justice Integrity Project Urge ‘No’ on Kagan, Citing Rights Concerns

July 19, 2010

Louis M. Manzo

The Senate should reject Democrat Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination based on her shabby civil rights record that’s apparent from her Department of Justice work, according to a Democratic former New Jersey legislator and Jersey City mayoral candidate.

Louis M. Manzo, drawing on his experience fighting one of the nation’s most explosive political prosecutions, said the Senate should reject Kagan because of “her indefensible support of restrictions on constitutional freedoms and her failures to defend due process.”

My bipartisan Justice Integrity Project (JIP) today released Manzo’s statement by video to illustrate the project’s objections to Kagan on similar executive power grounds. We announced our objections on June 28, just before the Supreme Court thwarted Kagan’s effort to block a hearing for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Manzo complemented our views with his first-hand experience, available before Senate voting at JIP’s website http://www.justice-integrity.org, which links to Manzo’s video and descriptions of his case, Siegelman’s and others, plus Kagan’s background.

“While serving as Solicitor General arguing against certiorari in Siegelman v. United States, Kagan ignored constitutional protections provided by due process,” Manzo said, continuing:

Also troubling is the manner by which Kagan feigned ignorance to what is frightfully apparent in Siegelman’s case – prosecutorial misconduct. Instead of questioning the bizarre prosecution tactics employed against Siegelman, Kagan blindly supported positions taken by prosecutors with obvious personal and political agendas.

“What all cases involving wrongful prosecutions share in common,” said Manzo, a target in the Bid Rig III case in New Jersey that helped propel Republican U.S. Attorney Chris Christie to New Jersey’s governorship last fall, “is the necessity of a fair judicial system.” In Bid Rig III, DOJ gave a felon large sums to donate to New Jersey campaigns such as Manzo’s, with Democrats overwhelmingly indicted. Manzo won a major victory this spring when his trial judge dismissed the most serious charges.

Expanding on Manzo’s themes, I cited compelling evidence that Siegelman, 64, was framed by DOJ, which seeks to imprison him for 20 more years.

The gist is that Kagan acted selfishly to advance her technocrat career, combining bad legal judgment with a monstrous cover-up. This opens a window to her other failings, which don’t receive the attention they deserve. Senate confirmation these days is largely kabuki-style theater for the public, fostered by a bipartisan, back-scratching elite. Here, a president’s loyalists seek to install one of their cronies over timid, partisan objections about a few special-interest topics. But we are skipping big issues about due process and our other basic liberties, which would inflame the public if ever fully aired.


Louis M. Manzo Statement*
Opposing Confirmation of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court

As a case study of the Justice Integrity Project, I am speaking today to urge defeat of Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

What all cases involving wrongful prosecutions share in common is the necessity of a fair judicial system where redress can be attained in the courts of our land.

While serving as Solicitor General, arguing against certiorari in Siegelman v. United States, Kagan ignored Constitutional protections provided by due process. She argued a position that supported the “standard-less sweep [of the law], which allows policemen, prosecutors and juries to pursue their personal predilections” – something previous courts had guarded against.

Her position was an assault on due process.

Despite concerns raised in the opposing argument – the danger posed by vague interpretations of criminal statutes, which infringe on the protections of free speech as provided by the First Amendment – Kagan ignored the sound opinion of the unprecedented position taken by 42 former United States State Attorneys General** and a United States Attorney General who filed an amicus brief in support of Siegelman’s argument.***

Kagan defended a position that would restrict Constitutional freedoms.

Also troubling is the manner by which Kagan feigned ignorance to what is frightfully apparent in Siegelman’s case – prosecutorial misconduct. Instead of questioning the bizarre prosecution tactics employed against Siegelman, Kagan blindly supported positions taken by prosecutors with obvious personal and political agendas.

These are attributes which are ill-suited for members of the highest Court in our land. Due process is the examination of the means used to justify the end. Her nomination would pose a grave threat to victims of due process violations, whose only redress is the courts.

For her indefensible support of restrictions on Constitutional freedoms and her failures to defend due process, Elena Kagan should be denied confirmation as a Supreme Court nominee. ###
_____________________________________________
*Democratic former New Jersey State Assemblyman and Jersey City candidate for mayor
** The number of former chief law enforcers of their states signing the petition rose to 91, from more than 40 states
*** Republican Former U.S. Attorney Gen. Dick Thornburgh criticized what he described as politicized DOJ decision-making during his 2007 testimony to the House Judiciary Committee

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Feds Bully ‘Die Hard’ Filmmaker McTiernan Into False Statement Plea

July 14, 2010

Rollerball Poster

A noted Hollywood filmmaker faces prison after a conditional guilty plea July 12 in a wiretapping case so interesting that it deserves two alternative news accounts.

Here’s the version provided to the vast majority of Americans by Reuters, via such conduits as ABC Entertainment:

Die Hard film director John McTiernan pleaded guilty to lying to law enforcement officials in connection with the racketeering case of a private detective who represented many Hollywood stars.

A trial for McTiernan had been expected to begin on Tuesday in Los Angeles on two counts of making false statements to federal agents and one count of perjury. McTiernan, 59, originally pleaded guilty in 2006 to a charge of knowingly lying to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the criminal case against private detective Anthony Pellicano, who has since been jailed.

But the film director later withdrew his plea, saying he had received poor legal advice, had been drinking and was jet-lagged from traveling when FBI agents questioned him. Federal officials again charged McTiernan with crimes in 2009, leading to Monday’s guilty plea. A judge set a sentencing date of Oct. 4….

I’ve written at least a hundred variants of this kind of traditional guilty plea story while covering federal courts fulltime from 1976 to 1980 for the Hartford Courant. But times have changed, and IMO the essence of McTiernan’s case is better conveyed this way:

Yet again, federal authorities abused their vast powers for their greater glory by manufacturing a crime and ruining a defendant’s career ─ at needless expense to federal taxpayers.

Too tough a verdict? You be the judge. First, kindly note that McTiernan’s plea was “conditional” on his appeal, a fact totally omitted by the Reuters story and thus by such headlines around the nation as that by the July 13 Washington Post, which blares: “John McTiernan is headed to jail.”

Wiretappers Unmasked
In 2002, a federal investigative team led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Saunders and FBI agent Stanley Ornellas exposed a scheme whereby the famous LA private eye Pellicano systematically broke wiretapping laws to help his clients in big-dollar entertainment industry battles.

In 2004, Howard Blum and John Connolly authored an in-depth overview for Vanity Fair entitled, “The Pellicano Brief.” It described Pellicano’s “A-list” clients and a pivotal raid of the detective’s offices by the feds, who seized guns, $200,000 in cash, plastic explosives and hand grenades on their way to winning a 15-year prison term for the PI.

The article didn’t mention McTiernan among the detective’s many famous clients. But we now know that McTiernan by then had sampled Pellicano’s services in 2000 by paying him $50,000 for a two-week investigation of fellow moviemaker Charles Rovan as the two struggled for creative control over their film, Rollerball, which was destined to be a box office flop.

Fast forward to early 2006. More than three years after the big raid on Pellicano’s office, none of the “A-list” Hollywood stars, managers, producers and lawyers had been jailed.

As sometimes happens in such situations, authorities sprang a perjury trap on McTiernan, who was famous for directing such action films as Predator, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October. In a perjury trap, authorities can create a crime by inducing a target in an unguarded moment to forgo the right to silence and give a false statement about an embarrassing matter that might otherwise not provide a basis for a criminal charge.

The concept became notorious after Independent Counsel Ken Starr relied on it to try to save his otherwise failed Watergate investigation of Bill Clinton by surprising the president at a grand jury with unrelated questions about Monica Lewinsky.

The Lewinsky case illustrated how reporters and readers alike tend to focus, understandably enough, on the sensational specifics of a scandal without reflecting that a perjury trap is often unfair. Why? Almost anyone has done something embarrassing. So, it’s just not right for authorities to use all-out tactics to create a crime by trapping some miscreants instead of focusing on whether the underlying activity is criminal.

Unfair or not, these kinds of traps are generally legal under the vast discretion that we provide to authorities. Here’s how the one against McTiernan unfolded, according to court records:

After returning ill from a film shoot in Thailand and after drinking McTiernan received an evening phone call at home from Ornellas, the FBI’s lead agent in the Pellicano case. Towards the end of a brief conversation, McTiernan falsely denied that he’d engaged Pellicano for illegal services.

McTiernan was promptly indicted, pleaded guilty to false statement, and received four months in prison and $100,000 fine as the first big-name Hollywood defendant nailed in the case. U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer, a 2003 appointee of President Bush, denounced McTiernan at sentencing for what she called his arrogance.

The defendant changed lawyers, and won a 2008 federal appeals court decision that enabled him to withdraw his guilty plea. Authorities responded with a new indictment that increased the defendant’s liabilities by reconfiguring the original false statement into two separate felonies, plus a perjury charge arising from his pursuit of his appeal.

These maneuvers increased McTiernan’s potential prison sentence to multiple years if he dares offend authorities further by proceeding to trial. I’ve reviewed the jury instructions approved by the judge, which almost guarantee a guilty verdict by limiting the defendant’s ability to argue that he wasn’t in a position to know if the person asking him questions by phone really was an FBI agent. McTiernan’s work inevitably brings calls from imposter “reporters” and others seeking details about such stars as Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

McTiernan doubtless didn’t ingratiate himself with authorities by helping found a non-profit, Project Save Justice, which filmed a 2009 documentary entitled, The Political Prosecutions of Karl Rove. The film, available for free use in schools and for other free viewing on the project’s website, powerfully documents the travails of U.S. victims of political prosecutions. The movie and a congressional report have helped publicize academic studies showing that local Democrats were investigated at a nearly 5:1 ratio during 1,200 DOJ official corruption probes during the Bush administration around the nation

McTiernan describes his background as being a moderate Republican. But the director, like many in the civil rights field, including at my bipartisan Justice Integrity Project, has come to see since 2008 that the Obama DOJ is permeated also by a win-at-any-cost mentality that transcends traditional party divisions.

After Monday’s hearing McTiernan’s attorney, Oliver E. Diaz, noted that his client’s conditional guilty plea maintains his right to appeal numerous per-trial motions filed by the government and granted by the judge. Diaz, a Republican former Mississippi Supreme Court justice, himself had been one of the Bush DOJ’s political prosecution targets before twice being acquitted of federal corruption charges. The Diaz story is described in the Project Save Justice documentary, at his subsite at the Justice Integrity Project, and in a Harper’s article by Scott Horton.

Last month, McTiernan failed in his attempt to recuse the judge, a Republican whose courtroom comments suggest that she despises the defendant. Part of the issue seems to be that some federal authorities become personally offended if defendants use up courtroom time by failing to plead guilty, as do 95 percent of those accused.

I saw something similar up earlier this year in covering the sentencing of Republican former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

His Democratic federal judge seemed to become almost unhinged in denouncing the defendant, citing such factors as Kerik’s making more money than the judge and prolonging proceedings by not pleading guilty. The judge has now quit the federal bench to join a law firm with an annual per-partner compensation of $2.1 million. The hypocrisy has inflamed Kerik’s supporters around the country, as illustrated by this Oklahoma criminal justice site.

Solutions?
The good news is that solutions shouldn’t be hard to devise. My three suggestions are:

First, authorities should focus on underlying crimes, not creating new ones to save face. If we as a society hate illegal surveillance let’s focus directly on that and its perpetrators, who are far more numerous and effective than John McTiernan’s two-week foray into those dark arts in 2000.

Second and much more important, lots of these trial problems would go away if judges would encourage both sides to proceed with proportion. For authorities to insist, as they did, that McTiernan spend at least a year in prison if he pleads guilty inevitability stretches out the proceedings at vast cost to everyone. To what purpose? Do taxpayers really have unlimited funds for these kinds of selective prosecution jihads?

This spring, authors Jesse Ventura and Dick Russell cited my recent article about Dr. Cyril Wecht in their best-selling book American Conspiracies. Until a Pennsylvania judge threw out the case last year, the feds forced Wecht , in his late 70s and in the twilight of his distinguished career, to spend $8.6 million in legal fees. This was largely to defend himself from 43 federal felony charges that on 43 occasions when he’d sent personal faxes costing his county a total of $3.86 — yes, that’s less than $4 — during his 20 years as a county coroner. Even after all the charges were dismissed the federal prosecutor had the gall to run for Congress last fall. But the public seems to be getting wise, and she was defeated.

Finally, we’ve got to find new ways of providing oversight. The U.S. Senate rubber-stamps most federal prosecution and judicial appointments. The Senate provided unanimous approval, for example, for the judges overseeing both the McTiernan and Kerik cases. Congress rarely enforces subpoenas on sensitive oversight matters anymore if DOJ doesn’t want to comply. And the traditional courthouse news reporter that I used to know in olden days have disappeared for cost reasons, replaced by visiting stenographers from wire services who primarily amplify whatever information federal authorities want to emphasize.

But if the public must be burdened with multiple information sources at least they should be entertaining. In that spirit, we’ve presented above, Rashomon-style, two different accounts of the same crime story. The first is the one that went out on the wires, and the second is my opinion-style commentary.

Even more on target than Rashomon is a telling comment by the Sally Field character in Absence of Malice, the 1981 film about the interplay of federal prosecutors and reporters. My perspective on it has changed. Upon its release, I denounced it to my friends as an unwarranted slur on the news and legal professions. Live and learn, and I’ve highly recommended it for the past two decades.

At the end, Field’s character comments about a news story that omits vital context in describing her: “It’s accurate,” she says. “But it isn’t true.”

Obama Should Learn From Artur Davis Debacle

June 10, 2010

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis

The full story has yet to be written about last week’s rout of favored Democratic candidate Artur Davis in the Alabama gubernatorial primary.

Little-known Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks ran to the left of the better-funded Davis and trounced him by a 62-38 margin even though Davis was his state’s senior Democratic congressman and enjoyed a close relationship with President Obama, whose Harvard Law School studies overlapped by a year.

The corporate-owned media know that the Davis defeat is big news, as shown by two stories in the June 6 Washington Post alone, here and here.

But this is mostly horse-race coverage about winning. The MSM are reluctant to scrutinize the substantive issues, the campaign’s deep intrigues, or the White House view that it should recruit Republican-lite careerists like Davis for open seats in conservative or swing districts. Most of these stories are like a cake missing salt or sugar.

My take:

In one of the reddest of the red states, Sparks ran an issue-oriented campaign that offered solutions to the hopes and fears of voters threatened by further job loss, inadequate health care, gambling as a job-creator and source of government funding, and, most recently, the horror of the BP’s oil drilling catastrophe.

Furthermore, significant segments of the Democratic base suspected Davis of making self-serving deals with their Republican enemies to help his own career.

True, Davis was burdened also as an African-American running in the onetime “Cradle of the Confederacy,” which also has the highest white population percentage of any Deep South state.

But this was not a race-determined election. Sparks managed to beat Davis in many heavily African-American districts. Some were within his opponent’s congressional district, which has been gerrymandered to include Birmingham with the rural Black Belt to help minority candidates.

On June 3, I wrote Why Alabama Democrats Rejected Centrist Artur Davis, Obama’s Pal. It noted that Sparks won the support of all four of the state’s major black political organizations while Davis was winning endorsements for the primary from reliably Republican major newspapers.

Alabama Democratic Conference Chairman Dr. Joe Reed, for instance, was quoted as saying:

It’s no secret that Davis is the preferred opponent of the Republican Party. This may be because he will be the most easily defeated Democrat, or because he is the most Republican of the Democratic candidates.

Also, Davis was too clever by a half in turning his back on Alabama’s most recent Democratic governor, Don Siegelman, after Siegelman was framed by the Bush Justice Department on corruption charges in 2006.

Last summer, I received what I believe to be reliable information that Davis, with encouragement party leaders in Washington, worked out a deal to keep Bush-appointed U.S. attorney Leura Canary running the Middle District office that prosecuted Siegelman. In return, Davis received support for his campaign from her husband Bill Canary, CEO of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA). Davis denied the tale and it never reached mainstream media.

But enough people in Alabama were getting the picture by Internet and word-of-mouth so that I predicted last July that Davis would never be elected Alabama governor.

After my article last week I received as feedback a document written by a well-connected, white Alabama Democrat entitled, “10 reasons Artur didn’t make it, based on voters’ perceptions.” For three years, I’ve found the source to be reliable. So, I pass on the list, edited slightly for space and privacy reasons, and with a warning that I’ve not personally confirmed each claim:

1. He’s arrogant and took black voters for granted.

2. He abandoned Siegelman and quit the House Judiciary Committee. Siegelman is still a hero to black voters.

3. He took money, $4,500, from BCA Leader Billy Canary. Lobbyists have said for two years that Artur would let Leura stay in office until she could get her federal retirement in exchange for a BCA endorsement. Now, Leura is launching new indictments aimed at Democratic officeholders in seats where Republicans may be able to take over. Most Democrats see this as Artur’s fault.

4. Late in the campaign, he was accused of keeping the Middle District U.S. Attorney’s seat open for himself.

5. He didn’t campaign much and sent a flock of young white kids to the Jefferson-Jackson Day event instead of showing up.

6. His rejection of the Health Care bill and its reconciliation companion were shocking to his base.

I’m going to skip my correspondent’s specific allegations in factors No. 7 and 9, which involve widespread rumors (at least among party insiders) of Davis romantic activities outside of marriage, plus his supposed special deference for two major Alabama companies.

The larger point is that politicians now need to understand that allegations once considered off-limits are going to get vastly more scrutiny during times when so many voters are financially devastated, hurt or angry.

And speaking at least for myself, my research has shown that Davis cynically cooperated in a self-serving sellout of Bush-era political prosecution victims now rotting in prison for no good reason. The defendants and their families number far more than just Siegelman, with one study showing them to be 46 percent African American nationwide. So by any reasonable standard of proportionality, whispers about Davis don’t make him a victim.

Another factor in the Davis defeat is the Democratic Party’s get-out-the-vote (GOTV) election-day machinery of the four black political groups and an overlapping network of black churches.

To understand what happened last week, it’s useful also to recall how Davis was propelled into office in a 2002 primary win. Davies won the help of heavy outside financing over black incumbent Earl Hilliard, who was perceived by a number of Israel’s U.S. supporters as not sufficiently supportive.

The fault lines continued Tuesday, with Hilliard’s son Earl Jr. winning both local and the Congressional Black Caucus endorsement to succeed Davis in Congress, but narrowly failing to qualify for a run-off against the better-funded front-runner Terri Sewell, a Harvard Law friend of Davis and a Jefferson County commissioner.

The level of intrigue in Tuesday’s election is illustrated by a news report that fake guide ballots angered Reed and the ADC showing Reed’s picture and Barack Obama’s, along with false endorsements of Davis and a congressional candidate from the fifth district. WHNT-TV in Huntsville reported the story as follows:

The idea of a fake guide ballot really irks Dr. Reed.

“This was an effort on the part of somebody to frustrate the ADC’s endorsement and try to frustrate the people who look to the ADC ballot for guidance,” said Reed, in a phone interview….These evil doers are out there plotting, trying their best to undermine ADC and frustrate black voters….I think we’ve got to expose them and when we can, prosecute them.”

To be sure, it’s not clear who might have distributed the flyers, and elaborate tricks can come from anywhere on election days.

A larger lesson developing from all this is that political leaders in the national Democratic Party – and the pundits who cover them – should understand that the Davis debacle in Alabama illustrates how hungry the public is for real change that helps people.

Democratic leaders who take the base for granted do so at their peril, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said last summer in my blog last summer. I quoted the longtime Democrat from Detroit as predicting a one-term Presidency for his friend Obama unless he adopted harder-hitting and more progressive measures on such issues as health care.

One of the advantages of today updating my initial report from Wednesday on the Davis primary is the opportunity to draw on the apt observations of others. Among the most perceptive is Alabama journalist Glynn Wilson, who wrote a wrap-up for his Locust Fork News-Journal website entitled, “The Big Picture.”

Wilson, whose other stories last week included a breakthrough investigative reporting about how BP is using foreign nationals detained in U.S. prisons as a cost-effective strategy for shoreline oil clean-up, provided a tough verdict on the primary:

The political career of Birmingham Congressman Artur Davis is over. Davis made a show out of trying to become Alabama’s first black governor in one of the most bizarre and ridiculous political campaigns in the state’s history.

“I have no interest in running for political office again,” Davis confirmed to a reporter for a Birmingham paper. “The voters spoke in a very decisive way across every sector and in every section of the state. A candidate that fails across-the-board like that obviously needs to find something else productive to do with his life.”

Years ago as a young newspaper reporter at the Hartford Courant, I came across a group of colleagues bad-mouthing a once prominent publisher who’d just lost his job.

“This is kicking a guy when he’s down,” I remonstrated.

“That’s when you get your best shot at ‘em!!” responded one of the best journalists I’ve ever met.

In that spirit, let me close with an admirably concise overview by Huffington Post political columnist Sam Stein last week.

The strains between Davis and the black community, indeed, ran far deeper than conventional wisdom ever held. So much so that Roland Martin, a prominent CNN analyst, syndicated columnist and television talk show host felt compelled to email the Huffington Post a withering critique of the Alabama Democrat for ducking African-American media.
Davis lost, Martin told Huffington Post, because:

He was arrogant as hell. Davis pointedly refused to do black media. He turned my TV One show down six times; he didn’t do Tom Joyner’s show, with 8 million listeners – TJ is a Tuskegee native; he turned down dozens of requests from Joe Madison of Sirius/XM; and he didn’t do many others. He assumed because of his skin blacks would flock to his campaign. Sparks outhustled him and worked black voters in a major way.

Any smart politician knows to shore up their base. He was advised by top Democratic strategists, from the White House on down, to solidify his base. He never did that.

Last week, Davis was the fall guy for a failed, top-down, “moderate” strategy.

Who’s next?

May 6 Update: Author Paul Craig Roberts Charts Drastic Decline of U.S. Liberties, Media

May 6, 2010

Paul Craig Roberts

Author, former Reagan official and civil rights advocate Paul Craig Roberts described on the May 6 edition of my Washington Update radio show why he is retiring from writing because of the nation’s appalling decline in civil rights protections.

Roberts has had an extraordinarily successful career as a Wall Street Journal editor, author, research scholar and assistant Treasury secretary. You can hear him here in an archived version of the show from anywhere in the country following his live interview on the My Technology Lawyer Radio network.

This spring Roberts published what he called his final essay, “Truth Has Fallen and Has Taken Liberty With It.” In it, he wrote:

Americans have bought into the government’s claim that security requires the suspension of civil liberties and accountable government. Astonishingly, Americans, or most of them, believe that civil liberties, such as habeas corpus and due process, protect “terrorists,” and not themselves. Many also believe that the Constitution is a tired old document that prevents government from exercising the kind of police state powers necessary to keep Americans safe and free….The American media does not serve the truth. It serves the government and the interest groups that empower the government….As the pen is censored and its might extinguished, I am signing off.

We spent much of the show exploring his insights, battles and grim outlook for the country, previewed in his 2000 book updated in 2008, The Tyranny of Good Intentions. Co-authored with Lawrence Stratton, the book is subtitled: How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.  The book, rated with five stars on Amazon.com by most readers with a low-rating of three-stars by a reader who protests that Roberts does not provide enough solutions for the dire portrait of the nation’s future.   The book is an impressive survey of the advancement of legal theories of due process and other civil rights from ancient times to what he describes as a bipartisan abdication of our rights to central executive authorities in an abdication of responsibility by Congress, the news media and the courts that he describes as foreign to Anglo-American legal traditions.

His book and essays critique not simply the legal system, but breakdowns in the news, manufacturing, and Wall Street. As a result, he says, his writings are now longer welcome at major corporate-owned publications. He has been a prolific author up to now for web-based investigative outlets until recently.

Scott Draughon, the show’s founder and co-host, drove much of the lively interview.  We began the show with a news overview addressing the Gulf oil spill and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s party switch from GOP to independent. Listener advisory: Mac listeners need “Parallels.”

About Paul Craig Roberts
Paul Craig Roberts has held many academic appointments, and holds France’s Legion of Honor. He authored Supply-Side Revolution: An Insider’s Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy; and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy. co-authored with Lawrence Stratton The Tyranny of Good Intentions, subtitled: How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.

April 22 Update: Federal Spending Critic Cites Defense Waste, Capability Problems

April 22, 2010
Winslow T. Wheeler

Winslow T. Wheeler

Winslow Wheeler, a leading critic of federal waste, today critiqued the Defense Department’s trillion-dollar budget on the DC Update edition of My Technology Lawyer Radio.  On the show, he amplified his call April 21 to suspend production of the F-35 fighter.  Hear today’s radio show in a nationally-available archive by clicking Live! (http://snipurl.com/v1yey).

Wheeler, author of America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress, described the nation’s most expensive military procurement as producing fighters deeply flawed and thus a waste.  Also, he reviewed an essay this week, Our Trillion Dollar Defense Budget, by fellow National Journal commentator George Wilson.  Among Wheeler’s own National Journal essays are: 2010 Will Be The Year Of….What? and Containment Succeeded and Pre-emption Failed — Time For A New National Strategy? As a Senate staffer, Wheeler worked on hundreds of bills and amendments.  These included the War Powers Act, and many proposals to reform DOD procurement and require more realistic weapons tests. 

Update’s co-hosts are business radio pioneer Scott Draughon and Washington commentator Andrew Kreig.  The hosts began the show with an overview of Washington policy news affecting the nation’s business, politics and quality of life.  Mac listeners need “Parallels” to enable a Windows Media Player.

About Winslow Wheeler

Winslow T. Wheeler worked on national security issues for 31 years for the U.S. Senate and General Accounting Office (GAO).  In the Senate, Wheeler worked for Jacob Javits, R-N.Y., Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kansas, David Pryor, D-Arkansas, and Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico.  He was the first, and according to Senate records the last, Senate staffer to work simultaneously on the personal staffs of a Republican and a Democrat (Sens. Pryor and Kassebaum). Among his books, Wheeler authored The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security, published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press. He is director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information and is a research fellow at the Independent Institute .

About Scott Draughon and My Technology Lawyer Radio Show

Richard Scott Draughon is host and producer of the My Technology Lawyer Radio Show, which is affiliated with MyTechnologyLawyer.com ─ an on-demand legal service.  Also, he is author of the 2007 book, “The Art of the Business Radio Show” and is an experienced litigator.  Details

About Andrew Kreig

Andrew Kreig, an attorney and author, is executive director of the Justice Integrity Project in Washington, DC. Earlier, he led the Wireless Communications Association International as CEO from 1996 to 2008 in its worldwide advocacy to establish the broadband wireless industry.  Details.

Siegelman Judge Asked To Recuse Now, With Kagan and Rove Opposing Oversight

April 13, 2010

Imprisoned businessman Richard Scrushy, a defendant in the most controversial federal prosecution of the decade, last week repeated his call for the presiding judge to remove himself ─ even as the disputes widened to include reported Supreme Court contender Elena Kagan, up to $50 billion in scandal-ridden Air Force contracts, and Karl Rove’s best-selling new memoir.

Scrushy, now serving a seven-year sentence for arranging $500,000 in donations to a non-profit at the request of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, requested last week that Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery rule on recusal requests filed last summer, or else withdraw.  

Scrushy and Siegelman have argued that the judge is disqualified after being enriched by $300 million in Bush-era contracts via the judge’s closely held company Doss Aviation for such services as refueling Air Force planes and training pilots.

“Quite simply, there is no valid reason for this Court’s failure to dispose of this motion in a timely fashion,” wrote Scrushy’s attorneys last week. 

The former HealthSouth CEO’s conviction is based on his donations to the Alabama Education Foundation in 1999 and 2000 at the request of then-governor Siegelman.  In June 2007, Fuller ordered seven-year terms for defendants.  The judge sent them immediately to prison in shackles with no appeal bond, with solitary confinement initially for Siegelman.

A Republican, Scrushy has argued that he was an innocent bystander caught up in a plan by the Bush Justice Department to eliminate the Democrat Siegelman from politics.  “I’m the first person in history,” Scrushy has said, “to be sent to prison for making a charitable donation.”

Both the Bush and Obama Justice Departments have maintained that neither Fuller nor they have done anything wrong.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller (Phil Fleming Photo)

$50 Billion In Air Force Contracts At Stake

Meanwhile, I reported last week that a factor prompting Siegelman’s prosecution was the aim of some Republicans to see up to $50 billion in awards for next-generation Air Force refueling tankers go to Europe’s multi-national consortium EADS and Northrop Grumman. 

The EADS-led plan would replace Boeing Corp., the previous tanker builder.  Years ago, EADS used competitive intelligence agents to show that Boeing had bribed an Air Force procurement officer.  My article noted that an EADS victory would enable an assembly plant in Alabama, as advocated by four European heads of state, major global financiers and some U.S. politicians.   

“The ring of truth in the article,” Siegelman wrote me last week after publication and follow-up, “is that Republicans wanted EADs, and I was close to Boeing because I had helped them expand their National Missile Defense Center in Huntsville and had them locate a manufacturing facility for the Delta IV and Delta II Rockets in Decatur, AL.” 

Siegelman was Alabama’s governor from 1999 to 2003, but lost reelection in 2002 when 6,000 of his votes mysteriously shifted from voting machines in Baldwin County after polls closed.  “Keep in mind,” Siegelman wrote last week, “the head of Alabama’s Business Council after my election was stolen was, and is, Bill Canary.”

Siegelman argues that Rove worked with Alabama prosecutors who included U.S. Attorney Leura Canary.  Her husband is Rove’s longtime friend and political ally Canary, whose work included managing the 2002 campaign of Siegelman’s Republican rival Bob Riley, Alabama’s current governor.  

Power Plays Against Obama’s Nominations

Both Leura and Bill Canary have issued statements denying wrongdoing.  To defer to Alabama’s two powerful Republican senators, the Obama administration has so far continued her in office after she served during the two Bush administrations as the president’s top prosecutor in Alabama’s middle district, covering the state capital region.   

In February, Sen. Richard Shelby threatened to issue a blanket Senate hold on all Obama federal appointments unless the Defense Department gives more consideration to EADS-Northrop Grumman’s bid.  Sen. Jeff Sessions also wields power as the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and thus the gatekeeper for any Obama judicial or Justice Department nominee.

Leura Canary’s office continues to make news as federal investigators this month warned state lawmakers that they risk prosecution if they illegally help Alabama’s nascent electronic bingo industry fought by Riley. 

This is part of a long-term battle making allies of anti-gambling crusaders and Mississippi casino operators, who seek to retain Alabama gambling business.  Senate testimony has revealed that Jack Abramoff arranged for $10 million in donations from Mississippi casino owners to fight Siegelman, who promised in his 1999 election campaign to create a lottery to obtain funding for better schools.  Siegelman signed a personal note to help found the Alabama Education Foundation to advocate for lotteries and the funding.  

Bush administration prosecutors used Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base as headquarters for a multi-year investigation of Siegelman to show that Scrushy’s donations to the foundation were in effect a bribe to Siegelman, who in 1999 reappointed Scrushy to a state board. 

A bipartisan group of 91 former state attorneys general from more than 40 states have since formed an unprecedented coalition filing  a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court and arguing it should hear Siegelman’s case because his actions did not constitute a crime.

But Kagan, now widely reported as a leading candidate to ascend from her post as Justice Department solicitor general to become her friend Obama’s nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy, urged the high court in November to deny Siegelman a hearing.

She cited technical legal arguments devised with the assistance of DOJ’s trial prosecutors.  Since the 2006 convictions DoJ has withstood complaints that include: political prosecution with Rovejudge-shopping, jury tampering, lying about the recusal of Alabama’s top prosecutor, firing a DoJ whistleblower, and suppressing evidence that DoJ tried to blackmail its central witness.

Kagan’s argument is certain to inflame Siegelman’s supporters around the country if she is nominated to the Supreme Court.  DOJ has requested that Fuller resentence Siegelman, now 64, to an additional 20 years in prison even though Siegelman supporters estimate they have sent DOJ, the White House and news media outlets tens of thousands of complaints in recent years.

Yet DOJ argues that Fuller should remain deciding the case because not one reasonable person in the United States would think his impartiality could be questioned, which it cites as the relevant legal standard for recusal.

Rove Renews Attacks

Concurring with DOJ’s view is former White House advisor Rove, now on book tour promoting his memoir Courage and Consequence that denies any improper role by him, others in the Bush White House, prosecutors or the judge. 

Also, Rove mocks whistleblowers and congressional Democrats alike who have become involved in the Siegelman/Scrushy case. 

One Rove target is California Congressman Adam Schiff, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief interrogator last July asking Rove about his role in DOJ prosecutions.  In Courage, Rove says Schiff “was clearly not prepared.” 

Schiff’s work can be examined here in the transcripts.  Schiff, via his communications director, declined to respond to Rove’s insult, which encompasses also the committee entrusting Schiff to lead its review.  

Rove wrote also in Courage that a Democratic committee staffer privately disparaged to him Republican whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson.  She is an Alabama lawyer from rural Rainsville who had stepped forward to provide the committee in 2007 with sworn testimony and documentation of the court record on military contracting.

She alleged a plan by her fellow Republicans as early as 2002 to frame Siegelman, and later steer the case to Fuller.  Her testimony said that Riley’s son Robert confided to her in 2005 even before Siegelman was indicted in his second trial that Fuller hated Siegelman and would “hang” him.  Robert Riley has issued a statement denying her claim, but has not been called to testify.

Simpson responds that the facts would become obvious if Congress for the first time summoned witnesses for a public hearing under oath, or if the Supreme Court would examine the court filings on Fuller’s conflicts.  Siegelman, released on bond in 2008 by federal appeals court Democrats promptly after CBS 60 Minutes alleged government misconduct, also seeks Supreme Court review and a first-ever congressional hearing. 

Simpson, as a behind-the-scenes unpaid whistleblower in 2007, helped Scrushy’s attorneys submit a filing to Fuller in April 2007 seeking judicial recusal because, unknown to defendants, the judge owned up to 44% of Doss when it received an Air Force contract for $178 million just before the start of trial.

Fuller refused to recuse himself.  DOJ endorsed the judge’s continuation and communicated ex parte with the judge to help him resolve the matter, in part by seal the allegations against him temporarily from public view.  Doss officials and Fuller have declined comment on the judge’s current Doss ownership, which reportedly dwindled to 32% several years ago. Nearly all other shareholders owned 6%.

In general, the Obama administration maintains that the nation should look ahead, not bog down in recriminations.

On Friday, Obama’s DOJ withdrew the nomination of Indiana law professor Dawn Johnsen, a critic of Bush torture and detention policies, to run DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.  That unit guides both the White House and DOJ on permissible uses of powers.  Progressive commentators argue that her appointment died because she was perceived as too independent to be trusted in review over Bush and Obama DOJ decision-making.

Last summer, Scrushy and Siegelman renewed their recusal and other appellate issues with filings that included a claim that the prosecution’s chief witness Nick Bailey was sexually blackmailed by interrogators at the Air Force base to shape his trial testimony. 

Fuller’s failure to rule on withdrawal thus prompted last week’s Scrushy filing, which said: “The recusal motion was based on three grounds: the fact that the Chief Judge is a material witness to the facts concerning an ex parte meeting in early April 2007, which is at issue in Defendant’s pending new trial motion; that the Chief Judge has personal knowledge of contested facts as a result of that meeting; and that the Chief Judge’s conduct raises grave questions as to his impartiality and the appearance of that impartiality.”

I’m Shocked, Shocked! To Find Politics In Defense Contracting

April 10, 2010
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)

President Obama announced last week at a White House press conference with his French counterpart that the United States will use fair procedures to award up to $50 billion for next generation Air Force refueling planes.  The Defense Department followed up by delaying for 60 days the bid deadline so that EADS can compete with Boeing Corp. in bidding advertised as free of politics.

But a review of the ruthless tactics used so far suggests that running a politics-free contracting competition is like running a Casablanca casino that has no gambling.

Political, financial and military leaders of at least four foreign powers have pressed for U.S. taxpayer dollars in the closing months of the nearly decade-long competition between Boeing and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS).  In addition to France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Germany’s Angela Merkel and the United Kingdom’s Gordon Brown have visibly pushed for a share of jobs from one of the largest U.S. military contracts in history.

Summarized below are a few of the political intrigues used to win the contract, whose value could be vastly higher than the estimated $35 billion to $50 billion because the winner gets vital momentum for similar deals with other nations.

To secure an EADS victory that would enable a large new assembly factory in Alabama, the state’s senior Republican Sen. Richard Shelby in February put a blanket Senate hold on 70 top-level Obama federal appointments, thereby disrupting the administration’s effort for more control over the federal bureaucracy before mid-term elections.  Shelby backed off after flexing his Senate muscle.

But this kind of political brinksmanship could enable EADS and its primarily Republican Senate backers to delay final Pentagon decision-making past next November’s mid-terms.  The election results could then provide EADS backers enough new clout to threaten Boeing.

On its face, the idea of unseating a U.S. contractor might seem just as far-fetched as last month’s disputed announcement that a state-owned Russian aviation consortium would try to bid.

But my work at the Justice Integrity Project has unearthed sources describing other mind-boggling tactics.  My exclusive report for Huffington Post this weekend, for example, describes how former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and former Air Force Assistant Secretary Darleen Druyun were imprisoned on corruption charges initiated by EADS supporters.

Siegelman, 64, clearly was framed, in my opinion.  His ostensible crime was denying Alabama his “honest services” by requesting in 1999 a donation to a pro-education non-profit, and then reappointing the donor to a volunteer state board.

But Siegelman’s real “crime” was election as a Democratic governor from 1999 to 2003 with good prospects for reelection unless targeted by the all-out criminal probes run by Republican-controlled entities. These included a remarkable level of involvement by the Air Force itself in hosting at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base the headquarters for a multi-year federal-state investigation targeting Siegelman.  That probe resulted in his 2005 indictment before his reelection campaign and conviction the following year.  Now free on bond after serving nearly a year of his seven-year term, he now faces Justice Department recommendations that he be imprisoned for 20 more years and that the Supreme Court deny his appeal, which is supported by an unprecedented coalition of 91 former state attorneys general saying Siegelman’s request for the education donations didn’t constitute a crime.

By contrast, I’ve seen no evidence that Druyun didn’t deserve her nine-month prison sentence for using her Air Force job to create favorable terms for Boeing tanker leases while lining up Boeing jobs for herself, her daughter and prospective son-in-law.

As a result of these prosecutions, the EADS path became easier for its long-shot bid to replace Boeing.  Former Congressman Bob Riley, Siegelman’s successor as Alabama’s governor, used his connections with European and fellow Republican leaders to plan the huge tanker parts assembly factory in Mobile, thereby providing the EADS deal with a vital Made-in-America image.

Similarly, GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona used competitive intelligence originally developed by political operatives loyal to EADS and the Bush/Rove White House to lead a multi-year Armed Services Committee investigation of the Druyun scandal.  The probe thoroughly embarrassed Boeing and the Air Force.  Boeing’s chairman resigned, and another top-level official was imprisoned.

More important, the Air Force reopened bidding, and awarded the tanker contract in early 2008 to EADS and its then-partner Northrop Grumman Corp.  This was just as McCain’s revived presidential campaign was eliminating his Republican competitors.

In March 2008, Washington investigative reporter and now Russia Today cable commentator Wayne Madsen reported that Europe’s Rothschild family was supporting McCain and the EADs deal, as were key allies of the Bush family.  That spring, the Associated Press documented how five EADS backers supported McCain, including his co-chairman and key financial supporter Tom Loeffler.  Federal contractors and foreign citizens are forbidden to contribute, but not their allies.

McCain’s earlier investigation of Boeing had received mostly positive reviews.  “It’s the best example of congressional oversight that we’ve seen in a decade,” Taxpayers for Common Sense Vice President Keith Ashdown told the Washington Independent.  “It was before the completely bone-headed decision to bring on all those EADS lobbyists.”

Last June, the Government Accounting Office overturned the EADS/Northrop Grumman award, saying that the Bush administration’s Defense Department had slanted criteria against Boeing.  Northrop Grumman dropped out of the bidding this year, saying the process was too expensive and its bid with EADS was unlikely to succeed under the Air Force’s new specifications under Obama.

That left Boeing’s rivals scrambling for credible partners and strategies, including a way to build the factory in Mobile.  EADS kept up its momentum via the direct talks between the French and U.S. presidents last week on world issues, including a fair process for tanker bidding.

“It’s in the interest of American taxpayers,” said Obama, “and it’s also in the interest of our young men and woman who rely on this equipment in order to protect this nation.”

Sarkozy responded that he trusts Obama.  “If you say to me that the request for proposals, the call for tenders, will be free, fair and transparent,” said the French president, “then we say EADS will bid and we trust you.”

Such benign words obscure the ongoing struggle for well-paid manufacturing jobs.  Boeing, of course, has its own stable of political advocates, who argue that tanker construction is overdue.  “It’s wrong to slow down this critical procurement process,” said Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, which has 3,000 Boeing employees.  “Our entire military relies on refueling tankers, which were built in the 1950s.”

Decision-makers downplay any pressures.  “We have been and continue to make decisions on this critical program based solely on the law of the land and the needs of our war-fighters,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell last week.  “Politics are not a part of this process –– never have been, never will be.”

Sounds great!  And is there any gambling in the casino?

Federal Political Prosecutions Probed At March 25 Forum By Amerian University In DC

March 25, 2010

Citizen action to reform abuses in political and other arbitrary prosecutions is the topic of an American University forum that I’ll join March 25, entitled: “Just Justice: Political Actions by the Department of Justice.”

The two-hour session beginning at 5:30 p.m. features victims and independent experts describing how the public is hurt by politically motivated prosecutions against public officials on the local, state and national levels.  The forum is located in Ward Hall 2.  It’s free and open to the public.

I’ll describe why the public needs to energize their media surrogates to provide more oversight on Justice Department (DOJ) decision-making because of failures of courts and Congress.  I’m summarizing government misconduct in DOJ prosecutions of Republican former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and Democratic former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman that I documented in Harvard University’s Nieman Watchdog:

Prof. Donald C. Shields, Ph.D.

Another speaker will be University of Missouri Professor Donald C. Shields, who undertook the pioneering research that indicated the Bush Justice Department prosecuted Democrats at a 7:1 ratio in official corruption investigations during its first seven years. 

He’ll provide an update on his more recent research covering the full eight years of the administration, including that regarding racial patterns. 

His research includes 2007 testimony (below) before the House Judiciary Committee illustrating problems revealed by hundreds of cases across the nation.  Their targets had scant understanding of the parallels to their cases elsewhere until his research and a documentary film released last year by Project Save Justice, which was researched by its Vice President Gail Sistrunk and noted filmmaker John McTiernan, whose credits include Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October.  A sample of the Shields research is:

Here’s some additional background from a press release.  We need more events like this around the country, and this is a good start!  Contact me if you have ideas for a similar program in your area, and can help make it happen. 

About Prof. Donald C. Shields

Donald C. Shields (Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1974) is Professor Emeritus, Department of Communication, University of Missouri—St. Louis. He currently serves as a Lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies, University of Missouri—Kansas City. His primary line of research has investigated symbolic convergence theory and communication.  He has authored or co-authored 10 books and more than 35 book chapters, and more than a dozen of his studies have been reprinted in other books and journals.  

About Andrew Kreig and Justice Integrity Project

Andrew Kreig is an attorney, author and commentator listed in Who’s Who in the World since the mid-1990s. As president of the Wireless Communications Association International for 12 years, he helped lead the advance of the broadband wireless industry worldwide.  He founded the Justice Integrity Project as a non-partisan organization to examine misconduct by federal prosecutors and judges and the consequences for the public.  Details.  # # #    

Jan. 28 Update Hosts ‘Three Felonies A Day’ Author Harvey Silverglate

January 27, 2010

On radio Jan. 28, I’m interviewing longtime Boston litigator and civil rights expert Harvey Silverglate to discuss his pioneering new book Three Felonies A Day on the DC Update edition of My Technology Lawyer Radio.

Listeners can access the show nationwide beginning at noon via the link at www.MyTechnologyLawyer.com/update, which also provides archives of previous shows I co-host with the show’s founder Scott Draughon.

The book’s subtitle is How the Feds Target the Innocent.  The theme is: The average professional in this country is unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes each day.

Why unaware? Modern federal criminal laws have exploded in number, and have become impossibly broad and vague. National Journal legal columnist Stuart Taylor, Jr. comments, “Abetted by compliant courts and easily gulled media, the feds brand as criminals good people who intended no crime.”

The book shows how the federal executive branch is able to exercise a disturbing form of social control via selective prosecution. The book is winning praise from experts across the political spectrum, and deserves the attention of anyone worried that loss of constitutional rights affects politics and business. 

The show’s founder, business radio pioneer Scott Draughon, will begin the show with an overview of Washington policy news affecting business, politics and quality of life.  Scott’s asked me to join him in an additional a special hour-long discussion at 4 p.m. Jan. 28 because of major recent developments in Washington and around the nation.

Our very accomplished noon guest Harvey Silverglate summarized his book’s themes in testimony last September before a House subcommittee.  

“This book is written from the perspective of a trial lawyer who has seen these statutes wreak havoc with the law and with people’s lives, and threaten the balance between governmental authority and civil society,” he testified.  “The book contains some legal analysis, but primarily it is meant as a description of how vague statutes function, in practice, as a tool of terror and true prosecutorial harassment in the lives of ordinary as well as extraordinary people.” 

Silverglate continued:

I was readily able, from my own litigation experience as well as from research done on other cases, to pinpoint myriad inappropriate prosecutions of many an unwary innocent citizen in the medical  community, the medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, investment houses, bankers, lawyers, accountants and auditors, academics, artists, newspaper reporters, merchants, as well as public officials.  

The time has come, it seems to me, to reduce or eliminate – rather than to enlarge – the number of these affronts to liberty and fair treatment of our citizens.

I hope you can join us for an especially important program.  Your calls or email questions are welcome, of course.  Call-in with questions at 866-685-7469, or send emails to radio@MyTechnologyLawyer.com.  

Three Felonies A Day author Harvey Silverglate is counsel to Boston’s Zalkind, Rodriguez, Lunt & Duncan LLP. He is founder and co-chairman of the Foundation for Individual Rights Education, a columnist for the Boston Phoenix and a Cato Institute fellow.  His congressional testify last fall is available here.  In 1999, he co-authored The Shadow University. For details, visit here. Three Felonies a Day is available via Amazon.com here.

Listener advisory: Mac Listeners need the tool “Parallels” to access the Windows Media Player.

Trumka Warms Lawmakers On Economic Agenda

January 13, 2010

                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Washington, DC –The AFL-CIO ‘s new President Richard Trumka urged government officials Jan. 11 to put far greater priority in coming weeks on improving the nation’s economy in such areas as jobs, worker rights and health care.

“This is a moment that cries out for political courage ─ but it is not much in evidence,” he said at a National Press Club luncheon that I covered for the club’s publications, with details at www.press.org.

Trumka led the United Mine Workers of America from 1982 to 1995 before becoming AFL-CIO’s secretary treasurer in 1995.  He succeeded longtime AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in September as the top executive of the country’s largest labor organization. 

Trumka summarized his travels since Jan. 1 to talk to “working Americans” about their concerns.

“Everywhere I went,” Trumka said, “people asked me, ‘Why do so many of the people we elect seem to care only about Wall Street?  Why is helping banks a matter of urgency, but unemployment is something we just have to live with?’”

“I came away shaken by the sense that the very things that make America great are in danger,” he continued.  “What makes us unique among nations is this:  In America, working people are the middle class.…But a generation of destructive, greed-driven economic policies has eroded that progress and now threatens our very identity as a nation.”

The union has announced a five-point program to create more than 4 million jobs with what he called “a crucial alliance of the middle class and the poor” to achieve legislative victories. 

But he singled out health care as an issue that “drives a wedge between the middle class and the poor” by Senate proposals to pay for expanded insurance by taxing employee health care plans.  “Most of the 31 million insured employees who would be hit by the excise tax are not union members,” he said. 

“The tax on benefits in the Senate bill pits working Americans who need health care for their families against working Americans struggling to keep health care for their families,” he said.  “This is a policy designed to benefit elites – in this case, insurers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and irresponsible employers– at the expense of the broader public.”

In a veiled threat that he didn’t amplify, he said the labor movement is fighting “to win health care reform that is worthy of the support of working men and women.”

Aiming part of his remarks at Democratic lawmakers, Trumka warned against a repeat in 2010 of the disappointment his members felt in 1994 against Democratic incumbents when their party was routed at the polls.

“Politicians who think that working people have it too good – too much health care, too much Social Security and Medicare, too much power on the job – are inviting a repeat of 1994,” he said.

During Q&A, he declined to discuss specifics about his meeting with President Obama later in the afternoon except to say, “We’ll be talking about health care.”  He did say that the discussion would be “among friends.” 

In response to a related question, Trumka said, “We’re not going to accept a bad bill.” Obama and other Democratic leaders hope to eke out a slender victory on their health care insurance legislation in the face of almost united Republican opposition and increasing criticism from Democrats, including progressives and union members.

Trumka’s prepared speech was nearly seven-pages long single-spaced. Club President Donna Leinwand asked him to cut it short at about 1:35 p.m. to stay on the Club’s usual timetable enabling audience questions and a luncheon end by 2 p.m.

Trumka declined, saying, “Working people have been waiting 30 years for this.” 

The last sentences of his prepared speech were a warning to political leaders to choose between working for the general public or “the profits of insurance companies, speculators and outsourcers.”

“There is no middle ground,” Trumka concluded.  “Working America is waiting for an answer.  We are in a ‘show me’ kind of mood, and time is running out.”