Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fiddling while Iraq Burns

While American politicians argue over John Kerry's verbal blunder with equal stupidity, American and British leaders finger point and blame each other for the cataclysm that is Iraq. Bahgdad is under siege and country is disintegrating. Twenty-seven people were killed and 40 kidnapped today. Yesterday, the Iraqi Prime Minister ordered US troops searching for a kidnapped soldier to abandon their Sadr City checkpoints and they obeyed.

We don't know who looks worse on the Kerry story....the right wing, Kerry, some dem candidates, or the media who seem to worry the story like an itchy wound.

It's fiddling on a grand scale, placing political spin on silliness (although you've got to admire Olbermann's "Bush is too stupid to know he's being called stupid") while the worst US foreign policy catastrophe in history ignites and unites the Middle East against the West.

As politicians ignore this sticky abyss in favor of Kerry's verbal stumble, it occurs to us that on November 7 Americans will get the government they deserve no matter who wins the election and that the emerging winner will be a perfect complement to the media we already have.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Daily Kos: Reporting on the Polls.....

Daily Kos printed some interesting poll results today. Good reason to be optimistic; a few places for concern. I'm listening to the always harpyish Mary Matalin on MSNBC right now; she's projecting the Dems will lose seats in the Senate and the Republicans will keep the House. The most surprising thing she's said so far? Tim Russert just showed her a bumber sticker which identifies hand-picked GOP candidate Michael Steele as a "democrat." Mary Matalin says that's ok to do. Blech.

I guess they need every trick in the book: Rasmussen says: Steele (R) 43% Cardin (D) 50%.

Here are a couple of other races of note.

MONTANA (Senate)

Mason-Dixon for McClatchy/MSNBC (PDF). 10/17-19. Likely voters. MoE 4% (9/26-28 results)

Burns (R) 43 (40)
Tester (D) 46 (47)

I'm sort of surprised at this one given Sen. Burns' affection for the taste of his own foot. Tester is an attractive candidate. I've met him and his wife Sharla and have spent a good deal of time talking to them. They are genuine, warm, and accessible people. Tester is an extremely bright guy and a quick study. He'll make a great senator.

OHIO (Governor, open; Senate)

Mason-Dixon for McClatchy/MSNBC (PDF). 10/18-20. Likely voters. MoE 4% (9/25-27 results)


Blackwell (R) 29 (36)
Strickland (D) 48 (53)

What's not to like about this one? It's got the same sort of revenge-is-sweet cache as this Survey USA poll which has Democratic Senator Bill Nelson ahead of Republican Katherine Harris 55% to 37%.

TENNESSEE (Senate, open)

Mason-Dixon for McClatchy/MSNBC (PDF). 10/18-20. Likely voters. MoE 4% (9/25-27 results)

Corker (R) 45 (42)
Ford (D) 43 (43)

Here's a race where a de-motivated base could make a big difference. I'm also interested in any poll movement due to the recent and racist RNC ad. I lived in Tennessee for several years and have faith that Tennesseans have moved beyond this kind of attack.


Mason-Dixon for McClatchy/MSNBC (PDF). 10/17-19. Likely voters. MoE 4% (9/25-27 results)

Allen (R) 47 (43)
Webb (D) 43 (43)

What a difference a maccaca makes. Who knew that running around spouting racial slurs could come back to haunt you? I can't wait for this one.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

US Generals Hauled Home from Iraq

The Bush Administration called the US top generals back for an emergency meeting to discuss new strategy with the president as poll numbers show the public support for the White House’s conduct of the war and foreign policy is plummeting.

The meeting occurs as US generals admit that we are losing the battle for Baghdad, while the old guard GOP elite, headed by Bush 41 cronies, are bringing their revolt from the White House to the media, and the 78th US soldier dies in Iraq this month. We do not have a confirmed number of Iraqi civilian deaths in October.
Meanwhile, President Bush told the country this morning that the war has been “rough for our troops” and that the Pentagon reassesses the situation “everyday,” but urged the public to support “staying the course,” whatever that might be. The weekly radio address comes in the face of military admissions that al-Sadr’s Shiite militia took control of the southern Iraqi city of Amarah on Friday, requiring the Iraqi government to negotiate a truce.

Friday, September 15, 2006


On September 7, CNN Headline News Host Nancy Grace conducted a telephone interview with Melinda Duckett, a 21-year-old mother of a missing toddler. The mother herself was under suspicion in the disappearance of the child. As the young interviewee refused to give answers to Grace's pointed questions, claiming authorities had asked
her not to, Grace turned belligerent, pounding her desk and repeatedly barking "Where were you? Why aren't you telling us where you were that day? Have you taken a polygraph?" Watching it guarantees a cringe at best and outrage at worse.

One day later after the interview, Duckett shot and killed herself at her grandparents' house. A young woman is dead and all information available to the police regarding her son's disappearance died with her.

Grace has been under a barrage of criticism for the interview, some commentators have claimed Grace pushed Duckett over the edge, some chide her for prosecutorial tactics unfitting in a TV interview. For her part, Grace is unrepentant in the face of such allegations, telling ABC News: "If anything, I would suggest that guilt made her commit suicide." In fact, Grace has fallen over herself in attempts to demonize Ms. Duckett in attempt at exoneration from any charges Grace actually caused the suicide. Her point appears to be it's okay to treat a person as if you were about to water board her as long as you believe she's guilty of a crime.

Unfortunately, that's not the point.

This type of craven and bombastic behavior isn't an aberration for Grace in particular or pundits in general. It is Grace's trademark. And Headline News' decision to spurt Grace onto its daily primetime slot is a just-as-craven attempt to compete with Fox News.

Some may say that's replacing what passes for "news" with what passes for "entertainment" given Grace's regular punditry on infamous trials, but Grace's assignment is an appeal to sensational/right wingery content promoted so successfully by Fox. Like the idea of getting rid, for those tried in the media, of pesky constitutional protections such as fair trials and impartial juries. And, to make matters worse, Grace's somewhat prurient subject matter disguises the rightward drift. You may not see a direct connection, but read on below the fold, it's there.

Grace's Background

If you've been hiding in a cave for the past few years or are simply more discriminating than the rest of the viewing public, you may not know that Grace is a former Georgia prosecutor, victim's rights advocate, frequent CNN "legal expert," and professional victim in her own right. Grace's claim to fame is that her fiancé was murdered shortly before her wedding. This tragedy led to law school and a ten-year stint as a Georgia prosecutor.

This is not an entirely graceful rise to fame as Grace has been cited by the Georgia Supreme Court for prosecutorial misconduct amounting to harmful, reversible error, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an article about the reversal of one of Grace's many successful prosecutions.

The court also strongly rebuked then-prosecutor Nancy Grace -- now host of Court TV's "Closing Arguments" -- of engaging in "inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal conduct in the course of the trial."

This included, Carr's appeal said, an illegal search of Carr's home to allow one of Grace's expert witnesses to view the crime scene and allowing, before the trial, a CNN television crew to enter Carr's home while filming a feature on her.

Successful charges of prosecutorial misconduct are not, unfortunately, that unusual, but Grace is known for a certain zeal for her work.

Grace has parlayed her experience, her victimhood, and a helmet of blond hair into a pundit career spent blathering right wing law and order talking points on Larry King as both a guest and substitute host. Her targets are not necessarily sympathetic characters -- Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson, Robert Blake, and, typically, any other suspect in the latest disappearance of an attractive white woman.

As a pundit, she has never met a potential defendant she didn't at all costs attempt to turn into an actual one and is known for a glint in her eyes as she advocates the death penalty for whichever transgressor crosses her pundit path.

But remember the case of Elizabeth Smart? She was a Utah pre-teen who went missing for nine months. A handyman named Richard Ricci was arrested (not charged) and held for two months for parole violations due to suspicion that he was involved in Smart's disappearance. Nancy Grace lead the charge to have him arrested and indicted for Smart's disappearance, calling for Ricci's arrest and indictment on CNN, Headline News, and Court TV. Ricci's wife provided Ricci with an alibi.

Shortly before the indictment Grace clamored for, Ricci, jailed and still protesting his innocence, suffered a brain hemorrhage and died. When confronted with the facts of the case and reminded of her call for his jailing and indictment, Grace maintained her position that Ricci was guilty. He had a record, his alibi wasn't too convincing, he had worked for the Smarts, his car had mud on it; he must have been Smart's kidnapper and/or murderer. Not satisfied with Larry King's stage from which to try and convict Ricci, she continued these proclamations on several different shows after Ricci's death. The recovery of Elizabeth Smart from people not connected with Ricci brought no apology to Ricci's widow from Grace.

Had Ricci lived, it is more than merely possible that he would have been put on trial. His chances, given the media onslaught and pundit hysteria, of finding a fair and impartial jury were dim. It's feasible he would have been convicted of at least kidnapping on purely circumstantial evidence. He didn't live, though, and many consider his incarceration and death an example of the media forgetting fairness and true objectivity.

For those who physically survive the accusatory onslaught, such as Peterson, Jackson, Blake and lesser known defendants, national "try and convict" media coverage does little to guarantee a fair trial and impartial jury pool. Does this matter to King or CNN? No. Ratings are ratings and Nancy Grace sells. Now CNN brings Grace to its revamped Headline News coverage.

Now, keep in mind, Nancy Grace is absolutely beloved by viewers. When guesting or hosting on Larry King Live, caller after caller dials to weigh in on one murder case or another and typically begins their comments with "I love you Nancy." Her "convict on circumstance" mode of argument sells very well with murder d'jour Americans, those viewers who felt some odd (and somewhat bizarre) fixation with Laci Peterson or some ownership interest in Elizabeth Smart's disappearance.

It doesn't matter that the Grace is frequently wrong on the law or that she serves as a media leaking point for prosecutors. It doesn't matter that other members of whatever panel she is on frequently take her to task for misstatements of law and fact. She is beloved by viewers for her rabidly anti-defense lawyer stance, her hardcore, right wing law and order views. Her message is this: innuendo of guilt is guilt.

How does Grace describe her new Headline News show?

Grace described the 8 p.m. show as "no-script, no-made-for-TV drama, it's the real thing" and "real people with real stories," adding, "We don't believe in talking heads, legal mumbo-jumbo or sugar-coating what goes down in America's courtrooms."

What are the bets that "sugar-coating what goes down in America's courtrooms" isn't an attack on the disproportionate criminal conviction rate of black males in America?

In the law, we have a saying: When you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. When you have the law on your side, pound the law. When you have neither the facts or the law, pound the table. Grace's regular and frequent pounding resounds with viewers and is coming, with more frequency, to a television near you. As the Reading Post put it, Grace's style of punditry is

another demonstration of the deleterious effect on the national consciousness, when news programs serve a secondary function as purely "entertainment television." With all those cable programs that have many, many, empty hours to fill, ceaseless speculation about crimes . . . and sensationalism, is the catalyst for good ratings.

That should scare people who think a fair trial and an untainted jury pool are desirable options on the constitutional SUV. As an attorney on the defense side of the fence (if I practiced criminal law, I'd be a defense attorney), I watch Grace's commentary exactly because she makes me cringe, makes me throw things, makes me send emails to Larry King calling shame where I see it. I do this because she makes me see what happens when a major news outlet like CNN gives life and breath to a person who thinks constitutional protections are a scam perpetrated by cheating husbands, child abusers, and defense lawyers.

In and of herself, Nancy Grace doesn't matter. The war in Iraq and the needless deaths of Iraqis and Americans immediately matters more. But what does matter is that Grace appeals to the worse instincts in the viewing public. What matters is that viewers, on seeing Nancy fight for justice for "Laci and Connor," don't make the connection that it is their constitution the woman is trashing, their right to a fair trial she's denigrating, their impartial jury pool being tainted with made up facts and leaks from the prosecution. CNN understands that; Larry King has said as much about Grace when she gets out of hand on his show. However, Grace's new job is a sign that CNN is Foxifying itself with coverage that is both right wing and sensational. It's a further move to the right and a very public erosion of the basic fairness we should be according criminal defendants.

In a day when the pundit class is made up of former lawyers and government officials, networks would do well to remind themselves that appealing to base viewer appetites may garner ratings but dumbs down coverage and content. As we move into our slot in the trailer park outside the city of the international community, Nancy Grace is yet another talking head happily tossing cognitive thinking and critical analysis in the septic tank. CNN ought to know better and ought to fire her but, apparently, doesn't care.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


So much to say, so little to work with. Ann Coulter has become unidimensional, yet the dynamic between Coulter, the public, the parties she serves and disserves is fun to dissect. You can see that dissection at its best at BAGnewsNotes, one of my favorite blogs and a great place to discuss what images mean in our daily life and culture.

My take is that, mental health issues aside, she certainly fulfills a role in speaking the unspoken for her party. "9/11 widows are greedy harping gasbags" is not as valuable as a swipe at the widows as it is a way of planting the germ of an idea in the public psyche. No one goes as far as Coulter, but suddenly the thought is out there and the idea that the 9/11 widows have a personal interest in their own status gains currency. The outrageous begets the nominal idea which, in turn, starts to fester in the public discourse. This is all a not-so-fancy way of saying if the right (and maybe the left) didn't have her, they'd have to invent her. In fact, they have other figures similar to her: Robertson, Falwell come to mind. My point is better put forth in fuller discussions of the Overton Window at Daily Kos.

As to her psychological make-up, perhaps she'll eventually crash and burn and may be on the descent as we speak (see her attempt to vote outside her home district). If she goes to jail, or slaps some one, or melts down spectacularly, the right will turn its collective back and say they never really owned her anyway.

Is it better not to engage her? Or is she a recruitment tool for the Democratic Party? At this point, I think she's more helpful to the right than the left and I predict she will spend a great deal of time on immigration in the run up to the 2006 midterm elections.

However, Coulter's main thesis in her most recent attack is that victims who take political stances are unapproachable in debate. It's possible people will change the way they look at victims who take public political stances, but it's a double-edged sword for the right-leaning Nancy Grace crowd. And here's something else to consider. When Coulter says the left presents more victim spokespeople, she may be right. But what's the hidden message in that observation? The left can produce more real people who are harmed by Bush Administration policies: Cindy Sheehan, this vocal group of 9/11 widows, Valerie Plame, residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, every child left behind, the American middle class (to name a few). It's just not as easy to identify with possible victim spokespeople on the right: those hurt by the Estate Tax, Ken Lay, Karl Rove (Blogatha can dream).

We'll see where the criticism goes, but, as a side note, I must say I detest the "Coulter is a man in drag" stuff. It's an insult to both sexes and manages to smear gay men as well. A woman can be abrasive and obnoxious without being a man. Behavior on the order of Coulter's is not "mannish," it's simply abrasive and obnoxious. The derision implied in referring to her as a gay man is unsettling on so many levels. There is great value to ignoring her, but if people can't do that, I don't see the value of dumbing down the criticism.

That being said, we'll see where la Coulter directs her vitriol as November approaches.

Monday, June 05, 2006


...that something that I accept has a statement of fact (that all people deserve equal treatment) is so alien to so many.

Maybe I'm lazy. I just don't give a shit what other people do. You want to kiss a man? Have at it. I like 'em, too. Same sex marriage? I just don't care except when they say you can't.

One very interesting aspect of this is legacy. You know Bush is thinking about it and at this point he's going down as 1) the worst president ever who 2) attempted to write more discrimination into our constitution.

Now, this wouldn't be such a big deal, perhaps, if Bush weren't constrained with painting that legacy to a singular audience comprised of 14% of the American voting population. That's what I find amazing. Here is a man who has abandoned and sullied his place in history for the short-term gain of retaining republican dominion over our government. Granted, that's probably the only sure way he finishes out his second term.....

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tenants Bite Huge SF Landlord Back

From Daily Kos

Picture this: You've lived in a rent-controlled apartment for many years. Your apartment is one of several in your building. None of the units are in very good shape, but the rents are low and kept that way by the city rent control ordinance.

Maybe you haven't moved to a better apartment because you're poor, because you have a sick parent, or because you're disabled. Maybe you're an undocumented immigrant or couldn't pass a credit check for a new unit. Maybe you're simply happy in your apartment. It's been your home for a long time.

Jenna is a tenant similar to those I've just described. She's poor. She's the sole caregiver for her elderly, disabled mother. Half of her time is spent finding services for her mom; the rest of her time caring for her. She and her 72 year old mom are good tenants.

One day last year, she heard pounding on her front door and the words, "Welfare, checking on Lily!" Startled, she opened the door to find two large men, dressed in black, SWAT Team-like jumpsuits with handguns holstered at their hips. She began shaking. She let them in.

Xavier and his wife are Latinos who have lived in this country for many years, most of them in the same run-down Mission District apartment. They received a visit from men dressed in suits with badges shortly after CitiApartments bought the building in which their apartment is located. The men muscled their way into Xavier's apartment asking for passports.

The men weren't from the state. They weren't from welfare. They weren't from the INS. They were thugs hired by their landlord, CitiApartments, San Francisco's second largest property owner which controls thousands of apartments in this city. And these tenants weren't experiencing anything novel or new - scores of other CitiApartment tenants have had the same or similar experiences.

Twenty three tenants from seven different CitiApartment buildings filed an unprecedented lawsuit against their landlord this week alleging their landlord is using strong arm tactics to get rid of tenants who pay low rent. They and their attorneys hope this lawsuit will put an end to a pattern and practice of terrorizing tenants out of their buildings in order to maximize rental profits. As reported in Beyond Chron, the lawsuit alleges a host of other behaviors as well:

*Sending large men wearing military fatigues and carrying concealed weapons barging into units and videotaping tenants
* Verbally harassing, threatening and abusing tenants
* Interrogation sessions that often involve an attempt to coerce tenants into signing an agreement to vacate their unit
* Illegal construction, often designed to cause tenants discomfort
* Changing locks and not providing tenants with new keys
* Interfering with caregivers who provide assistance to senior and disabled tenants
Alan Kaufman, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he witnessed many of these tactics first-hand after Skyline [CitiApartments] purchased his building.
"The whole place changed after they took over," said Kaufman, who lives at xxx Bush Street. "We had no problems at all, then suddenly we had these thugs - big guys in suits - lumbering around our halls, intimidating people. One of them showed up to my neighbors place in a combat outfit with a gun."
The effect of these tactics, said Kaufman, was immediate.
"People left the building in droves," he said.

CitiApartment's behavior has come to the City Board of Supervisor's attention as well:

Aaron Peskin, president of the Board of Supervisors, has called for a hearing into similar allegations by tenants in buildings managed by CitiApartments. Peskin said he receives numerous complaints from tenants of CitiApartments' buildings every week.

San Francisco Chronicle

Why They Want To Get Rids of Their Tenants

Here's a little background: San Francisco's Rent Ordinance controls rent increases and protects tenants from bad faith eviction. If a landlord buys a building occupied by tenants who are paying less rent than the landlord wants, he can only evict them for one of the "just cause" evictions listed in the Rent Ordinance. Not because their rent is low.

If a landlord is caught acting in bad faith, the Rent Ordinance mandates treble damages against the landlord. However, some landlords, like CitiApartments, take the risk that vulnerable and frightened tenants won't know their rights and will not defend themselves against unjust evictions.

What They're Doing to Chase Out Tenants

CitiApartments and it's alter-identity corporations own over 300 multi-unit properties in San Francisco and operates under as many as 50 corporate names. Their employees include "enforcers" - large men who claim to be current or former law enforcement officers -- and staff lawyers who spend a great deal of their time pursuing evictions against CitiApartment tenants.

CitiApartments, also known as Skyline Realty, Prime Properties, Bay Citi Properties, Trophy Properties, among other names, typically buys a multi-unit apartment building and immediately "scopes" out the tenants. Some tenants report that CitiApartments strong arm their way into the unit with video cameras under the pretext of attending to a minor repairs. Some tenants report that someone has been in their apartment while they were at work. Some tenants report seeing CitiApartment agents opening the common mailbox attached to the wall in the entry way. Many tenants report CitiApartment agents showing up in fatigues, or SWAT Team like uniforms, or dressed like FBI agents wearing badges and name cards; sometimes these enforcers carry guns. They pound on the tenants' door and claim to be police or Homeland Security, or some other government agency. Passports are demanded, mail is mysteriously rifled through, unauthorized videos and photographs are taken. They claim tenants who have lived in the unit for years are there illegally and threaten eviction.

After scaring the hell out of the tenant, they ask for personal information about the people living in the unit and about their neighbors. The say they are watching the building, watching their neighbors, watching them. And they are.

Within a couple of weeks, the tenant is asked to come to CitiApartments for an interview with their landlords. Once there, they're placed in a room with one of the landlord's enforcers. The tenant is not allowed to have anyone there for support or translation. The enforcers suggests that they could get in trouble with immigration or the police or the federal government for this or that infraction, or that a caregiver is illegally living there and subjecting them to eviction for an illegal roommate, or that they've discovered that someone not originally on the lease is now living in the unit. They mysteriously have information about the tenant's personal life: divorces, marriages, former lawsuits, or that they receive benefits of some sort. They paint a threatening picture of legal action. They tell the tenant that this can all be avoided if they move. They'll even give some relocation costs and some time. The tenant is frightened and under duress signs an agreement which purports to waive any rights they have under the Rent Ordinance. If they don't agree to move, the harassment, the illegal entries into the unit, the telephone calls, the illegal attempts to evict continue.

These actions are alleged in the lawsuit as reported today by The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, and Beyond Chron (Although why Beyond Chron is showing an accompanying photo of the Federal Court in SF is Beyond Me.)

The lawsuit claims Citi Apartments sent a company official and often "large men" -- sometimes in military fatigues and carrying concealed weapons -- to apartments to harass, yell and videotape tenants who lived in rent-controlled units. The men said they were security guards, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, in some instances, the men told tenants they were in violation of their rental agreements and then threatened eviction unless the tenants attended a "meeting" arranged by Citi Apartments at their office. At those meetings, tenants claim Citi Apartment officials interrogated them in a manner similar to police TV shows and often recorded the sessions. They demanded personal information such as immigration status or tried to coerce them to sign agreements to leave their apartments.

In other cases, Citi Apartments interfered with caregivers that provide assistance to seniors and the disabled, changed locks on buildings, negatively altered the lease terms without providing a reduction in rent, and held tenants' rent for several months and accused them of not paying rent, according to the lawsuit.

The San Francisco Examiner

Of course, CitiApartments denies these accusations:

Citi Apartment officials denied any wrongdoing.

"We engage in absolutely no illegal tactics [to encourage people to move out] whatsoever," said Jonathan Siegel, attorney for Citi Apartments.

The San Francisco Examiner

Why does CitiApartments want to rid themselves of these tenants? The answer is simple mathematics.

Say a tenant is paying $800 per month for a two bedroom unit they've occupied under rent control for many years. If the landlord can get rid of the tenant and fix the unit up, they can rent the vacant unit for, perhaps, $1800 (although that's low for a SF two-bedroom these days). That means the landlord makes $1000 more per month, $12,000 more per year, $60,000 more in five years (not counting rent increases) if that rent controlled tenant is muscled out of the building.

Now take those figures and multiply them by the number of apartments owned and controlled by San Francisco's second largest landlord (We're talking over 300 multi-unit buildings).

That's right, ridding yourself of a long-term, rent controlled tenants has multi-million dollar possibilities.

Full Disclosure: I am one of the five attorneys in this lawsuit and one of many other tenant activists San Francisco who are and have sued CitiApartments. This lawsuit has a goal: Stop these practices once and for all. Keep San Francisco's most vulnerable tenants safe.

What San Franciscans Can Do

If you live in San Francisco and want to show Supervisor Peskin that you support a Board of Supervisor's inquiry into these practices, here are his staff email and office phone.

Let them know you support stopping jack booting tenants out of their unit. Tenants and activists will be picketing CitiApartments/Skyline Realty Headquarters at Church and Market tomorrow at noon.

I have been practicing tenant law in this City for 10 years. I can't tell you the number of calls I've gotten from CitiApartment tenants frightened and desperate to stop this constant harassment. To a one, these tenants have been either disabled, elderly, poor or all these things. I've never written about housing struggles in our city, but I plan to post more diaries about what it means to be a vulnerable tenant in one of this country's most expensive cities. I want the City of San Francisco to join in our fight and hope you do, too. If you live in San Francisco, contact Supervisor Peskin today.

Update: I changed some tenant names to perserve some semblance of anonymity and edited out a home address. I know it's in the links, but I have a thing about posting personal info.