blackwater dodges lawsuit

The suit wasn’t tossed due to its merits or lack thereof. Looks to me like Blackwater gamed the system until the families couldn’t afford to play anymore.

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supreme court shenanigans

Last week, Common Cause challenged Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas’s impartiality in the Citizens United case:

Since that decision, information has come to light that raises serious questions about the impartiality of Justices Thomas and Scalia in the Citizens United case.  It appears both justices have participated in political strategy sessions, perhaps while the case was pending, with corporate leaders whose political aims were advanced by the decision.  With respect to Justice Thomas, there may also be an undisclosed financial conflict of interest due to his wife’s role as CEO of Liberty Central, a 501(c)(4) organization that stood to benefit from the decision and played an active role in the 2010 elections.

Until these questions are resolved, public debate over allegations of bias and conflicts of interest will serve to undermine the legitimacy of the Citizens United decision and erode public confidence in the integrity of our nation’s highest court. As Attorney General, you are ideally situated to address this matter, both in the interest of justice and in the interest of your client, the Federal Election Commission.  The Commission was the losing party in  Citizens United, but may now have legitimate grounds to seek reconsideration.

Therefore, Common Cause hereby formally requests that the Justice Department promptly investigate whether Justices Thomas and Scalia should have recused themselves from the Citizens United case under 28 U.S.C. § 455. If the Department finds sufficient grounds for disqualification of either Justice, we request that the Solicitor General file a Rule 60(b) motion with the full Supreme Court seeking to vacate the judgment.

Then on Friday, they came out with this:

Between 2003 and 2007, Virginia Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, earned $686,589 from the Heritage Foundation, according to a Common Cause review of the foundation’s IRS records. Thomas failed to note the income in his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms for those years, instead checking a box labeled “none” where “spousal noninvestment income” would be disclosed.

A Supreme Court spokesperson could not be reached for comment late Friday. But Virginia Thomas’ employment by the Heritage Foundation was well known at the time.

Virginia Thomas also has been active in the group Liberty Central, an organization she founded to restore the “founding principles” of limited government and individual liberty.

In his 2009 disclosure, Justice Thomas also reported spousal income as “none.” Common Cause contends that Liberty Central paid Virginia Thomas an unknown salary that year.

Some will tell you that the court has always been politicized- it represents the interests of the ruling classes. This is true in a broad sense, but in the narrow sense of mainstream American politics, the politicization of the court is usually considered to begin with Robert Bork’s nomination in 1987. It was Bush vs Gore where the court really stepped in it, though. Before that, they could be seen as being unfairly politicized by the Senate and others. But after 2000, there’s no question that the court has made itself a fair target for political attacks.

Ben Smith argues that Common Cause’s complaint against Scalia and Thomas won’t stand:

But Eugene Meyer, the president of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society, told me today that Scalia spoke to the Palm Springs conference in January of 2007. Citizens United was only filed on December 17 of that year. Thomas spoke to the conference in January 2008, after the case had been filed in federal district court, but months before the Supreme Court took the case in August.

“The idea that he would even have heard of the suit at that stage is slim,” Meyer said, adding that Scalia’s 2007 speech was on the subject of foreign law and Thomas had talked about his memoir.

If Smith’s timeline is correct, then there probably isn’t a technical case for an ethics violation. But if the goal is not to bring effective sanctions against the justices, but instead to demonstrate their coziness with a particular political faction, then the technicalities don’t matter. If the goal is to delegitimize the court or one of its factions, there’s a decent chance of success.

Of course, if their goal is to sway public opinion instead of achieve a technical victory, then why did they release the tax info on Thomas on a Friday afternoon? Common cause has been around too long to make a n00b mistake like that. Maybe it’s just positioning for further action?

I’m finding that my knowledge of Supreme Court history is lacking. How politicized was the court during the Warren era, when it helped along some massive changes in American society? How frequently do justices associate themselves with specific political movements? How often has anyone asked a Supreme Court decision to be set aside due to conflict of interest? All useful questions I might look into if I’m not distracted by a hundred other things first.

Oh, and I just found this:

Under pressure from liberal critics, Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court acknowledged in filings released on Monday that he erred by not disclosing his wife’s past employment as required by federal law.

Justice Thomas said that in his annual financial disclosure statements over the last six years, the employment of his wife, Virginia Thomas, was “inadvertently omitted due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions.”

I guess one more question is how often Supreme Court spouses are involved in overtly political organizations, either on a volunteer basis or especially for pay?

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mercenaries and spies

It looks like Erik Prince is too toxic even for the Somali “government”, who need any help they can get:

Although to be fair, it’s more likely that this Saracen International bunch became a lot less useful to the official government when they signed up to train anti-piracy militias in Puntland. Not that the government is against anti-piracy measures, but building up Puntland as an independent actor is another thing entirely.

It seems like a lot of policy is shifting towards recognizing a quiet partition of Somalia, where the autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland are recognized as having their shit together and treated as de facto mini-states, while the lawless regions of the country remain as screwed as ever. It probably violates the arms embargo, but that sort of thing can be fixed. And that means the Somali government isn’t the only game in town anymore. If it has to compete for international backing, it doesn’t have much of a track record to compete on.

Meanwhile, in other news of private guns:

Over the past two years, he has fielded operatives in the mountains of Pakistan and the desert badlands of Afghanistan. Since the United States military cut off his funding in May, he has relied on like-minded private donors to pay his agents to continue gathering information about militant fighters, Taliban leaders and the secrets of Kabul’s ruling class.

Hatching schemes that are something of a cross between a Graham Greene novel and Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy,” Mr. Clarridge has sought to discredit Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Kandahar power broker who has long been on the C.I.A. payroll, and planned to set spies on his half brother, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in hopes of collecting beard trimmings or other DNA samples that might prove Mr. Clarridge’s suspicions that the Afghan leader was a heroin addict, associates say.

Mr. Clarridge, 78, who was indicted on charges of lying to Congress in the Iran-contra scandal and later pardoned, is described by those who have worked with him as driven by the conviction that Washington is bloated with bureaucrats and lawyers who impede American troops in fighting adversaries and that leaders are overly reliant on mercurial allies.

His dispatches — an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports — have been sent to military officials who, until last spring at least, found some credible enough to be used in planning strikes against militants in Afghanistan. They are also fed to conservative commentators, including Oliver L. North, a compatriot from the Iran-contra days and now a Fox News analyst, and Brad Thor, an author of military thrillers and a frequent guest of Glenn Beck.

What is it with former Iran-Contra people? They just keep coming back, always up to something sketchy.

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pirate rescue

Also:

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rush’s racist double-header

You probably don’t need me to tell you what Rush Limbaugh said or what you should think about it. In case you missed it:

But I’ll do a quick public service announcement while you’re paying attention…

In all the hubbub about Rush mocking Chinese, nobody mentioned that he started out by talking about “gypping” Fox. A lot of people use that word because they don’t know where it came from, and even if they do, they don’t know any gypsies, so who cares. Well, if you didn’t know it was a racist word before, you do now. It’s on roughly the same level as saying you got “jewed”. (And to all my readers still in New York, yes, people really do say that.) I think Rush knows better than to try that one, and it wouldn’t be any more acceptable if he didn’t know any jews.

Please add “gyp” to the list of words that sure, you’ve got a *right* to say it but it kind of makes you a dick.

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bad penny

Look who’s back:

Mr. Prince’s precise role remains unclear. Some Western officials said that it was possible Mr. Prince was using his international contacts to help broker a deal between Saracen executives and officials from the United Arab Emirates, which have been financing Saracen in Somalia because Emirates business operations have been threatened by Somali pirates.

According to a report by the African Union, an organization of African states, Mr. Prince provided initial financing for a project by Saracen to win contracts with Somalia’s embattled government.

A spokesman for Mr. Prince challenged this report, saying that Mr. Prince “has no financial role of any kind in this matter,” and that Mr. Prince was primarily involved in humanitarian efforts and fighting pirates in Somalia.

And don’t miss this part:

The company makes little public about its operations and personnel, but it appears to be run by Lafras Luitingh, a former officer in South Africa’s Civil Cooperation Bureau, an apartheid-era internal security force notorious for killing opponents of the government.

A little bit of digging around finds this from last month:

Lawmakers are accusing Somalia’s president and prime minister of making secret deals, and United Nations officials have been raising questions about whether some of these contractors might be helping organize and arm new pro-government militias, possibly violating the United Nations arms embargo on Somalia.

It’s a little funny to talk about the Somali parliament as “lawmakers”, given that there is no law in Somalia. Since the government only controls a few blocks of Mogadishu, being in its parliament must be a particularly fruitless exercise.

At least the Ministry of Information has a gmail account so they can straighten things out for us:

PRESS RELEASE 55: SARACEN International

Something else to keep an eye on, I guess.

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europe launches, nasa flails

Efforts to get the agency back on track are in trouble. Already, a new plan for NASA signed into law by President Barack Obama in October — to replace the Constellation program, which spent $12 billion without producing a rocket — appears to be unraveling.

In a letter to Congress last week, NASA all but threw up its hands — telling lawmakers that it could not build the “heavy-lift” rocket and capsule Congress wants on the budget and schedule it demands. Congress had specified that NASA use solid-rocket motors designed for Constellation’s Ares I rocket, as well as parts from the space shuttle, to speed construction of a new rocket.

Meanwhile:

“From this year, we will exploit three launchers in parallel – Ariane, Soyuz and Vega. It will introduce some constraints because the traffic will be much heavier from [the spaceport], and I’m not so sure we’ve yet totally understood the constraints which are linked to the exploitation of three launchers instead of one.”

A completely new launch facility has been constructed for Soyuz in French Guiana, allowing the Russian-built vehicle to shift some of its operations to the European spaceport from its traditional home of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The launch complex will have its qualification review in April with the expectation that the first Soyuz lift-off occur sometime between 15 August and 15 September. The rocket will carry into orbit two spacecraft for Europe’s Galileo satellite-navigation system.

OK, so one of them is the Soyuz, but still.

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pirates!

I’m glad Danger Room covers this, but I thought putting “Arrr” in your headlines was old news by 2009. Oh well.

Full size map here- it’s worth checking out if you like that sort of thing.

Here’s some recent piracy reports and a pdf showing all currently known pirated vessels. It accounts for 29 vessels and 699 hostages, but doesn’t include an unknown number of smaller craft and their crews.

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bombs in my civil rights parade? more likely than you think

This one doesn’t seem to have gotten much coverage:

The abandoned backpack found Monday along the route of Spokane’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. march contained a bomb capable of inflicting “multiple casualties,” the FBI has confirmed.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s terrorism task force is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for planting the bomb. The FBI on Tuesday issued a bulletin asking for the public’s assistance.

Frank Harrill, special agent in the charge of the Spokane FBI office, would not discuss what specifically made the bomb so dangerous but said the investigation has become a top priority.

“It definitely was, by all early analysis, a viable device that was very lethal and had the potential to inflict multiple casualties,” Harrill said. “Clearly, the timing and placement of a device _ secreted in a backpack _ with the Martin Luther King parade is not coincidental. We are doing everything humanly possible to identify the individuals or individual who constructed and placed this device.”

To their credit, the FBI has had no qualms referring to this as terrorism. But the Spokane office has been one of the main centers for keeping tabs on the white supremacist movement in the northwest. They’ve got experience going back to the 80′s at least.

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the military-industrial complex

You’ll probably hear someone talking today about the fiftieth anniversary of Eisenhower’s farewell address, so you might as well know what he said:

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