Patterico's Pontifications


California Fires

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:46 pm

California is besieged by wildfires. Locally, the fires are burning primarily in Malibu. Malibu is about 35 miles away as the crow flies, but we can smell the smoke in our house tonight. Perversely, the pollution made the sunset beautiful.

We live in a canyon area ourselves, and hope the Santa Ana winds don’t endanger us. Friday night, the back yard of the house immediately next door caught fire while we were returning home from work. We still have no idea why, and our neighbors appear to be out of town, so they probably don’t even know yet that their back yard was on fire. Thank goodness a neighbor saw the smoke and called the fire department — and put it out before the firemen even arrived.

Sports Talk: Red Sox take the ALCS

Filed under: Miscellaneous — DRJ @ 8:59 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Boston Red Sox blasted the Cleveland Indians 11-2 in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series tonight, earning the right to take on the Colorado Rockies in the World Series.

Sadly for the Cleveland Indians, this proves once again that life sometimes imitates art.


Sunday Night GOP Debate

Filed under: 2008 Election — DRJ @ 7:51 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Instapundit provides a good roundup of bloggers who watched the GOP debate. I didn’t even remember there was a debate tonight. I must not be ready for presidential politics.

I guess that makes me an average voter.


A Round of Applause for DRJ

Filed under: Blogging Matters,General — Patterico @ 7:38 pm

I just want to take a moment to publicly thank DRJ for the great blogging she has put in these past several weeks. I came back from vacation fairly well burnt out on the idea of blogging. I have recovered the bug to a large degree, but while I enjoy blogging when I have something that excites me, I have come to resent the chore of making sure that there is something new up every day, whether I feel like writing or not. So it’s great to know that the blog is constantly being filled with interesting material that I don’t have to generate. The readers seem to appreciate the posts, traffic has improved, and the burden of providing something new every day has been lifted from my shoulders.

I am hoping to keep DRJ on for as long as she wants to do this. There are a couple of reasons I am particularly happy to have her guest blogging at this particular point in time. First, due to some personnel changes at work, my job has become extraordinarily busy. I am having more fun at my job than any time in recent memory, but it is also taking up a lot of my time. Second, I just got through putting up a hammock in the backyard. I have a feeling that when I am not working or playing with the kids or exercising, the hammock is going to take up a lot of my time. Granted, it’s possible to take a laptop into a hammock — in fact, I am typing this post from the hammock at around 8:30 on a Sunday evening, as I listen to the crickets chirp. But it’s a little awkward typing while you’re mostly horizontal. I have a feeling that I may be doing more reading and less blogging while in this thing.

Which is a long way of saying that it’s a huge relief for me to have such a talented and prolific writer blogging for me. I don’t mean to take anything away from my other guest bloggers, but they don’t have the same output and variety as DRJ. Without her, I’d still feel the pressure to make sure I had at least one or two posts every day. As it is, you can be sure that if you see a post from me, it’s because I am interested in the topic, as opposed to just doing filler.

Please leave your comments of appreciation in comments to this post. I’m hoping that if everyone here takes a moment to make it clear to her how much the site has improved with her posts, that she’ll keep doing them for a longer period of time.

More Election News: Switzerland

Filed under: General,International — DRJ @ 6:43 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Swiss conservative party improved its “already dominant position” as the country’s primary political group, and the main issue was immigration.


Governor-elect Jindal takes on Corruption

Filed under: Politics — DRJ @ 5:36 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Let’s face it: Louisiana is known for corruption in government …


Was a Passage Omitted from a Recent Second Circuit Opinion for “Security” Reasons — Or to Cover Up Material Embarrassing to the FBI?

Filed under: Blogging Matters,Court Decisions,General,Terrorism — Patterico @ 1:29 pm

Did you ever wonder what our government wants to keep secret — and what courts allow them to keep secret?

You’ll get to see one such example in this post, courtesy of Howard Bashman, the legal blogger at How Appealing.

It ain’t pretty, folks.

On Thursday, Howard noticed that the Second Circuit had posted a decision online, and then removed it. The decision related to a lawsuit brought by an Egyptian student who claimed that he had been forced to give a false confession during an interrogation after the September 11 attacks. Howard asked his readers if any of them had a copy of the opinion. A reader sent Howard a copy, and he posted it at this link.

The clerk from the Second Circuit later called Howard to say that the opinion had been withdrawn because it “might disclose” information provided under seal. The clerk said that the Second Circuit intended to repost the decision, omitting the portion disclosing sealed information. She asked Bashman to take down the unredacted opinion with the sealed information.

He refused.

Howard gave his reasons in an e-mail reproduced here. Essentially, Howard argued that nobody had explained the specific security concern to him before he posted the decision, and that there was no putting the genie back in the bottle.

So what was so secret? An anonymous source, who I’m guessing is a government official, told the New York Sun that the omitted material might put people’s safety at risk:

A source close to the case said the opinion was withdrawn because of concerns that it disclosed information that was sealed by the district court on the grounds that it could jeopardize the safety of certain individuals.

Interesting. That makes Howard sound pretty irresponsible — if you believe it. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to take the source’s word for it. Because the unredacted opinion is still up on Howard’s site — and has been for days. (This also means that, regardless of whether you agree with Howard that the genie was out of the bottle when he first posted the decision, the genie is long gone by now.)

I have found, read, and excerpted below the portion that the Second Circuit tried to take back. My judgment is that the material was sealed, not to protect anyone from harm, but to protect the government from embarrassment.

First, let’s look at the passage as it reads in the Second Circuit’s amended opinion:

[Plaintiff] Higazy alleges that during the polygraph, [FBI Agent] Templeton told him that he should cooperate . . . .

This opinion has been redacted because portions of the record are under seal. For the purposes of the summary judgment motion, Templeton did not contest that Higazy’s statements were coerced.

Higazy then gave Templeton a series of explanations as to how he obtained the radio.

Here is the full passage, including the redacted information. As you read it, ask yourself why it was submitted under seal:

Higazy alleges that during the polygraph, Templeton told him that he should cooperate, and explained that if Higazy did not cooperate, the FBI would make his brother “live in scrutiny” and would “make sure that Egyptian security gives [his] family hell.” Templeton later admitted that he knew how the Egyptian security forces operated: “that they had a security service, that their laws are different than ours, that they are probably allowed to do things in that country where they don’t advise people of their rights, they don’t – yeah, probably about torture, sure.” Higazy later said, “I knew that I couldn’t prove my innocence, and I knew that my family was in danger.” He explained that “[t]he only thing that went through my head was oh, my God, I am screwed and my family’s in danger. If I say this device is mine, I’m screwed and my family is going to be safe. If I say this device is not mine, I’m screwed and my family’s in danger. And Agent Templeton made it quite clear that cooperate had to mean saying something else other than this device is not mine.”

Higazy explained why he feared for his family:

The Egyptian government has very little tolerance for anybody who is —they’re suspicious of being a terrorist. To give you an idea, Saddam’s security force—as they later on were called his henchmen—a lot of them learned their methods and techniques in Egypt; torture, rape, some stuff would be even too sick to . . . . My father is 67. My mother is 61. I have a brother who developed arthritis at 19. He still has it today. When the word ‘torture’ comes at least for my brother, I mean, all they have to do is really just press on one of these knuckles. I couldn’t imagine them doing anything to my sister.

And Higazy added:

[L]et’s just say a lot of people in Egypt would stay away from a family that they know or they believe or even rumored to have anything to do with terrorists and by the same token, some people who actually could be —might try to get to them and somebody might actually make a connection. I wasn’t going to risk that. I wasn’t going to risk that, so I thought to myself what could I say that he would believe. What could I say that’s convincing? And I said okay.

Higazy then gave Templeton a series of explanations as to how he obtained the radio.

Now, you can see two things from that passage.

First, it is true that, as the anonymous source told the New York Sun, there is information that “could jeopardize the safety of certain individuals” — namely, the ages of Higazy’s family members, and the fact that his brother has arthritis. But I don’t really think that this information is that significant — or that its omission would provide a significant roadblock to security officials determined to harm Higazy’s family members.

The other thing you notice is, I believe, far more significant — which is why I put it in bold type. Namely, you have an FBI agent who admits that he threatened to ensure that a suspect’s family would be tortured by a foreign government.

Somehow, I think that’s the reason the information was submitted under seal.

UPDATE: More from Tony Mauro, the Carnegie Legal Reporting Program, Carolyn Elefant, the CBS Public Eye blog, the Wait a Second! blog, Psychsound, and the ABA Journal.

Am I the only person surprised that this hasn’t gotten much, much wider attention than that?

UPDATE x2: A concurring opinion alludes, albeit with far less specificity than the language quoted above, to the concept that the coercion in question was the threatening of the plaintiff’s family. But if the court merely wished to redact information that might endanger the plaintiff’s family, why was so much information redacted? It seems to me that a far more focused redaction of a couple of sentences would have done the trick. Perhaps the Second Circuit overlooked the material in the concurrence?

UPDATE x3: I know that defenders of the FBI might argue that the passage I have bolded above does not necessarily establish an admission by the FBI agent that he threatened the plaintiff — and indeed, the concurring opinion says that he denied it, at least at one point in time. But it seems clear to me from the bolded language in the opinion that the FBI agent knew exactly what he was doing when he talked about how the Egyptian security forces operate. And if he didn’t threaten the suspect, then why did this completely innocent plaintiff confess to owning a radio that we now know for a fact was not his?

UPDATE x4: This topic may get much wider attention now, thanks to an Instapundit link. Thanks to Prof. Reynolds. I see that Kevin Drum has taken up the thread here.

This is actually a fascinating story, not just because of the original government actions, but also because of Howard Bashman’s actions in posting the opinion — even in the face of efforts to spike it, from a representative of a court that Howard must practice in, from time to time, as an appellate lawyer. Obviously, given the nature of what the Second Circuit tried to squelch, I think Howard did the right thing here. But I can envision circumstances where it would be a much tougher ethical call. And I think that this call, as clear as it is on an ethical level, took quite a bit of courage on Howard’s part.

The Case of the Lawyer-Bride and Her Florist

Filed under: Law — DRJ @ 12:28 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog has been alive this week with the story of newlyweds Elana Elbogen and David Glatt and their dissatisfaction with the flowers provided at their August wedding. The florist’s bill was almost $30,000 and Elana, a NYC lawyer, her husband and his mother have sued Posy Floral Design Studios pro se for almost $400,000 asserting breach of contract, fraud, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation, and state law claims.

Here’s plaintiffs’ complaint.

Many WSJ commenters have been unsympathetic to Elana and her family but it seems the complaint states a viable claim for relief, while the florist’s failure to respond to Elana’s post-wedding complaints doesn’t help its case.


A Sad Story (Updated)

Filed under: Miscellaneous — DRJ @ 11:57 am

[Guest post by DRJ]

I hate to post a sad story just because it’s sad, but this story is the saddest I’ve read in a long time:

“During two years in Iraq, the soldier from Fort Bliss, in West Texas, survived five improvised explosive device blasts and several grenade attacks. “A lot of people go through one IED and don’t survive,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Eugene Schmidt.

But Spc. Johnson’s luck began to turn with the last IED blast, which left him with a traumatic brain injury. Back in Texas for care at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, he was eagerly awaiting a visit by his wife and three children last weekend. But the children never arrived.”

The article explains that Lisa Johnson and their 3 children were traveling from El Paso to San Antonio when their car was hit by a wind gust. She steered, over-corrected, and rolled 4 times. Two of the Johnson children – Ashley, 5, and Logan, 2 – died in the car wreck and, as of Friday, their oldest son Tyler, 9, was on life support in Dallas.

Read the whole thing.


Update 11/5/2007: The Johnson’s third child, Tyler, has died.

Robert C.J. Parry Slams the L.A. Times — in the L.A. Times

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 10:46 am

As I mentioned yesterday, there is a new Outside the Tent piece at the L.A. Times today. It is titled Covering only the LAPD’s bad side, by Robert C.J. Parry. Kudos to The Times (and specifically Nick Goldberg) for publishing it. Here is a taste:

In its most recent editorial about the May Day demonstrations at MacArthur Park, The Times again showed its historic disregard for facts and history in its coverage of the Los Angeles Police Department and in its slavish devotion to the concept of police “reform,” regardless of cost, consequences or wisdom.

The editorial, published in response to the Oct. 9 release of the LAPD’s report on the MacArthur Park disturbance, described the scene at the park as “chaos” resulting from “missteps” by the department.

How did this terrible situation come to pass? Well, the editorial noted, among other things, that training “seems to have lapsed perilously — the Metropolitan Division’s basic training course was cut in 2005.” It also described Chief William Bratton’s ongoing struggles with the department’s “cultural and institutional defects” connected to this lapse.

Yet, astonishingly, the paper failed to point out that it was Bratton’s own decision to eliminate that training. Instead, the editorial praised the chief’s “deserved” second term and his “impressive response” to the events of May 1. It seems that publicly condemning your subordinates for problems you helped cause impresses The Times.

Sadly, this intellectual dissonance is true to form. Looking back at The Times’ coverage of the LAPD, it’s easy to see decades of factual omissions, routine second-guessing of police officers and a consistent support of activist agendas.

Mr. Parry’s name should sound familiar, as he is a friend of this blog. Mr. Parry has allowed me to publish two very useful items on this site, which you should read if you haven’t read them already:

  • This post setting forth Mr. Parry’s extensive data regarding the effect of the LAPD consent decree.

The subject matter of both of these prior posts is alluded to in today’s piece, so if you’re looking for more background on the LAPD consent decree or on officers Zeeman and Gregson, click the links above.

But first make sure you read Mr. Parry’s piece.

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