Low-Key Office Launches High-Profile Inquiry

Karl Rove

WASHINGTON — Most of the time, an obscure federal investigative unit known as the Office of Special Counsel confines itself to monitoring the activities of relatively low-level government employees, stepping in with reprimands and other routine administrative actions for such offenses as discriminating against military personnel or engaging in prohibited political activities.

But the Office of Special Counsel is preparing to jump into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington, launching a broad investigation into key elements of the White House political operations that for more than six years have been headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.

The new investigation, which will examine the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House e-mails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities, could create a substantial new problem for the Bush White House.

First, the inquiry comes from inside the administration, not from Democrats in Congress. Second, unlike the splintered inquiries being pressed on Capitol Hill, it is expected to be a unified investigation covering many facets of the political operation in which Rove played a leading part.

“We will take the evidence where it leads us,” Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel and a presidential appointee, said in an interview Monday. “We will not leave any stone unturned.”

Details here from Tom Hamburger of the Los Angeles Times.

Lawyer Seeks Justice for Hated Client

It’s not for the pay that he’s defending the alleged mastermind of the Madrid train blasts.

By Tracy Wilkinson, Times Staff Writer
April 11, 2007

MADRID — It is Friday night, the end of another week defending the most hated man in Spain, and attorney Endika Zulueta is slumped behind his desk.

Friends visit. Music floats from a stereo. A bottle of honeyed rum from the Canary Islands slowly empties.

The decision to defend a man accused of mass murder did not come easily. It weighs on Zulueta, in his rare still moments, when he agonizes over whether he can mount a convincing defense in Europe’s largest terrorism trial, and whether anyone will listen.

Two other attorneys appointed by the court to represent Egyptian national Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed quit. In a flood of reluctance and exhilaration, Zulueta agreed to take on the case, without pay, even though it may send him to the poorhouse and has earned him bad press and insults.

His client is accused of orchestrating the March 11, 2004, bombings of commuter trains in Madrid that killed nearly 200 people and wounded about 2,000 others, a tragedy that was to Spain what Sept. 11 is to the United States.

Details here from the Los Angeles Times.

He Shows Renters the Door

Dennis Block

Dennis Block seemed glued to his black leather chair, his coffee untouched, apparently impervious to physical needs such as the bathroom or food, taking one landlord’s phone call after another.

Almost all the callers wanted the same thing: to evict their tenants.

In a DVD he gives to landlords, Block describes himself this way: “A man who has evicted more tenants than any other human being on the planet Earth.”

He has never been busier.

Zooming property values have sent rents skyrocketing more than 25% in four years citywide and even higher in rapidly gentrifying areas. But hundreds of thousands of tenants are protected by rent-stabilization laws, which limit rent increases to 4% a year. When the tenant moves, market rates can take effect — but tenants can be evicted only with good cause.

That’s where Block comes in. He has dedicated his considerable creativity and intelligence to helping landlords evict tenants from rent-stabilized buildings. He boasts that his firm has filed more than 130,000 cases since 1980, a year after rent stabilization went into effect. He helps landlords identify minor violations — a pet fish in an aquarium, a brightly painted bathroom, an extra occupant — to toss out long-term tenants who are paying below market for their homes.

Details here from the Los Angeles Times.

Fake NYC Doctor Pleads Guilty to Assault

NEW YORK (AP) — A cocaine addict who pretended to be a doctor pleaded guilty Monday in connection with the death of a woman who died during a medical procedure he was performing on her in his Manhattan apartment two years ago.

Dean Faiello, 47, pleaded guilty to first-degree assault in the death of Maria Cruz, 35, in exchange for a sentence of 20 years in prison. Faiello said Cruz, a financial analyst, began having seizures after he gave her the anesthetic Lidocaine on April 13, 2003, while she was being treated with laser treatment for hair growth on her tongue.

He told state Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro he called a real doctor for advice but ignored it, and failed to call 911 because he was worried about being arrested. Faiello said he was a cocaine addict at the time.

He stashed Cruz’s body under a concrete slab at his former home in Newark, N.J., where she was found 10 months later.

Faiello, who was also indicted in October 2002 for practicing medicine without a license, fled to Central America after pleading guilty to that charge in June 2003. He was extradited from Costa Rica in May 2005, where he had been working as a go-go dancer.

Faiello’s attorney left court without commenting.

I don’t think I would have commented either . . . . Details here from the AP via the New York Times.

Making a (Power)Point of Not Being Tiresome

PowerPoint is:

* Bullet Points

* A Mysterious Jumble of Graphs and Charts

* Utter Boredom

But Cliff Atkinson, who runs a one-man, Los Angeles-based company called Sociable Media, wants to change all that. Atkinson published a book last year called “Beyond Bullet Points” about how to combat “PowerPoint fatigue”: the deadening sameness of Microsoft Corp.’s commonly used presentation software. The book caught the eye of W. Mark Lanier, a Houston-based trial lawyer.

What happened next sounds like an episode of a ripped-from-the-headlines TV crime drama. Lanier, who was suing Merck & Co. on behalf of a man who died while taking the painkiller Vioxx, hired Atkinson as a consultant to help with his opening argument.

The resulting 253-slide presentation was so mold-breaking — so the opposite of boring — that it was dubbed “CSI: PowerPoint.” Reporters covering the trial singled out the slides, with one calling them “frighteningly powerful.” Jurors apparently agreed: They awarded the plaintiff’s family $253 million, coincidentally $1 million per slide. (Merck is appealing that award.)

“I think Cliff turned PowerPoint in a direction that the Microsoft people never dreamed of,” Lanier said. “The idea that you could speak for 2 1/2 hours and keep the jury’s attention seemed like an impossible goal, but it worked. The jury was very tuned in.”

To Atkinson, a 41-year-old, MBA-wielding former Air Force officer who has also dabbled in journalism, that came as no surprise. Since 2001, he has made a living helping people unshackle themselves from the tedium of pie charts. His secret, which he is happy to share with anyone who asks: using the same three-act storytelling structure that screenwriters swear by.

“Hollywood has been communicating using words and pictures for 100 years without text on the screen, so we need to look at what they do,” he said recently as he showed a visitor around his Miracle Mile apartment, which doubles as his office, near Wilshire Boulevard.

Details here from the Los Angeles Times.

Setback in Court for BlackBerry Maker

A federal judge in Virginia said Wednesday that it was “highly unlikely” he would delay a patent case against the maker of the BlackBerry wireless e-mail device that could result in a ban on its use in the United States.

The company, Research In Motion, based in Waterloo, Ontario, requested the delay until the United States Patent and Trademark Office re-examines patents held by NTP, based in Arlington, Va. Three years ago, NTP successfully sued R.I.M., contending patent infringement. That award was held up to permit R.I.M.’s ultimately unsuccessful appeal.

Judge James R. Spencer of Federal District Court in Richmond told R.I.M. he was unlikely to review the patent office actions. He gave NTP until Thursday to request that he activate an injunction against the BlackBerry granted three years ago.

R.I.M. has until Nov. 21 to reply and to ask the court to impose a settlement the companies reached in March. That deal fell apart.

Details here from the New York Times.

A Long, Rocky Road With 39 Months to Go

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27 – George W. Bush has been in the White House for 248 weeks, through a terrorist attack, two wars and a bruising re-election. But it seems safe to say that he has never had a worse political week than this one – and it is not over yet.

“I think all bets are off,” said former Senator Warren B. Rudman, Republican of New Hampshire. “Who knows what’s next?”

The biggest question for Mr. Bush now is what he can make of the 39 months remaining in his presidency. For this horrible week has been months – even years – in the making. The 2,000th American fatality in Iraq was just the latest daunting milestone in a war that will soon be three years old. The C.I.A. leak investigation that threatens to indict a top White House aide or two on Friday grew out of the fierce debates over the flawed intelligence that led to that war.

And Harriet E. Miers’s withdrawal of her nomination to the Supreme Court is the bitter fruit of Mr. Bush’s own frailty in the wake of all those storms – and Hurricane Katrina – and of his miscalculations about how her appointment would be received.

His effort to avoid a fight by choosing a nominee with a scant public record (whose conservative fidelity only he could vouch for) instead prompted a ferocious backlash from the conservative activists he has courted for years.

Worst. Political. Week. Ever. — “and it is not over yet.” Gee, this should be fun . . . .

Details here from Todd S. Purdum of the New York Times.

Man’s Inhumanity To Man

Put this in your pipe and smoke it:

The BLU-118/B is a penetrating warhead filled with an advanced thermobaric explosive that, when detonated, generates higher sustained blast pressures in confined spaces such as tunnels and underground facilities. The BLU-118/B uses the same penetrator body as the standard BLU-109 weapon. The significant difference is the replacement of the high explosive fill with a new thermobaric explosive that provides increased lethality in confined spaces.

New And Improved! It now “provides increased lethality in confined spaces”! Just like the “Got Milk?” campaign, but now including mass human carnage!!

Who writes this crap? How do these people sleep?