On Hill, Anger and Calls for Hearings Greet News of Stateside Surveillance

Congressional leaders of both parties called for hearings and issued condemnations yesterday in the wake of reports that President Bush signed a secret order in 2002 allowing the National Security Agency to spy on hundreds of U.S. citizens and other residents without court-approved warrants.

Bush declined to discuss the domestic eavesdropping program in a television interview, but he joined his aides in saying that the government acted lawfully and did not intrude on citizens’ rights.

Right. And Dick Chaney is a benevolent, huggable nun. Details here from the Washington Post.


Breaking News From Oxyrhynchus

Eureka! Extraordinary discovery unlocks secrets of the ancients

Thousands of previously illegible manuscripts containing work by some of the greats of classical literature are being read for the first time using technology which experts believe will unlock the secrets of the ancient world.

Among treasures already discovered by a team from Oxford University are previously unseen writings by classical giants including Sophocles, Euripides and Hesiod. Invisible under ordinary light, the faded ink comes clearly into view when placed under infra-red light, using techniques developed from satellite imaging.

The Oxford documents form part of the great papyrus hoard salvaged from an ancient rubbish dump in the Graeco-Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus more than a century ago. The thousands of remaining documents, which will be analysed over the next decade, are expected to include works by Ovid and Aeschylus, plus a series of Christian gospels which have been lost for up to 2,000 years.

That’s pretty cool. Details here from The Indepenent.


Ashcroft Is Undeterred in Push for Capital Cases

Shortly after arriving at the Justice Department nearly four years ago, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft was faced with a new internal study that raised serious questions about the application of the federal death penalty.

A small number of federal districts, including pockets of Texas and Virginia, were accounting for the bulk of death cases. Experts decried the geographical disparities.

For Ashcroft, an ardent supporter of capital punishment, the solution was to seek the death penalty more often and more widely.

Attorney General Asshat is an evangelical Christian and is vehemently “pro-life.” So when he sees that too many people are being killed by the federal government in Texas and Virginia, what’s his solution? Kill more people everywhere else, so it won’t look so bad. Fortunately, his plan hasn’t worked very well.

Details are here in an excellent (and timely) piece from Richard B. Schmitt of the Los Angeles Times.


In the Streets, a Shadow Lifts

Some thoughtful words from John F. Burns of The New York Times in Baghdad:

As Iraqis struggled to grasp the impact of Saddam Hussein’s humiliating capture in a darkened spider hole near Tikrit, it was the television images of the fallen leader that kept replaying in their minds throughout the day on Sunday, just like the images played on their television screens.

The videotape taken by his American captors showed a disheveled old man, more like a hapless, disoriented vagrant than the tyrant whose quarter of a century in power bludgeoned 25 million people into cringing submission. A mythic strongman, so feared that his name set people trembling until only a few months ago, was suddenly reduced to pitiable, mumbling impotence.

On the streets of Baghdad, and across Iraq, people who danced out of their homes with paper American flags and raised their rifles for staccato bursts into the clear winter air paused to tell one another again and again what they had seen. They acted as if ceaseless repetition would make real what many called a dream, as if testing their sanity by checking that others had also experienced what they had seen.

Long into the night, the images replayed on televisions at kebab houses and grocery stores, in homes and hospitals. They showed the captured dictator opening his mouth obediently to an American doctor’s beam, sitting passively as his unkempt hair was searched for lice, patting his face as if to identify an aching jaw or troublesome teeth, pulling on his straggly beard as if pondering his fate.

As the mocking shouts grew louder in a thousand Baghdad streets, and across almost all Iraqi towns outside the sullen precincts like Tikrit that are still loyal to Mr. Hussein, it was possible to believe that Iraq’s nightmare had finally ended.

That is what President Bush proclaimed. The hope, as fervent among millions of Iraqis, was that the shadow Mr. Hussein cast for a generation over the Iraqi soul had passed, never to return.

Yet Americans may be wise to restrain hopes that Mr. Hussein’s capture will generate an early downturn in the insurgency that has taken the lives of more than 190 American soldiers since May 1, the day Mr. Bush proclaimed an end to major combat operations. At the same time, many more Iraqis have died.

And listening to the voices in Baghdad’s streets on Sunday suggested that the end of Mr. Hussein’s months as a taunting fugitive may not contain the other forces that have eroded American popularity. Mr. Hussein’s capture brought a surge in popularity for Mr. Bush and the American occupation, yet the inflexions in what the revelers said often sounded like a warning that the tide could just as easily break on the stony shores of unfulfilled Iraqi expectations.

The scenes that played out across much of Iraq were replicated in the celebrations that greeted the American capture of Baghdad, and the toppling of Mr. Hussein, eight months ago.

This time, American troops have done more than help topple a statue, having caught the man himself.

But few who witnessed the statue falling could have imagined the speed with which Iraqi opinions began to turn against the Americans as problems accumulated with failing electricity supplies, looting and lawlessness on the streets and lines outside gasoline stations that have stretched into days. Judging from the undertones in what many people said on Sunday, there was little reason to think that something similar could not happen again.

Read the rest of Mr. Burns’ long piece here.


Trademark Lawsuit Over “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger!”

Billy Goat, the tavern beneath [Chicago’s] Michigan Avenue made famous by the “cheezborger, cheezborger” skits on “Saturday Night Live” in the late 1970s, sued Cheeburger Cheeburger Restaurants Inc. on Monday for trademark infringement.

The federal lawsuit comes as Cheeburger Cheeburger, a Florida-based chain of 32 family-style restaurants mostly in the South and East, plans to open its first location in suburban Chicago. . . .

[T]he famous phrase comes from [owner Sam] Sianis and Greek immigrant co-workers barking out the orders of customers during busy lunch hours [at the Billy Goat].

It became immortalized when comedian John Belushi, in a series of skits on “Saturday Night Live,” would tell customers hoping to order something else: “Cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger � no Pepsi–Coke. No fries–cheeps.”

Citing a Tribune story, the lawsuit said Don Novello, better known as “Father Guido Sarducci,” another long-running “Saturday Night Live” character, wrote the “cheezborger, cheezborger” skit based on Billy Goat’s.

In a Tribune story commemorating Billy Goat’s 50th anniversary in 1984, Novello said he had regularly visited the Lower Michigan Avenue tavern in the late 1960s when he worked in Chicago as an advertising copywriter.

And now, this. Didn’t that phrase enter the public domain back in 1976 (now 27 years ago) when Saturday Night Live put it on the map? Details here from the BillingsGazette.com. (via FARK)


Practicing Law In Paradise?

Being an American lawyer in the Palau Islands (just north of New Guinea and west of Micronesia) might seem idyllic — especially to a stressed-out associate toiling away at some Big Firm in, say, New York or L.A. But its allure dims a little with the news that the job entails being beaten with a baseball bat by the “paramount Chief” of the place, who will be spending the next year in jail for doing just that, according to this.


Colleges Fight Back in Music File Sharing Cases

Boston College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have moved to quash subpoenas seeking the names of students suspected of Internet music piracy, saying they’re illegal because they weren’t properly filed.

The schools said the subpoenas, issued by the Recording Industry Association of America, didn’t allow for adequate time to notify the students, as mandated by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

Read it here via Boston.com via the AP online.


Tucker Max In The New York Times

The Times reports here that Mr. Max’s troubles with Ms. Vermont may be shaping up to be a serious First Amendment battle over “prior restraint” of speech. When will this guy finally go away??? (I discussed Mr. Max and his infamous capers earlier here.)


Dear Trial Lawyers, it’s me again. Pay attention this time.

Remember a few days ago that I said climate change would be the Achilles heel for the Chamber of Commerce and the anti-consumer, anti-lawsuit hacks who run it?

The White House and environmental groups are turning up the heat on the Chamber of Commerce, and some of its member companies are feeling the burn.

At a National Press Club event last week, seven different reporters tried to ask the chairwoman of Royal Dutch Shell how her oil company could push for climate legislation while maintaining its membership in the Chamber.

Toyota has been inundated with calls and e-mails from Prius owners, pushed by MoveOn.org to demand an explanation of how the automaker’s membership in the Chamber squares with the green vibe it wraps around its hybrid cars.

And New York-based Mohawk Fine Papers — “the largest premium paper manufacturer in North America” — pulled out of the Chamber this week. It was the seventh company to resign over the business lobby’s opposition to climate change legislation.

Source: Firms take fire in war on Chamber – Lisa Lerer – POLITICO.com

I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly stupid it would be of trial lawyers not to take advantage of this situation to drive members and membership dollars away from the Chamber.  Look, the Chamber is already blaming defections of companies like Apple on trial lawyers anyway.  So instead of standing on the sidelines and playing the scapegoat, why not go on the offensive and hit them where it hurts?

Put the pressure on.  Make them spend their dollars defending their (outlandish) position instead of advocating for the dismantlement of the civil justice system.

Get to it!



Spector’s Former Lawyer May Be Held in Contempt

Sara Caplan

Sara Caplan, a former lawyer for Phil Spector, will be held in contempt of court if she refuses to testify about whether she saw a defense expert mishandle material that could be evidence in the music producer’s murder trial, the judge ruled this morning. The decision carries criminal penalties, but the contempt ruling was immediately stayed until June 22 to allow Caplan time to appeal to a higher court. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler also gave the parties until Monday at 9 a.m. to work out a compromise.

Fidler said it was the first time in his 25 years on the bench that he has had to punish an attorney with contempt. The jurist was clearly sorrowful that the dispute over Caplan’s testimony led to his decision.

“It goes without saying that nobody wants to be here today,” Fidler said as he recited his ruling from the bench. “Nobody has any personal animus against Miss Caplan. “I admire her for taking the stance she is taking; I don’t agree with it,” Fidler said, adding later that as a judge he had no choice. “You often have to do things you don’t like.” “I see no reason why Miss Caplan should not testify,” said Fidler, who was a defense attorney for 10 years. “There is no other person who can testify to what she saw.”

Details here from the Los Angeles Times.