Sunday, September 24, 2017

Thursday, November 5, 2020

As they've done for more than three years, the players kneel.   Fists raised, heads bowed, they kneel.

It's eerily silent as the anticipation builds. No insults raining down, nor yells of support for the kneeling players. No one in the crowd of 80,000 dares take a breath, let alone utter a word. All eyes are glued to the field, where the players kneel.

And then she emerges through the tunnel and onto the field.  The president-elect strides towards the kneeling players. She walks right up to a hulking lineman, and looks him in the eye. The crowd, which had erupted into a frenzy when she appeared, is silent once again.

And then she kneels.

There's not a dry-eye in the house or an unkneeled knee. Everyone - the fans, the coaches, the referees - #takestheknee.

As the first familiar notes of the Star Spangled Banner start playing, she looks from kneeling man to kneeling man and fixes her strong, caring, dignified gaze on each one. And then she rises.

And one by one, the players rise. Hands on hearts. Eyes proud. They rise.

And the refs rise. And the coaches rise. And the crowd rises. And even Sam Grandy, the 88-year old peanut vendor who, if truth be told, had been ambivalent about kneeling in the first place because he feared this very moment, having to stand from a kneeling position, rises. Everyone rises.

The darkness has lifted. We are with her. And she is with us.

America rises.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Resistance

Chapter 1

I don’t know what made me do it.  Maybe I was feeling reckless. Maybe I picked up a note of defiance in her voice as she ordered her latte. Or maybe it’s just that as long as humans can remember Freedom, we’ll never lose our capacity to Love.

I placed my order and as I followed her from the barista towards the cashier, I saw my chance. Reaching for my wallet, I leaned in and whispered, “#Drumpf.”

She didn’t acknowledge me or even flinch. Had I misjudged? I started to panic, and my eyes instinctively glanced towards the door, half-expecting to see the Trump Troopers. But all was quiet. She Foursquared for her drink and headed for the door.  By the time I had paid and generously tipped 12%, she was gone.

I walked out into the bright sunlight and pulled out my phone. A little crestfallen but also buoyed by the cherry notes of my espresso, I pulled out my phone, and, after a quick check of my surroundings, opened Twitter. I was just about to type in “#Drumpf” when a voice called out from the shadows, “Do you whisper Keith Olbermann’s secret hashtag of the day in every stranger’s ear or should I be flattered?”

It was her. And she was vaping.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dear President Obama

Note: Italicized portions of this letter were written by my good friend Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Dear President Obama,

I am pretending to write to you because I am a fan of lazy rhetorical devices.

I know, in the wake of last night’s Democratic debacle, there is no shortage of people offering you advice.  Bomb Ebola. Make nice with the GOP. Stay the fuck away from Hillary. 

My advice is a little different: ignore all the advice and listen to your heart. Because in your heart-of-hearts, you’ve always known the right thing to do. And just in case you can't hear you heart right now, here's what it's telling you.
 
Double down. Go all-in. Go big right now.  Put your cards on the table. Pretend you’re going to fold, and then announce, “Fold? Me? Fuck you. I’ve got 4 aces. I’m all in.”  Look at Ted Cruz’s face when you say it. Laugh manically. Act big and act fast. Triple down. Take a smoke break. And then go the fuck all-in again. 

For 6 years, maybe even for your entire life, you’ve pretended to be someone you’re not.  The time for playing the long game is over. We’re in the home stretch. Take advantage of the end of this year’s election cycle—the next fifty or so days—to immediately try to change the subject, in a big way. Do all the things we know you want to do but haven’t done yet for reasons we don’t quite understand even though we’re damn sure they are good reasons. Dominate the news.

Cancel the Keystone XL. Recognize Palestine. Let the right-wing come unglued. Call off the drone strikes. Host a national teach-in with real climate scientists, on C-Span, and use it to drive a nail in the coffin of the fake, corporate-funded, “climate denial” science. Kick Dick Cheney in the balls. Nominate a diverse set of progressives to fill every judicial vacancy at every level.  Free Chelsea Manning. 

Change the media narrative. Nominate Karl Marx to the Federal Reserve Board. Pick a fight with Rick Perry and/or Jan Brewer, if need be, and be glad that you’re in a high-profile fight with them. Fly down to Guantanamo, unlock the cages, put all the detainees on Air Force One and drop them at Paul Ryan’s house. Force his hand. Make Paul Ryan stand on his front porch and say, “I’m sorry those Guantanamo detainees are not allowed in my house.”  Limit the pay of chief executives to some reasonable ratio to that of their average workers.

Those are my suggestions.
I’m sure people as smart as John Podesta and David Axelrod can think of a couple more.

Be the change you want to see.

Sí, se puede,

Fire Tom Friedman

Friday, May 23, 2014

Mother Jones' David Corn Likes to Screw Goats*

This post has been sitting in my draft folder for at least a year now. There was, prior to me typing these words, no content except that title with its tantalizing asterisk. I'm sure at one time I intended to make some insightful observation about David Corn or Mother Jones or something for which David Corn's affinity for goat-fucking was only a jumping-off point, but I've long-forgotten what it was. It's probably better this way.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Does Prosecutor Who Investigated Todashev's Killing Know How To Use Google?

On May 3, a diligent blogger was able to identify the mysterious FBI agent who shot and killed Ibragim Todashev as Aaron McFarlane, thanks to the fact that Florida's Ninth Circuit State Attorney Jeffrey L. Ashton doesn't properly black out names in his redacted report on the killing. As a result of that error, the same blog and the Boston Globe were able to discover that prior to joining the FBI, Todashev's killer was a violent and dirty Oakland cop. Now the Globe reports that the prosecutor who found that Todashev's killing was justified was unaware of McFarlane's history. 
A spokesman for Ashton said this week that the FBI did not tell Ashton or his investigator about McFarlane’s past in Oakland.
“Mr. Ashton did not know any of the background of the officers,” spokesman Richard I. Wallsh said. “What we presented in our report was a full and exhaustive discussion of the information that we had in our possession.”
Even before Aaron McFarlane became a household name (in my house, at least, I say his name a lot), a quick search revealed that McFarlane was a former Oakland cop who was involved in one of the most notorious police corruption scandals in recent memory, and was the subject of two police brutality lawsuits. If Ashton didn't know McFarlane's background, either the man who flunked  Redaction 101 has also yet to master the simple Google search, or he's remarkably incurious.

It would be nice if people would stop calling Ashton's regurgitation of FBI talking points an "independent" report. There's literally nothing in there that the FBI didn't want in there. The fact that Ashton -- who spent pages and pages detailing Todahsev's  violent past including a rather bizarre obsession with his mixed martial art YouTube videos -- claims he didn't even know that the agent he was investigating was once accused of holding a man down while another cop stomped on him tells you all you need to know.

Ashton's job was never to get to the bottom of what happened to Todashev, but to polish a giant FBI turd and make the questions go away.  And they almost did -- mainstream media coverage about Todashev's death basically stopped after Ashton published his "findings."  But now, thanks to Ashton's incompetent redactions, maybe even our timid journalist class will find the courage to starting asking questions again. They can start with this one:

"Mr. Ashton, why didn't you Google Aaron McFarlane?"

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Todashev Files: The Questions Keep Coming

Conor Friedersdorf, who's done a decent job of covering the Todashev killing all along, asks some good questions at the Atlantic.  I'd like to ask a few of my own, starting with one that Friedersdorf doesn't go far enough on: What's up with the text that Trooper One sent to Trooper Two and FBI Agent right before Todashev allegedly attacked?
Here's a text sent from inside the apartment. "Be on guard. He is in vulnerable position to do something bad. Be on guard now. I see him looking around at times ..." Isn't that a weird text? So needlessly long and repetitive. Who texts like that? Especially when you're nervous about the guy you're supposed to be paying attention to?
Who texts like that, indeed. Well, not the guy sending the text, for one. Check out the other texts sent by this same trooper that same evening (pp. 2-3). "He signed his Miranda. About to tell his involvement." "He will be in custody after interviews." "whos your daddy." (Ewww.) Not one to mince words, this one. Why did he suddenly get so verbose at the very time he was extremely worried about Todashev doing "something bad"?  And then there's the fact that the text had no effect on what happened next -- except that it took Trooper One's eyes of Todashev at an absolutely critical moment -- because no one read the text when it was sent. Trooper Two was on the phone and didn't see it until after Todashev was dead. FBI Agent never looked up from his questioning of Todashev to read it. In fact, Trooper One claims FBI Agent's phone never "dinged" to indicate he had a new text, which is why Trooper One looked down at his own phone to see if the text actually sent, which is why his eyes were off Todashev when he launched the coffee table.

A uncharacteristically long, awkward text written at a moment when it was crucial to have eyes on Todashev  Since I'm a troll and not a Serious Journalist, I'll ask instead of tiptoeing around.

1. Was the infamous "Be on guard" text sent after Todashev was dead?

This question thing is fun. Here's some more:

2. Why did they interview Todashev in his home? 

According to the sworn statements of both Troopers and the FBI Agent (pages 26-48 and 55-57), they wanted to conduct the interview at the police station and were very wary of questioning Todashev in his home. They knew Todashev was prone to violence -- the FBI had watched him beat a man up badly in a parking lot just a few weeks before. (And didn't intervene - cool agency, that FBI.) They'd also spent a lot of time of watching Todashev's MMA YouTube videos so they knew he was really strong and tough.

And yet, when Todashev refused to come to the police station, they agreed to meet at this apartment. Why? Because Todashev was scheduled to fly to Russia two days later and they needed to talk to him before he left the country. So they decided the risk of putting themselves in a dangerous situation was worth it.

Did they not have any way of preventing Todashev from leaving the country? He was supposedly a suspect in a triple homicide. He had outstanding assault charges. Could they not have held him on some pretext? And we haven't even gotten to the fact that Todashev was a Muslim and a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- at the time Scary Terrorist # 1.  Do you really believe the FBI -- an agency that systemically surveills, harasses, and entraps Muslims -- was helpless to stop Todashev from flying out of the country?

If you don't -- and you shouldn't -- then it's really worth asking the reason the interview didn't take place in a secure (for law enforcement, anyway) police station.

3. Why didn't the Troopers or FBI Agent mention their video and audio recordings of that night when they gave their sworn statements the next day?

The day after Todashev was killed, both Troopers and FBI Agents gave sworn statements (pages 29-48 and 55-57) about the events in Todashev's apartment. Their accounts are pretty detailed, with the FBI Agent devoting about a 1/2 page to describing Todashev's final piss (p.46). But one pretty major detail gets left out of all 3 accounts: the fact that they had made video and audio recordings of substantial parts of the evening.

These omissions (or the attendant PR nightmare if discovered) were apparently very concerning to the FBI, which limited its only on-the-record followup interviews (pages 78-94) with the Troopers and FBI Agent to the subject of the recordings. (Guess there wasn't anything else to ask about).  Here's what each man said, with my annotations/questions interspersed.:

Trooper One:
I did not mention the recordings in the initial interview because I was concentrating on the actual shooting incident itself. [Not true. His account is of the entire evening, not just the shooting incident.]Furthermore, I was never asked. The recordings were made known to other people involved in the handling of this case. [Who? When? There is no evidence that anyone outside of FBI Agent and the two Troopers was told about the recordings for days.]. Also, the recordings were provided to District Attorney’s Office the day after we arrived back in Massachusetts. [When was this?] Nothing was out of the ordinary, as MSP tends to record subject interviews. [Ha! And more Ha! coming.] Had I known the Shooting Incident Review Team was not aware of the recordings, I would have told them. [The very non-threatening FBI's team responsible for investigating the incident -- the one responsible for clearing agents in 150 consecutive shootings -- didn't learn about the recordings for 2 weeks.]

Trooper Two's did not give a sworn statement, but his follow-up interviewe is summarized by FBI investigators:

[Trooper Two] returned to his department in Boston he checked his audio recorder and found it had recorded a large portion of the interview with Todashev. [Again, when was this? How long were recordings of that night only in the hands of those involved in the shooting? And really, Trooper Two? You weren't at all tempted to check what was on that recorder until you got back to Boston "and found it had recorded a large portion of the interview with Todashev.] He submitted the recorder to his department for retrieval and dissemination to the FBI.”
And the shooter himself? He didn't even know that anything was being recorded! 
During most of the interview of Todashev, I was sitting on the stairs and Trooper One was standing to my left and behind me. I did not see any recording devices or video cameras at the time we interviewed Todashev.
… I first learned the interview was recorded on Friday, May 24, 2013 [3 days after shooting!], when I received a message from Trooper One who advised videos were uploaded to the Google cloud. [FBI Agent's claim that he did not know the interview was recorded is contradicted by the fact that both FBI Agent admits -- and Troopers confirm (pages 78-94) -- that he was present for a conversation during the ride to Todashev's whether Florida was a one-party state (meaning they could record without Todashev's consent). They called someone at the Orlando Police Department, who confirmed it was a one-party state. So FBI was involved in a fairly detailed conversation about whether there would be a recording. He also knew that Trooper One had a video camera. And he also acknowledges that he heard Todashev say "Don't do that" to Trooper One when  Todashev noticed Trooper One was recording, but FBI Agent claims he didn't know what Todashev was referring to.] Once I located the recordings on the computer I found there were both audio and video recordings of the interview of Todashev. [He "located" the recordings. He doesn't say if he looked at them. But he sure didn't tell anyone!] I found out after the fact, Trooper One had used a high definition recorder which he had placed on the kitchen counter which eventually ran out of battery life, at which point Trooper One switched to his telephone to continue recording. I also found out after returning to Boston that Trooper Two had a recorder in his pocket during the interview. At the time of the interview, I did not know the interview was being recorded by anyone.
Trooper One advised he had passed the videos to other individuals who had a need to know in his department. After this had happened, I did not think about the recording. When I returned to work after being off for the injury I received as a result of the assault on my person by Todashev, I was contacted by REDACTED with some additional questions regarding my initial signed sworn statement. I mentioned to REDACTED something to the effect of, it would be nice if we released the video because it would refute many of the press’ allegations. [What a great idea. I wonder why the FBI didn't do this!] REDACTED was very surprised by this because he did not know about the video’s existence. [It's a couple of weeks into the FBI's most important internal investigation and the internal investigator at the agency doesn't know about the videos.] He advised he would need a copy. I mentioned to REDACTED that I had only learned of the videos after the incident. …”
These accounts seem very implausible and lead to more questions:

3a) How long were the three law enforcement involved in questioning the only people in the world that knew of the existence of these recordings. Did Trooper One or Two watch/listen to the recordings after the shooting before they turned the recordings over?

3b) Did the FBI or any law enforcement agency examine the camcorder or phones that were used to record for signs that any video or audio recordings had  been deleted? There's no evidence that they did.

3c) Why were only portions of the evening recorded?

Here's a summary of what Trooper One told the  FBI (pages 84-87):

He retrieved his video camera and began recording about 20 minutes in. A while later he noticed the camera had stopped because the video card was full. He deleted some family videos stored on the camera and began recording again. Again the recorder stop because of lack of space. He deleted some more family videos, along with the first part of the Todashev meeting which he deemed unimportant. A while later he noticed his camera battery died, so he began recording on his phone. He recorded on his phone until he needed to use it to text. Drat! He missed Todashev's attack and the shooting.

Here's what Trooper Two told the Florida Investigator about his partial recording:
When asked why an audio recording was not collected for the entire length of the interview Trooper Two informed, “The um, my recorder died. It ah, shut off and I, I think there was another part, I may have went to pause it, inside my pocket and then restart it when he came down from the bathroom, I think is maybe when I paused it. Ah, I don’t recall, but ah, I tried to turn it back on and it died again. I didn’t realize it was not working, until after everything was said and done and realized it had…”
Double drat! He missed the attack and shooting too.

A few things stand out. One, even if you accept the Troopers' explanation, the bumbling and fumbling and casualness with which the evening was recorded certainly doesn't read like a critical interrogation of someone who is suspected of committing three murders with the Boston Bomber. Two, the starting and stopping of the video camera would make it easier to delete selected files/moments, were one inclined to so. And, of course, all that on and off action begs the question:

3d) Were the recording devices delibrately shut off at various times because the law enforcement present did not want those moments recorded?

In addition to the questions raised in this post, there's also The Mystery of the Flying Coffee Table.

I'm not claiming that every single one of these questions has a nefarious answer, but I think they are all reasonable questions to ask and ask aggressively. And one gets the impression that the investigator for the Florida AG's office didn't ask any of these questions. Which, of course, isn't surprising because investigations of killer cops and FBI agents are almost always just for show.

Which is all the more reason we shouldn't accept their answers. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Todashev Files: The Mystery of the Flying Coffee Table

Given my propensity to write fake reports, I'm probably not the best one to break down the Florida AG's report on Todashev's killing. But I've spent a couple of hours with it, and there's a lot that doesn't come close to making sense. Let's start with the coffee table.

According to the official version of events,  Massachusetts State Trooper Number Two is outside the apartment, while Trooper One and FBI Agent are inside with Todashev. Trooper One is sitting on the stairs to the apartment's second floor. FBI Agent is sitting in a folding chair across from Todashev, who is sitting on a mattress. In between the FBI Agent and Todashev is a large white coffee table. Todashev is writing his confession on the table.  Here's a picture of Todashev sitting in front of the table without the FBI agent.


Trooper One is getting concerned that Todashev is getting more and more agitated after confessing to Waltham murders. So he texts Trooper Two and FBI Agent, “Be on guard. He is in vulnerable position to do something bad. Be on guard now. I see him looking around at times.” But Trooper Two is on the phone so he doesn't see the text and stays outside the apartment. Meanwhile, Trooper One does not hear a "ding" indicating that FBI Agent received his text so he looks down at his phone to make sure his message went through. At that moment, FBI Agent looks down at his notepad.

With no eyes on him, Todashev leaps into action. He flips the coffee table into the air, striking FBI Agent. He then runs into the kitchen and starts rummaging around. Todashev then picks up a red broom stick and charges Trooper One. FBI Agent, thinking both his own and Trooper One's lives are in danger, shoots Todashev 3 times. When that doesn't stop Todashev, he fire four more bullets and kills him.

OK. Back to the table. According to the official version: 1) Both Troopers and FBI Agent were very concerned about interviewing Todashev in his home because they knew he was violent; after all the FBI had witnessed Todashev beat up a man badly in a parking lot (without intervening) and also watched Todashev's MMA videos on YouTube. 2) Both Trooper One and FBI Agent were very concerned Todashev becoming increasingly agitated and going to try something. 3)Despite these concerns, one Trooper left the room while both FBI Agent and Trooper One took their eyes off Todashev. 4) Todashev attacked at the very instant he was unwatched.  (This version of events is found in both the State AG's report and his letter summarizing his findings.

But it gets much weirder. Here's a picture of FBI agent's head where he was supposedly hit by flying table.



Notice the gash is on on the back on his head. Now remember, he's sitting facing Todashev looking down at his note pad. How did the coffee table cause this wound? Go back and look at the coffee table. It's big. Granted, Todashev is one strong dude. But he threw the coffee high enough in the air to come down and land on FBI Agent's head from above?

And then there's this: When Trooper One submitted written testimony (p.34) the day after the incident, he wrote "I was sitting on the stairs across from SA (FBI Agent) , who was sitting in a chair directly across from Todaschev, who was sitting on the bed.  A small table (emphasis added) separated SA and Todaschev." 

But the real kicker is this:  The FBI Agent's description of what happened to his head (p. 46), also taken from written testimony the next day.
I was reading my notepad when I heard a loud noise and suddenly felt a blow to the back of my head. I was knocked partially off my chair, but  caught myself. I saw Todashev running past me and I tried to grab him. I removed my weapon from the holster and aimed the gun at Todashev who had run towards the kitchen.
To recap: In testimony the next day, FBI Agent doesn't even mention being hit with a flying table, just that he "felt a blow to the back of my head." Now I understand that he was looking down at his notepad, but he didn't happen to notice that the blow to his head was caused by that big (small?) coffee table flying through the air?

The official FBI and Massachusetts State Police version of the coffee table -- faithfully regurgitated by Florida DA -- is crap. And that's just the coffee table. There's so much more blatant and obvious bullshit in these here 500 pages.