Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Pellicano Case And The New York Times Just Keep Getting Stranger

From the New York Times:

What has not been publicly disclosed are the details of the single recording in the government's possession that it says is an illegal wiretap. According to written summaries of F.B.I. interviews seen by The New York Times, the recording concerns events that led to the divorce of a Los Angeles billionaire, Alec E. Gores, from his wife, Lisa A. Gores, in 2001.

If the government fails to crack Mr. Pellicano's passwords and turn up other direct evidence of wiretaps, that means the prosecution's star witnesses could be forced to make their painful private drama public.

Mr. Gores, principal of the private equity firm Gores Technology Group, admitted hiring Mr. Pellicano in 2000 to investigate his suspicions that his wife was cheating on him with his younger brother, Thomas T. Gores, another billionaire investor, according to summaries of F.B.I. interviews with all three family members. (A third brother, Sam Gores, runs the Paradigm talent agency.)

Mr. Pellicano installed wiretaps on both Lisa and Tom Gores's telephones, the summaries show, and confirmed Alec Gores's suspicions that the two had become inappropriately involved. Alec Gores admitted to the F.B.I. that he listened to Mr. Pellicano's wiretaps on several occasions, the summaries show. Alec Gores has not been charged, and has been assured he is only a witness in the case, said his lawyer, Louis Miller, who is also known as Skip.
So, let's see. A man (who happens to have made a billion dollars or so for himself) hires Anthony Pellicano to bug the telephones of his wife and brother - a serious and straightforward felony. He listens to the recordings. He pays Mr. Pellicano lots of money. And he has not been charged, and has been assured he is only a witness in the case?!

Boy is that weird. But there is no indication whatsoever that the New York Times thinks it's weird, or that they've asked Skip Miller or anyone else why Mr. Gores, a man who according to the Times admits that he hired and paid Mr. Pellicano to commit serious felonies, has been "assured" - apparently by the same prosecutors who have indicted Terry Christensen for allegedly doing exactly what Mr. Gores admits he did - that he is only a witness.

And if the Times doesn't find any of that worth asking about, how about this:

Why is billionaire Alec Gores relying on Skip Miller for legal advice in this case? Skip Miller is a highly competent and aggressive attorney who as late as 1994 was still claiming "white collar criminal defense" as a practice specialty. But the most recent description of Mr. Miller's practice provided by the firm he recently left to Meritas (now deleted from the web, but still available in cached form) does not even mention criminal defense as an area of Mr. Miller's practice at all:
His practice is varied and diverse and includes antitrust, securities, employment, energy, defamation/First Amendment, entertainment (motion pictures, television and music), copyright, toxic tort, civil rights, construction, real estate, inverse condemnation and other areas of the law.

Miller defended the City of Los Angeles in a series of cases arising from the operations of the LAPD including: the Rodney King civil rights action; First Amendment litigation brought by the then-Assistant Chief of Police; a dozen lawsuits brought against the Mayor, City Council members, Police Commissioners and City Attorneys arising from the LAPD's Special Investigation Section, culminating in two victories (1996 and 2000) in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; a $100 million inverse condemnation/civil rights case brought by Southern Pacific Railroad; and has handled energy litigation for private and publicly-owned utilities including the City's Department of Water and Power.

Clients from all walks regularly seek out Mr. Miller's services including artists and actors such as Rod Stewart, Elton John, Nick Nolte, Bob Dylan and a member of the Eagles, as well as domestic and foreign entertainment companies and prominent local politicians including the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. His practice also includes representing the investors who put a billion dollars into Internet incubator Indealab; winning a $7 million judgment against musician Michael Jackson in a four-month jury trial in Santa Maria; defending the City of Riverside in the nationally prominent Tyisha Miller civil rights case; prosecuting trade secret/unfair competition for the maker of 7 Jeans and on behalf of an investment bank and for a manufacturing conglomerate; and representing the Patron Tequila brand in a dispute with Seagram.

Other prominent cases handled by Miller include prevailing on behalf of a director of Executive Life Insurance Co. after a three-month trial in a multi-billion dollar claim arising from the largest insurance failure in California history; winning sexual harassment trials on behalf of the City of Pasadena and Rose Bowl and a Los Angeles City Council member and the City of Los Angeles; prevailing on behalf of the City of Anaheim in a $50 million dispute with its telecom provider; prevailing in the Ninth Circuit and in two district courts in a series of civil rights cases brought against the City of Beverly Hills and its Mayor, Chief of Police and Councilmembers; defending Beverly Hills against toxic tort claims in connection with Beverly Hills High School; and defending inverse condemnation and contractual disputes against the cities of Carson and Monterey Park.
Did the reader detect anything of a criminal defense nature in any of that? I don't think so. Maybe it's in that "other areas of law." Is that what Mr. Gores is paying for in a case in which the New York Times says he admits he hired Mr. Pellicano to commit felonies on his behalf? Is there some reason why Mr. Gores isn't looking for advice mostly to someone with more criminal defense experience - and having that special someone speak on his behalf to outfits like the New York Times? It's not as though Mr. Gores can't afford whoever he likes.
(24) comments

Contra 1994 V: Democrats Don't Do Libraries Anymore?

James Taranto comments:

E.J. Dionne, a liberal Washington Post columnist, is unhappy about last week's California election results. No, not the Republican victory in the special House election (though he's none too pleased with that), but the defeat of a pair of ballot measures (emphasis his):
The truly sobering news for liberals was in the statewide voting. Proposition 82, the ballot measure that would have guaranteed access to preschool for all of California's 4-year-olds, went down to resounding defeat, 61 to 39 percent.

Not only that, voters also rejected a $600 million bond measure for the state's libraries. A vote against libraries? Yes, the bonds went down 53 to 47 percent.

And bear in mind that these spending measures appeared on a primary ballot at a time when Democrats were holding a fierce contest for their gubernatorial nomination, while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faced only token Republican opposition. There were roughly 500,000 more Democratic than Republican primary votes--meaning that a significant number of Democrats voted against both propositions.

Progressives can find plenty of alibis. Instead they need to deal with the sources of voter skepticism about public spending.
... [T]he column got us to thinking about broader trends that may be feeding public skepticism about government.

It has been widely noted that congressional Republicans have failed to live up to their billing as the party of small government, especially since George W. Bush became president. ....

In sum: Republicans favor small government but embrace big government when they have the power to control it. Democrats favor big government but insist that it can work only when they have the power to control it. ...
Taranto makes a lot of sense, of course. But I think the observations in my previous post in this series regarding Prop 82 apply equally well to the failure of Prop 81 (the library bond measure): Republicans (at least those out of government) are less enthusiastic about more debt and public spending on "small government" grounds, preferring such things to be handled more by private means. And perhaps, as Dionne argues, liberals (or "progressives") ought to favor more library spending on principle or political consistency grounds. But there is good reason to think that relatively fewer Democrats care about or have children now (Taranto has, of course, noted this fact in other contexts), and children would be the main users of those libraries, as USA Today reports:
In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs. ... It's not that people in a progressive city such as Seattle are so much fonder of dogs than are people in a conservative city such as Salt Lake City. It's that progressives are so much less likely to have children.

It's a pattern found throughout the world, and it augers a far more conservative future — one in which patriarchy and other traditional values make a comeback, if only by default. Childlessness and small families are increasingly the norm today among progressive secularists. As a consequence, an increasing share of all children born into the world are descended from a share of the population whose conservative values have led them to raise large families.
The news is even worse for Mr. Dionne and his pro-library funding sympathies because some studies have found that the children of liberals read less than children of conservatives, with the liberal children playing more computer games and watching more television than their conservative counterparts. Worse, some studies also suggest that children who play computer games to excess are more disposed to violence than their parents - with the effect on the children apparently detectable in their brains.

(2) comments

Monday, June 12, 2006

A South American Analogue To Zarqawi and Post-Insurgency Iraq?

In 1990 Peru was being savaged by its own "insurgency." That "insurgency" took the form of the neo-Maoist terrorist organization called "Shining Path" - which was at the time busy demolishing as much of Peru's infrastructure and urban fabric, and killing as many middle-class Peruvians, as it could manage. The Shining Path meant by such methods to bring down the reasonably democratic government of Peru. The parallels with Iraq, at least on the surface, are clear.

Alberto Fujimori, a son of Japanese immigrants, was an academic and university president when he scored a surprise victory over novelist Mario Vargas Lhosa and became Peru's president. Fujimori has said that Peru was "an interesting challenge": Cocaine was a $1 billion a year export, inflation was at 7,500 percent and the use of violence as a political tool by the Shining Path and MRTA tore Peru up pretty thoroughly and had come close to tearing it completely apart into social chaos. The Shining Path is believed to have killed more than 10,000 people. In some respects Peru was worse off than Iraq is today.

Nobody seems to dispute that Alberto Fujimori's government extinguished the Shining Path - although there are those who claim the biggest steps were accomplished by "ordinary police work" and not the thuggish, admittedly uber-violent, and perhaps murderous methods of Vladimir Montesinos. Montesinos was Fujimori's de facto head of Peruvian security (MRTA) who was ultimately disgraced and found to have been highly corrupt. Whatever the ways and means, most observers agree that the biggest step in terminating the Shining Path was the celebrated capture of its founder Abimael Guzman - himself a murderous academic who directed and had essentially created the Shining Path.

The death of Zarqawi is not a perfect analogue to the capture of Guzman. For one thing, the Shining Path was essentially the only "insurgency" challenging the Peruvian state. There was no good replacement for Guzman. Some have argued that Zarqawi will simply be replaced as head of al Qaida in Iraq, and his war will go on. But as far as I can see, such speculation is not supported by any real evidence one way or the other. Moreover, there have been reports that Zarqawi's particular ultra-violent and promiscuous form of insurgency was by no means favored by his al Qaida generally. It certainly rankled lots of fellow Arabs - including Jordanians - who otherwise might have been inclined to look the other way. So Zarqawi's vision may have been rather personal, and (if that is so) eliminating Zarqawi may be a better analogue to capturing Guzman than at first meets the eye.

Two documentaries have recently been created about Fujimori's confrontation with Guzman and his Shining Path: The Fall of Fujimori and State of Fear. The Fall of Fujimori shows some real efforts at balance by its maker - although the maker's own beliefs do seem to show through (which is not all bad, since she's a nice person). And it's very well done in most respects, especially the interviews with Fujimori himself and his daughter and the use of archival film. In contrast, State of Fear is a ludicrous piece of agitprop and an attempt to equate current American anti-terrorism efforts with Peru's excesses under Fujimori. But the films are in agreement with the conclusions that taking a single man - Guzman - from the field made a huge difference in the course of the Peruvian anti-terrorist effort. Less comforting, they also both persuasively argue that after the Shining Path was in fact defeated the exceptional powers assumed by the Peruvian government were put to increasingly pernicious use.

Contrary to these film makers (especially the second), I do not believe there is much of a parallel with the US here. But there may be a very important parallel with respect to what we might expect from a post-insurgency Iraq, one forged in the smithy of counter-terrorism politics. That picture is not pretty at all. But at least one has to assume the extinction of the Iraq insurgency before having to contemplate the form of post-insurgency Iraq. In any event, Peru has today largely recovered.

UPDATE: Brett Stephens has some very interesting observations on how the nature of the insurgency may change, and some further information as to how Zarqawi had become estranged from many people one would think have to be on the side of a successful "insurgent" in Iraq.
(13) comments

Dead Again III: Steve Forbes Gets One Right

Steve Forbes, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

The Net Neutrality lobbyists want Congress to pass innovation-stifling restrictions on what companies like Verizon and AT&T can do with the new high-speed broadband networks that these companies haven't even finished building yet.

These networks are the superhighways for transporting Internet content and services. They will also permit Verizon and AT&T to offer Internet-based cable TV programming in competition with the cable companies, which are already competing in telecom services. Slapping these networks with premature, unnecessary regulations would be an inexcusable barrier to the tradition of innovation at the heart of the Internet.

Phone companies are investing billions of dollars in network innovation. They need to earn a return on their investment. One logical way is to use a tiered pricing system that charges a premium price for premium services -- which means super-high-speed services that gobble extra bandwidth on the network. ...

This is the same concept as mail service. If ... you want [a] letter delivered without fail by 10 a.m. the next morning, you upgrade to FedEx and pay for the extra service you need.

Applying this principle to the Internet sounds like the free market at work to me. But the Net Neutralizers have responded with manufactured indignation, claiming that it's discrimination and somehow tramples on the egalitarian spirit of the Internet.

Surprisingly Google, E-Bay and other high-tech companies have become big supporters of this flavor of Net Neutrality; they supposedly fear discrimination from Internet providers. But they have no real evidence to back-up such fears. If problems do arise, then these can be dealt with specifically.

Passing Network Neutrality legislation would be a re-run of the disastrous Telecom Act of 1996 which forced telecom companies to provide network access to competitors at below market prices. That certainly put a chill on network innovation. After years of wasteful lawsuits and regulatory infighting, the network access monster has gone away. But it was a big factor in letting America slip into the high-tech Stone Age, with consumer broadband services lagging far behind what's available in countries like Japan or South Korea. ...

After all, what network operator would be silly enough to keep investing billions in network innovations if the fruits of its innovation had to be given away at below cost?

What network operator indeed?

For his sake, lets hope that Mr. Forbes is only trying to persuade Congress and the general public - and not the "net neutrality" supporters on the Blogosphere! Many of those people supported intellectual property theft supermarkets like Grokster - despite the obviously analogous argument: "What content creator is going to create lots of high quality, expensive content if the profit is to stripped off by file sharing web sites?"

The economic model the Net Neutralizers seem to posit is one in which expensive content and hardware networks can be supplied by a profitless system - or efficiently provided by a system that suppresses efficient returns to the providers, and quite possibly denies them any returns at all. And all of this is apparently supposed to be justified, supported and ultimately financed by the great, new, ever-increasing-returns-to-scale Paul Romerian goodies created through net-enabled activities like people watching purloined movies delivered almost for free from those Grokster-like Bit Torrent supermarkets? Sure, fellas. And no doubt Santa Claus will make up any shortfall. I just can't wait.

Why do the the arguments of the Net Neutralizers sound so much like nostalgia for the fever swamps of the late 1990's internet boom? Could it be that so many of the people writing the copy for the Net Neutralizers today are the same people (and their intellectual legatees) who fronted for the profitless 1990's boomers? Lawrence Lessig's bloviating, of course. But Paul Romer's own website today includes the giddy boast that he "was named one of America's 25 most influential people by Time magazine in 1997." Does Professor Romer have no awareness of what was going on in his immediate intellectual and financial vicinity at that time? Perhaps he should do a back-of-the-envelope calculation of how much investment was misdirected within, say, 10 miles of his current Stanford office during those years.

Could it be that so many of these Net Neutrality supporters also supported those who told us in the 1990's that "stickiness" and "hits" and the rest of the palaver of that busted era had replaced (or, better, "transcended") prosaic considerations such as "net revenue" and "cost of capital" as the variables de jour. Or could it be echos of the 1990's profitless boomers telling the world such things, and that anyone who didn't agree with such things, that "you just don't get it," with a manufactured indignation uneasily similar to the tone Mr. Forbes correctly identifies in the Net Neutralizers today?

I think it's something like that.

(3) comments