Palast, Progressives and Investigative Journalism

Original Publication Date: 
Thursday, July 5, 2007

Investigative journalist Greg Palast, one of the most vigorous of all progressive reporters and winner of six Project Censored Awards, originally brought story of the "caging lists" from Duval County, Florida to widespread attention in his report for an October 26th, 2004 BBC Newsnight program. By doing so, he tried to open up a conversation critical to the future of voting rights in America. "Caging" may be just one way of manipulating the voting roles, but it is possible to use it for keeping a percentage of the poorer, less stable potential voters from exercising their rights.

Over two years have passed since the BBC's original report on the emails, and the story had seemed to fade. Yet, because Palast had based his story on "caging" spreadsheets sent to Tim Griffin, the Director of Research and Communications at the RNC headquarters, it wasn't surprising when the issue was resurrected after Griffin's appointment as U.S. Attorney for Western Arkansas in 2006. The claims that the RNC had engaged in using "caging" to disenfranchise black soldiers sent to Iraq along with thousands of voters from African-American neighborhoods or other minority voters in Democratic precincts were being made across the Internet, on progressive radio and even in congressional hearings. Unfortunately, other than that done for the reporting of Greg Palast, there was no known analysis of the names and addresses on the caging lists with the actual data available from the voter registration files. Until recently, that is: The full analysis is covered in the ePluribus Media Journal article Voter Suppression on June 26, 2007.

Dismantling Voting Rights Enforcement

Original Publication Date: 
Friday, May 11, 2007

As ePluribus Media recently reported, since the replacement of long-time Voting Rights Section Chief Joseph D. Rich by John K. Tanner (promoted by former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights R. Alexander Acosta) there has been an exodus of unprecedented proportions of experienced voting rights personnel from DoJ's Civil Rights Division. TPM Muckraker's Paul Kiel has referred to this exodus as a purge, and it has stretched from the top to the bottom of the Voting Section's ranks. Acosta has been implicated in the plummeting number of voting rights cases filed to protect the rights of African-Americans. Since then, he has received three interim appointments from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida prior to being confirmed by the Senate. Tanner, however, remains Voting Section chief.

Former Section Chief Rich noted, in testimony before a House Judiciary subcommittee in March of this year, that:

[...] of the five persons in section leadership at the beginning of 2005 (the chief and four deputy chiefs), only one deputy chief remains in the section today.

Voter Caging: Is this Tool still in the RNC Arsenal?

Original Publication Date: 
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
ePluribus Media has identified three individuals working within the Republican party's 2004 election apparatus who may have been party to what some have alleged was a ballot security program also known as "vote caging." Shawn Reinschmiedt, Christopher Carr and Rich Beeson have received less attention than Tim Griffin has on this issue. The three, also party to emails identifying voters who could be challenged during the 2004 elections, have recently been appointed to key RNC posts. This movement of RNC troops should be noted and followed.

The 2004 Caging Emails

Shawn Reinschmiedt and Tim Griffin were both on the email distribution list where challenge lists were discussed and sent to RNC officials during the 2004 election. Rich Beeson was the recipient of an email from Christopher Carr containing a caging list.

Reinschmiedt was a Senior Research Analyst for the RNC. He was copied on the August 26, 2004 email sent by Kelly Porter of the Republican Party of Florida, to Tim Griffin with the "caging list" attachment that ePluribus Media analyzed as part of a recent article __Voter Suppression.

Reinschmiedt was also a recipient and contributor to email discussions about the creation of lists for possible voter challenges in Ohio and other states, including Nevada, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Mexico. Members of the Ohio Republican party (OhioGOP), Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign officials and other RNC officials were among those included in this email exchange.

Iraq, Contingency Contracting and the Defense Base Act - Part III

Original Publication Date: 
Sunday, March 4, 2007

Part III: Information, Training & Access

Part I of this series traces how the lack of adequate insurance coverage impacted families already suffering the deaths or uncertainty surrounding the status of their family members serving in Iraq or Afghanistan as civilian contractors.

Part II concentrates on why the appropriate Defense Base Act (DBA) clauses that could have made a difference went "missing in action."

Part III focuses on the Defense Department's (unlike its counterparts in the State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID)) inability to provide information, training and access to low cost coverage.

What Went Wrong?

Inadequate planning, staffing and implementation seem to be the main culprits in the Department of Defense's inability to implement Defense Base Act procedures, especially in light of the other government agencies' ongoing success in doing so.

Stepping back five years to see what happened to the Department of Defense's efforts, we start in March of 2002, when two former councils1 combined to create the Defense Acquisition Excellence Council (DAEC). The DAEC was established to:

...address acquisition, technology and logistics issues that cut across organizational and functional boundaries [and] to collectively work issues as well as take actions to accelerate implementation of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics (AT&T) initiatives to achieve acquisition excellence.2

One of the earliest meetings of the new DAEC, 3 March 18, 2003 mentioned in Part I of this series was the same briefing that Deirdre A. Lee, then Director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition, attended but failed to act upon for over 9 months.

Iraq, Contingency Contracting and the Defense Base Act - Part II

Original Publication Date: 
Sunday, March 4, 2007

Part II: DBA Clauses Missing In Action

The first part of this series traced how the lack of adequate insurance coverage impacted families already suffering the deaths or uncertainty surrounding the status of their family members serving in Iraq or Afghanistan as civilian contractors. Part II concentrates on how the appropriate Defense Base Act contract clauses that could have made a difference went "missing in action."

Missing in Action

For those writing and administering contracts, whether or not to include the appropriate Defense Base Act (DBA) clauses requiring insurance protection for civilian contractors is left to individual contracting officers. At best when the appropriate clauses are missing, the contract was mistakenly assumed to be exempt. At worst, the clause was overlooked or never considered.

Grey Zone

Department of Defense contracts are generally divided into three types: services, supplies, and construction.

Both "services" and "construction" contracts require DBA clauses. But civilian contractors who provide "supplies" on or near the battlefield are generally exempt from carrying DBA insurance. However, in some instances, contractors who provide supplies where the contract requires work on site -- known as "service incidental to supply" -- are not exempt. 1

Current language within Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 2 is ambiguous and may appear to waive the requirement of DBA coverage by creating grey zones for service incidental to supply. These grey zones leave each contingency contracting officer to interpret FAR to the best of his or her ability and to determine when and where they should include DBA clauses.

Iraq, Contingency Contracting and the Defense Base Act - Part I

Original Publication Date: 
Sunday, March 4, 2007

Kirk von Ackermann is missing.

So is his fellow worker, Ryan Manelick.

Although both men, contractors in the Irag theater, have been declared dead, they are both missing from the official statistics of the injured or deceased maintained by the Department of Labor.

On March 18, 2003, one day before the start of the war in Iraq, Defense acquisition personnel were given a presentation that outlined recurring problems with insurance for contractors: contracts from the Department of Defense were too often excluding Defense Base Act clauses, the very clauses that provided a modicum of insurance protection for civilian contractors. While both the State Department and USAID secured low cost insurance for their overseas workers, the Pentagon consistently resisted efforts for department-wide coverage. The rationale? Saving money was considered more important than broad access to coverage1, coverage that would ensure surviving family members of kidnapped or killed contractors received compensation.

Established in 1941, the Defense Base Act (DBA)2 provides the equivalent of workers' compensation for civilian contractors working on contingency operations in overseas countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. DBA provides benefits in the event contractors are injured, killed, or kidnapped in the course of their work for US government agencies such as the various branches of the Department of Defense, USAID, or the State Department. But this insurance is not automatic, employers must purchase it. And before they can do that, they must know about it.

According to the Department of Labor who administers DBA benefits, at least 770 contractors have died3 and 7,761 contractors have been injured in Iraq between March 2003 to December 31, 2006.

At least two American contractors should be listed: Ryan Manelick and Kirk von Ackermann. They are not, however, included in DBA casualty figures.

Iraq, Contingency Contracting and the Defense Base Act

Original Publication Date: 
Sunday, March 4, 2007

Iraq contractor. Those two words evoke different reactions fromdifferent people. For the families of the contractors who have beeninjured, kidnapped or killed as a result of simply doing their jobs,there's a much more pressing concern than public opinion: insurance. In early 2005, Susie Dow became aware that a civilian contractor, Kirk von Ackermann, was not covered by "insurance" when he disappeared in Iraq on October 9, 2003. She sought to find out why. The story that follows is based on research, interviews, correspondence, documents, emails, and phone calls over a two year time span. The first part of this series traces how the lack of adequate insurance coverage impacted families already suffering the deaths or uncertainty surrounding the status of their family members serving in Iraq or Afgahistan as civilian contractors. Part II concentrates on why the appropriate Defense Base Act clauses that could have made a difference went "missing in action." Part III focuses on the lack of information, training and access to low cost coverage for contractors based overseas. Susie Dow has followed the Missing Man story since February 27, 2005. Her first ePluribus Media story One Missing, One Dead; An Iraq Contractor in the Fog of War, follows the tale of two American civilian contractors.

Resurrecting Jim Crow: The Erratic Resume of the Voting Section Chief

Original Publication Date: 
Monday, May 7, 2007

When John K. Tanner replaced Joe Rich as section chief of the Justice Department's Voting Section in 2005, a breathtaking politicization -- already under way after Alex Acosta was put in charge of the Civil Rights Division -- accelerated sharply. The exodus of talent, expertise, and knowledge of civil rights law in the two years under Tanner's stewardship is numbing. Roughly 50% of the staff1 -- attorneys, including many of the top litigators, researchers and analysts -- have left, and Tanner has waged an aggressive effort to remake the section in his own image -- not an image that most people who promote the core mission of the Voting Rights Act, which the Section is primarily responsible for enforcing, would support.

Why it matters

Forty years ago, black and white Americans were murdered for trying to stop Jim Crow. Thugs, drunken good old boys and miscreants pulled the trigger, lit the torch, yanked the rope.

Courageous men and women like Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and Viola Liuzzo fought and lost their lives to get rid of the Jim Crow laws that deprived African-Americans of the right to vote.

Eventually, with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the voting rights of every American citizen were secured.

But Jim Crow, like the Dark Lord in the popular Harry Potter children's books, never completely died. And the resurrection, assisted by the seeding of political appointees and agreeable new hires within the very government institutions designed to protect the civil rights of Americans, is now dangerously close at hand.

Alberto Gonzales: Gaming the System Again in Arizona?

Original Publication Date: 
Thursday, February 1, 2007

Late Wednesday (1-31-07), a paragraph1 about Diane Humetewa as Republican Senators McCain's and Kyl's recommended replacement for resigning U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, one of the Gonzales Seven, disappeared from an The Arizona Republic article.


Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and President George W. Bush appointed Daniel Knauss to serve as interim instead.

As The Arizona Republic reports this morning:

Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for Arizona, stressed that Knauss' appointment is a temporary measure. He said President Bush has yet to nominate a candidate for Senate approval, and Humetewa is not excluded from that process.

As an earlier ePluribus Media Journal article detailed, the "old" process2 for "hiring" a new U.S. Attorney to head up any of the 93 districts is traditionally a 3-parter:  The Senators from the state in which the district is located provide a list of suggestions to the President, the President appoints the nominee, and the Senate confirms the appointment.

The President customarily takes the recommendation of the senators from the nominee's home state who are of the same party as the President. If there are no senators from the President's party, the President gets recommendations from party leaders in the state.

Indeed, the tradition of "senatorial courtesy," as it is called, has at times been so entrenched that if the President disregarded these nominations, the individual would never make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.3

These are critical appointments because the U.S. Attorney in each district office is in charge of staff and the numerous Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) who work in them.  The Washington D.C. office has 350 AUSAs alone.

Who IS Alberto Gonzales?

Original Publication Date: 
Thursday, March 8, 2007

[Update: (New York Times) In a private meeting on Capital Hill, Alberto Gonzales said the Justice Department would not block attempts to change the current rules on replacing US Attorneys.]

Admittedly, there is much information publicly available regarding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, his rise to White House Counsel and then to his current position of Attorney General. His impact on the direction of the country over the past six years is immense.

His documents -- his advice and his counsel -- have been considered by some to lay the foundation for torture, suspension of habeas corpus, warrantless wiretapping, the expansion of power in the Executive Branch and, most recently, what at least appears to be the politically motivated replacement of many U.S. Attorneys with Administration loyalists, in order to pad their resumes, as William Mercer in his capacity as Associate Attorney General (not as U.S. Attorney for the Montana District) apparently suggested to two of the resigning U.S. Attorneys1.

However, little attention has been given to just how the second of eight children who shared a two bedroom house with his siblings and parents, rose to the level of the nation's top prosecutor. Additionally, there has not been much exposure as to how such a highly intelligent, hardworking individual who gained many honors and accolades during his early career would ultimately craft legal positions that changed the basis for what is considered torture and the interpretation of the Bill of Rights.

School and the Early Years

Gonzales went to public school, Rice University and Harvard Law School. He spent two years serving in the US Air Force (1973 - 1975) and then attended the Air Force Academy for two years (1975 - 1977). He received many honors as well as participated in countless professional and civic activities. From his bio on the White House website:


Original Publication Date: 
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Editors' Note: On the first year anniversary of Katrina, Louisiana resident and writer, Polydactyl reflects on her in-the-moment journals and diaries to remind us of what it was like in the eye of the storm.

about the author: Polydactyl dons her blogger's hat in Central Louisiana between shifts as a wife, mom, cat-herder and computer healer.