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Breaking news out of

Breaking news out of Florida.

Two men, Anthony Ferrari and Anthony Moscatiello, arrested in the gangland killing of erstwhile Abramoff business partner Gus Boulis.

Unmentioned in today's AP story are the quarter million dollars in unexplained payments Abramoff business partner Adam Kidan made to Moscatiello, Ferrari and their family members around the time of Boulis' death.

Kidan earlier explained that the payments were for "catering" and "surveillance".

Small world.

There is a rather

There is a rather cryptic article in tomorrow's New York Times about Jack Abramoff's first brush with the law back in 2002 and how he got unbrushed.

This is the case in late 2002, when the Acting US Attorney in Guam opened a criminal probe into Jack Abramoff's lobbying activities in the US Pacific island protectorate. Yet days after federal prosecutor Frederick A. Black notified the Justice Department's Public Integrity section of his inquiry into Abramoff, he was demoted. And his new bosses barred him from pursuing any other public corruption cases. That brought the entire Abramoff investigation to halt.

Administration officials argue there was nothing out of the ordinary with an acting US Attorney being replaced by a permanent apppointee. But Black had been the 'Acting' US Attorney in Guam for twelve years. So that explanation seems rather weak.

The news in the article is that FBI and DOJ IG personnel have been investigating just what or who might have been behind Black's timely demotion.

Former Attorney General Ashcroft comes in for some discussion, in part because Abramoff had apparently boasted of his close ties to the former AG and his staff at the Justice Department. Yet "a spokesman for Mr. Ashcroft," reports the Times, "said the former attorney general and his aides at the Justice Department had done nothing to assist Mr. Abramoff and his clients and had had no significant contact with him."

Now, it seems to me that Abramoff and Ashcroft must have been buddies on at least some level, because there's this heretofore unpublished email exchange (just added to the TPM Document Collection) sitting on my desk, in which their staffers are hashing out which date Ashcroft, his wife and his staff could enjoy the pleasures of the Abramoff skybox at DC's MCI Center in late 2000.

In the exchange, Abramoff's Kevin Ring hashes out possible dates with Ashcroft's Andy Beach. Ring later forwards the exchange on to Susan Ralston, Abramoff's skybox gatekeeper, for approval. And I can't help but notice the February 2nd, 2001 piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which notes that Ashcroft brought Beach with him to the Justice Department. Presumably, two years later, Beach was still there as Ashcroft's scheduler at Justice Department.

So who knows? Maybe there was just some line of communication after all.

Perhaps even more interesting, though, is a possibility that goes unmentioned in Tuesday's Times piece: Karl Rove.

The Los Angeles Times article on the Guam story from August 7th, 2005 (discussed here and reproduced here in the Globe) notes that Black's replacement, Leonardo Rapadas, apparently came at the behest of none other than Karl Rove.

Wrote the Times ...

His replacement, Leonardo Rapadas, was confirmed in May 2003 without any debate. Rapadas had been recommended for the job by the Guam Republican Party. Fred Radewagen, a lobbyist who had been under contract to the Gutierrez administration, said he carried that recommendation to top Bush aide Karl Rove in early 2003.

It's probably worth mentioning that at the point Black got the ax in November 2002 and was replaced by the party-backed Rapadas, the aforementioned Ralston was working as Rove's executive assistant.

Small world.

More and more from

More and more from the administration and former administration bunglers we're hearing the line that the problem was insufficient power to use the military in a domestic natural disaster.

Certainly, the military has a role to play in a major natural disaster. State National Guard troops are almost always deployed. And in catastrophic cases, only the regular military has the ability to organize major transports of resources, execute certain rescue missions, perhaps even handle a sort of para-law enforcement in extreme cases.

But a simple look at the <$Ad$> facts of what actually happened almost a month ago in Louisiana shows no evidence that anything that went wrong went wrong because the federal government lacked sufficient authority or because the US military was given too small a role.

It's simply not true.

In almost every case, the culprits were fully-empowered civilian officials who proved incompetent at executing their given tasks.

Response to a major natural disaster is basically a civilian mission. It went poorly in this case because because the federal government let the civilian disaster relief infrastructure decay dramatically over the last four years; because there was little thought given in advance to how the federal and state and local authorities should interact in a crisis; because the president and his chief advisors ignored the issue for a critical few days; and because the plans in place at a local level were themselves inadequate to the scale of catastrophe that could have been and was predicted.

Blame it on the locals or blame it on the Feds -- neither storyline requires you or even allows you to claim that things went wrong because the military lacked power to intervene.

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, you don't repair disorganized or incompetent government by granting it more power. You fix it by making it more organized and more competent. Just so here -- the move to militarize government's domestic responsibilities rather than improve them is a dangerous trend. And it suggests that, functionally, there's little left of conservatism today other than a warped big-government authoritarianism.

Governmental incompetence solved -- or rather papered over -- by militarization has a long history. And authoritarianism's hand is usually as clumsy as it is heavy.

I'm curious to see whether Andrew Bacevich has had anything to say about this.

CBS says FEMA has

CBS says FEMA has rehired Brownie as a consultant "to evaluate it's response following Hurricane Katrina." The Times-Picayune says merely that he "is continuing to work at the Federal Emergency Management Agency at full pay, with his Sept. 12 resignation not taking effect for two more weeks."

While there, says, DHS spokesman Russ Knocke, said Brownie will advise the department "some of his views on his experience with Katrina."

Long goodbye or not, aren't pearls of wisdom such as Brown appears to have on offer usually extracted not with paychecks but with subpoenas?

Rep. Jane Harman D-CA

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) is the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee. This week she's touring the Middle East and reporting back with a post each day at TPMCafe. She did this post just before leaving this afternoon.

Lets return to the

Let's return to the matter of Timothy E. Flanigan, currently awaiting confirmation as Deputy Attorney General of the United States, and Jack Abramoff.

To review the highlights of our story, Timothy Flanigan was appointed Deputy White House Counsel at the beginning of the Bush administration. He later left that job to become General Counsel of Tyco Corporation, which had relocated to Bermuda to avoid paying taxes to the US Treasury. At Tyco, Flanigan hired Abramoff to fend off legislation which would have forced Tyco to pay its taxes. And, in the course of that hiring and work, Abramoff first boasted of his access to DeLay, Rove and others and then later claimed that he had spoken to Rove and enlisted his assistance on Tyco's behalf.

When we discussed this Friday, I noted that any suggestion that Abramoff had just fooled Flanigan into believing that he had more access than he had was highly implausible since Flanigan, as Al Gonzales' deputy at the White House, would have gotten a good sense of who Abramoff was and the level of juice he had with Rove and other Republican power-brokers.

Now, after I made this point on the site, a conservative acquaintance of mine emailed and asked a sensible question. If Flanigan was so plugged in at the White House -- enough to know how tight Abramoff was with the president's key advisors -- why exactly did he need to hire Jack Abramoff?

Didn't he already have enough access to handle the issue on his own?

Good question. But there's a pretty straightforward answer once you get a clear view of what sort of operation Abramoff was running.

So this a good opportunity to restate the point.

On paper, Jack Abramoff was a lobbyist. And he made a great deal of money for himself. But if you think of Jack Abramoff as just a crooked lobbyist most of the facts coming out about what he did don't make a great deal of sense. He was a key player in a very big political machine and he was managing a slush fund.

Look at the pattern.

Notice how all Abramoff's clients seemed to get 'bilked' out of large sums of money that ended up going to other conservative foundations, consulting firms, Ralph Reed, lobby shops, Grover Norquist, astroturf organizers, politicians, etc.? All of them part of Washington's Republican infrastructure?

In the case of Abramoff's work for Flanigan and Tyco, Abramoff ended up sending the greater part of their $2 million lobbying fee to an astroturf outfit called Grassroots Interactive -- an outfit allegedly controlled by Abramoff and run by a guy who now works as the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor of Maryland.

The money ended up diverted to other purposes beside the honorable task of whipping up populist enthusiasm on behalf of corporations that relocate to PO boxes in Bermuda to avoid paying taxes. Tyco lawyer George Terwilliger claims the firm "was a victim of a rip-off."

So is that it? Another rip-off? Another corporation which hires a lawyer out of the White House only to get taken in by Jack Abramoff's wiles? Please. How many times can one operator pull off the same stunt? How many times do big chunks of these pay days get passed on to other operators and organizations without the operators and organizations getting wise to the game?

These odd diversions aren't the exception but the rule.

The Republican machine built by DeLay, Norquist, Abramoff, et al. and pulled into high gear after 2001, is a pay-for-play political machine. This is just another part of the operation, like the diktat for trade associations to hire only Republicans. Big political machines need their soldiers taken care of -- jobs on K Street which also discipline the trade associations under Hill leadership. Just so, they need big sums of money to move around off the books. How does Rove keep the millions moving to Norquist? To Reed? To all the other operatives whose names you don't know about?

Indian tribes bursting with millions who need very focused sorts of legislative intervention -- that's one good source of money. Corrupt Pacific Island governments who need similar help -- another good source.

If Tyco wanted help, they had to pay in. That's what the $2 million was. Of course it got passed on to some other GOP outfit with Abramoff connections. That was the point!

You know how on

You know how on pretty much every government website, when you click a link that takes you to another site, there's that somewhat tedious announcement that you're leaving the government website and that they're not responsible for the content?

Check out this page at socialsecurity.gov, go to the bottom of the page and click the button entitled "retirement income calculator."

You know that the

You know that the House Republican leadership has created a House Select Committee on Hurricane Katrina, and that the Democrats, wisely, declined to participate since it's controlled by the Republican leadership and thus highly unlikely to be anything but an exercise in White House damage control.

Now it turns out that on Tuesday at 10:00 AM they are going to have Brownie himself under oath at the Rayburn Building.

We're obviously way past the point where any Republicans are defending Brown. Indeed, he's now the designated fall-guy for the whole sorry mess. So, figure the questions will either be off-point or, when critical, critical in such a way as to focus blame for mishaps uniquely on him rather than on an administration which cared so little about disaster preparedness as to appoint him.

But I thought it would be an interesting exercise to come up a list of questions that might be asked if the House committee weren't in fact a sham. Call it a counter-factual, questions produced for an alternative reality in which there was actually congressional oversight.

I know it will be tempting to ask questions of the 'Mr. Brown, why hasn't God struck you down with a thunderbolt yet?'. But I'm thinking more of questions which might elicit significant new facts. We've set up a thread over at TPMCafe to discuss this. So think detail and specifics. What questions would you ask Brownie under oath if you had the chance?

As I mentioned yesterday

As I mentioned yesterday afternoon, we ended up getting about eight hundred ticket requests to the Serenity screening Wednesday night. But we only had around two hundred seats.

We've now sent out notifications to everyone we were able to provide seats for. So if you haven't heard back, we were not able to give you a ticket.

Separately, there was similarly high demand for the tickets to screenings in other parts of the country. And the studio publicity folks handling those screenings were similarly overwhelmed with not enough seats for all the requests.

Unfortunately, in their case, this apparently led to their sending out emails about screenings in the wrong cities and emails about different ticket offers and a bunch of other confusion.

So please accept my apologies for whatever hassles anyone had with requests to the studio publicity folks for tickets for screenings in those other cities.