Memoir or Make-Believe?

OK, folks. We're back from our trip to the corner bodega for toilet paper and Ramen Pride - and we brought along a little gift:

The Truth to Power Challenge

In the middle of watching Oprah's emasculation of James Frey yesterday and reading about the disclaimer slapped onto "Running Wth Scissors," we thought it would be worth taking another look at so many of the memoirs that have inundated our bookshelves in recent years. (Not that we've read any of them, mind you. We can barely get through the Post every morning.)

The Prize: To the investigator who uncovers the best lies in the most memoirs, lunch at Michael's with an actual book agent.

So, here's a list of memoirs to start. Over the next few days, we'll start adding details that are worth verifying from each one. Just Email me at msbaram@yahoo.com

My Friend Leonard (James Frey)
* DOES LEONARD EXIST? (There's speculation that Frey lifted much of his material from dead novelist Eddie Little's "Steel Toes" and "Another Day in Paradise")

More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction (Elizabeth Wurtzel)

Lighting Up: How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking and Everything Else I Love in Life Except Sex (Susan Shapiro)

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood (Koren Zailckas)

Magical Thinking (Augusten Burroughs)

Running With Scissors (Augusten Burroughs)

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: A Memoir (Nick Flynn)

The Sexual Life of Catherine M. (Catherine Millet)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers)

The Kiss (Kathryn Harrison)

Liar's Club (Mary Karr)

Out of Time (James Fountain)

Teacher Man: A Memoir (Frank McCourt)

Angela's Ashes (Frank McCourt)

Girls of Tender Age: A Memoir (Mary-Ann Tirone Smith)

Oh, The Glory of It All (Sean Wilsey)

My Life (Bill Clinton)

How to Make Love Like a Porn Star (Jenna Jameson)

Goat: A Memoir (Brad Land)

Chronicles, Vol. 1 (Bob Dylan)

Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles (Tony Swofford)

True Notebooks (Mark Salzman)

The Secret Life of Cowboys (Tom Groneberg)

I Bought Andy Warhol (Richard Polsky)

Stolen Lives: Twenty Days in A Desert Jail [Oprah's Book Club] (Malika Oufkir)

Personal History (Katharine Graham)

It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life (Lance Armstrong)

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (Andrew Solomon)

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (Anthony Bourdain)

The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band (Tommy Lee)


Glenn Beck Mocked Asians

Glenn Beck, the new face of CNN, was accused of offending Asian Americans while hosting a radio show in New Haven, CT and for ridiculing a man who called in to complain, according to the 10/20/95 Hartford Courant. Here's a suggestion for Beck's new colleagues at CNN: Don't share Chinese take-out with him!

"Under pressure from activist groups, a New Haven-area radio station agreed Thursday to apologize for broadcasting a sketch that offended Asian Americans and for ridiculing a man who called to complain.

The agreement with New Haven- based WKCI-FM was called an important victory by a coalition of four Asian-American groups, which represent one of Connecticut's smallest but quickly growing ethnic groups.

The negotiations between the station and the groups began as the result of a call to the station in August from Zhihan Tong, a 28-year- old computer network technician. Tong was driving from his New Haven-area home to his job in Danbury when he tuned in to the station, commonly known as KC101, for a traffic report. Instead, he heard Alf Papineau, the morning show's executive producer, pretending to speak Chinese to a bewildered Asian-American owner of a Chinese restaurant supposedly for sale... When Tong telephoned WKCI- FM to protest the broadcast as a racial slur, disc jockeys Glenn Beck and Pat Grey made fun of him. The two played a gong in the background several times, and Papineau, the executive producer, mocked a Chinese accent." [emphasis added]


New CNN Star!

Prior to cancelling Crossfire, CNN President Jonathan Klein stated that the program is no longer relevant to a nation seeking information, not opinion. Stating that he wishes to move CNN away from "head butting," Klein has pointed to CNN's tsunami and hurricane Katrina coverage as evidence of the news channel's dedication to reporting the news and not commenting on it.

Almost sounds too good to be true.

As CNN ratings continue to sink, it seems Klein has had a change of heart. In CNN's latest attempt to outfox Rupert Murdoch, it was announced today that, "Glenn Beck, a radio personality heard on nearly 200 Clear Channel Communications stations nationwide, is joining CNN Headline News to host "Glenn Beck," a topical talk show. Beck, a former alcoholic and drug addict who became a Mormon in 2000, recently referred to hurricane survivors in New Orleans as "scumbags" and said he "hates" 9/11 families. A CNN spokesman stated, "At Headline News, Glenn Beck will air out of New York and be an unconventional look at the news of the day featuring Beck's often amusing perspective."

I'm already laughing out loud.


This Just In...

FBI on NSA Data: 'Calls to Pizza Hut'
"We'd chase a number, find it's a schoolteacher with no indication they've ever been involved in international terrorism - case closed," says one ex-FBI official about some of the thousands of names, telephone numbers and addresses forwarded to the agency by the National Security Agency. "After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration."

And FBI director Robert S. Mueller III was concerned enough about the legality of the eavesdropping program that he asked senior administration officials about "whether the program had a proper legal foundation," but deferred to Justice Department legal opinions, an official said.

In FBI field offices, the NSA material was often considered unproductive, leading some agents to joke that a new bunch of tips meant more "calls to Pizza Hut," said one official. (New York Times)

Who's Investigating the Missing Billions?
Very little has been done to get to the bottom of the scandal of overbilling by contractors in Iraq. It's been over a year and a half since the Constitutional Provisional Authority stopped running the country amid several audits that uncovered lax oversight of contractors and the disappearance of billions in funds. The Justince Department and a special inspector general haven't done a thing to recover the money "suspected of disappearing through fraud and price gouging in reconstruction."

The CPA which lasted from April 2003 to June 2004 was allocated more than $38 billion in U.S. and Iraqi funds and it spent $19.7 billion of U.N.-administered Iraqi oil money. (BTW, former head of CPA Paul Bremer is John Stewart's guest tonight on the Daily Show.)

The Defense Contract Audit Agency says that it has "performed 1,373 audits in support of Iraq reconstruction contracting activity." But those audits weren't aimed specifically at fraud, requiring auditors "to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the contractor submissions and supporting data are free of material misstatement."

Another option, which the government has not used, is to intervene in suits filed by individuals who know of misused money under the False Claims Act. The Justice Department declined to intervene in the one Iraq-related suit in which it announced a decision. That case was filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, VA by a former employee of Custer Battles (awarded $38 million in contracts), who claims that the company overcharged the government for security services performed at Baghdad Airport. That case is still pending. (Wall Street Journal)

The Wheel Deal?

Amid the confusion felt by Medicare recipients over new rules that went into effect this year, some wheelchair users are experiencing their own bumps in the road.

Due to millions of tax dollars lost to fraudulent claims, Medicare established new interim rules that limit subsidies for power wheelchairs and scooters, making it difficult for some legitimate claimants by adding on extra paperwork. And suppliers claim that they're burdened by some of the new regulations - the multibillion-dollar power mobility industry gets plenty of money from the program. Medicare subsidies — which pay 80 percent of the cost of a motorized wheelchair or a scooter — soared from $289 million in 1999 to more than $1.2 billion in 2003.

In recent years, the industry has been beset with fraudulent claims. Recent FBI investigations in Kansas City, California, Michigan and Texas suggest that hundreds of millions of dollars in bogus billings were filed with Medicare before the reforms. The claims mainly involved power wheelchairs, which cost the program $5,000 compared with $2,000 for scooters. (Kansas City Star)


Deadly Train Crash Haunts Town

All too often, reporters engage in assignment ADD: They latch onto the latest, noisiest scandal for a day or a week and then quickly drop it once the next big thing comes along. Yet readers are often left frustrated, wanting to know what happened in the wake of a particular event or scandal and curious about the long-term repercussions.

Today, Jenny Jarvie in the Los Angeles Times does an admirable job following up on just such a story - last year's deadly train crash in Graniteville, SC, which released chlorine gas into the environment.

Last January, a Norfolk Southern train loaded with pressurized chlorine gas crashed into a parked train, killing nine people and injuring 240. It also forced over 5,000 residents of the small town to flee the poisonous gas. Although, South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control has carried out extensive testing of Graniteville's soil, air and water and found no evidence of chlorine gas, residents have health problems.

"Within 48 hours of the crash, the department conducted an epidemiological assessment of about 300 people. Nearly 80% experienced symptoms such as severe coughing, burning eyes, chest pains, skin rashes, headaches, dizziness and nausea. Jerry Gibson, director of the department's Bureau of Disease Control, said a follow-up of half of those people in the summer found that 80% continued to experience symptoms."


Whistleblower Warned

Ex-NSA Official Told: Don't Testify

Russ Tice, a former intelligence officer with the National Security Agency who claims to be a source for the New York Times' expose last month, has been warned that he should not testify to Congress about accusations of illegal activity at NSA because of the secrecy of the programs involved.

On January 9, Tice received a letter from Renee Seymour, director of NSA special access programs, clearly emphasizing that he should not testify about secret electronic intelligence programs because members and staff of the House and Senate intelligence committees do not have the proper security clearances for the secret intelligence.

Mr. Tice said he was not part of the classified NSA program disclosed by the New York Times last month that intercepted telephone, e-mail and other communications involving U.S. citizens without a warrant from a special court. He did work on special access programs related to electronic intelligence gathering at the NSA and DIA, where he took part in space systems communications, non-communications signals, electronic warfare, satellite control, telemetry, sensors and special capability systems.

However, he told ABC News on Tuesday that he was a source for the New York Times.

"As far as I'm concerned, as long as I don't say anything that's classified, I'm not worried," he said. "We need to clean up the intelligence community. We've had abuses, and they need to be addressed."

Now, Tice's credibility is being challenged, with reports that he was fired by the NSA after failing a psychological evaluation. Last May, when he was let go, Rebecca Carr of Cox News service tried to get to the bottom of it. "The National Security Agency fired a high level intelligence official just days after he publicly urged Congress to pass stronger protections for federal whistleblowers facing retaliation," she wrote.

Carr added that "Tice has been at the odds with the agency since he reported suspicions that a female co-worker at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), was a spy for the People's Republic of China." And it appears that he's been punished by the agency before, suspending his security clearances in June 2003 and ordering him to maintain the agency's vehicles by pumping gas and cleaning them, along with an order to unload furniture at its warehouse.

Then, the NSA ordered Tice to undergo an unscheduled psychological evaluation, after which a "Defense Department psychologist concluded that Tice suffered from psychotic paranoia." Tice later wrote that he "did this even though he admitted that I did not show any of the normal indications of someone suffering from paranoia." As noted on CBS News' Public Eye blog, government whistleblowers in the past have been forced to undergo psychological testing.


This Just In...

Ex-Congressional Aide Makes Plea Deal

In non-Abramoff Congressional corruption news: Brett Pfeffer, a former aide to Louisiana Representative William Jefferson, has reached a plea deal with prosecutors and is expected to plead guilty today at U.S. District Court in Alexandria, VA to bribery of public officials and conspiracy.

Prosecutors have been investigating Jefferson in connection with a telecommunications deal he was trying to arrange in Nigeria. The investigation has looked into Jefferson's dealings with a privately held technology company, iGate Inc. in Louisville, Ky., which was seeking telecommunications contracts in Nigeria.

The FBI raided Jefferson's home in August and the Maryland home of Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar. (The Associated Press)

Chavez Would Be Shocked

Labor legend Cesar Chavez's heirs at the UFW (United Farm Workers) "run a web of tax-exempt organizations that exploit his legacy and invoke the harsh lives of farmworkers to raise millions of dollars in public and private money," reports Miriam Pawel in a four-part series in the Los Angeles Times.

Among the non-labor projects run by the dozen tax-exempt organizations in the Farm Worker Movement: owning a top-ranked radio station in Phoenix and running a political campaign in support of an Indian casino and lobby for gay marriage. As an example of the union's distance from the lives of farmworkers, Pawel talks to many of them including Isai Rios, who migrated with his father to a camp in Carlsbad to work in the strawberry fields. The native of Oaxaca, Mexico lives in a shack made of plastic sheets tied to tomato stakes. He's never heard of the UFW. (Los Angeles Times)

Frey on Larry King Tonight

And definitely catch Larry King at 9pm. The alter kocker has "A Million Little Pieces" author James Frey on to discuss the recent investigation into his fabricated criminal record by our friends over at The Smoking Gun (Goldberg - you were OK on Tucker Carlson last night even though you sounded kinda hoarse... and sit up straight! You were slouching.)

Frey's response to the story: "So let the haters hate, let the doubters doubt, I stand by my book, and my life, and I won’t dignify this bullshit with any sort of further response." A million little pieces... of bullshit, perhaps?


This Just In...

Iraqi Journalist Seized by U.S. Troops

On Sunday, American troops hunting insurgents blasted their way into the home of Ali Fadhil, an Iraqi journalist who won the Foreign Press Association young journalist of the year award two months ago. He was hooded, taken away for questioning, and released hours later.

Dr. Fadhil has been working in recent months on a documentary about claims that tens of millions of dollars of Iraqi funds maintained by American and British authorities have been misused or misappropriated. During their raid of his home, troops took several videotapes related to the project which is being produced by Guardian Films and will be aired on British TV's Channel 4.

Here's an audio clip from Dr. Fadhil describing the raid.

(The Guardian)

The Money Merry-Go-Round

The potential new House Republican leaders, Roy Blunt (Missouri) and John Boehner (Ohio), have their own web of connections to K Street.

Both men's political action committees hired Jim Ellis, who was recently indicted along with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. DeLay's PAC gave Blunt's committee a $150,000 donation in 2000, and Blunt's PAC gave $10,000 to DeLay's non-profit foundation that same year. Both lawmakers' PACs have employed Alexander Strategy Group, a Georgetown-based firm whose partners include former Abramoff and DeLay associates.

Blunt served as the Republicans' official liason to K Street, rounding up 200 lobbyist at one meeting to discuss issues with top Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Boehner met weekly with leading lobbyists to enlist their support and discuss strategy during his four years as House Republican Conference chairman, from 1995 to 1998.

Blunt is close to the tobacco industry; in 2002 he tried to insert language aiding his biggest campaign donor - Philip Morris - into the bill creating the Homeland Security Department. And he later married the company's lobbyist Abigail Perlman.

(Bloomberg News)


This Just In...

Abramoff Just "The Middle Guy"

It's not just Jack. Investigators are looking at the lobbyist as just "the middle guy" in a complex web of corruption, which suggests that the FBI has bigger targets in sight, an agency official tells Time magazine.

And here's an indication of how big the case is: "The FBI has 13 field offices across the country working on the case, with two dozen agents assigned to it full time and roughly the same number working part time. "We are going to chase down every lead," Chris Swecker, head of the FBI's criminal division, told Time."

Meanwhile, Arianna Huffington points out the Guam connection, which was reported last year by the LA Times. In that case, a US grand jury opened an investigation into Abramoff over two years ago, but the federal prosecutor looking into the lobbyist's work on behalf of companies employing Guam workers in "sweatshop conditions" was removed by the Bush administration.

Mining Mishaps

In a great example of hard-hitting local coverage, the Charlotte, W.V. Sunday Gazette-Mail has an excellent series of stories looking at what went wrong at the Sago mine and reporting that miners across the country face greater risks because of personnel cuts and organizational problems in the rescue system.

Unkempt Garden State

It's no surprise to anyone with half an interest in New Jersey politics, but State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak's web of influence is pretty sticky, according to the New York Times.

Here's the nub of the problem which is all-too-common in the Garden State's legislature:

"At the heart of that nexus is Mr. Lesniak's law firm, Weiner Lesniak, based in Parsippany. In the past decade, it has done legal work for scores of New Jersey municipalities, collecting millions of dollars. In many instances, the contracts awarded to Mr. Lesniak's firm came after the senator or his allies offered campaign contributions or other political support to local officials who decide who will get the work, a fact that Mr. Lesniak acknowledges."

Choice quote is Lesniak's response: "Are you supposed to hire people who donated to your opponent?"

Justice At Last?

And an appeals court in Kiev began proceedings today on the case of the long-unsolved murder of Ukranian journalist Georgy Gongadze. A crusading reporter, who exposed corruption in the country's political system, Gongadze disappeared on September 16, 2000. Two months later, his body -- with the head cut off -- was found in a woodland near Kiev.

Former police workers Nikolai Protasov, Valery Kostenko and Alexander Popovich are suspects and their former superior, police General Alexei Pukach, was accused in in absentia and put on the wanted list. But Gongadze's family thinks that the true masterminds of the murder are still at large. (The judge turned down their request to have the case re-investigated)


You Can Quote Him On That!

"The time has come that the American people know exactly what their Representatives are doing here in Washington. Are they feeding at the public trough, taking lobbyist-paid vacations, getting wined and dined by special interest groups? Or are they working hard to represent their constituents? The people, the American people, have a right to know … I say the best disinfectant is full disclosure, not isolation."

- Tom Delay, 1995


Mourn the Miners

All Americans should pause for a few minutes to take a moment of silence for the miners who lost their lives in West Virginia.

Although the number of coal mine fatalities has dropped to record lows and the mining industry has managed to keep employee deaths to fewer than 50 every year since 1993, it's still a dangerous place to work. (See Mine Safety Watch)

In 2004, the Sago Mine, near Tallmansville, W.Va., reported an injury rate that was three times that of similar-size underground mines across the country, the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette reported.

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data shows that during the last six months of 2005, the mine also reported a dozen accidental roof falls, the newspaper said. During their last three complete examinations of the Sago Mine, MSHA inspectors cited the company for more than 180 violations.

The Tallmansville, West Virginia mine where 12 workers lost their lives was cited by inspectors for 46 alleged violations of federal mine health and safety rules during an 11-week review that ended Dec. 22, according to records. The more serious alleged violations, resulting in proposed penalties of at least $250 each, involved steps for safeguarding against roof falls, and the mine's plan to control methane and breathable dust. The mine received 208 citations from MSHA during 2005, up from 68 citations in 2004.


Did Jack and George Shake Hands?

That's one of the questions circulating around the Beltway today: Did President Bush ever meet Jack Abramoff?

In the wake of the lobbyist's guilty plea, White House spokesman Scott McLellan said that he could not say whether they had ever met. Well, he could have just done a quick Nexis search and found a Bob Novak column from 1999, describing a June 22 fundraiser for then-candidate Bush at the Washington Hilton Hotel's grand ballroom.

Among the co-chairmen raising $25,000 for the event: Jack Abramoff.