The Katrina Reports

This summer as a follow up to The Security Constitution I am working on a paper about emergencies and federalism. I have spent the past week reading the three reports—one by the White House, one by a House Select Committee, and one by the Department of Homeland Security—on the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

Getting through the three reports is no easy task. Together, they number 996 pages. (You really have a problem if it takes 996 pages to describe it.) All three assume knowledge of the inner-workings of the federal bureaucracy. Large swaths of the White House Report in particular are bureaucratic babble with sentences like this: “The JFO co-locates the Principal Federal Official (PFO) and Federal Coordinating Officer in situations not involving multiple FCOs.” And this: “Strategic-level coordination and resolution of resource conflicts unresolved by the NRCC occurs at the Interagency Incident Management Group (IIMG), an interagency body housed at DHS headquarters.”

Still, the three Katrina reports, with varying degrees of candor, come to a single basic conclusion: the federal government botched it.

Read More


Drexel Law Snares Library Director Chris Simoni From Northwestern

Though I have been planning to blog some about being part of the Drexel Law startup, I have not written much thus far. What I have written has been about libraries. So in that vein, I cannot help but bubble a bit about Drexel‘s most recent hire – Northwestern‘s amazing library director, Professor Christopher Simoni. Chris has been the Associate Dean for Library and Information Technology and Professor of Law there since 1996. Perhaps most importantly, he is completely engaged in imagining the 21st Century law library. And oddly enough, though I never could have said this a year ago, I am too. We’re going to be having some fun this year!


Stampvertising – Disney Makes Our Five Years Go Postal

Today I noticed that the U.S. Post Office is selling a new commemorative series called “Romance”, featuring various Disney characters – most notably several of their princesses. The 20 stamp sheet includes Belle and the Beast, Cinderella and Prince Charming, Minnie and Mickey, and Lady and the Tramp. There are many interesting aspects to this marketing campaign but one that struck me immediately was the fact that, with this series, stamps have been fully hijacked as a component of a major national marketing campaign.

As any parent of a young girl would surely tell you, Disney 2006 is all about Princesses. The company has figured out one hundred different ways to package Belle, Ariel, Mulan, Pochahantas, Cinderella, Aurora (i.e., Sleeping Beauty), and Snow White. (Am I missing some?) DVD’s, stadium shows, dress-up clothing. The Disney Princess is the ultimate cultural icon for the (pardon the product allusion) American Girl. What is Disney World, after all, but simply a place one goes to see – and hopefully snare autographs from – Princesses. How often need I repeat this? Disney = Princesses.

So whatever excuses the USPS might have for offering these stamps – nostalgia (for the old days of Beauty and the Beast?), a nod to artistry (fair enough, but doesn’t Walt get enough of these?), whatever – the bottom line is that they must be producing serious money for both Disney and the Post Office. For Disney, these stamps are phenomenal advertising. (I wonder if the USPS pays licensing fees for use of the images. I doubt it.) It’s good for the Post Office because the sheets are dandy collectors’ items. What five year old girl, spying these stamps in a display case, would not demand their immediate purchase? Mine did! And the scary thing is that the price is downright cheap. I’d probably drop six bucks for twenty stickers at Disneyland. With this sheet, the kid comes home happy AND I can use them as stamps (once she forgets about them.)

But once you’ve signed on to supporting the current Disney marketing blitz, how do you justify stopping there? Does it really make sense to promote only media properties, when there’s so much other advertising money out there? I expect to see much more stampvertising in the future. The Swoosh seems like an innocuous next step. But how long can it be until the stamp screams “GoDaddy” or “Motorola Razr” or perhaps “Mission Impossible 5, Opening June 5.” We’ll know the PO is in trouble with the arrival of the first FedEx stamp.

Read More


Hand on What Law Firms Want Out of Associates

I’m currently re-reading (for the umpteenth time) Gerald Gunther’s biography of Billings Learned Hand. I came across an early quote from Hand, when he was still a struggling, unsuccessful, lawyer in Albany. Law firms, he wrote to a friend, are “anxious to eschew geniuses in so far as [[they] can discover them beforehand.” Yup, that sounds about right. Still, I wonder whether this is as universally true as it was ten years ago, before the rise of firms with highly specialized, exclusive, Supreme Court or Federal Appellate practices.

Incidentally, in preparing this post I learned that Hand is not – as I thought -the federal judge who holds the record for longest service. That honor belonged to Joseph W. Woodrough, on the bench for an astounding 61 years. I can’t seem to figure out which (living) judge is next on that list. My bet is on John Fullam of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (40 years this August) but that is probably the product of the availability heuristic. Other nominations?


A Reckoning In Houston

Tomorrow the Enron jury will hear closing arguments in the Lay/Skilling trial. Given both defendants’ reported weaknesses as witnesses, the futures market estimate of conviction on at least several charges for Lay (76% ) and Skilling (73%) is predictable. (Although, the line has shifted significantly from February.) And even if a verdict arrives this week, the defense team(s) are already no doubt working on an appellate strategy. One tack: Judge Lake appears to have accepted the government’s intent instruction.

This raises an issue which I’ve been thinking a bit about recently. Given research showing that juries often ignore instuctions, especially in complicated cases, and instead focus on a narrative and attributions of blameworthiness, why does the government so often appear to overreach and thus preserve great defense issues for appeal? Does the federal prosecution manual discount the research? Or, more cynically, is the phenomena a problem of incentives? In the ordinary case, the marginal gain from the prosecution instruction is reaped by the line attorney, but the marginal cost of the instruction is usually discounted by time and by the likelihood that the government attorney defending the appeal is a different unit, or a different office altogether.


Rove Indicted?

Jason Leopold at Truthout is reporting that Karl Rove has been indicted for perjury and making false statements:

Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning. . . . It was still unknown Saturday whether Fitzgerald charged Rove with a more serious obstruction of justice charge. Sources close to the case said Friday that it appeared very likely that an obstruction charge against Rove would be included with charges of perjury and lying to investigators.

I got the e-mail about this several hours ago, and I’ve been waiting since then to link to a more “official” story on CNN or MSNBC. It looks like none of the mainstream news sources are reporting the story, though — it’s not even on Drudge! I’m not sure what to make of that absence — if the story is true, then other news sources must be trying to confirm it, and they apparently can’t. This makes me wary. Perhaps Truthout found an exclusive source and could verify a story that other sources couldn’t verify; but perhaps they got taken, or jumped the gun. If there’s a story, then the next few days will undoubtedly bring confirmation and more detail.

In the meantime, the story is very interesting. Assuming it’s true, the charges in the indictment — perjury, false statements — are serious. (Everyone knew that; still, it’s eye-opening to read a news report that says “Rove indicted for perjury.”) The story also says that Rove has committed to resign if indicted, which makes sense from a matter of politics.

I’m not a crim law person, and I’m not quite sure what to make of the report that some charges could be confirmed (perjury, false statements), but not others (obstruction). Dan F. or other crim law folks, does this have some cosmic (or at least substantive) meaning? Does this mean some charges were decided on earlier, and prosecutors are still doing something with the obstruction charge? Does it mean that the grand jury is still deciding on those? Is there a possible crim-procedure story here that means something, or is it just a gap in the reporter’s facts?

In any case, it’s an interesting story, and I’ll be keeping an eye on the news. If our readers have any thoughts on the story (or for that matter, any deeply-confidential, on-the-QT, hot news tips), please feel free to weigh in.


Hi Mom!

Mommybird.jpgToday is mother’s day.

I could do a blog post on the social construction of motherhood; Joan Chalmers Williams’ work about discrimination against mothers in the workplace; or review historian Annelise Orleck’s book about mothers who became political activists.

I could do some, any, or all of these things here, but as I’ve brought my mom to NYC for the weekend, I need to make this brief so that I can spend more time with her.

Therefore, I’ll end with a gentle reminder to call your mom (or other nurturing figure in your life…) today. Otherwise you’ll risk the ire of the plaintiff’s attorney featured in the New Yorker cartoons, who to paraphrase loosely says: “Have your kids forgotten about you? We sue negligent children!”


Review of Apex Hides the Hurt

Apex.jpgIn this latest novel from Colson Whitehead, the (ironically) unnamed protagonist is a “nomenclature consultant” who takes delight in helping corporate American find the best names for particular products. He names a social anxiety drug “Loquacia,” and he names a multicultural band-aid (it is sold in numerous skin tones) “Apex.”

The novel loosely centers around a legal dispute (of sorts), with a city council deadlocked on the rightful name of a growing Midwestern town. Founded by Black settlers leaving slavery behind and striking out for a better life on the plains, the town was originally named “Freedom.” Only a few years later, a wealthy white industrialist brought his factory along with a new name for the town, “Winthrop.” Today the Winthrops are a family in decline, and a new economy entrepreneur wants to rename the town “New Prospera.”

With the city council split three ways, our narrator must arbitrate the dispute. I will not give any spoilers, but the end somehow leaves a number of questions unanswered. And, although filled with clever language, puns, and plays on words – the major strength of this book – the major plot lines fail to grab the reader’s attention, and the characters seem underdeveloped.

It could have been a great book about an unusual legal dispute, or about race in America, but somehow fell short on both accounts. (Points for clever puns though).