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Examining Political Corruption with David Fiderer

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Welcome to OpEdNews, David. Your bio mentions that you are currently working on "several journalism projects dealing with corporate and political corruption that, so far, have escaped serious scrutiny by mainstream media." These days, that could be almost anything. Sounds like a good place to start. What are you working on right now?

I think I've been neglectful about updating that profile. Initially, I was working on a piece regarding a financial scandal involving a media mogul. For now, I'd rather not be more specific on details of that one.

Also, I had been working had a piece on how drug companies taint virtually every aspect of medicine -- university research, professional education, mainstream news coverage -- much the same way we see astroturfing by groups like FreedomWorks today. I stumbled onto the issue years ago, when I saw how a front group for pushing prescription narcotics came to Rush Limbaugh's defense. I put that one aside after September 2008, when the financial meltdown arrived.

Now I'm working on a couple of pieces (they may end up as chapters in a book if I can't sell them to magazines), on how various markets -- oil & gas, mortgages, securitizations, credit default swaps -- were manipulated. There's been plenty of coverage on these topics, but most of it reminds me of blind men describing an elephant. The bottom line here is that the problems we face today were not a result of irrational exuberance or a black swan scenario. Because no one was enforcing the laws on the books, it was easy to break the rules.

You're a banker, a lawyer, and a journalist, a kind of Renaissance man. Does your rich and varied background make it easier for you to grasp and write about complex issues?

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I suppose. I tend to view the narrative differently from most journalists. A lot of journalists like to tell stories about people, and they focus on what people say. They think in terms of narrative a la George Lakoff, what does this say about the stereotype of the arrogant CEO, beleaguered worker, greedy investment banker, whatever.

I tend to think like a businessman, I'm always focused on the bottom line. Or rather, I see most things in terms of a back-of-the-envelope break-even analysis, such as "If you're flying the planes across the Pacific, do you have enough fuel in the tank to get to the other side?" or "How many troops do we have to replace the ones we have in Iraq and Afghanistan today?" I try to back in to the answer.

I'm not very interested in what people have to say, since most of the time I think the real story is what they aren't saying and what they aren't doing. To me, one of the biggest stories on the financial crisis -- I may be giving away an idea now -- is that in California Schwarzenegger never enforced the laws against mortgage fraud.

Can't wait to read that one, David. You've also written about the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.* How did you get interested in that case?

In July 2008, I met someone from Alabama at NetRoots [annual progressive blogger convention] who was a supporter of Gov. Siegelman. Until then, I had a very vague awareness of the case. She mentioned that the judge in the case owned a company that received a big federal contract** after handing down a harsh sentence. (Again, my interest was first piqued by the bottom line.) I was shocked that such a thing could go on in a federal court and followed up. Soon enough, I realized that this thing is like a couple of John Grisham novels.

It still shocks me that all these lawyers in Alabama would lie and flout the law so brazenly. Not because they lack a sense of right and wrong, but that they felt they could act that way with impunity. In California or New York, people like Louis Franklin or Leura Canary would be disbarred. Twenty years ago in New York, a judge ruled on a divorce case while the litigant's girlfriend, Bess Myerson, helped the judge's daughter get a job. It was a huge scandal in New York and the judge, Hortense Gabel, was prosecuted. That's nickel-and-dime stuff compared to what Judge Mark Fuller has been accused of.

But that's only part of the picture. You also have the role of Karl Rove and the DoJ pushing Siegelman's prosecution. It seems like a perfect storm with everything aligned against Gov. Siegelman. I realize he wasn't the only one. But what made the Governor such a juicy target? Also, I've read that they started going after him only months after he took office in 1999. He hadn't even had time to do anything yet.

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Well, the motivation seems obvious. Don Siegelman was like Bill Clinton. We forget, but up until the disaster of the Bush administration, the conventional wisdom was that only a Democrat from the South had a good chance of beating a Republican for national office. Siegelman had crossover appeal and was very popular in Alabama.

And, you're right. The first bogus prosecution, the other smears and the tainted 2002 election results show how this was an ongoing wave of corruption. But I only focused on the most obvious and egregious lapses in the current case.

So, to clarify, you think this was just a blatant case of targeting a popular Democratic figure to keep him from pulling a Clinton?

What's "pulling a Clinton?"

It's when a candidate rises from local prominence to the national arena. I thought that's what you meant.

That's my inference, based on what I've read. But to me, the far more compelling evidence is the abuses of power by prosecutors, over and over.

Then, what about the many hundreds of similar cases of smaller fry throughout the country targeted by the partisan DoJ,particularly in swing states? A number of these Democrats were highlighted in John McTiernan's powerful documentary The Political Prosecutions of Karl Rove.

Agreed, it's the most disturbing film I'm seen in ages. It's like seeing a Stephen King story over and over. In all the cases, the alleged acts that lead to indictments are nickel-and-dime stuff, and the evidence is extremely flimsy, but the prosecutors abuse their powers to intimidate and ruin people. These prosecutors are like Kenneth Starr on steroids.

Let's pause here. When we come back, we'll talk about whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson, Rove's strategy to discredit her and more. Please join us!

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Part Two of my interview with David

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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