April 15, 2005 | 2:53 p.m. ET   

Our colleagues at 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' have a lighter take on the Jackson trial news, through their daily re-enactments of Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre.

Dan had a cameo in last night's episode.

Click the image below to watch. Click here for more Puppet Theatre episodes.

April 14, 2005 | 6:43 p.m. ET   

'Abrams Report' comes into evidence (staff)

Your favorite show and ours, "The Abrams Report" was mentioned in court today during the Michael Jackson trial!  The accuser's mother is back on the stand Thursday, where she mentioned the show.

An Abrams Report exclusive became a crucial piece of evidence: It relates to a secretly recorded audiotape of the mother of Michael Jackson's accuser right before the Department of Children and Family Services interviewed the accuser's family. This, at the very same time prosecutors say the family was effectively imprisoned at Neverland.

The tape begins as representatives from Los Angeles Child Services arrive at the apartment where the mother was staying.  They're there to interview the alleged victim, age 13, and his brother and sister.  When the caseworkers arrive, the children appear to be watching a home video of Jackson and the alleged victim. Jackson's heard singing. 

According to this Child Services report, the investigation was prompted by a call from a school official who had seen a documentary with Jackson and some children, including the boy “in which the children had stated that they shared the same bed as the entertainer.”  The allegations, sexual abuse by Jackson and neglect by the mother. 

But on the tape, Child Services informs the mother they want to interview each person separately and alone, and the mother says she invited the others to be there.  Later on the tape the mother even seemed to work with the Jackson investigator, trying to tape the interviews.

The mother also expresses concern that word of the allegations might leak out to the public. The boy's mom also seemed worried that she was the target of the investigation. 

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

April 14, 2005 | 6:11 p.m. ET

Lack of outrage over outed CIA operative (Dan Abrams)

It seems these days even disclosing the name of a covert CIA agent is only a big deal if somehow it's political. 

On Monday during the confirmation hearings for John Bolton, President Bush's nominee to be ambassador to the U.N., both Senator John Kerry and Republican Richard Lugar seemed to have accidentally disclosed the identity of a CIA officer. Bolton had only been referring to the analyst as Mr. Smith up to that point. 

Just imagine, if only one had done it and not the other. I'm guessing we'd be hearing about investigations and political recriminations, but because both blew it, it seems it gets swept under the rug. If there's no political intrigue, no one is all that upset. 

Think about the uproar that followed the outing of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame.  She was a covert CIA agent.  Her name leaked to the press.  There's been a full-scale investigation to determine who was behind this act. 

But that case wreaked of politics. Wilson was at odds with the administration. He believed it was payback.  The first to report Plame's identity was conservative columnist Robert Novak.  Kerry defended himself saying, Lugar said it first and that it had already been in the press. Now it's true this officer's name had been in the press before, but only when he held a different post and his identity was not a secret.

I'm not going to write his name as other news organizations have chosen to do. Just because two senators blew it, that doesn't mean we in the press should not be particularly sensitive when it comes to issues related to national security.  In fact, the CIA had asked these organizations to withhold his name. 

It's not often that I think less information is better; but when you're talking about the name of an undercover or covert operative, the rules are different. 

It seems on Capitol Hill it's only important if there's some political advantage to be gained. 

DAbrams@MSNBC.com.

April 13, 2005 | 5:25 p.m. ET

Cost of protecting judges competes with pork (Dan Abrams)

It's time for Congress to put up or shut up when it comes to protecting our nation's federal judges.  While everyone wants to be the first to condemn the recent attacks and intimidation of judges, when it comes to actually doing something about it, protecting our judges becomes a back seat issue. 

Well not to me. 

This week, Congress is busy divvying up about $80 billion in emergency funds— most of it is going to Iraq and Afghanistan.  But buried in there, beneath various pork projects, is a $12 million request from Chief Justice William Rehnquist to pay for surveillance and security systems in federal judges' homes.  Only six weeks after Federal Judge Joan Lefkow's family members were found murdered in her home in Chicago, and one month after a state judge was killed in his courtroom in Atlanta, it's hard to believe that this is even an issue, but it is.

The $12 million wouldn't even include additional funds to ensure the U.S. Marshals Service, which has been understaffed and underfunded for years. This could finally beef up protection of this country's 1,800 federal judges in the courthouse and in their homes.  Our nation's judges are scared. A federal appeals court judge wrote in an editorial last week saying “Judges know the Constitution will protect us from being removed from office or having our salaries reduced because of disagreement with our decisions, but none expects that upholding justice will evoke violence against us or our loved ones.”

Even the Supreme Court justices are showing concern. A letter to Congress in the judicial conference headed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist stated that at the present time, federal judges across the country are feeling particularly vulnerable, not only for themselves but also for their families. On Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Congress for an additional $639,000 to pay for another officer on the high court's front plaza and for 24-hour patrols around the Supreme Court building. 

But unfortunately, when it's time to hand out money in Washington, these efforts are competing with requests that various politicians hope to bring home to their districts.  Examples of what might take priority include $55 million for waste water treatment in Mississippi, $25 million for a fish hatchery in Montana, $2.5 million for broadcasting transmission equipment in Tajikistan, $1.8 million to study flood damage in Hawaii, and half a million for desalination technology in Nevada. 

Now some of these may be valid requests, but it's about priorities. 

Even $12 million isn't near enough but at least it's a start. Our judges shouldn't have to worry that their public service will cost them or their loved ones their lives. 

E-mail DAbrams@MSNBC.com.

April 12, 2005 | 4:33 p.m. ET

Pipe down, DeLay (Dan Abrams)

It's time for Majority Leader Tom DeLay to pipe down. I am tired of all this inflammatory rhetoric about our judges. It's shameful, dangerous and pure pandering.

In a speech last Thursday, DeLay accused the judiciary of having "run amok" after it refused to intervene in the Schiavo case.

Look, he or anyone else has every right to criticize any decision he doesn't like. But he is doing far more than that.  He is tarring a branch of government and then, he and his supporters wonder why the public is increasingly distrustful of our judges?

If you think about what he is really saying, it' s almost laughable. He and a handful of others can't seem to decide if our judges are too activist, which we hear a lot — or not activist enough, which was the case with Terri Schiavo where they wanted the federal courts to step in and reinsert her feeding tube. They just know that when they don't like a ruling, it must mean that our entire judicial branch of government is out of control, i.e. "run amok."

But it's really just a power play, an effort to make sure Congress can pass any law it so desires without any judicial oversight.  Well that may be the way Tom DeLay wants it, but not the way our Founding  Fathers wanted it.  If DeLay wants to scrap the Constitution, then he should just say it.  But our founders made sure that people like DeLay could not pass laws unchecked hence, checks and balances…    

DeLay called on Congress to "reassert" its Constitutional authority over the courts and to end the era of "cowardice.” Problem is, Tom DeLay and the U.S. Congress don't have Constitutional authority over the decisions courts make; that's what the separation of powers is all about.  Congress has authority to control the jurisdiction of the federal courts, meaning what cases it can hear.  Although that power can be misused as well, Congress can pass laws for the courts to interpret.  But the opinions handed down by judges who sit on federal courts across the country are intentionally independent.  I don't want judges thinking, 'hmm I wonder what outcome Tom DeLay would favor here?' 

Congress gets to weigh in on federal judges before they get the job.  I would expect this president to appoint conservative judges.  Fine.  But DeLay just seems to dislike all judges because they restrict his power.

Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote that Congressional criticism of judicial decisions is quote an "unwarranted and ill-considered effort to intimidate individual judges."
This is not about the Republicans in Congress or in the Senate.  Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has refused to support DeLay's comments.  It's about a few fringe players.

Perhaps DeLay wants to divert attention from the ever-increasing criminal and ethical investigations being conducted into his activities.  But this is a shabby way to do it.  That should scare any of us who have respect for our system of government.

Your rebuttal
I've had my say, now it's time for your rebuttal...

Last week, we told you about the explosive testimony in Michael Jackson's child molestation case.  A former security guard told jurors he saw Jackson perform oral sex on a 13-year-old boy in 1993.  Plus, another former employee said she saw Jackson kiss and fondle a number of other boys.  However, both of them had tried to sue Jackson unsuccessfully.

Gail in Florida writes: "If all these former adult employees saw all these acts happening, it is of my opinion that they too should be prosecuted for not reporting immediately to the authorities what they saw.  I wonder if they saw a purse snatcher, a hit and run accident or even a murder, would they then report it?"

Carol Martin in Walnut Creek, California: "Why is it so hard to believe that Jackson's maid and guard wouldn't report child sexual abuse? Catholic bishops turned their backs on child sexual abuse by the priests under their supervision for decades."

John in San Francisco has this to say: "If Tom Mesereau uses the same ridiculous arguments in defense of Michael Jackson as the criminal defense attorneys on your show, he doesn't have a chance."

And Wanda Thompson in Staten Island writes: "Where is the prosecution finding their witnesses? They have more baggage than Imelda Marcos had shoes."

E-mail: Sidebar@msnbc.com

April 7, 2005 | 3:50 p.m. ET

PB&J in a jam (Dan Abrams)

Who knew you might have to pay to make a PB&J? I'm not talking about the $5 for the tub of peanut butter and $3 for the jelly. According to Smuckers, if you make the sandwich their way, you owe them a lot more than that. 

Today, a federal appeals court began considering Smuckers' argument that it has a patent on what it considers innovative technology worthy of protection by the U.S. government: how to make a PB&J. 

So, you ask, how has Smucker's so revolutionized the creation of America's favorite sandwich, such that they should get a piece of every sandwich you make? 

Smucker's puts peanut butter on both slices of bread and then puts the jelly in the middle to prevent the fruity spread from seeping onto the bread. It then takes the crust off the bread and seals the sandwich to create the “uncrustable.”

I guess that means that I am entitled to a patent for what I like to call “Dan's grilled cheese. “ I put a slice of American on one side, a slice of Swiss on the other, and then I wait to put on the tomato and lettuce until after it's grilled so the veggies don't get hot. 

Come on.  What if the guy who first decided to add marshmallow fluff to the peanut butter sandwich thought he might be violating a patent? There would be no such thing as a fluffernutter. And remember those Reese's peanut butter cup ads where the guy with the chocolate accidentally falls into the woman with the peanut butter and alas, a peanut butter Reese emerges.  No patent there. 

Smuckers' arrogance over the “uncrustable” is not extending to claiming they invented PB&J—just  that they  perfected it. Smuckers credits American GI's fighting in World War II with the idea of first mixing the two together. Its legal case specifically targets Albie's Foods Inc., which also sells crustless PB&J in supermarkets.  So maybe the rest of us with an uncontrollable appetite for the uncrustable are safe. 

But lunch box lovers, be aware, stick to the basics. Slop your peanut butter on one side and jelly on the other. Let it seep, let it soak. And don't cut the crust off! And whatever you do, don't try and sell it at a bake sale, because that will make it a Smuckers sandwich. If they hear about it, you could be stuck with more than peanut butter on the roof of your mouth.

April 6, 2005 | 2:27 p.m. ET

Good luck Peter Jennings (Dan Abrams)

News came Tuesday that ABC newsman Peter Jennings is suffering from lung cancer. That explains why he hasn't been on the air in recent weeks reporting on the big stories we've all grown so accustomed to watching him cover so eloquently for the past two decades.

Jennings' absence from ABC's air was conspicuous, especially on breaking stories like the pope's death.  

I don't know Peter Jennings. I probably met him once. Nevertheless, the news struck me in a very personal way.  I know what it's like to host a daily news show and to suddenly learn you have cancer.  You have to assess what you can and can't get away with while remaining on the air— or at least trying to do so. 

And while I had to have two rounds of surgery, Jennings will begin debilitating chemotherapy which I was so lucky to avoid.  He will endure challenges I have never known.  He sent out a personal e-mail to ABC employees telling them he would continue to try and come to work as he undergoes chemo, but wrote that there would be “good days and bad, which mean some days I may be cranky and some days really cranky.” 

It's going to be a rough period for him, but from what I know and hear about Jennings, he'll persevere and we'll probably end up seeing him on the air more than the doctors might like.

I remember I came back to work— probably a week too early— looking emaciated but determined to have the show go on. 

Peter Jennings, good luck. I admired you before and I'm guessing I'll come to admire you even more. 

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com.

April 6, 2005 | 2:00 p.m. ET

March (crime) madness

The month of March is better-known for the beginning of spring, the celebrations of Easter and St. Patrick's Day— and even the flurry of activity surrounding the battle between college basketball's best teams. But this March 2005 was especially eventful in the world of law and order.

MSNBC analyst and former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt revisits last month's "A Profiler's Perspective" pieces and does an update on the cases studied, and for additional lessons learned. Click here to read his piece .

April 4, 2005 | 4:27 p.m. ET

Will taking the stand help or hurt the King of Pop? ( Stacy Brown , MSNBC contributor and Jackson family friend)

MSNBC

With the recent inclusion of so-called prior bad acts, it now appears more likely that Michael Jackson will take the stand in his own defense.

Twice in his opening statements Defense Attorney Thomas Mesereau told the jury that they'd hear from Michael Jackson himself. Most observers and legal analysts initially scoffed at the thought of Jackson taking the witness stand.

There are obvious problems with the King of Pop taking the stand. Jackson has a history of courtroom behavior that normally doesn't fly with jurors. In 1997, Jackson took the stand in a suit bought by the production company of California businessman Gary Smith. At one point during that trial, Jackson reportedly blew bubbles and laughed and joked seemingly in an out of control fashion. Jackson's family was ordered to pay millions after the trial to Smith-Hemion productions.

During a civil trial three years ago at the same Santa Maria courthouse he's in today, Jackson often appeared late and made devil horns while on the stand defending himself against a multi-million dollar suit bought by a former business partner. Jackson eventually was ordered to pay millions to Japanese businessman Myung Ho Lee in that case.

But it gets worse.

Following the Martin Bashir documentary (the documentary that led to the current charges), Jackson made a rebuttal, which aired on Fox Television. One glaring thing about the rebuttal that I observed was that other than Jackson's music, there was simply one other artist you heard in the background. He was R. Kelly. Yes, the R. Kelly, who is also facing multiple counts of child molestation. It may not mean much, but the thought of Jackson only listening to his own music and R. Kelly just didn't sit well with me.

Jackson's credibility, and in some cases his irresponsibility, could be a major problem. Like for example, when Jackson was arrested, he claimed that police roughed him up. An investigation by the state attorney general's office in California (an investigation Jackson refused to cooperate with) found that the story was false. Video was shown of Jackson waving the arm he claimed was damaged as he walked out of a police station. Video also captured him signing autographs and sticking his arms out of a car window in Las Vegas later that day.

And in an interview with CBS's Ed Bradley, Jackson was given many opportunities to back away from his claims that it was okay to sleep with young boys who were not related to him. However, Jackson maintained that he wouldn't change his ways.

Jackson also claims to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses, failing to mention that in 1985 he wrote a letter disassociating himself from the religious organization. Jackson even admitted to inter-faith beliefs, which is totally barred by Jehovah's Witnesses.

Clearly there would be major credibility hurdles for Mesereau to clear with his famous client. But with mounting evidence from the past— and not all of the 1108 witnesses have an axe to grind, as Mesereau so wrongly stated to the judge— a true showdown between Jackson and D.A. Thomas Sneddon could decide this case.

While Jackson may be the King of pop, Sneddon is the prince of the courtroom and Jackson would have to play ball on the district attorney's home court.

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

April 2, 2005 | 7:15 p.m. ET

Pope John Paul II , who led the Roman Catholic Church for more than a quarter century and became history's most-traveled pope, died on Saturday evening , the Vatican said in a statement.

April 1, 2005 | 3:29 p.m. ET

1108 ain't nothing but a number ( Stacy Brown , MSNBC contributor and Jackson family friend)

MSNBC

California law code 1108, which comes into play in a criminal action in which the defendant is accused of a sexual offense. California law code 1108 or "Prior bad acts," reads this way:

Nothing in the code prohibits the admission of evidence that a person committed a crime, civil wrong, or other act when relevant to prove some fact (such as motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake or accident, or whether a defendant in a prosecution for an unlawful sexual act or attempted unlawful sexual act did not reasonably and in good faith believe that the victim consented) other than his or her disposition to commit such an act

To many 1108 is confusing, controversial and even unconstitutional. 

This Monday, because of 1108, testimony about Michael Jackson's alleged history of bad behavior with young boys is expected to begin.

Judge Melville's decision to allow that testimony was seen as a major setback for Jackson, who has always denied any improper conduct with young boys.

The defense has continually called the case against the King of Pop weak and Jackson's attorney, Thomas Mesereau, said that the witnesses expected to testify under the 1108 code are a “gang of liars” and said they have an axe to grind.

Judge Rodney Melville had long held off admitting 1108 evidence saying that he wanted to hear the prosecution's case in chief before allowing it. Melville said he would not be inclined “to assist a weak case” by allowing prejudicial evidence from the past.  Melville's decision to allow the 1108 evidence may indicate the judge feels that the case in chief is not weak at all. But Jackson was never charged in any of the alleged incidents in which prosecutors will present to the jury.

Prosecutors contend that Jackson grooms his victims and their families, lavishing them with gifts and attention, as a prelude to engaging the boys in lewd acts. The boy whose allegations of molestation in 2003 landed Jackson in court is a cancer survivor whom Jackson befriended, opening up his Neverland Ranch home to him and his family. Jackson allegedly gave the boy's mother jewelry from Cartier, paid for family trips to Monaco, and bought them a new truck, among other presents.

As devastating as it is for the 1108 evidence to be let in, I submit that Jackson has nothing to worry about. Why? Because he and his loyal followers insist that he is not only innocent, but pure— the reason why Jackson and his family sometimes wear all white to court.

Jackson said on Jesse Jackson's radio show on Sunday that this case was about a conspiracy and the conspiracy, which was “happening as we speak,” included Sony Music and the famed Beatles music catalogue, which Jackson co-owns. Because of the gag order, Jackson never addressed the accuser or any of the prior bad acts he's accused of. He only said that he was innocent and his concern was his good name and his music.

If he is that confident and is totally innocent as he adamantly swears, than 1108 will simply be just another number.

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

March 31, 2005 | 6:00 p.m. ET

Remembering the real Terri Schiavo (Dan Abrams)

Terri Schindler grew up in Pennsylvania in the 1960s and 1970s in a very tight-knit family, with a younger brother and a younger sister.  She attended local Catholic schools. She was involved in her parish. She loved animals, and at one time she even gave the family dog mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in an effort to save it. She told friends and family she might want to be a veterinarian. 

As a teen in the 70s, she was a big fan of the TV show “Starsky and Hutch.” She loved romance novels, and always had a crush on actor Richard Gere.  She watched the movie “Officer and a Gentleman” over and over again. Friends said she was shy and quiet, sensitive about her weight and her glasses.

As she prepared to start classes at a local community college in 1981, she started losing some of the weight that had troubled her for all those years. She got rid of those glasses and that seemed to boost her self-confidence, according to friends.

SCHINDLER SCHIAVO
Schindler Family Photo  /  AP
Terri Schiavo, shown in an undated photo released by the Schindler family, was described as shy by many, but was considered to be happy and vivacious by close friends.
At college, she met fellow student Michael Schiavo.  After only a few dates, she told a friend she was going to marry him.  Terri and Michael dated for less than a year before they were engaged.  They married in the fall of 1984.

Once married, they moved to Florida together, where he worked as a restaurant manager and she clerked in an insurance office.  Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, followed them to Florida where Bob retired.  By all accounts, Terri and Michael were very close with the Schindlers.

When Terri and Michael started making plans to have a family, they realized they were having trouble conceiving.  They consulted fertility doctors, but still no luck.  Medical experts have since concluded that Terri was likely suffering from bulimia, an eating disorder.  

After dinner with her husband one February night in 1990, Terri suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed in her home.

The most common trace in friends' recollections of Terri  is that she never wanted to stand out... ironic for someone who is now being cited by everyone from the president to the Pope.
But I'll bet Terri would probably prefer we remember the life she lived rather than only looking back at that brain damaged woman in the video.

E-mail DAbrams@MSNBC.com

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