Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lynne Stewart: Warrior

Judges don't necessarily like us. We get in the way. We're the ones who force the state to do things like actually producing evidence.

Sometimes we represent the person who could be your neighbor. Other times we represent people accused of committing heinous crimes.

It takes a certain amount of courage to stand beside your client and tell the judge who has done everything imaginable to try to force your client to enter a plea, that you are announcing ready for trial.

Lynne Stewart did that. Ms. Stewart represented an alleged terrorist. A man the federal government accused of plotting to commit acts of terrorism in the United States. To the world outside the courtroom he was Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind cleric. To Ms. Stewart, he was her client. And she set about defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights while representing Mr. Abdel-Rahman to the best of her ability.

Along the way she ran afoul of los federales. While other attorneys were willing to bend to the government's demands. The government told attorneys representing accused terrorists that they could not pass messages from their clients to any third parties - or they couldn't see their clients. The measures were designed to hamper the ability of the attorneys to provide adequate representation. Ms. Stewart wasn't playing that game.

Following her post-conviction work on Mr. Abdel-Rahman's case, Ms. Stewart was indicted for allegedly passing messages from her client to his terrorist network. After a jury convicted her, Ms. Stewart was sentenced to 28 months in prison. After sentence was pronounced she declared that she could do the time standing on her head.

Ms. Stewart appealed the case and the appeals court sent it back for resentencing. The judge, being none too pleased with Ms. Stewart's post-trial remarks, upped her sentence to ten years because he didn't think she was remorseful enough. The Second Court of Appeals then buried their heads in the sand and affirmed the trial court's decision, finding nothing wrong with adding almost eight years to a sentence because someone didn't bow down for the government.

Writes Scott Greenfield:
The choice was sign off on rules that shouldn't constitutionally exist or leave your client effectively unrepresented. Lynne signed off, not because she agreed, but because it was the only way to defend her client.  Faced with a catch-22 (in its truest sense), Lynne did what she had to do to serve the highest purpose of a defense lawyer.  That she falsely affirmed adherence to the SAMs to do was a lesser of evils, where she made the choice of putting the zealous representation of her client ahead of felching the United States government. 
But the second prong of the appellate argument, that she was punished for saying that she could do the sentencen standing on her head introduces a different constitutional right into the mix.  While one defendant was given an extra six months for smiling during sentence, Lynne's sentenced was increased by 92 months for expressing her opinion following her original sentence.
That's right. Ms. Stewart exercised her First Amendment rights and was punished for it. She didn't believe she had done anything wrong and was punished because of it. Ms. Stewart stood up against the government and defended her client. And for that she was punished.

Lynne Stewart is a warrior who did what many of us are afraid to do. She walked to the brink and refused to blink.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Supreme Court upholds insurance industry bailout

Okay, people, it would appear that the world survived yesterday's Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act. Of course you couldn't tell from the reaction of conservative commentators who seemed united in their message that this decision marked the end of Western civilization as we know it (not that would be a terrible thing).

The reality is that the Supreme Court did what the robed ones are supposed to do. They began with the premise that the law was constitutional. They looked for a provision that authorized Congress to require individuals to purchase health care coverage. They made their ruling as narrow as possible.

As to the merits of the individual mandate, the states have for years required motorists to purchase liability insurance on the cars they drive. The difference here is that it was the federal government requiring the citizenry to purchase an insurance product rather than the state.

But, having said that, the individual mandate amounts to the biggest chunk of corporate welfare in this nation's history. The real beneficiaries of the decision are the health insurance companies who will now get a new flock of customers to buy their over-priced products. Keep in mind that these insurance companies the government is trusting our health care to have failed miserably to keep costs down over the last 20 years.

What these companies have done is reduce benefits and services while at the same time increasing premiums and profits. This drive to squeeze out every possible penny in health care dollars will continue unabated as long as the government mandates that we purchase coverage from a private company.

The companies fought tooth-and-nail against the public option - realizing that should the keys to the health care system be handed over to the government, the days of milk and honey would be over. Instead, under the guise of providing coverage for the uninsured, the ACA will keep insurance company executives rolling in the dough.

Access to health care is a human right, but so long as the profit motive runs our health care system, the people will always be on the short end.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book review - Economics unmasked

Sometime late in the 19th century, someone decided that the fuzzy academic discipline of economics needed a little more oomph behind it. Up to that point economists had written tracts laying out theories for why things were as they were. Economics was seen to be little more than a justification for the inequality found in society.

That is until economists dressed up their theories with mathematical equations taken from physics. Now economics was a science! Those who defended the status quo could point to the mathematical rigidity of Neoclassical economics and tell the doubters that there was a scientific reason so many people were poor and just a few were incredibly wealthy.

And, just as gravity was the fundamental concept in physics, the ill-defined term "utility" became the lodestar of the economists.

I'm sure it's just a minor quibble that all the academics couldn't foresee the Great Depression and had no clue as to how to get out of it. In their conception of the world, there could never be excess supply. After all, the invisible hand was the mysterious god-like device that constantly matched supply and demand and kept us all in a state of equilibrium.

The Neoclassical school died a slow death at the hands of John Maynard Keynes but then made its great comeback as the Neoliberal school in the 1980's. Thatcher and Reagan did their utmost to heighten inequality under the guise of trickle-down economics. Neoliberal policies prescribed by the World Bank and the IMF have driven countries into catastrophic downward spirals and, coincidentally, opened doors for American and European banks and companies to exploit the people of the developing world to the utmost degree.

This is the world as seen by Chilean-German economist Manfred Max-Neef and the late American-Dutch physicist Philip Bartlett Smith. In their book Economics Unmasked they will take you on a journey around the world to see the effects of neoliberal economic policy on the people. Mr. Max-Neef was an academic and a proponent of neoliberal theory until he experienced poverty through the people he lived with in the Andes while working for the United Nations.

Neoliberal theory isn't as much as theory as it is a justification for the inequality we see all around us. The mathematical constructs that make up modern economic theory are based upon the equations physicists use to explain the natural world. There is no basis for these formulas in the context of economics. They are arbitrary and they were selected because they allowed a scientific patina to be put on the dismal science.

In Mr. Max-Neef's world, this idea of perpetual economic growth is as much a fallacy as a perpetual motion machine. There is no scientific basis behind the notion that economies will continue to grow until the end of time. And, if you stop to think about it, it defies logic. In order to produce goods, we use resources. Some of these resources are limited. As we continue to use more and more resources to produce goods and services, we run the risk of exhausting what's here on Earth. As an example - there is only so much pollution that our ecosystem can take and still sustain human life. Once we breach that limit, it's game over for us.

Economics Unmasked will make you think about the economic "truths" we are fed everyday. It will make you think about the effect of these policies on the people of the world.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The half-full (or half-empty) glass

On Monday the Supreme Court, in Miller v. Alabama (combined with Jackson v. Hobbs) put the kibosh on mandatory life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders. According to the Nine in Robes, sentencing a juvenile to LWOP is a violation of the 8th Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court did not declare that sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without parole was a Constitutional violation. Courts are still free to tell a teenager that his or her life isn't worth anything. The states, however, cannot mandate LWOP for a juvenile.

It's the classic six of one, half a dozen of the other decision. The ruling does not mean that the more than 2500 men and women in prison who were sentenced to LWOP under mandatory sentencing laws get to go home. Nor does it mean their cases are remanded for sentencing. It just means that they will find themselves eligible for parole at some point in the future.

Let's face it, there are some kids out there who have done some pretty heinous things to get themselves locked up for life in the Big House. But I don't see how a rational person could think that a 14- or 15-year-old fully understands the consequences of his actions in the same way that a 25- or 26-year-old would. The brain of a 15-year-old is not fully developed - that doesn't happen until sometime in the mid-20's.

It's not right to condemn a teenager to death in prison for something he did while his brain was still forming. We wouldn't think of locking up an 8-year-old for life. Would anyone consider locking up a 12-year-old for life?

Just think back to when you were in high school. Now think of all the incredibly dumb things you did at that point in your life. While you may not have taken the life of another, I'm certain there are some things you did that you'd just as soon no one else ever find out about.

There's a reason we don't allow teens to drink alcohol. There's a reason we don't allow 16-year-olds to vote or join the military. There's a reason we don't let 13-year-olds drive cars.

The United States is one of the only nations on this earth that locks up juveniles in prison. We are certainly the only nation that would throw a 14-year-old in a prison and tell him he will die behind bars. Why? Why do we value the lives of our children so little? Why are we so willing to cut funding for education whenever the state encounters a budget shortfall?

We're the adults here. We're the ones making the decisions that affect the lives of our children. We're the ones who ought to be setting an example of how to steward in the next generation. We're the ones who are supposed to have the wisdom and judgment to make the decisions that affect us all. But when our politicians are willing to sacrifice the lives of teenagers in order to curry favor with right-wing voters, what does it say for the rest of us?

The Supreme Court didn't go nearly far enough in this opinion. There are no circumstances that should ever warrant telling a child he's worthless and will die in prison. The life of a teenager is still redeemable - even if his actions are unspeakable. And, as I've stated many times before when discussing the death penalty - locking up a kid forever is not going to undo what he did nor is it going to bring anyone back to life.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Court strikes down provisions of anti-immigrant statute

On Monday the US Supreme Court struck down three provisions of Arizona's anti-immigrant statute but left stand the ability of law enforcement to ask motorists stopped for minor traffic offenses to provide proof of immigration status.

I guess we should be pleased that the Supremes thought the state legislature went just a wee bit too far by requiring immigrants to carry their immigration papers on them at all times. So much for that presumption of innocence, kid. The nine in robes also decreed that the police could no longer arrest immigrants without warrant if they thought the immigrant committed a crime that would lead to deportation.

There's no possible way such a scheme could ever lead the police to profile motorists, is there? Is there a chance that anyone with brown skin could find themselves under suspicion for not being in Arizona on the up-and-up?

But, lest you fear the law could lead to dark days ahead for immigrants, rest assured that Arizona governor Jan Brewer said the decision was a victory for the "rule of law" and that she was certain that the law would be implemented fairly by law enforcement officials.

Because you know, Ms. Brewer, that the police have never used a statute for the purpose of oppressing a group of people. The police have never used alleged traffic violations as a pretext for stopping a motorist. Of course Ms. Brewer has probably never found herself on the opposite side of a window as someone asks her to prove she's here legally.

Oh, that's right, Ms. Brewer is a whiter shade of pale.

Maybe Ms. Brewer and the backers of what's left of the law should take a look to their past to see just who's a guest in the Grand Canyon State and who's not. But for the government's campaign of genocide against the Native Americans, the makeup of Arizona would be quite different.

In the meantime, Justice Scalia had a conniption fit at the mere suggestion that President Obama might not enforce federal immigration law based on his decision not to deport young people who came to this country with their parents. While the President's decision was certainly an attempt to reach out to solidify his support in the Hispanic community, it was also a realization that you can't blame a child for the acts of a parent.

The Court's decision on Monday will open the door for the police in Arizona to profile motorists based on skin color and appearance. And you can count on it happening - no matter how much Ms. Brewer says otherwise.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Another victim of prosecutorial misconduct

Over at Grits for Breakfast we have yet another tale of a man who has sat in prison for more than a decade due to prosecutorial misconduct. Compounding matters is the very real possibility that Kenneth Wayne Boyd is innocent.

Suppressed evidence, jailhouse snitches and liars, liars and more liars. Somewhere along the way, then-Shelby County District Attorney Karen Price must have forgotten that edict from the Texas Supreme Court that prosecutors have an ethical duty to see that justice is done. Ironically, as Grits points out, Ms. Price is in a run-off for the Republican nomination for DA.

It's cases like this that scholars like to point out when anyone has the temerity to criticize the criminal (in)justice system in this country. Academics like to tell us that our system of justice might get it wrong at first but, by golly, the truth will come out in the end.

Of course this is coming from the mouths of erudite judges, professors and commentators who have never had the pleasure of spending a decade or more behind bars. Most have never seen the inside of a jail.

Yes, eventually Clarence Brandley, Anthony Graves and Michael Morton did walk out of prison as free men. But they can never be given back what was taken from them. They can never get back the years they lost. They can never get back the time with their children. They can never get back the loved ones who died while they were locked up. The state can give them all the money in the world - but there is no remedy for being wrongfully convicted.

There is no telling how many men and women are sitting behind bars today as a result of prosecutorial misconduct. As I've stated before, there is no way of knowing when the state is withholding exculpatory evidence. If the prosecutor keeps it a secret - the defense will never know about it until it is too late.

This sad state of affairs will continue until we decide to do something about it. It's not enough to release someone and vacate their conviction. It's not enough to hand them a check and tell them you're dreadfully sorry they lost a huge chunk of their lives. The only way this will stop is when prosecutors are held criminally liable for their actions.

It should be a felony offense with no statute of limitations. Maybe taking away someone's ticket to ride will be enough to make prosecutors err on the side of disclosure when presented with evidence that may be beneficial to the defense. Maybe the threat of prison will be enough to remind prosecutors of their ethical duty to see that justice is done. Maybe the fear of criminal prosecution will be enough to remind prosecutors that a win-at-all-costs mentality is the enemy of justice.

Who the hell am I kidding. It'll never happen.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Just whose interest do you represent?

Joe Amendola said he would "die of a heart attack" if Jerry Sandusky, 68, was found not guilty of 48 counts of abusing 10 boys over 15 years.
Ours is not an easy task. People call us because they are in trouble and need help. Some are wrongfully accused, others just want to get through the ordeal with as little pain as possible.

Television portrays a lie. All of Perry Mason's clients were innocent. They were victims of circumstance and Mr. Mason was able to force the real killer to reveal himself. Ben Matlock defended one or two folks who actually did the deed.

We walk into court with the knowledge that most of our clients are guilty and it's our job to defend that person as vigorously as possible. Is there a suppression issue? Inconsistent stories from witnesses? Does the officer have a skeleton in his closet? Can we conjure enough reasonable doubt for a jury to give a two-word verdict? Is the state's offer so unreasonable that we think a jury will give less?

All through the process our duty is to our client. Not to ourselves. It's not about press conferences and quotes in the newspaper. It's not about trending on Twitter. It's not about becoming a celebrity lawyer. It's about our client.

Everything you do in a case has to be done with the client's best interest in mind. And sometimes that means keeping your damn mouth shut when someone shoves a microphone in front of your face. Sometimes that means telling your client to keep his mouth shut when someone asks him a question.

It certainly doesn't mean letting your client answer questions on national television about showering with young boys. I can't think of any circumstance in which I would allow a client to do that. When Jerry Sandusky answered that question he admitted being a creep. There was no going back after that interview. There was nothing anyone could say to repair the damage.

Mr. Sandusky's attorney, Joe Amendola, could serve as an example of what not to do when defending a man charged with sexually abusing young boys. Mr. Amendola seemed to be more concerned about seeing his name in print than he was with doing his utmost to limit the damage to Mr. Sandusky.

And just what in the hell was Mr. Amendola thinking when he told reporters that he would be shocked if Mr. Sandusky was acquitted? Sure, we've all thought it. We've all gone to trial with a case that we knew we would lose - but we don't get up and tell the world about it. What Mr. Amendola did was inexcusable.

Joseph Amendola, Sandusky's lead defense attorney, said in a press conference the trial was like climbing Mt. Everest, and "obviously we didn't make it." 
Amendola said they expected the guilty verdict, and said he wished he had had more time to prepare for the trial and review all the evidence. 
"I think most of you would have agreed with me that if someone said last November that if we had a trial in early June, that you would have agreed its not very likely at all," he said. "And here are, with a trail that has now concluded and its still the later time in June."

So Mr. Amendola wasn't ready for trial. Had he spent too much time trying to get his name in lights? Was he too busy making sure photographers got his best side and reporters his best quotes? Has he never heard of a motion for continuance. His client was out on bond and certainly was in no hurry to go to trial.

Of course it isn't Mr. Amendola's fault. He didn't commit any of the acts. He had to deal with what his client handed him. And he did a piss poor job of it.

Might we even question if going to trial was in Mr. Sandusky's best interest? What was the offer on the table? I wager to say that unless he walked he wasn't going to beat the offer. Maybe it was life in prison either way, I don't know. But a plea certainly wouldn't have made Mr. Amendola a media star.

Maybe it was all an elaborate ruse. Maybe the goal all along was to set up an appeal based on ineffective representation. All of the comments to the media. Allowing the interview on national television. Complaining that he wasn't ready for trial.

Maybe the lesson of all this is to remember to ask a prospective attorney if he's in this for you or for him.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Congress mulling bill to extend warrantless wiretapping

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and it laid out the rules by which the government could spy on citizens it thought were involved in acts of espionage against the US government. The original bill dealt with people who were spying on behalf of another government.

Following the 9/11 attacks, President Bush, with the assistance of a bunch of weak-willed Democratic congressmen, signed the USA Patriot Act which expanded FISA's coverage to individuals alleged to be working for terrorist groups not associated with another government.

But enough of the history of the erosion of our right to privacy. Since no one raised a stink then, your expectation of privacy in your conversations has been greatly reduced - almost to the point of being non-existent.

In both the Senate and the House, the Judiciary committees have approved a bill extending the amendments to FISA until 2017. The House committee voted along party lines while the Senate committee approved the bill overwhelmingly. The bill now goes before both houses.

The bill will allow los federales to continue to intercept all telephone conversations, e-mail correspondence and other digital communications between two or more people suspected of being involved in terrorism - even if one of the parties happens to be an American citizen.

How interesting that the Republicans, the so-called champions of limited government, are behind this expansion of governmental power whole-hog. Who the hell needs a warrant to gather all the digital information they can store despite that pesky little Fourth Amendment thingamobob?

Come on, tea baggers, explain how you can go out into the streets yelling and screaming that President Obama is enslaving the American people by requiring them to purchase health insurance, but you are more than happy to let the government intercept our fellow citizens' telephone conversations without so much as a warrant. We mustn't allow the government to regulate industry or pass laws to reduce pollution because that's just so un-American - but it's alright to ignore the plain meaning of the Constitution just because someone with a badge says someone else is up to no good.

Of course that's just details, I'm sure. We certainly can't expect anyone to have an intellectually consistent (not to mention "honest") position when it comes to the leash on government power.

In the meantime, just be secure in your knowledge that, slowly but surely, as sure as the day is long, your reasonable expectation of privacy in anything in anyplace at any time will disappear as if it never existed. You wanted security at the expense of freedom. You've made your bed, now sleep in it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A win for the 99%




Today the City of Houston dismissed the majority of charges against peaceful Occupy Houston protestors stemming from their arrests at downtown Tranquility Park on November 8, 2011.  At the same time the Mayor issued an award to Occupy Houston for Outstanding Volunteer Service recognizing their service exemplifying good citizenship and improving the quality of life.

"I am so happy that these charges are no longer hanging over my head and that Mayor Parker sent an award to the participants of Occupy Houston for their volunteer service," said military veteran Shaun Crump, who appeared in court with his 2-year old son, who had his "erecting a tent" charge dismissed by the City of Houston.  

"Mayor Parker expressly stated on Twitter and elsewhere that the Occupy Houston protestors could stay in Tranquility Park," said civil rights lawyer Randall Kallinen and lawyer for Shaun Crump, “So naturally she would uphold her word and dismiss the charges."

 “Thank you to the National Lawyers Guild members nationwide for constantly sharing research, pleadings, and ideas as well as imparting the strength of a firm commitment to preserving the Constitutional rights of all citizens. Thank you in particular to local Guild lawyers who give their time pro bono to the defend the brave souls in our local community who are willing to risk their freedom to ensure the freedom of all Houstonians. The lawyers on the tent case include Paul Kennedy, Gary Roth, Michael Driver, Sunshine Swallers, Randall Kallinen, Matt Sharp and myself. Paul Kennedy led the defense team with his calm sure-footed wisdom.” said Daphne Pattison Silverman of the Houston Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

Occupy Houston protesters and their lawyers will hold a press conference Friday, June 22, 2012, at 12:30 PM by the reflecting pool in front of City Hall.

Date: Friday, June 22, 2012, 12:15 PM
PLACE: City Hall, reflecting pool, 900 Bagby
Contact: Daphne Silverman: 832/443-1433
Randall Kallinen: 713/320-3785 

Caged up like animals

Never underestimate the ability of a politician to take an idea and run it so far into the ground that the end result isn't even recognizable. Take the slavish fascination state legislators around the country had with the notion of being tough on crime.

Mandatory minimums. Three strikes and you're out. The war on drugs. And supermax prisons.

You see, believe it or not, some folks behind bars aren't the most well-behaved people on the planet. Just to prove it was no fluke that they got locked up they go and terrorize those around them. Why not? Some of them are in for life - what more could the state possibly do to them.

But the state legislators had an idea. Let's build some prisons just for the really bad guys. We'll lock 'em up in individual cells and keep them there 23 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year and how ever many years we can hold them.

Of course new prisons had to be built and, since they were only housing the baddest of the bad, they had to have the same staffing as the regular prisons - even though they could only hold a small fraction of the population. All those construction costs. All those maintenance costs. All that overhead. And all that staff.

Illinois is about to close its supermax prison because the state can't afford to spend the $62,000 a year it costs to hold a prisoner (almost three times the amount it costs to house Joe Inmate). Just think how many school teachers the state could hire with that money. Just think of the improvements that the state could make to schools and other public facilities with that money.

But there's more to the problem of solitary confinement than the cost of running supermax prisons. There is also the psychological toll complete isolation takes on an individual. We are social beings. We crave to be in the company of others. Just imagine living in your bathroom and only being allowed to leave for one hour a day. How many minutes could you stand before you'd start beating your head against the wall?

Now imagine the effect years of isolation could have on an individual being released back into society. Now let's be honest about this aspect of the problem - most of the individuals in supermax prisons are already serving life sentences and stand very little chance of ever experiencing life on the other side of the walls again. But does that make the punishment any less inhumane?

The Eighth Amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishment. How can complete isolation be considered anything but cruel or unusual? Is there a time and a place for isolating inmates? Yes, of course there is. But, should it be the norm or should that be the outlier?

Prisoners, even the most violent and depraved, are still people. They have families. They have needs and wants. Our prison system does us all a grave disservice when it treats inmates like animals.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An economy of words

"No one on this planet, much less in Harris County, should be convicted of a felony, with as weak as the evidence is in this case. "
And with those words, my colleague, Todd Dupont, obtained a not guilty verdict in a drug case in Harris County last week.

Quite ballsy to sit down after one sentence. A lot of time to ask yourself if you did the right thing.

There is no more succinct way to tell the jury that the state hasn't proven its case, however. In that one sentence, Mr. Dupont wrapped up the essence of both the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof.  That one sentence was more powerful than the most eloquent 30-minute speech to a jury could ever have been.

The beauty in the close is not what was said, but what wasn't said. 

Of course you can't get up every trial, give a one-sentence close and expect your client to shake your hand on the way out of the courtroom. It's got to be the right case with the right (lack of) facts with the right jury.

The question to be asked might be just how much weight does closing argument even have with a jury. We're taught that some cases are decided with jury selection - that by the time you deliver your opening, the jury has already made up its mind. Never forget that despite the eloquent and passionate speech Atticus Finch gave in that sweltering Alabama courtroom, his client, Tom, was convicted of a crime he didn't commit.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

High and tight

Ten weeks. Millions of dollars. That's the price we paid for the abortive prosecution of Roger Clemens.

And why? What was the purpose?

So you think he lied to Congress when he gave testimony during the show hearings on steroid use in baseball. Members of Congress lie like rugs every election year. They get in front of a television camera whenever they get the chance and look at the American people and lie like there's no tomorrow.

And because they think a famous baseball player didn't tell them the truth about baseball we're going to haul him into court and watch the prosecution whiff on every pitch.

I've asked the question before - and I'll ask it again - does it really matter if Roger Clemens took steroids or human growth hormone while playing in the The Show? Did it affect anyone's life in any meaningful manner? I grew up following baseball but it's just entertainment - just like any other television show, movie or anything else you can go and do on a Friday night.

Baseball is all about tradition. And baseball is all about cheating. Everyone cheats. Just watch the second basemen turn a double play and look to see if he ever touches the bag. He doesn't. The umpire knows he didn't touch the bag. But, so long as he steps near the bag - the runner is out.

What do Gaylord Perry, Mike Scott and Joe Niekro all have in common? They all messed with the baseballs they pitched. Perry was the greatest spitballer of all time - if he were pitching today he'd make a fortune endorsing petroleum jelly. Scott and Niekro scuffed the ball like you couldn't believe.

Catchers frame the plate with their mitts to "convince" the umpire that the ball crossed the plate. Runners on second do their best to steal signs from the catchers and relay them to the batter. Baserunners slide with their spikes up trying to break up double plays. Batters wear billowy pajama-type uniforms to make it easier to sell getting hit by a pitch.

After the 1994 World Series was cancelled due to a strike, baseball looked for any way they could to get people back to the ballpark. The owners and the commissioner (the willfully blind Bud Selig) looked the other way while players shot themselves up with steroids, human growth hormone and any other performance enhancing drug they could find. Hey, chicks do love the long ball, you know.

But when the cherished records of yore were challenged by the baseball-playing lab experiments, the line had to be drawn. And with the cameras rolling, Congress had to get a piece of the action. Ordinarily I would say it's not a problem - if Congress is asking baseball players questions then there's one less thing they can fuck up - but when they begin to think they're doing something vitally important, then we have a problem.

And, as a result, we end up with the waste of our tax dollars. There was no reason for Roger Clemens to be put on trial. There was no vital national interest being served.

That's strike three. You're out!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bring the children to me

Children have little or no say in what their parents do. That goes for children in the United States as well as for children in other parts of the world.

When a child's parents decided to make the trek north from Mexico to the United States, the kids are along for the ride. Wanna be mad at mama and daddy for coming across the river without the express written permission of the government? Fine. But don't take it out on the kids.

I have had clients who came to the states with their parents when they were children. These were folks who had spent their lives in Texas. They didn't know anyplace else.

But, despite the fact they had no life back in Mexico, they were subject to deportation.

Makes a lot of sense, huh? Send someone back to a country in which they have no life. A country they haven't lived in for a decade or more.

But finally someone in Washington has a little bit of sense. There are plenty of things that President Obama has done (or not done) to have issue with. His decision not to deport immigrants under the age of 30 whose parents brought them over when they were children is not one of those things.

People come to this country because they want a better life for themselves and for their children. They come here and bring their traditions and culture with them. It makes Texas a richer place. In our neighborhood alone, if you want Mexican, you're in luck. Vietnamese? Italian? Barbecue? Salvadoran? Thai? Drive up and down Long Point and you're bound to find what you're in the mood for.

How many countries have people lined up wanting to come in? Despite all the flaws in this country, people from around the world are willing to do whatever it takes to come here. Those who are up in arms about President Obama's pronouncement all seem to forget one little matter - this is a country of immigrants. With the exception of the Native Americans, none of our families are from here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In Greece it's a choice between people or banks

Tomorrow the Greek people will go to the polls to determine what is more important: the needs of the people or the greed of the banks.

Six weeks ago elections were held but no party was able to cobble together enough support to form a coalition. The two parties expected to slog it out on Sunday are the right wing New Democracy Party and the left wing Syriza. New Democracy is fully on board with the desires of the European banks and investors and is more than willing to sacrifice the future of Greece at the altar of the Euro.

Syriza, on the other hand, has campaigned hard against the austerity measures imposed upon Greece by the European banks.

Those supporting the austerity measures don't understand a basic fundamental fact. You can't pull an economy out of a recession by raising taxes and cutting spending to the poor and working classes. The problem in Europe is too little demand for the goods and services produced. The solution is to increase the aggregate level of demand. 

Taking money out of the hands of the Greek people and handing it to the banks won't help bring about an economic recovery. Taking that money out of circulation in Greece won't do a damn thing to stimulate demand. It will, instead, cause demand to drop, therefore, making matters even worse.

Cutting back on the amount of money spend on education and health care will have a negative long-term impact on the Greek economy, as well as on the everyday lives of the Greek people. This is part and parcel of the same conditions the IMF and World Bank have imposed on developing nations for decades - and it doesn't work.

Such measures destroyed economies in Africa and Latin America. You could even make the argument that the measures imposed on Mexico provided the fuel for the drug war that has engulfed the country. The measures forced our small-scale farmers to make room for larger mechanized farms. The measures created a multitude of low-paying factory jobs near the border which led to chronic underemployment. It was into such a mix that the drug cartels began their brutal turf battle.

Proponents of austerity are selling the Greek people a bill of goods. It is time for the people to tell their leaders that the citizenry must take priority over the European banks and investors

Friday, June 15, 2012

Making an example

"We were hoping for the maximum," he said, "to make an example."

Yesterday R. Allen Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison after being convicted of multiple counts of defrauding investors by selling phony CD's in an offshore bank.

Mr. Stanford is 62 years old. The sentence, imposed by US District Judge David Hittner, went way overboard. Mr. Stanford will never set foot outside prison again as a free man. He will die behind bars. He would die behind bars if the sentence were 30 years -- probably even much less than that.

A 110 year sentence serves no useful purpose. It gives the prosecutor a big number to put on his resume; maybe white-shoe firms like big numbers. It makes Judge Hittner look like a real tough guy. But why bother?

So what if the federal guidelines - they're advisory, you know - mandate a ridiculously long sentence? Are our federal judges nothing more than clerks who plug in numbers and trace their finger along a column or row in a book? Shouldn't these jurists who were placed on the bench for life have a little discretion at their fingertips?

The quote at the top was from Jaime Escalona, a defrauded investor from Venezuela, who "represented" the Latin American victims of Mr. Stanford's pyramid scheme. The maximum he speaks of was 230 years (an even more absurd big number). What's the example you wish to set, Mr. Escalona?

Those who lost their money will likely never see a penny of it. It's gone. Even those who thought nothing of a high interest rate on a CD, should understand that. It doesn't matter if Mr. Stanford lives to the ripe old age of 172 -- they're never getting paid.

And, as an added bonus, as Mr. Stanford ages and begins to suffer from those maladies that affect older folk, guess who'll be footing that bill. That's right. Us. We'll be the ones on the hook for the increasing medical costs of caring for an aging man.

Mr. Stanford didn't do his case any good when he refused to acknowledge that he defrauded the investors. The judges who like to run their fingers along the columns and rows of the advisory sentencing guidelines tend to take a dim view of someone who refuses to accept responsibility for his actions. They like to use the term upward departure.

Well, sometimes juries convict the wrong person. If Mr. Stanford believes he was wrongly convicted and is looking to appeal, confessing his guilt to the court isn't the best course of action. Harmless error, anyone?

Mr. Stanford ran a pyramid scheme. He promised outrageous returns for supposedly safe CD's which wealthy folks hungry for more money ate up. When he couldn't convince enough people to cough up money he could use to pay the earlier "investors," his company collapsed. He stole nearly $6 billion.

And, lest I forget, Judge Hittner also made Mr. Stanford personally responsible for restitution. Excuse me, Judge Hittner, how the hell is a man sentenced to life in prison supposed to come up with that kind of dough?
And what would the penalty be for not paying it back? Would he have to sit it out for $100 a day?

Mr. Stanford was found guilty. He stole a lot of money. He should go to prison. But the sentence handed out by Judge Hittner was ridiculous.

Just what kind of example did he make?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A tale of two courtrooms

There she stood, in a line with the other jailed defendants pleading out their cases. She had just plead guilty to prostitution. The judge stopped and asked her if she knew who Ted Bundy was (as an aside, the chief prosecutor then pulled up Ted Bundy's page on Wikipedia).

He told her about Ted Bundy and what he did. He then told her about the Green River killer up in Washington and how he abducted and killed prostitutes and that since no one knew they were gone, no one knew to look for them. He told her how sadistic the killer was and what he did to the bodies.

Then he told the young lady that he wasn't trying to shame her. He said that he knew she had some stories about men she'd been with that would curl the hair on the back of his neck. He said he knew she had been raped before.

When he was done he told her that he had a daughter and that he saw his daughter in her. He told her to respect her body and he wished her luck when she was released.

He didn't try to humiliate her. He saw a young person who had made a mistake and he used the bench to try to help her.

Meanwhile, in another courtroom a judge looked at a young man accused of robbing a taco truck with a gun. He asked the young man for his plea and the young man said guilty. The young man's mother and sisters were sitting in the back of the courtroom. The judge told him to turn around and tell his family that he was robber. He did. One of his sisters began to cry. The judge ordered her out of the courtroom.

Then he told the young man to tell his family that he was the one with the gun. He did. His mother crossed her arms and started at the judge. The judge asked her if she believed her son was guilty. She told him she didn't and he ordered her out of the courtroom.

The judge announced that he would finish the plea later. Then he told the young man that he (the young man) was what was wrong with society. He castigated him for his actions. He called him a bad guy and he criticized his mother and sisters for not believing he was guilty.

One judge made a scene in order to get a point across to a young person who may very well have been standing at a crossroads in her life. He did what he could to try to save a life.

Another judge denigrated a young man standing before him accepting responsibility for his actions and humiliated his mother and sisters.

One judge cared about the fate of another. The other didn't give a shit.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Undermining the rule of law

The United States Constitution makes very little mention of citizens. It mandates that our elected representatives be citizens and that the President and Vice President are citizens, but beyond stating that all "other persons" counted as 3/5 of a citizen.

The blueprint of our representative democracy states, in Article I, Section 9, that:
The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
One of the biggest fears of the Founding Fathers was the suspension of the Great Writ. There is no mention anywhere in the Constitution that only citizens of the United States are entitled to use a writ of habeas corpus to get into court. Anyone held in any county jail or state prison can file the writ to get his day in court (unless of course the government has decided they want to kill you and restrict your time to file the writ to one year).

The only time the Great Writ was suspended was during the Civil War when President Lincoln suspended it due to the rebellion.

But on Monday the US Supreme Court effectively suspended the writ for anyone held as a so-called enemy combatant in our government's War on the Constitution Terrorism. As Scott Greenfield reminds us, back in 2008, the men (and woman) in black ruled that the detainees in Guantanamo were entitled to the use of the writ to get their day in court.

Those who had been held without being charged lined up and filed. Trial courts granted the writs and ruled, in many cases, that the detainees were being held illegally. One of those detainees was an American citizen, Jose Padilla, who was held in a US Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

While trial courts were issuing rulings upholding the rule of law, the DC Court of Appeals was doing its best to slice and dice the Constitution. Every case that the government appealed was reversed by the appellate court and the standards that a detainee would have to meet to gain his release were raised to a level no one could achieve.

And when the Supremes had their chance to let the appellate court know that it meant what it said, they punted. One could argue that no one's right to file the Great Writ has been suspended - only that the bar for relief has been raised higher for those whom the government says are the bad guys. But, when the raising of the bar effectively denies each and every detainee of their right to review, the right to file the Great Writ has been suspended.

And the Supreme Court is more than happy to sit back and allow the most conservative appellate court in the nation to thumb its nose at it. The Supremes could have but some teeth into their earlier decision, but why bother? It's not like anyone's marching in the streets demanding that the detainees get their right to review. It's not like anyone's going out on a limb arguing that our national principles demand that these men be released from illegal detention.

No one's going to take up the flag of their cause. And that's exactly what the rule of law is supposed to protect - the rights of the unpopular.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Texas courthouses placed on endangered list

Anyone who is a regular reader of this blog knows that I love old courthouses. Whenever I go out of town, either on business or pleasure, if there's an old courthouse around, I'll be out taking pictures. Domes, clock towers, Lady Justice, balconies and gargoyles are some of the funky little details you'll find as you drive around the state.

Back in the day the county courthouse (and the square) were sources of pride for local communities. The buildings were fancy and ornate - both inside and out. Hand cut stone. Dark wood. Vaulted ceilings.

Since 1998, the state has doled out $247 million to restore 83 courthouses. There are still 70 courthouses in need of repair. Unfortunately the THC doesn't have the funds to do the work, and with the slash-and-burn budget cutting of Gov. Perry, it isn't likely the money will be available from the state anytime soon.

Texas' old courthouses are a public treasure and most are located in counties that can't afford to make the repairs or the renovations needed to bring the buildings back to the original beauty. This heritage needs to be preserved. Now it's just a question of how.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book review: Private Empire - ExxonMobil and American Power

Some folks refer to giant corporations such as ExxonMobil, Apple, Wal-Mart and Ford as multi-national corporations. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They aren't multinationals - that term implies that they have multiple hubs of operations around the world. These megacorporations are transnational corporations. They have evolved beyond the nation-state.

These companies operate as if they were a political unit all to themselves. Their annual gross profits are greater than the GDP of many developing nations and their corporate boards are more like mini-parliaments. Their shareholders more like voting constituencies.

Lenin spoke of the coming era of state monopoly capitalism as being the most developed form of capitalism. Lenin was wrong. Transnational corporations have largely jettisoned themselves from the shackles of national governments. They are big enough to employ their own armies and conduct their own foreign policy.

In the 1950's General Motors was quite pleased to say that what was good for GM was good for America. Today, what's good for ExxonMobil is good for ExxonMobil.

And that brings us to Pulitizer Prize winner Steve Coll's new book Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. Mr. Coll takes us deep inside the inner workings of ExxonMobil and shows how the company built itself into something more akin to a nation-state than a corporation.

ExxonMobil did what ExxonMobil thought was best for its shareholders. The company did its best to distance itself from the US government - regardless of who was in power. The leaders of the company felt it was best that the folks they dealt with in the developing world not to mistake the desires of the company for the desires of the government.

ExxonMobil employed its own global security force and even contracted with foreign governments to conscript their soldiers into its own security force. As a result, ExxonMobil found itself answering to complaints of human rights violations in Aceh and Nigeria.

Mr. Coll also outlines the ways in which ExxonMobil manipulated the science around global warming by buying scientists and institutes to push their message that global warming was just conjecture. It's a reminder that what is passed off as science - in politics as well as in the courtroom - isn't necessarily science. He also takes us through the path ExxonMobil set out on when management realized that they couldn't deny global warming anymore.

And when ExxonMobil's corporate plans conflicted with US foreign policy, the leadership of the company was quick to point out that the most important consideration in deciding how to proceed was how any given decision would affect the shareholders.

The book seems to alternate between being an expose of ExxonMobil and the way it operated as a nation unto itself and a defense of the company. Some portions read more like an ExxonMobil press release reminding us that the people that run the company are smarter than everyone else.

There is one area in which the book provides a brilliant insight - how the oil market operates. Oil is fungible. It's a commodity. When a refiner purchases oil on the open market it doesn't matter whether that oil was extracted from the United States, the Middle East, Africa or anyplace else in the world. In the overall scheme of things it doesn't matter where that last barrel of oil came from. Oil will go where the profits are highest. Therefore, threatening to cut off a nation's ability to export oil in the event of a political dispute (Iran, for instance) is a losing proposition. In a liquid market it doesn't really matter where the oil that produced that tankful of gas you put in your car came from.

Like any successful corporation, ExxonMobil cares only about maximizing returns to shareholders. And if those decisions have negative consequences for the United States, then that's just the cost of doing business.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A few odds and ends

Here are a few odds and ends that I've picked up while vacationing in the Hill Country (I know, such a hard life I lead)...

Up in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall attempt by voters upset with his moves to crush the state public employee union. While I agree with the sentiment of those who wanted to recall the governor, they had their chance at the last statewide election when they elected him. The whole reason for having regularly scheduled elections is so that the public can decide whether or not an office-holder is doing a satisfactory job. Yes, he's made some very unpopular decisions and the good folks in cheese country are more than welcome to send him home next time around.

Allowing recalls will only serve to paralyze state government as officer-holders will be scared to make any decisions if they are fearful that the people can turn around and throw them out of office at will.

United Airlines, which fought tooth and nail to prevent rival Southwest Airlines from building an international terminal at Houston's Hobby Airport has announced that as a result of the city's decision to let the project go forward, it will have to begin laying off workers in Houston. Interestingly enough, United is vowing to lay off employees this year even though the new terminal won't be operational until 2015.

Come on, how stupid do y'all think we are? Do explain how a terminal that won't be open for another three years is causing you to lay off people now.

Finally, the Cardiff City soccer team in the English Premier League is nicknamed the Bluebirds. They wear blue uniforms with a bluebird on their crest. Now their Malaysian owner is changing the color of their jerseys to red and replacing the bluebird with a dragon. The move is being made to make the team more marketable so the club can pay off its debts. Does tradition mean nothing anymore? All of the money pumped into international soccer has raised the level of play and the accessibility of the sport - but that "progress" has come at the expense of the soul of the game.

H/T Paul Lukas (Uniwatch blog)

Friday, June 8, 2012

A visit to Monument Hill

Back in the winter of 1842 an expedition party made up of Texas soldiers crossed the Nueces River into what was then Mexico. Despite orders to leave and return to Texas, the raiders attacked the town of Mier. Outnumbered the men surrendered to the superior Mexican forces.

The men were taken prisoner and sentenced to death. The execution order was later withdrawn and the men were taken to the Mexican town of Salado where they were imprisoned. In February 1843 the Texans escaped, but their freedom was short-lived as 176 of the men were recaptured a week later.

Santa Anna ordered the men killed but the governor nixed the execution. After much hand-wringing it was decided that one man in ten would be sent to his death. That death lottery is known as the Black Bean Episode.

The Texans were ordered to draw a bean from a bag. If a man drew a white bean his life was spared. If, on the other hand, he drew a black bean, the executioner awaited.

A few months earlier, on September 11, 1842, an army of 1,600 Mexican soldiers entered Texas and captured the city of San Antonio. Six days later a group of 53 Texas volunteers from Fayette County went into battle against 1,000 Mexican troops. The Texans were all killed in what is known as the Dawson Massacre.

A mile south of La Grange is Monument Hill which stands as a memorial to the Fayette County men who died outside San Antonio and for those who died in the Black Bean Episode. The bodies of all but one of the men were repatriated and buried on Texas soil - and that is where they lie today, overlooking the Colorado River.

The monument erected in 1936 to commemorate those who died in Salado.

The final resting place for all but one of the Texans.

The view of the Colorado River from behind the monument.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

This Old Courthouse: Victoria edition

The old Victoria County Courthouse was built in 1892 by J. Riely Gordon in the Romanesque Revival style. Mr. Gordon, however, wasn't around to see it completed because he was fired. It seems that his contract specified that he would be present at the site every day of construction. Even God got to take a day off, you know.

Here are a few shots of the exterior...

Unfortunately, as courthouse business expanded, a new building was erected next door in that 1960's "it's a government building so we don't give a shit what it looks like" style. To enter the old courthouse you have to go through this monstrosity.

The interior of the 1892 courthouse is nothing short of amazing.

You just can't beat an atrium in the middle of a courthouse - even if that ugly elevator eats up too much space.

The courtroom looks like it came right out of a movie set.

And there's even a balcony! Don't forget to stand when Atticus walks out.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A dry river no more

Last November I posted a picture I took of the Navidad River down in Jackson County showing the effects of last summer's drought.

I was back down that way last week and took this picture that shows what a difference a bit of spring rain makes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Correct me if I'm wrong

As I drove back in the rain from South Texas the other day I was listening to Talk of the Nation on NPR. If you haven't tuned in, it's a fairly formulaic news talk show with host Neal Conan lobbing a bunch of softballs at his guests and taking the occasional phone call. (Click here to listen to the program.)

On the day in question the topic of discussion was the Supreme Court and what a 5-4 decision on President Obama's health care legislation might mean. One guest, Jeffrey Rosen, wrote an article arguing that such a vote would indicate that Chief Justice Roberts has failed in his self-appointed mission to build consensus on the court. Another guest, Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative analyst, thought it was absurd to view a narrow decision as a failure on the chief justice's part.

She kept talking about how it didn't matter whether there was a consensus or not so long as the court made the decision based on a correct interpretation of the law. And that's what I found funny about the show. How does one decide that a decision was made on a "correct" interpretation of the law? And who decides what is the "correct" interpretation?

One could argue that whatever decision the nine robes reach is the correct interpretation of the law because, after all, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter on what the law means. If the Supremes declare that some provision of a law is unconstitutional, then it is unconstitutional - at least until the Court decides otherwise.

The Fourth Amendment is pretty damn clear when it comes to whether a search is legal or not. There isn't much room for interpretation. Ah, but what is a search? Once the Supremes realized that if they followed the words of the Fourth Amendment that there wouldn't be a whole hell of a lot of evidence in criminal cases they began to chip away at its protections. So what's the "correct" interpretation?

And what role does precedent play in the analysis? At some point there will be enough exceptions to a previous rule that the rule is, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent. At what point do we just say to hell with the old rule and create a new one? Who decides if that's the correct interpretation?

I happen to think that 5-4 decisions are a good thing. When the interpretation of a law depends on the vote of one judge I think it highlights that the men and women sitting behind the bench aren't Olympian gods and that the decisions they reach aren't etched on stone tablets and carried down from a mountain.

The men and women who decide what our Constitution means are human and they are subject to the same biases and prejudices that we all are. The law is a very fluid concept and the fact that things could have turned out differently had one person changed their mind is something we should never forget.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Watch what you say

Thanks to the wonders of the Freedom of Information Act, the Daily Mail of London has put together a list of all the words that the Grand Inquisitors at the Department of Homeland Security (which sounds like something straight out of the Third Reich) are on the lookout for day in and day out.

Every day some bureaucrat sits behind a computer terminal sifting through everything that's posted online - just looking for some of these very special words. That's right. Whatever you post on Facebook, Twitter or any other social networking site is being watched.

According to the Daily Mail...

The words are included in the department's 2011 ' Analysts Desktop Binder' used by workers at their National Operations Center which instructs workers to identify 'media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities'.

But, fret not, los federales aren't looking to add your name to their list just because you happen to write disparaging things about the government - or so they say. It is nothing short of ironic that, by most accounts, the most left-leaning president in American history has launched the greatest assault on the people's right to be left alone. No constitutional protection is safe these days.

It's long been said that it took someone like Nixon to make nice with the Chinese (hey, authoritarians just love to hang out with other authoritarians). It follows that it took someone like President Obama to lay waste to privacy rights and due process. It would've been too obvious with Bush.

So, in this day where the government is squeezing our right to free speech - unless you're a corporation or a billionaire who has a few millions to throw at political candidates - it's time to have a little fun. This is the list of words related to domestic security that will raise some eyebrows (and this is only one category - there are plenty more where these came from):
Domestic security
Law enforcement
Disaster assistance
Disaster management
Domestic nuclear detection office
National preparedness
Dirty bomb
Domestic nuclear detection
Emergency management
Emergency response
First responder
Homeland security
Maritime domestic awareness
National preparedness
Shots fired
Disaster medical assistance team
Organized crime
National security
State of emergency
Emergency landing
Pipe bomb
Here's your challenge. By my count there were 51 words and phrases that the spooks are looking for on social networking sites. Write a short story (no more than 500 words) using as many of these words and phrases as you can. The winning entry will be posted on the blog later this month. I will be the sole judge of who wins and there is no set criteria. The deadline to enter is two weeks from today.

Send those entries to .

Sunday, June 3, 2012

And sometimes justice just happens

It was 1981. Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt, was sitting in the stands watching a military parade and basking in the glory of being seen as a man of peace after sitting down with President Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1979.

The the parade came to a halt and shots were fired into the stands. Mr. Sadat was mortally wounded and Hosni Mubarak took charge.

Over the next 30 years, Mr. Mubarak ruthlessly stopped dissent, whether it came from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood or secular groups. He benefited from millions of dollars in military aid from the United States who had no qualms about arming brutal dictators around the world.

That all came to a grinding halt in the Spring of 2011 when protesters occupied Tahrir Square on January 25 in what was the start of Egypt's Arab Spring. But Mr. Mubarak was not one to go down quietly. He sat and twiddled his thumbs as security forces murdered unarmed protesters in the streets. But, when his army refused to turn their guns on their countrymen, Mr. Mubarak's days were numbered.

In the aftermath of his downfall the military took charge. Parliamentary elections were held and the Muslim Brotherhood and other conservative Islamist parties took the wind out of the revolution's sails. When the Egyptian people walked into the polls for the first ever election for President, the revolutionaries were once again disappointed when the top two vote-getters were a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood and Mr. Mubarak's last prime minister.

This past week brought a measure of satisfaction to those who risked their lives to stand up to Mr. Mubarak, however, when a court convicted the former president and sentenced him to life in prison for his role in the deaths of over 800 protesters.

No, the sentence doesn't bring back those who died in the Arab Spring and it doesn't bring back those who died at the hands of Mr. Mubarak during his 30 years in power. But it does send a message that heads of state are not above the law.

Of course we all know that it's the winners who make the law and Mr. Mubarak was clearly on the losing side of the revolution. But maybe, just maybe, government officials around the world who persist in violating the human rights of others, will see the inside of a courtroom and will be made to answer for their crimes.

Please excuse George W. Bush and Barack Obama if they aren't applauding the decision.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Let my people go (on a rant)!

Mike Bost is a state legislator in Illinois who decided he had just had enough. We've all been there and don't tell me that you've never felt like just going off on someone. For whatever reason, that little voice in the back of our heads that tells us to think twice was a little bit off for Mr. Bost.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Torturing the language

Lord Phillips said five of the seven Supreme Court justices had agreed the warrant was lawful because the prosecutor could be considered a proper "judicial authority" even if this was not specifically mentioned in legislation or international agreements.
Julian Assange has lost his challenge to the Swedish request for extradition to face sex-related charges. He lost because the British Supreme Court decided that a prosecutor had "judicial authority" to request the warrant - even though the Extradition Act doesn't address that issue.

Now let's think about this for a second. In a criminal proceeding there is a judge, a prosecutor and a defendant (and his attorney). The role of the judge is to be an impartial arbiter in the case, to rule on questions of law and to issue a verdict if requested. The role of the prosecutor is to put forward the government's case. It is the judge's role to determine whether he has done so adequately.

The warrant in question was not signed by a judge. It was not issued by a judge. It was, instead, issued by the prosecutor. (Okay, I know that here in Harris County many of the ones sitting on the bench wearing the black polyester dresses think they are working in the judicial division of the Harris County District Attorney's Office.)

The British Supremes claimed they looked to the French translation of the act to determine just what "judicial authority" meant and made the leap of faith that it meant that a prosecutor could exercise judicial authority and issue a valid warrant.


What the court did was try to justify sending Mr. Assange back to Sweden so that the United States government could get its grubby little paws on him and put him on trial for publishing state secrets. Nevermind the fact that what he did was shine a light on the machinations of a government that says one thing in public and does the opposite when the doors are closed. What he did was lift the curtain on the blatant violations of international law the US committed by torturing "enemy combatants" and sanctioning the use of torture by other regimes.

What Mr. Assange did was to embarrass the United States by revealing to the world the hypocrisy in Washington. He revealed human rights abuses. He revealed arms sales to despotic regimes. And for that the United States wants to put a needle in his arm. And the only way that happens is if he's extradited to a country that won't refuse to hand him over to Uncle Sam if he faces the death penalty.

As long as he was in England he couldn't be extradited to the United States if the death penalty were on the table. But he has no such protection in Sweden. Therefore the court had to torture the very notion of the Rule of Law in order to allow the Law of Rule to operate.

Julian Assange shouldn't be condemned. He should be praised for what he did.

And the British Supreme Court should be ashamed of what they did.