Saturday, August 31, 2013

Are y'all ready for some football?

Well it's that time of the year again. Fall is approaching. Temperatures are falling (to the lower 90's). And the natives are back on the 40 Acres.

It's time for another season of college football and I will be in Austin this evening with my youngest daughter to watch the 'Horns kick off their 2013 campaign. It will be her first trip to Memorial Stadium and I think she will be blown away by the experience.

So just kick back and enjoy some of my other favorite college fight songs:

But then there's this story about how television has become the tail that wags the dog of college football.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Everything you need to know about DWI

I'm waiting for the special "No Refusal" edition that includes a rubber hose, needle and syringe for conducting forcible blood draws.

H/T Gary Trichter

Thursday, August 29, 2013

School district climbs in bed with oil industry

What a surprise to find, on my way back from lunch, that HISD's new Energy Institute High School is practically just around the corner from my new office.

The Energy Institute is a partnership between the IPAA (Independent Petroleum Association of America) and HISD and is designed to train students for careers in the energy industry.


This latest magnet school in Houston is just another example of the abdication of government responsibility in providing an education to our nation. We can spend billions of dollars a year killing innocent men, women and children in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen - but we can't provide adequate funding for education. We can spend millions of dollars to build shiny new playpens for billionaire owners of professional sports franchises - but we can't provide adequate funding for education. We can subsidize entire industries to "protect" them from foreign competition - but we can't provide adequate funding for education.

Local school districts are left to beg for money from local industry to make up for shortages in funding. Those industries - in this case the energy industry - then helps plan a curriculum that (and let's not be naive here, folks) puts themselves in the best light.

Don't believe me? Just listen to Houston's NPR station, KUHF and listen to the number of commercials mentions of donors that are in the energy industry. Then listen carefully to whether or not the local reporters ever cover a story that is critical of the oil or gas industry. Actually, listen carefully and you'll find that very few of the local stories the station broadcasts during its hourly news updates are anything more than reworded press releases from government agencies or local industry.

(And, what do you know, here's a reworked press release turned into a "news" story from KUHF about the opening of the school.)

So just how do you think a high school funded by the energy industry will cover major oil spills such as the Deepwater Horizon explosion? What about the dreadful environmental record of the nuclear industry? How about the ways in which the US government has carried out foreign policy directives aimed at making life easier for the oil companies? And how exactly would the practice of fracking be covered in science class?

The school district even provided a listing of what oil companies make up the Advisory Board for the new school on its blog:
To kick off the grand opening, Energy Institute High School hosted its first Advisory Board meeting at the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center. The board, which consists of executives from Halliburton, Shell, Apache, and other top energy companies, is charged with providing HISD and Energy Institute staff insight into the field and how to prepare for energy careers. They will collaborate with the district to develop and continually update the institute’s curriculum.
Energy Institute students will explore the energy field through guest speakers, mentoring, field trips, summer camps, paid externships, and scholarships. All classrooms will utilize state-of-the-art technology, and teachers will receive training and real-world insight from industry leaders. The institute will begin with ninth-graders and add a grade level each year, eventually serving grades 9-12. 
So the oil companies will "collaborate" on the curriculum with the district. Is that we call it these days. These are companies that have an agenda. They have a mission - to maximize profits. That's not what public schools are about.

But what does Superintendent Terry Grier care? He's already gotten plenty of money from the IPAA to fund indoctrination efforts at two other high schools. As the old adage goes, we aren't discussing what you are, we're just negotiating a price.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wake up America!

Today, on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, we will hear countless clips from the "I Have a Dream" speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. What you won't hear much of is the speech given by a 23-year old John Lewis.

Now before we go any further it's important to realize that each of the speakers had to hand in copies of their speeches to the organizers of the march - lest someone get a bit too militant for Uncle Sam's tastes. It is also worth noting that the mainstream media is all over the 50th anniversary of the march and the question repeated over and over again is whether Rev. King's dream has been realized.

The coverage shows the fascination we have in memorializing events after a certain number of years have passed. Instead of focusing on the woeful job our government has done in ensuring freedom and equality, we'll have an orgy of praise for the anniversary of a speech. Instead of focusing on the shameful minimum wage and the absurdity of a full-time worker living below the poverty line, we'll talk about a dream. Instead of focusing on the ways our criminal (in)justice system has criminalized being young and black, or instead of focusing on the disparity of sentencing in drug cases, we'll hold hands and slap ourselves on the back for how far we've come in the last 50 years.

Mr. Lewis was the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was beaten and almost killed during the Freedom Rides. He is now a 13-term Congressman and a member of Georgia's congressional delegation. He is also the sole surviving speaker from that day.

While Rev. King's speech has a deep resonance with those who champion freedom and equality, Mr. Lewis' speech talks about the nuts and bolts of oppression. His speech is a cry to organize to fight. His speech is a condemnation of the two major parties who worked together to preserve Jim Crow. It is a call for economic justice.
We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of.  For hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here.  For they are receiving starvation wages, or no wages at all.  While we stand here, there are sharecroppers in the Delta of Mississippi who are out in the fields working for less than three dollars a day, twelve hours a day.  While we stand here there are students in jail on trumped-up charges.  Our brother James Farmer, along with many others, is also in jail. We come here today with a great sense of misgiving. 
It is true that we support the administration’s civil rights bill.  We support it with great reservations, however.  Unless Title III is put in this bill, there is nothing to protect the young children and old women who must face police dogs and fire hoses in the South while they engage in peaceful demonstrations.  In its present form, this bill will not protect the citizens of Danville, Virginia, who must live in constant fear of a police state.  It will not protect the hundreds and thousands of people that have been arrested on trumped charges.  What about the three young men, SNCC field secretaries in Americus, Georgia, who face the death penalty for engaging in peaceful protest? 
As it stands now, the voting section of this bill will not help the thousands of black people who want to vote.  It will not help the citizens of Mississippi, of Alabama and Georgia, who are qualified to vote, but lack a sixth-grade education.  “One man, one vote” is the African cry.  It is ours too.  It must be ours! 
We must have legislation that will protect the Mississippi sharecropper who is put off of his farm because he dares to register to vote.  We need a bill that will provide for the homeless and starving people of this nation.  We need a bill that will ensure the equality of a maid who earns five dollars a week in a home of a family whose total income is $100,000 a year.  We must have a good FEPC bill. 
My friends, let us not forget that we are involved in a serious social revolution.  By and large, American politics is dominated by politicians who build their careers on immoral compromises and ally themselves with open forms of political, economic, and social exploitation.  There are exceptions, of course.  We salute those.  But what political leader can stand up and say, “My party is the party of principles”?  For the party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland.  The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater.  Where is our party?  Where is the political party that will make it unnecessary to march on Washington? 
Where is the political party that will make it unnecessary to march in the streets of Birmingham?  Where is the political party that will protect the citizens of Albany, Georgia?  Do you know that in Albany, Georgia, nine of our leaders have been indicted, not by the Dixiecrats, but by the federal government for peaceful protest?  But what did the federal government do when Albany’s deputy sheriff beat Attorney C.B. King and left him half-dead?  What did the federal government do when local police officials kicked and assaulted the pregnant wife of Slater King, and she lost her baby? 
To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we have long said that we cannot be patient.  We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now!  We are tired.  We are tired of being beaten by policemen.  We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again.  And then you holler, “Be patient.”  How long can we be patient?  We want our freedom and we want it now.  We do not want to go to jail.  But we will go to jail if this is the price we must pay for love, brotherhood, and true peace. 
I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation.  Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete.  We must get in this revolution and complete the revolution.  For in the Delta in Mississippi, in southwest Georgia, in the Black Belt of Alabama, in Harlem, in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and all over this nation, the black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom. 
They’re talking about slow down and stop.  We will not stop.  All of the forces of Eastland, Barnett, Wallace, and Thurmond will not stop this revolution.  If we do not get meaningful legislation out of this Congress, the time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington.  We will march through the South; through the streets of Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the streets of Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham.  But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity that we have shown here today.  By the force of our demands, our determination, and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in the image of God and democracy.  We must say: “Wake up America!  Wake up!”  For we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

History doesn't have to repeat itself to create a farce


  [fahrs] noun, verb, farced, farc·ing.
a light, humorous play in which the plot depends upon a skillfully exploited situation rather 
than upon the development ofcharacter.
humor of the type displayed in such works.
foolish show; mockery; a ridiculous sham.
Cookery. forcemeat.

When Col. Tara Osborn denied the request by Nidal Hassan's attorneys to withdraw from the case, she put her stamp on the farce of a trial the court-martial has been.

It has been apparent from the beginning that Maj. Hassan was angling for a needle in the arm. He did nothing to challenge any of the jurors for cause. The prosecution had the task of qualifying the jurors for a case in which the death penalty was an option. After hearing juror after juror announce that he could vote for the death penalty if the evidence warranted, Maj. Hassan never asked any juror if he could consider a life sentence given the evidence that would be heard.

During his opening statement, Maj. Hassan told the jury that he had done exactly what he was accused of doing. That admission all but guaranteed a guilty verdict. From there Maj. Hassan chose not to confront the witnesses against him (with rare exception).

Finally, after all the damning evidence against him, Maj. Hassan chose not to put on a defense.

Toward the end of the prosecution's case that Maj. Hassan's former attorneys (who had been appointed by the court to serve as stand-by counsel) asked to be allowed to withdraw from the case. Their argument was that Maj. Hassan was doing everything he could to receive a death sentence. That was the point at which Col. Osborn had the opportunity to do the right thing.

She had a choice. She could have allowed the attorneys to withdraw from the case - as was their ethical duty given the circumstances. There is no legitimate purpose in forcing attorneys to stay on a case when their client is aiming for death. If a defendant chooses to tank his own case, there is no need for an attorney to sit on his hands behind him.

Or she could force the attorneys to stay on the case in order to protect a death sentence. By forcing the attorneys to stay on the case she was doing what she could to prevent Mjr. Hassan from challenging a death sentence on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. Why worry about ethics when we need some finality?

Maj. Hassan didn't need the assistance of counsel during his trial. He never objected. He never attempted to introduce any evidence. The attorneys were nothing more than potted plants to the proceedings.

And so, as a result, we end up with a farce of a trial that will end with Maj. Hassan being condemned to die at the hand of the state.


This afternoon the punishment phase of Maj. Hassan's trial came to a conclusion. Maj. Hassan rested without taking the stand on his on behalf. While his behavior during the trial should raise serious questions in the minds of the jurors as to whether the death penalty is justified, the die has already been cast.

Maj. Hassan will be sentenced to die and Col. Osborn will have done her duty in seeing that the wheels of justice spin right on along regardless of the circumstances and ethical considerations.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Why not just reduce the number of federal prosecutions?

Under the sequester, federal agencies were required to cut their budgets across the board. Of course when business travelers felt the inconvenience caused by cuts to the FAA the government quickly found a way around the sequester lest our elected representatives be blamed for the snarls at the airport.

Over the in the courthouse, the sequester has caused federal public defender offices to reduce their budgets. And, since criminal defendants in federal court don't have a particularly sympathetic lobby, no one has stuck their neck out to prevent the unintended consequences of the sequester.

In order to reduce their budgets, local federal defenders' offices have had to lay off staff. As a result of recommended caseloads this means that the federal defenders' offices can't handle as many cases. Someone has to step into the breach - and those someones are private attorneys taking on appointed cases.

Federal defenders' offices are set up to defend a large number of clients at any given time. They share staff. They share investigators. Hell, they even share cars when traveling to visit clients in federal detention centers. Private attorneys don't have the advantage of this shared overhead. A private attorney has to pay his receptionist or assistant. He has to pay his investigator. He doesn't have anyone to carpool with when traveling hours to visit a client. And he's billing the court for his time and his expenses - as is his investigator and any expert witnesses he may retain.

The plain fact of the matter is it costs the taxpayers more money for the courts to appoint private attorneys to handle federal criminal cases than it does to use the federal defenders' office. So the sequester - meant to rein in spending - is actually increasing the costs of providing representation to federal criminal defendants.

Of course we just can't let this practice continue. So, in order to reduce spending, a panel of federal judges decided to reduce the hourly rate paid to private attorneys appointed to represent federal criminal defendants from $125 an hour to $110 an hour. And the courts will have the ability to delay some payments of fees for up to four weeks to keep them off the current fiscal year's spreadsheet.

But that's not addressing the problem. That's just sweeping it under the rug and hoping everyone forgets about it. If the cost of these federal prosecutions is too high, then maybe we should take a nice long look at the types of cases that are being filed.

There is little reason to try a dope case in federal court, for instance. The last time I checked, every state had laws on their books prohibiting certain drugs. Sure, the severity of the offense may vary from state to state and some states have even had the temerity to legalize small amounts of marijuana. But the point remains that there are few drug cases that need to be tried in federal court.

The same goes for most assaults and murder cases. Those activities are outlawed by the states. Sure, there may be some jurisdictional issues when an offense takes place on federal property, but murder is murder and assault is assault. If a person is convicted of the crime, does it really matter whether he serves his time in a state penitentiary or a federal prison?

So my solution to reducing the cost of prosecuting federal criminal cases is to reduce the number of cases prosecuted. If the defendant can be charged in state court, let the state court take care of the matter. The role of the federal courts all along was to take over matters involving actors from across state lines when one state's courts might be friendlier to a in-state party than to an out-of-state party. The only federal crime outlined in the Constitution, after all, is treason.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A little good news for disgraced Galveston jurist

Down on the island, the saga of disgraced jurist Christopher Dupuy took another turn this week as Ryan Patrick, a visiting judge from Harris County (and son of the right wing extremist State Senator Dan Patrick) dismissed five felony indictments that had been filed against Mr. Dupuy.

The five dismissed charges included two felony retaliation charges and three charges of abuse of office.

The judge also ordered Mr. Dupuy not to file any more pro se motions now that he has appointed counsel.

The ruling from Judge Patrick still leaves intact two felony aggravated perjury charges and four other misdemeanor charges.

As I have said many times before, the citizens of Galveston County got just what they deserved when they pulled the straight ticket lever without knowing anything about the fitness of Mr. Dupuy to serve on the bench - other than the fact he had an R after his name.

While I am not ready to stand in the line of folks demanded non-partisan judicial elections because I think they would be even more corrupted by campaign money than what we have now, something needs to be done to encourage the electorate to educate themselves - even if to a minor degree - as to who is running on the down-ballot races. The folks running for those down-ballot positions have a greater influence on our lives than most people realize.

It's those folks on the down-ballot races who draw the lines for both state and federal legislative districts. It's those folks on the down-ballot races who draw up schemes to deprive people of their right to vote. It's those folks on the down-ballot races who shut off debate and pass measures restricting women's right to make decisions about their bodies. It's folks on those down-ballot races who pass laws making it easier for the state to invade your privacy and ignore the Fourth Amendment. It's those folks on the down-ballot races who create a justice court system that serves as nothing more than an assembly line for the county to extract money from motorists accused of speeding. It's those folks on the down-ballot races who blindly sign search warrants allowing the police to strap folks down and stick needles in their arms.

You have been warned.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The high price of exposing the truth

Yesterday Col. Denise Lind sentenced Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for exposing the truth. He exposed the lies, deceit and criminal acts perpetrated by our government. He exposed human rights abuses. He exposed war crimes.

Yes, the documents he provided to WikiLeaks embarrassed the US government. Yes, it put government officials in tricky positions after their lies and deceit were exposed to the world.

Bradley Manning never stood a chance at trial. The convictions were a foregone conclusion. The only question was whether Col. Lind would play along and convict Mr. Manning of aiding the enemy. While she made the right call on that charge, she gave the government its bone with the sentence she pronounced.

President Obama told the world - before the trial ever began - that Mr. Manning was guilty. Damn the evidence, full speed ahead, Mr. President. Let's just gloss over the fact that Mr. Manning didn't pass the documents to the "enemy." His actions hurt no one. He wanted to foster debate on the policies of our government. He wanted to let the world know the truth about what has been done in our name.

Among the materials he provided to WikiLeaks was footage of an American helicopter gunship mowing down civilians - including journalists and a father and his children.

Mr. Manning was subjected to torture by his own government while awaiting trial. Of that there is no question. It's the reason that Col. Lind gave Mr. Manning additional credit for the time he served before trial.

So, while Mr. Manning is serving his 35-year sentence for exposing the truth, there are five men who acted with the intent to harm Americans who are serving shorter sentences for their crimes.

David Hicks is an Australian national who fought alongside the Taliban. He was captured, sent to Guantanamo Bay and sentenced to seven years in prison.

John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban," was captured fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. Mr. Lindh was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Noor Uthman Mohammed was convicted of providing material support to terrorists and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri is a Qatari citizen who was living in the United States on a student visa. He admitted to providing material support to terrorists and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Kevin William Harpham is a white supremacist in the US who pled guilty to trying to bomb a Martin Luther King Day parade in Seattle in 2011. He was sentenced to 32 years in prison.

So, while Barack Obama campaigned for the White House in 2008 on a platform in which he promised to end the wars in the Middle East, to close down Guantanamo Bay and to promote greater transparency in government, President Obama stood up and declared Bradley Manning to be an enemy of the United States. Bradley Manning followed a higher duty than preventing the US government from being embarrassed. He followed a higher duty than covering up the war crimes committed by US military personnel in the Middle East.

For that he is looking at spending the next 30-plus years behind bars.

Sometimes the price we pay to expose the truth is quite high. Bradley Manning deserves praise and thanks for what he did - not 35 years behind bars.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cutting and pasting

This is the mission statement from a Justice of the Peace court out in west Texas.
Precinct 1 will provide timely, fair and cost effective disposition of all matters properly presented to this court.  We subscribe to these guiding principles and values: 
To serve the public and foster a friendly accessible environment, treating all individuals equally with dignity, respect, honesty and fairness. 
To operate with a pro-active, innovative and progressive approach to program development and implementation, remaining open to suggestions for improvement. 
To respect the interests of the taxpayers and our funding unit by continuously seeking greater efficiencies for improved service in coordination with elected officials, county departments and other units of government. 
To comply with all Trial Court Performance Standards promulgated by the Michigan Supreme Court. 
To encourage the spirit of teamwork among courts and service units to exemplify a unified Circuit Court. 
To serve as an example worthy of emulation by other courts in Texas and the United States. 
Yes, it sounds like something worthy to aspire to - except I can't think of why performance standards written by the Michigan Supreme Court have anything to do with how we practice in Texas. And I haven't the slightest idea what a "unified circuit court" is supposed to be considering that JP courts in Texas aren't courts of record and the judge isn't required to be a licensed attorney.

I'm guessing that someone found this up on some court website in Michigan and decided it sounded good and copied it to their court's website. I just hope the "justice" dispensed in that court isn't also a cut-and-paste job.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Going after the fourth estate

Glenn Greenwald is a very bad man.

At least that's the impression the Obama administration wants to give you. It was Mr. Greenwald who introduced us to Edward Snowden. It was Mr. Greenwald who informed the world as to how the US government was spying on its citizens and its own allies.

Of course in President Obama's world Mr.Snowden did a great disservice by exposing the NSA's dirty laundry. According to President Obama, he was looking at ways to reform the NSA long before Mr. Snowden met with Mr. Greenwald. Strange, though, that Mr. Obama's announcement of reforms to the agency weren't made until after Mr. Greenwald's articles were published in The Guardian. Funny how the announcement came after the House of Representatives narrowly defeated a bill that would have restricted NSA activity.

The US government went hard after Pfc. Bradley Manning who exposed human rights abuses committed by the US in the Middle East and other parts of the world. The US and Britain went hard after Julian Assange who published the documents provided by Mr. Manning. And now they're both going hard after Mr. Greenwald.

This past weekend British authorities detained Mr. Greenwald's partner David Miranda, a Brazilian citizen, who was stopping over in London on his way back to Rio de Janiero from Germany. Under an anti-terrorism law passed in 2000, Mr. Miranda was held at the airport for nine hours - the maximum a person can be held without being charged under the law - and questioned by six agents. His phone, laptop, video games and memory cards were all confiscated.

And why was Mr. Miranda detained? Could it possibly be because he assisted Mr. Greenwald in his work? Could it possibly be because he was in Germany with American-filmmaker Laura Poitras who has been a frequent target of US government coercion because of her work exposing government lies and hypocrisy? Could it be because it was the only way the US and British governments thought they could get to Mr. Greenwald?

The national security state will do whatever it takes to survive. The detention of Mr. Miranda is but the latest example.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book review: Rise of the Warrior Cop - The militarization of America's police forces

In Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko takes a look at the current state of policing in these United States and asks "how did we get here?"

How did we come to a point in which police officers wear camouflage gear, carry assault-type weapons and raid houses in tanks? When did the police move from being a part of the community to being an occupation force within the community?

He starts out asking whether there is any Constitutional authority for the police as they exist today. You see, back in the early days of the Republic, there was no organized police force. Yes, there were constables who served process and sheriffs who might raise a posse of able-bodied men; but there were no police departments. And there certainly weren't professional police officers who dressed and acted like soldiers.

Mr. Balko points to the Castle Doctrine and the Third Amendment as two ideas that served to limit the authority of the police. The simplest way to look at the Castle Doctrine is to think of one's home as being inviolate. If the government wants inside your house, they must obtain a warrant from a judge after showing probable cause to believe you are breaking the law. The Third Amendment is a companion notion that says the government can't force you to allow troops to stay in your house or on your property. Oh, but such ideas do get in the way of the government getting its nose all up in your business. And the Right was ready to do something about in 1969.

The origins of the paramilitary forces that patrol our cities trace back to President Nixon and the first so-called War on Drugs. Nixon's proposals to legalize no-knock raids (up that point, with rare exception, when executing a warrant, the police had to knock and announce themselves and give the folks inside the house time to respond) and to suspend bail and suspended sentences marked the beginning of a decades long march to the occupation of our inner cities.

Mr. Balko chronicles the rise of SWAT units throughout the country as well as government garage sales of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. Much more disturbing is a look at how the police use force and intimidation to serve warrants in drug cases. Why go through the effort of tracking the suspect and arresting him outside his home when you can send in a tank full of paramilitaries to knock down the door, point guns indiscriminately and shoot the family pet all in the name of confiscating a few ounces of marijuana or cocaine? Of course doing some homework - rather than just relying on the words of informants - might prevent the police from busting down the wrong door and scaring the shit out of the wrong family.

We have seen the use of paramilitary police units to quell dissent at international conferences and national political party conventions. And who could ever forget the image of a Cal-Davis police officer wearing full riot gear discharging pepper spray in the faces of college students who were doing nothing more than sitting in front of an administration building during a protest?

By declaring war on this or that our political "leaders" have created a culture by which the police no longer see themselves as part of the community; instead they see themselves at war with the "bad" guys at large. This us-versus-them culture has created a situation in which the use of force is now the default response to a situation instead of a last resort.

We have allowed the occupation of America to thrive over the past four decades. It is time to stop the rising militarization of our law enforcement agencies. It won't be easy to undo what's been built up since the Nixon days but if we don't start now we will reach a point where it's too late.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Making your bed and sleeping in it

Oh, be so careful what you wish for. Millions cheered when Muhammed Morsi was deposed last month in Egypt. No, he was no friend of democracy. But, what can you expect when the country has never known anything but authoritarian rule?

Mr. Morsi somehow believed that his election gave the Muslim Brotherhood the authority to impose an Islamic state on the people of Egypt. Never mind that he won with barely a majority of the voters. He took his win and did his best to ram his party's theocratic ideology down the throats of the people.

He seemed to forget that the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak wasn't the work of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was the work of the masses who were willing to stand up and risk their lives to overthrow a dictator.

After the fall of Mubarak it was the Muslim Brotherhood who was in the best position to take advantage of the power vacuum, having been an organized - albeit banned - party from the better part of the 20th century. They had the infrastructure, and the money, to put together a winning slate of candidates.

What they didn't have was the ability to compromise and to work with others in forming a coalition to develop democracy in Egypt. For Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood, it was their way or the highway. And it was this attitude that brought about the crisis that resulted in a military coup in early July.

And make no mistake about it, it was a coup. The Obama administration can parse words and play games all they want - but when the military forces out a popularly elected president (no matter how much dissatisfaction their is with his rule), it is a coup.

There were those who welcomed the military into the streets in late June. There were those who cheered when the General Sisi announced that Mr. Morsi had been removed from office and placed under arrest. There were those who claimed that the military was acting to save the revolution.

Are they cheering now?

There are at least 281 more than 500 people who were killed by security forces today when the military-backed government made their decision to clamp down on dissent. What kind of a government turns its military on its citizens?

And, as I have asked before, what does this portend the next time a popularly elected president runs afoul of public opinion? What happens the next time the people gather together to demand that their voices are heard?

The government also imposed a month-long state of emergency. The purpose of the decree? To quell any and all dissent. How is this any different than life under the Mubarak regime? But I suppose that is a tricky question for those supporting the coup. So, come on , President Obama, explain the difference. Explain how the current situation is doing anything to advance democracy across Egypt. Or is this all about appeasing defense contractors who need markets to sell their tools of death and destruction?

I'm no fan of Muhammed Morsi. I'm no fan of anyone who wants to mix religion and politics. Could Mr. Morsi have handled his brief time in office better? There is no doubt about it. If he had been more interested in building a democratic Egypt than he was in deciding who folks could pray to, he would still be the nation's president. Had he been more concerned with improving the lot of the Egyptian people rather than telling them how to live their lives the nation wouldn't be under de facto military rule.

But that doesn't begin to excuse what has happened in Egypt over the past six weeks. And it doesn't being to excuse the shameful behavior of our government in the affair. The Obama administration has clearly demonstrated that our nation's supposed commitment to democracy and human rights is nothing more that empty words.

Never forget that what the military giveth by force of arms, the military taketh as well. Those who support the coup have made their deal with the devil and will have to live with the consequences for a long time. Or so long as they stay within the good graces of the military.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stepping back from stop-and-frisk

Earlier this week US District Judge Shira Scheindlin declared New York City's stop and frisk program to be unconstitutional. She found that the program targeted minorities in poor sections of the city and subjected them to the humiliation of being forced to lean up against a wall while a police officer patted them down.

The mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and the police chief, Ray Kelly, were predictable in their blasting of the judge's decision. They attempted to explain how the police wouldn't stop anyone without reasonable suspicion that something was afoot - that something was generally walking or standing while black or brown.

It helped that the numbers didn't bear out the official rational for the program. As my fellow blogger, Scott Greenfield, has pointed out on prior occasions, it was rare for the police to find anything remotely illegal on any of the folks whose privacy and right to be left alone they violated.

But the larger question is not whether the program was constitutional or not. The larger question is how we got here in the first place. How did we get to the point that the Fourth Amendment means nothing? How did we get to the point where we don't have the right to be left alone by those in the employ of the government?

It's because of the entire nature of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Just think about it. When do questions of Fourth Amendment violations arise? If you said only when the defendant was caught with something he or she shouldn't have had, you're right.

The only time the meaning of the Fourth Amendment is litigated is when someone has been charged with a crime. For those folks who had nothing illegal on them, in their car or in their house, there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment. Sure, the cops may have searched their person, their car or their home without a warrant or without probable cause, but if nothing was found then no criminal charges were ever filed.

And, if no charges are filed, there is nothing to litigate.

Every suppression hearing before a judge involves a defendant who is actually guilty of the crime with which he's been accused. Just about every case brought before an appellate court questioning the constitutionality of a search is brought by the person who was convicted of the crime.

Instead of looking at the process and determining whether or not the police stepped out of line along the way, the judges are weighing whether or not the deterrent effect of the Exclusionary Rule outweighs the conduct the defendant is accused of. In other words, courts aren't looking at the actual words in the Fourth Amendment, they are looking at the defendant's conduct and determining whose conduct was worse - that of the defendant or that of the police.

That, my friends, is a fight the Constitution will lose, more than it wins. It's why we have the so-called automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment. It's why we have Terry stops. It's why judges rule that someone sitting in the back of a patrol car with their hands cuffed behind them isn't considered under arrest. It's why the police are allowed to make pretextual traffic stops for behavior that wouldn't even be looked at twice in the middle of the day. It's why the NSA is allowed to collect the metadata from your emails. It's why the NSA is allowed to intercept phone calls without notifying either party to the call.

But, much like the blades of grass pushing up through the charred and desolate remains of a wildfire, the Fourth Amendment showed some signs of life this week.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Does the S in SWAT stand for suicide?

Someone calls in threatening to commit suicide? Sure, send out the camouflage-wearing, automatic weapon toting play soldiers of the SWAT team.

The assault on voting rights continues

Well, it certainly didn't take long for a state to put forward the most restrictive voter ID law in the country following the Supreme Court's neutering of the Voting Rights Act.

Pat McCrory, the Republican governor of North Carolina signed into law a bill that will require everyone who wants to vote to show a government-issued ID card before they will be allowed to pick up a ballot. No college ID's and no out-of-state licenses will be accepted. The bill also shortened early voting by a week, ended same-day registration and allows any registered voter to challenge the eligibility of anyone to vote.

According to Mr. McCrory, the aim of the legislation is to prevent voter fraud in North Carolina. However, when asked by Jeremy Hobson, co-host of the NPR show "Here & Now" the governor couldn't point to any specific instance of voter fraud.

Why? Because there is no evidence of wide-spread voter fraud in the United States. The purpose of the legislation isn't to combat non-existent fraud; the purpose of the legislation is to make it harder for the poor, the elderly and minorities to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

If the purpose is to combat voter fraud, why reduce the time for early voting? What does one have to do with the other, Governor McCrory? Early voting makes it easier for people to cast their ballots - and, in a country where the average turnout for an election is generally quite pathetic, anything that makes it easier for folks to get out and vote should be considered a good thing.

And why eliminate same-day voter registration? Could it possibly be that forcing voters to register 30 days or more before an election reduces the number of potential voters? And who are the voters who take advantage of same-day registration? How about the young and the disenfranchised who feel compelled to make their voices heard?

And why allow any registered voter to challenge the eligibility of another person to vote? In most states it is up to the election judge (or whatever title is conferred upon the person administering the election in a polling station) to determine who is, and who isn't, eligible to vote. The election judge has undergone training and has been instructed in the law. Allowing voters to challenge another's right to vote is a return of the days of the KKK and Jim Crow. It is simply to intimidate the poor, the young and minority voters.

The reason North Carolina and other predominately southern states (such as Texas) have pursued these laws in because the traditional voter base that sends conservative politicians to Congress and the statehouse know that they are increasingly outnumbered by voters belonging to groups they have shunned. If you allow the poor and the young and the minority voters to cast their ballots, the days of the Right are numbered.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Too little, too late

Yes, Eric Holder, the (in)justice system is broken when it comes to drug offenses. Mandatory minimums and disparate sentencing guidelines are a large part of the problem. Yes, our prisons today are overcrowded. Yes, it costs millions of dollars for us to lock up more people, per capita, than any other nation in the world. Yes, it would cost a whole hell of a lot less to fund adequate drug treatment programs.

But there's a bigger problem, Mr. Holder. And no matter how many of these speeches you give to legal groups and no matter how many interviews you give, you can't escape the biggest contributor to this failed war on drugs.

Eric Holder has been Attorney General since President Obama took office in 2009. Prisons were overflowing then. Black men convicted of possession of crack were receiving sentences up to 100 times more severe than while folk convicted of possession of the same amount of power cocaine. The drug was was unsustainable when he took office.

But it's only now - over four years later - that Mr. Holder says that something has to be done. For almost four years the Obama administration has been giving local law enforcement agencies money hand-over-fist for them to create SWAT teams and acquire military equipment.

Mr. Holder, you had the power four years ago to move our country toward a more rational drug policy. For the past four years you have done nothing to get us away from a broken law enforcement model.

You have a vast phalanx of federal prosecutors doing your beck and call across the country. But it's only now that you come forward and announce that federal prosecutors will be given word to file cases in such a way as to avoid non-violent offenders from getting caught in the mandatory minimum trap.

And therein lies the problem. You, Eric Holder, are the chief law enforcement officer in the United States. You have the authority to tell prosecutors in the field how to charge certain offenses. At any time during the past four years you could have sent out a memo to your minions instructing them not to overcharge those accused of drug crimes. You could have let the US Attorneys across the country know that probation or diversion were more appropriate means of handling non-violent drug offenders.

But you didn't do that. For four years you have sat on your hands and watched as our government has systematically incarcerated young black men at an alarming rate. You sat and did nothing to stop young men from being sentenced to exorbitant terms behind bars because of the color of their skin.

And now, only after the shitstorm caused by Edward Snowden's exposure of the extent of the NSA's domestic surveillance program you stand up before the American Bar Association - most of whose membership knows nothing about the workings of the criminal (in)justice system - and announced that our current model is broken beyond repair.

I'm just amazed he could do it with a straight face.

P.S. I would love to include quotes from Mr. Holder's prepared remarks, but my laptop is so disgusted with Mr. Holder's performance that it freezes up anytime I pull up the text.

Monday, August 12, 2013

NH police view Occupy protesters as terrorists

From the website Common Dreams comes this story of the increasing militarization of the police:
In a bid to bring armored vehicles to the small, capital city of Concord, New Hampshire, the local police department is trying to exploit peaceful activist groups such as Occupy New Hampshire and the libertarian Free State Project as "terror threats." 
Through a right to know request, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union (NHCLU)—as part of an ongoing project against the militarization of local law enforcement agencies—obtained a grant filed by the Concord Police Department requesting $258,000 from the Department of Homeland Security for an armored BearCat vehicle. 
"The State of New Hampshire’s experience with terrorism slants primarily towards the domestic type," the grant states, adding that—with groups such as the "Free Staters" and Occupy NH active and presenting "daily challenges"—the "threat is real and here."
As the expression goes, if all you've got is a hammer, pretty soon everything starts to look like a nail. Or, to paraphrase, when you want your police department to get the same cool toys someone else has, soon everything looks like an existential threat.

The proposal also exposes the change in attitude of police departments across the country over the past three decades. Once upon a time, officers walked a beat. They got to know the neighborhood. Their job was to protect the citizens from criminal acts.

Now we have police officers who dress like soldiers, who carry automatic rifles and drive armored personnel carriers. With politicians increasingly wanting to declare war on something or other, a war mentality has overtaken police departments across the nation.

The mission has changed from protecting and serving to hunting down the bad guys. And, increasingly, it's an us-against-them mindset.

The characterization of the Occupy movement as a domestic terrorist group is a perfect demonstration of the view the government has taken of political dissent - particularly in the aftermath of the 9/11 over-reaction. Turning police departments into paramilitary outfits only serves to dissuade people from exercising their rights to assemble and petition the government for redress. It only serves to intimidate those who would defend the protections afforded under the Fourth Amendment.

The record of the Occupy movement is quite clear. The only time violence erupted during an Occupy event across the country was when the police initiated the use of force. Those protesters at UC-Davis weren't being violent. They were sitting on the ground. It was the police, wearing shields and covering their badges, who broke out the tear gas and fired in into the faces of college students. It was the police in Oakland who fired percussive grenades into a crowd of protesters who were exercising their First Amendment rights.

The threat to our social order doesn't come from peaceful protesters - the threat comes from the increasing militarization of our nation's police departments.

Friday, August 9, 2013

California city strikes back at foreclosures

The town of Richmond, California was hard hit by the economic meltdown. As a result, many homeowners are underwater on their mortgages and have little chance of being able to keep up the payments.

But instead of allowing those houses to go into foreclosure, the city is using its eminent domain powers to force lenders to sell those underwater mortgages to the city. If the lender won't renegotiate the terms of the loan, the city will force the lender to sell it the mortgage at a loss.

Banks are, understandably, upset. After all, they spent a lot of time and energy devising exotic tools to fatten their bottom line while putting homeowners at risk. They expended time and energy repackaging mortgages into securities and paid ratings agencies to give them a higher rating than warranted. Then they had to sell these securities to unwitting investors in order to let someone else eat the losses.

Now they are screaming foul. Mortgage lenders made some very bad decisions over the years. They created lending products that became toxic. They bear a large portion of the blame for the economic malaise of the past five years. But now they are going to court to try to prevent Richmond from doing something to help its residents.

Critics of the plan claim it is an affront to private property rights. They claim they are being forced to sell mortgages to the city at below-market prices because of the city's use of its eminent domain powers. Apologists for the banks make the same arguments and warn that if the plan continues lenders may choose not to do business in Richmond.

Funny how these same folks have no problem with cities using their powers under eminent domain to condemn property that sits in the way of a highway expansion or the building of a sports arena for some millionaire owner who doesn't want to spend his money building his own playpen. And where were these champions of property rights when local governments were using their powers of eminent domain to force landowners to allow the builders of the XL Keystone pipeline to construct their pipeline for transporting tar sands?

By staving off foreclosures, the city prevents surrounding properties from losing more value. The plan will reduce the number of abandoned properties. Reducing the number of foreclosures produces more stable neighborhoods. The plan will allow homeowners to keep some money in their pockets - money that can be spent on other things.

How many of us really want more smog, more polluted lakes and rivers, more toxic waste sites and more environmental degradation? Big business doesn't care - they are only interested in extracting as much profit as possible, regardless of the cost. And if their precious markets can't assign a price to a resource, they will use it up and spit it out without giving it a second thought.

I say it's about time a local government stood up to the corporations. It's about time someone told the banks that people come before profits. If more localities had the guts to stand up and fight the corporations, practices such as privatizing gain while socializing loss would come to an end.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ethics and death

What is one to do?

You are hired to represent a client accused of killing several people and wounding others. Your client is facing the death penalty. He fires you prior to trial but the judge orders you to remain on the case to provide assistance. Your client has no legal training. He fails to challenge any jurors for cause during voir dire. At trial he admits to the murders.

How can you ethically sit by and participate in a trial in which your (former) client seems to be begging to be strapped down and killed?

That's just the position that Nidal Hasan's former attorneys find themselves in.

To continue their "representation" merely legitimizes the proceedings. To withdraw leaves their (former) client to twist in the wind until such time as he is sentenced to death.

As defense attorneys we are obligated to defend our clients as vigorously as possible. It is our duty to leave no stone unturned during the process. We are trained to be strong advocates for our clients. When a client is facing a certain conviction, our job is to mitigate the damage as much as possible. When he's facing death - our job is to save his life.

But what happens when our client wants to be murdered by the government?

If you sit down at the table and let him do his thing the end result will be a guilty verdict and a death sentence. After all, he is the one trying the case, devising strategy and advocating for himself. You are reduced to a legal assistant - helping him make objections and enter items into evidence.

If you walk away he will be convicted - by his own words - and he will be executed. But it may be the only way to save him, or to delay the inevitable.

Of course your client denies having a death wish. He says he has a strategy. He argues to the judge that he needs you to stay on the case.

Today the judge will decide whether Mr. Hasan's attorneys will be mere witnesses to a murder or whether he should be left to his own devices. How does she work through her own ethical dilemma?

Is she more interested in seeing that this abstract notion is justice is done or in moving her docket?

Warriors for a new tomorrow

No, that's not an armed invasion of the City of Houston. It's just the latest example of the increasing militarization of the police. There is no reason a Houston police officer should be decked out in full camouflage. He's not a soldier, he is a peace officer.

The mission of a police department is to protect and serve the citizenry. It's not to dress up like a soldier and carry an automatic rifle. It's not to get behind the wheel of an armored personnel carrier. These devices and artifices serve only to separate the police more and more from the rest of us.

As I drove around the city this morning listening to the Diane Rehm show. She and her guests were discussing the latest alleged (unspecified) terrorist plot. As usual, none of Ms. Rehm's guests were from outside the mainstream of opinion. The guests might tilt a little bit to the left or right but there is never anyone on the air who would argue that the questions missed the point.

While we have seen this same scenario played out many times before, not one guest on the show cast any skepticism about the veracity of the government's claims that they had uncovered information from listening to phone calls about the alleged plot. The very notion that the Obama administration would create an alleged terror threat out of whole cloth to distract attention from the NSA's internal surveillance programs was ridiculed by Ms. Rehm and her guests.

But most disturbing was the idea that, in a digital world, we need to come to the realization that the government is going to listen in to our phone calls, read our e-mails and peruse our internet searches. Not one guest questioned the premise that our privacy rights and civil liberties need to suffer in order for Big Brother to protect us.

If you follow their logic, the Fourth Amendment is but a quaint historical relic treasured by those of us who refuse to accept the new reality.

As an aside, none of the guests questioned the right of the United States to fly unmanned drones through the air space of a sovereign nation and fire missiles at their citizens. I guess murder is murder, unless the victim speaks a different language and practices a different set of superstitious rituals - but that's an argument for another day.

And as I listened to the conversation my mind kept being drawn back to the picture of HPD officers dressed in full camouflage carrying automatic rifles walking down a city street. Somewhere along the way we got so far off-track that most of us don't even think twice about the implications of turning the police into a paramilitary squad.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Smoke and mirrors, please

It's a strategy as old as politics itself - whenever you get caught up in a shitstorm of bad publicity over a policy, go with the old misdirection play.

Past presidents have launched mini-wars (see Reagan with Grenada) or military assaults (Clinton in Sudan) to distract the public's attention from economic woes. The Bush II administration would play games with changing the alert colors anytime there was criticism of the excesses of the Patriot Act.

And so, with the Obama administration under assault from the left and the right over the NSA's domestic surveillance programs, it was high time to get the public looking somewhere else. Thus we have the big dramatic announcement that embassies in the Middle East and northern Africa are being closed down due to some vague terrorist threat that we only know about because the NSA has been listening in on everyone's phone calls and reading everyone's e-mails.

In the end there will be no terrorist attack. We will be told that the plot was foiled because of intelligence our government obtained as a result of policies that both invade our privacy and violate our civil liberties. There will be no way to verify the claims.

Those folks who dutifully follow the little bouncing ball will lose sight of our dwindling reasonable expectations of privacy and will be thankful that our government is looking out for us - even if it means we are less free today than yesterday.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Neutral and detached? Whatever

Sign belonging to Judge Bill Harmon sitting just outside the courtroom in the entrance way from chambers.

If you examine the photo of the sign you will see there's no cite for the assertion made. Like much of the state's literature on drunk driving, there is a lack of authorities cited for the propositions made.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Has it really been five years already?

Today marks a couple of landmarks in the world of The Defense Rests. It was five years ago today that the first post went out across the interwebz. And this is my 2,000th post on this blawg. So, today we won't talk about the law; instead we will talk about two of my favorite subjects - baseball and soccer.

First we go to the diamond where today is judgment day for Alex Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez, for those of y'all who don't keep up with such things, was implicated in the latest drug scandal to hit baseball. His name was found in records belonging to the Biogenesis clinic in Florida. Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers (who escaped punishment just a year ago) has already agreed to a 65 game suspension that will keep him off the field for the rest of the 2013 season.

Mr. Rodriguez, who has denied any wrongdoing, has refused to negotiate the terms of a suspension with MLB. As a result he is looking at a suspension that could last anywhere from 200 games to life. If he decides to sit down to work out an exit strategy he is likely to sit the rest of this season and all of next season - costing him almost $40 million.

His employer, the New York Yankees, are, ironically, hoping that the commissioner will drop the hammer on A-Rod as that would free up a lot of cash in the Bronx.

Either way, Alex Rodriguez' career is coming to an end. He is 38 years old with lots of miles on his body. He is coming off hip surgery in the off-season. He, and his salary, are an albatross around the neck of the Yankees.

Now I've questioned many times before this focus we have on players who took performance enhancing drugs. Sports is big business. Networks buy up broadcast and cable rights for hundreds of millions of dollars. They want a lot of eyeballs watching those games so they can charge their sponsors and arm and a leg for the privilege of airing a commercial or two during the game.

No one in baseball seemed to care back in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing history. The aura of the home run chase served to restore the luster the game had lost when the World Series was cancelled in 1994. Mr. McGwire looked like a freak of nature - nothing like the kid who began his big league career in Oakland.

As a result of their cheating, neither McGwire nor Sosa is likely to ever be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Then along came Barry Bonds, whose head kept getting bigger and bigger (literally) as a result of the drugs he was using to fuel his pursuit of Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. Despite the fact everyone knew Bonds was the biggest cheat in baseball, we were still subjected to the sight of Hank Aaron recording a message congratulating Mr. Bubblehead on becoming the new home run king.

Bonds was never suspended and his records still hold. It is unlikely that he will be invited to the Hall of Fame anytime soon, either. The only consolation in all of this is that while everyone who follows baseball knows what 755 means, very few folks can remember how many homeruns Bonds hit.

As the extent of drug use became clear, baseball decided to clean up its act. The owners and the players' union worked together to create a new drug policy that called for mandatory suspensions for players who tested positive for a banned substance. But, none of the players caught up in the Biogenesis scandal tested positive for anything - the evidence against them consists of medical and billing records and the statements of the "doctor" who ran the clinic out of a strip mall.

So, is it fair that Mr. Braun, Mr. Rodriguez and the other players are being punished for their alleged drug use while Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Clemens and others weren't? No, it's probably not. Of course the problem is that back when the drug scandals began, there was no drug policy in baseball and now there is. Mr. Rodriguez cheated knowing full well that he was cheating and what the possible penalties were.

Drugs brought baseball back from the brink of oblivion and the owners and commissioner turned their heads the other way so long as the money was pouring into the coffers. Now, with baseball being richer than it has ever been before, MLB wants to crack down on the practices it condoned 15 years ago.

On the other side of the world, in Qatar to be exact, a young Ecuadoran soccer player, Christian Benitez died of heart failure shortly after playing in his first match for his new club in Qatar. His death has raised serious questions regarding FIFA's awarding of the 2022 World Cup to the Arab emirate.

FIFA officials are now, all of a sudden, worried about the consequences of playing a soccer tournament in a country in which temperatures exceed well over 100 degrees during the summer. Even Sepp Blatter, the corrupt head of FIFA, is considering moving the tournament from the summer to the winter to avoid the searing heat (nevermind the havoc that will play on European soccer leagues). With all the hand wringing after Mr. Benitez' death you would think that Qatar was lush paradise turned into an arid desert wasteland in the last few months as a result of global warming.

The truth is that no one in FIFA gave a flying fuck about the weather and playing conditions for players or fans. The decision was made based on who promised to make FIFA the most money - and Qatar, a country rich in soccer tradition (or not), promised the moon.

Still more trouble for Galveston judge

Disgraced Galveston County jurist Christoper Dupuy truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

Facing contempt charges for violating the visiting judge Robert Kern's gag order, Mr. Dupuy won a reprieve from the 1st Court of Appeals the day before the hearing was set to commence.

His victory, however, was short-lived as Mr. Dupuy was indicted and jailed on two counts of aggravated perjury. For those keeping score at home, Mr. Dupuy is now facing four felony and seven misdemeanor charges.

Now that blood is in the water, candidates for the Republican nomination for County Court No. 3 are popping up like fire ant mounds after a hard rain. But where were these fine lawyers when Mr. Dupuy was creating his circus on the second floor of the courthouse? Did any of them speak up about what was happening? Or did they all shuffle in and out of the courtroom like dutiful little servants not willing to stir the pot?

Friday, August 2, 2013

The medicine cabinet runneth bare

While public outcry (what little public outcry there is) against the death penalty has done little (more likely, nothing) to stem the tide of executions in the Lone Star State, a more mundane issue may throw a monkey wrench into the Texas killing machine.

According to this article in the Houston Chronicle, the state is on the verge of running out of pentobarbital. And, once they run out, there's nowhere to obtain any more as the manufacturers of the drug will not sell it ot states for the purpose of murdering inmates.

If you read to the end of the article you will find out that in May 2012, Texas had 46 vials of pentobarbital on hand. Each vial contains 2.5 grams of the sedative and the execution protocol calls for 5 grams - meaning that it takes two vials to murder an inmate. Since that time Rick Perry has presided over 20 executions. That leaves but six vials in the medicine cabinet.

Those states that still cling to the barbaric notion that is alright for the state to murder inmates have been scrambling for drugs to kill people. Missouri wants to use propofol (the anesthetic that caused Michael Jackson's death) but the state's Supreme Court nixed that idea since the drug has never been tested for its efficacy in ending human life.

Georgia has gotten around the lack of pentobarbital by contracting with a compounding pharmacy to make their own. The state also enacted a law that makes the source of the drugs a state secret. The compounded drugs are not subject to FDA approval and have never been subjected to rigorous testing to ensure they don't cause unnecessary suffering to the inmate strapped down to the gurney.

Now that the drug manufacturers have begun to consider the consequences of providing states with drugs to kill, I wonder how long it will be until doctors and nurses who willingly violate the Hippocratic Oath by participating in the state-sponsored killing of inmates actually step back and think about the morality of what they're doing.

If the medical professionals who prostitute themselves to the state's killing machine for a few pieces of silver decide to stop administering the drugs, the death penalty will be effectively abolished.

Jeff Gamso has said and I have said it, too - the day is coming when we will no longer stand for state-sponsored murder. I don't know how long it will take to reach that day, but the nearly empty medicine cabinet in the death chamber in Huntsville is a hopeful sign that it will come sooner, rather than later.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Update: Texas kills an unrepentant man

Some folks make it harder to argue for the abolition of the death penalty than others. Douglas Feldman, who was murdered by the State of Texas last night, is one of them.

The former financial analyst who was sentenced to death as the result of two killings ascribed to road rage, bragged about the killings after being asked if he had any last words. According to Mr. Feldman, he sentenced the two men he killed to death and then carried out the executions.

Mr. Feldman's road to the death house began when he told police he killed the two men after he was arrested for shooting another man at a convenience store. The two truck drivers had been shot and killed a week before but, up until Mr. Feldman's admissions, the crimes were unsolved.

He complicated his case further by writing to an ex-girlfriend that the murders provided him with satisfaction and that he had fantasized about killing others. To make matters even worse, Mr. Feldman took the stand at trial and admitted to not only the murders, but other criminal acts that he had never been charged with.

But, despite how repulsive you might feel Mr. Feldman's remarks were, strapping him down to a gurney and pumping an overdose of a barbiturate into his bloodstream accomplished nothing. The victims of his crimes were still dead.

From the Houston Chronicle:
He appeared very nervous, breathing quickly and his feet twitching under a sheet. As the drug began taking effect, he grimaced twice, took a few deep breaths and began snoring. Then all movement stopped.
The protocols surrounding the premeditated murder of inmates call for death to be as painless as possible. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The drug Texas uses to administer the overdose is supposed to put the inmate to sleep and then kill him.

But why did Mr. Feldman grimace after the drug was administered? Was he grimacing out of fear of dying or was he grimacing because of pain? We will never know because the only person who can answer that question is now dead.

I'm sure there are those who aren't concerned about whether or not the person strapped down to the gurney suffers any pain. Mr. Feldman didn't appear to be too concerned about the pain his acts caused to his victims, after all. But that's not the right comparison.

The question isn't whether the condemned man cause pain and suffering in the course of killing his victim. The question is whether or not the government should have the power to take a man's life. We don't live in the age of an eye for an eye. We've been through something called the Enlightenment. When we allow our government to strap people down and kill them we are lowering ourselves to that level. We are allowing our emotions to overcome our ability to think rationally.

Killing serves no purpose other than revenge. And seeking revenge isn't the proper role for government.