Thursday, October 31, 2013

Judge strikes portions of Texas anti-abortion law

On Monday a federal judge sitting in Austin declared parts of Texas' new stringent anti-abortion law to be unconstitutional. In particular, Judge Lee Yeakel declared that the provision requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic would place an undue burden on women seeking to terminate their pregnancies.

On the other hand, Judge Yeakel let stand a provision requiring doctors to follow an 18-year-old FDA protocol for performing drug-induced abortions. He did point out, however, that doctors must still be allowed to adjust the protocol to protect the health of the woman.

The protocol does not allow doctors to use medications for so-called off-label purposes. In other words, doctors would not be permitted to use a drug to induce an abortion if that was not the intended use of the drug.

Ironically enough, such a prohibition on off-label usage of medications does not apply to the state's use of pentobarbital to murder inmates. Wouldn't it seem logical that if you're going to restrict a doctor's ability to use a drug for an off-label purpose when it's medically necessary that you would also restrict the practice when the use has no medical benefit?

Gov. Rick Perry and his merry band of wingnuts continue to bandy about the trope that they are out there doing their best to protect the sanctity of life. Yet they have absolutely no problem strapping down an inmate and pumping a lethal dose of pentobarbital into their veins. Likewise, they have no problem supporting a policy in which unmanned drones fire missiles into crowds killing scores of innocent men, women and children halfway around the world.

The state, of course, is appealing.

See also:

"Renewed showdown over Texas anti-choice law highlights state-by-state battle for abortion access," Democracy Now! (Oct. 30, 2013)

"Oklahoma Supreme Court rules medication abortion ban unconstitutional, sends case back to SCOTUS," RH Reality Check (Oct. 29, 2013)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Do not go quietly into that good night

Just when you thought it was safe to wander around Galveston comes news that disgraced former judge Christopher Dupuy is the subject of another arrest warrant.

This time, according to The Houston Chronicle, the problem seems to be Mr. Dupuy's inability to show up for a deposition in a legal malpractice suit.

I don't know what has become more riveting for Houston-area legal observers: Mr. Dupuy's travails or the soap opera that is the life of former Houston hand surgeon Michael Brown.

Missing the point entirely

A little bit over a week ago Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released reports that humanized the victims of US drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen. The reports presented case studies of the people who were victimized by the "surgical strikes" carried out by unmanned drones flying high overhead.

The debate in the media afterward, however, was restricted to two viewpoints - is it more humane to send troops into Yemen and Pakistan to kill suspected militants or to fire missiles at folks whom the US thinks are militants?

With the exception of the progressive media, and shows such as Democracy Now!, no one questioned whether the US had any right to invade the sovereignty of another nation and kill its citizens based on nothing more than a belief that someone was up to no good. No one questioned whether killing folks without some semblance of due process of law was right. No one questioned the notion that anyone who happens to be hanging out with someone the US thinks is a terrorist is fair game for a missile strike.

Even more obscene was the notion that the only thing that matters in the calculus of making the decision between troops and drones is the expected casualty rate of American soldiers. No one gave a second thought to the innocent men, women and children who have been victimized by drones flown by anonymous personnel sitting in an office in the United States. As far as they were concerned, they were nothing more than collateral damage - and, since they weren't Americans, they didn't matter anyway.

The real question is not about reducing potential American casualties. The real question is will anyone ever be held accountable for the gross violations of human rights caused by the United States? Will the people who "flew" the drones ever be held accountable? Will their military commanders ever be held accountable? Will the President ever be held accountable?

Pakistan and Yemen are sovereign nations. The US has no business flying lethal killing machines over their airspace. Just imagine, for a second, the utter outrage that would result from another country sending armed drones into US airspace to take out someone they suspected of plotting some type of terror attack. Just imagine the reaction of our elected "leaders" when innocent men, women and children who had nothing to do with any planned attack were killed, maimed or wounded as a result of a missile attack in a populated area.

This notion that we have the authority to go into any country and do as we wish to anyone we suspect of being a terrorist is a remnant of imperialism. This idea that the US can do as it wishes when it comes to the War on Everything Terror is the ultimate example of hubris.

The right to live is the most basic human right of them all. Even the most repressive nations have some type of mechanism for arresting, charging and trying those suspected of breaking the law. Those mechanisms may very well not be perfect but a framework exists.

But when the US decides to kill someone they suspect of being a terrorist, there is no mechanism to arresting, charging or trying that individual. There is no semblance of due process. Without so much as a hearing to determine probable cause, the president can order a drone strike. Even worse are the so-called "signature strikes" in which the person ordering the murder doesn't even know who he's killing. Check off enough boxes and you can claim that all signs indicate that John Doe is a terrorist and needs to be blown to bits. And what of those folks around him who had absolutely nothing to do with his alleged acts? They don't even merit a second thought.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

But the cupboard was bare

Just what is a state to do when it is so desperate to kill an inmate and it can't get its hands on the key drug in the lethal cocktail?

Texas and Georgia solved that problem by turning to local compounding pharmacies who were only too willing to mix up a batch of a powerful sedative in exchange for some cold, hard cash. Florida decided to use a drug that had never been used before in an execution under the theory that the inmate would end up dead so there'd be no one to complain about the process afterward.

Missouri changed its protocol so they could use the drug propofol as the sedative in its lethal mix. For those of y'all scoring at home, propofol is the sedative that Michael Jackson overdosed on back in 2009. And, as in interesting little twist, Conrad Murray, the doctor convicted of causing Mr. Jackson's death, was just released from prison after serving almost half of his four-year sentence.

But Missouri's best laid plans fell apart when the company that manufactures the drug, Germany's Fresenius Kabi, announced they would not sell it to any state or state agency that planned on using the drug as part of its lethal injection protocol.

The announcement stemmed from an EU statute outlawing the exporting of any drugs for use in capital punishment.

As a result, Missouri is now looking to acquire pentobarbital to carry out its executions. However, since the manufacturer of pentobarbital has already said they will not sell their wares to anyone for use in the state-sponsored murder of inmates. Missouri will likely look to local pharmacists to see who is more interested in turning a profit than in helping the sick and the ill. My guess is they won't have to look long for takers.

Of course the problem with acquiring the drugs from a compounding pharmacy is the fact that there is no quality control checks on the drugs. The drugs aren't subject to testing by the FDA to ensure that they do what they purport to do. There are no studies to determine whether or not the inmate undergoes any pain or discomfort during the procedure. So long as the second drug in the cocktail (the paralytic agent) works, there is no way of knowing whether the inmate senses any of what is happening since he would be unable to alert anyone.

But the states, the politicians who favor capital punishment and supporters of state-sponsored murder don't care. The state isn't interested in watching over those it locks up in its prisons. Politicians are all too happy to pander to the bloodlust of the right. And supporters are so caught up in their Old Testament notions of revenge that they fail to see that the world has changed.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Execution Watch: 10/29/2013

On Tuesday night the State of Texas will kill again...

ARTHUR BROWN, JR., The Los Angeles native was convicted in the 1992 drug-related slayings of four people at a home in Houston. His accomplices were identified as Marion Dudley and Antonio Dunson. In 1997 the United States Supreme Court refused to review his case, but four of the nine justices signed an unusual public statement questioning a Texas law prohibiting juries in the sentencing phase of a capital trial from considering how much time a defendant would actually serve in prison if sentenced to a life term instead.

It is ironic that juries may be told that a defendant may be eligible for parole after serving only a portion of his sentence - an instruction that almost begs a jury to give a harsher sentence when given a choice. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that when the "dangerousness" of a capital defendant is at issue it made no sense that a jury could not be told of an alternative to the death penalty such as life without parole.

Life without parole, by the way, was not an option in Texas at the time of Mr. Brown's trial.

It is even more interesting, as The New York Times pointed out, that it only takes four votes from the Court for a case to be heard. The four justices who signed the statement could very easily have voted to hear the case - but they chose not to do so. The Times article speculated that they may have been worried that the other five members of the Court would have upheld the law on review which would have made the Texas law the law of the land.

For more information on Mr. Brown , click here.

Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast live:
Tuesday, October 29, 2013, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT FM Houston 90.1 and Online... > Listen

UPDATE: As has been the case before, the information provided by Execution Watch is incorrect. Mr. Brown's scheduled execution date has been removed from the TDCJ website. No reason was given.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

For your viewing pleasure

The Houston Chronicle's science and weather blogger, Eric Berger, found this incredible animation that shows just how the moon would appear if it orbited the Earth at the same distance as the international space station. The animation gives you a pretty good idea of just how big the moon really is. The multiple daily solar eclipses would be quite spectacular - but I don't think I'd want to be anywhere near an open body of water at high tide.

Next up we have a slideshow of aerial views of old baseball stadiums from the New York Times. The link comes courtesy of Paul Lukas who puts out the incredibly interesting Uniwatch blog. The most amazing thing about the pictures are the ways in which the dimensions of the ballparks resulted from trying to cram a massive stadium into a small space.

Friday, October 25, 2013

If at first you don't succeed...

Last week, in Iran, a convicted drug smuggler named Alireza was executed. At least that's what everyone thought. He was left dangling from the gallows for 12 minutes. A doctor checked to make certain he was dead (what Hippocratic Oath?).

Alireza's body was taken to the morgue. And that's where things got weird.

When his family arrived at the morgue to claim the body they found him breathing. He was taken to the hospital in order to recover so the state could take a second crack at killing him.

Not only has Amnesty International put out a call to spare his life, the Iranian justice minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, has also called on the government not to carry out a second execution.

This bizarre episode opens up an old question - what do you do when the inmate doesn't die?

It was not uncommon in the past for the electric chair not to work as planned. There are numerous examples across this country of men who were forced to sit through multiple jolts of electricity before they died. There was even an incident in Florida in which an inmate's head caught on fire.

With the drug cocktails used in lethal injection executions, we have no way of knowing how well the drugs worked. In the three drug cocktail the first drug is a powerful sedative that is supposed to cause the inmate to lose consciousness before the paralytic is injected. The third drug then induces cardiac arrest and causes the death of the inmate.

There is no way of knowing whether the first drug did what it was supposed to. Once the paralytic has been injected the inmate has no way to indicate whether he is experiencing excruciating pain. We just assume that he was knocked out by the first drug and was asleep when the next two drugs were administered. But, as to whether or not that's what happened, well, your guess is as good as mine.

While there are medical personnel on-site for an execution, not one of them is concerned with the well-being of the inmate. They are only there to provide cover for the state. Their job is to prep the inmate for the lethal injection and to administer the drugs. The only role for the physician on duty is to announce that the inmate is dead.

With the drying up of legal pentobarbital supplies, states such as Texas and Georgia, are turning to compounding pharmacies to manufacture the sedative. Unlike drug manufacturers, compounding pharmacies aren't subject to FDA regulation of their drugs. The drugs made in the compounding pharmacies are untested. The condemned inmate is nothing more than a guinea pig to the state and to the pharmacists who do the state's bidding.

Alireza was excecuted. He was pronounced dead by the doctor in attendance. His body was carted off to the morgue. The sentence was carried out.

It certainly isn't Alireza's fault he's alive today. I can't even begin to imagine the terror that must have gripped him as he hung there for 12 agonizing minutes. Twelve minutes of impaired breathing. Twelve minutes of intense pain in the neck. There can be few things more cruel than to be hanging unassisted for twelve long minutes.

Yet the state demands their pound of flesh. The state wants Alireza nursed back to health so they can try it all over again.

This is what the death penalty does to us. We demean life itself. We dehumanize the condemned inmate. We pervert the mission of doctors and other medical professionals. We lose all sense of perspective.

Since the state didn't grant life, the state shouldn't have the power to take it away. It is time we move away from this anachronistic viewpoint that there are some people in society who just don't deserve to live. That is an awfully arrogant position to take. And to allow a fallible institution that we created - the State - to exercise that very power is the height of folly.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Voting, education and guns

It's election time here in Houston and, with the Republicans in power, we've got to deal with voter restriction measures such as the requirement that a voter present a government-approved photo ID before being allowed to carry out their constitutional right to vote.

It's interesting that when the GOP was winning presidential elections (or, stealing them with the help of the US Supreme Court and local voter officials), no one from the right raised the slightest hint of voter fraud. I suppose it's because the last thing you want to do is draw attention to voting irregularities when your own party is elbow-deep in suppressing votes in minority areas.

Here is a look at the poster that Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart is posting at voting locations throughout the county:

Interesting that a military identification card or a concealed handgun license is acceptable ID for voting purposes, but a photo ID issued by a public college or university doesn't quite cut the mustard. Kind of speaks volumes about the importance we place on education here in the Lone Star State as opposed to how we play violence on a pedestal.

And, as an aside, since when did the office holder become more important that the office? Most elected county officials now place their names above the name of the department they head. Just something to think about.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

No more room at the inn

Anyone who practices criminal law in Harris County knows that the Harris County Jail is packed to the gills. The two main causes that people know about are coercive bond policies and arrests for possession of trace amounts of cocaine and other drugs. But there is another cause.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Harris County has spent almost $50 million over the past two years to hold illegal immigrants at the request of federal authorities. Over that time span, Harris County housed more than 30,000 detainees on immigration holds. That is more than two-and-a-half times what Travis County (the second ranking county) held during the same time period.

The reason for Houston's hospitality is the county's participation in two federal programs aimed at the immigrant community - 287(g) and Secure Communities. Under both programs, law enforcement officers in Harris County run inmates' fingerprints through an immigration database. Those that have "questionable" histories are reported to los federarles.

For its efforts, Harris County is reimbursed about $2 million by the federal government.

Critics of the programs, such as University of Houston law professor Michael Olivas said the programs encourage law enforcement agencies to overcharge immigrants. Alan Bernstein, chief apologist spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff's Office, has a different take on the matter. According to Mr. Bernstein, the immigrants sitting in the county jail on immigration detainers would be sitting in jail anyway so the programs aren't costing taxpayers any more money than would already have been spent.

But, conveniently, Mr. Bernstein seems to have forgotten that once an immigration detainer has been placed on a detainee he is held without bond. That means one less space to house an inmate.

Harris County has no business doing the work of federal immigration officials. As I have pointed out before, being in this country without the permission of the government is not a crime (albeit, coming into the country without permission is). Hiring illegal immigrants and not paying taxes is, however, against the law.

Many undocumented immigrants work to support their families here in the Houston area and back in their country of origin. They pay rent and they pay taxes. The taxes they pay help to fund the public schools and the county-run hospitals. They are here for the same reason my ancestors, and your's, came over generations ago -- to make a better life for themselves and their families.

These programs tear up families and punish children for the (alleged) sins of their parents. Funny that the "family values" folks who support Ted Cruz and the Tea Party have no qualms about tearing families apart, ain't it?

State Senator Tommy Williams (R- The Woodlands) argues that the federal government isn't doing its job and that states and localities need to be reimbursed for the number of detainees who are being held in our county jails. Mr. Williams seems to forget that no one forced counties to adopt these federal programs. No one came down from Washington and told local officials they were now going to be in charge of immigration policy on the ground.

Nope. The counties that are complaining about the cost of housing immigrants on federal detainers are the ones that decided to sign up to be junior immigration officials. If they don't like looking at the red numbers that indicate the amount of money they're spending, there is an easy solution -- just tell los federales they're no longer interested in doing their job.

At a time when we should be looking for ways to reduce our jail populations, programs that contribute to overcrowded jails should be questioned.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Judge resigns after texting controversy

Back in March I wrote about a disturbing incident involving State District Judge Elizabeth Coker in Polk County (see "Text parte communications"). For those of y'all not familiar with the story, Judge Coker allegedly sent a text message to a prosecutor in the middle of trial suggesting questions she might want to ask.

The allegations came from an investigator for the Polk County District Attorney's Office and also included the fact that the DA, William Lee Hon, not only saw the message but authorized it to be passed along to the prosecutor trying the case.

I called for Judge Coker to step down from the bench as a result of her conduct.

And, yesterday, she did. As part of an agreement with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Elizabeth Coker will step down from the bench for the 258th Judicial District Court as of December 6, 2013. She will take a leave of absence immediately, however.
"My dad and grandfather taught me that judges have to be accountable for their actions and conduct. Resigning the bench as well as taking a voluntary leave of absence is the best way for me to take responsibility for this situation in a way that honors the office and serves the best interests of Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties. It has been a painful decision, but I believe it is the right decision.
"I want to express my sincere regret to the people of Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties. The integrity and impartiality of our courts have always been my highest priority, and I am deeply sorry that my actions created a circumstance where that could be questioned.
"The Judicial Commission takes the rules surrounding judicial interaction with parties in a lawsuit very seriously, and I will always regret the lapses in judgment that helped create this situation, especially knowing that my conduct as a judge is subject to a higher standard.
"It has been an honor of a lifetime serving as judge, and I will always be grateful the people of this district gave me such an amazing opportunity, and I am very sorry for the difficulty this has caused for everyone.
"My family has deep roots in Polk County, and now I am raising my girls in the same community that gave me my start. We will be starting a new chapter here for our family, and as always I ask for your support and prayers. The kindness, friendship, and love of so many people in these three counties have always sustained us, and I will always be grateful for that." -- Elizabeth Coker
According to news reports there were additional allegations that Ms. Coker had improper ex parte communications with other prosecutors and defense attorneys. There were also allegations that she spoke with jurors during the course of trial.

Ms. Coker's actions disgraced both herself and the bench. Her fall from power was (relatively) swift and hard. However, I'm not so certain that this agreement is in the best interest of the State of Texas. I do believe that the public has a right to know the extent and level of Ms. Coker's misconduct on the bench. This case raises serious questions about due process and whether or not criminal defendants received fair trials in her court. The allegations also raise questions about plea negotiations - how many defendants pled guilty to charges because they didn't think they would get a fair trial in front of Ms. Coker?

A bigger question still is whether the punishment fit the crime? With such ethical lapses in a position of authority, should Ms. Coker even be allowed to keep her bar card?

And what about Mr. Hon? As I pointed out back in March, he knew the communication was improper, yet he allowed the information to be passed on to the trial prosecutor anyway. He had a duty to act ethically and he failed to do so. He shouldn't escape from this mess without as much as a slap on the wrist. And, let's be honest, the incident that served to bring Ms. Coker down wasn't the first time it had happened - and it (more than likely) wasn't the first time that Mr. Hon was aware of the improper communications. Still, he sat quiet and did nothing to stop it.

And, what about Judge Kaycee Jones? She was the prosecutor who received the message (again, probably not the first time) and now she sits on the bench for the 414th Judicial District Court. She knew the rules when she was a prosecutor. She knew the communication was improper and she, too, failed to do anything about it. In fact, she benefited from the communication.

Maybe she and Mr. Hon can teach an ethics class together.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book review - The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football

College football is one of this country's favorite activities. Every Saturday thousands of students, alumni and ordinary fans pack stadiums across the country to watch young men wearing plastic armor clash against one another on the gridiron. But there is an ...

In their new book, The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian peel back the curtain and take a look at what happens when the cameras aren't on. And, in many cases, it isn't pretty.

The first thing you need to know is that, for the vast majority of players, once they leave school, they leave football behind for good. The glory of the NFL calls only for a few select young men - and, even then, most are chewed up and spit out by the pros in less than four years. Buy you'll never hear a coach or recruiter point out that little fact to any of the impressionable high school seniors they're courting. Instead they promise glory and fame. The kids see the inner sanctums of football programs across the country. They visit locker rooms, trophy rooms and training facilities. They are escorted around campus by attractive young ladies who flirt with them until they've signed their letter of intent.

There are exceptions, however. There are those coaches who demand that the young men in their charge get their education. But, with escalating salaries and pressure from boosters, the pressure is to win, win, win. And that means cutting corners and promising the moon. It also means that more and more coaches are willing to take chances on kids with sketchy backgrounds if they think the kid can help win more ball games.

The authors take you behind the scenes for a look at how the big money boosters play and at the world of 7-on-7 spring football. Everyone, it seems, has their hand out looking for something - whether it be access to studly football players, cash in exchange for delivering a recruit, a big check from the television network or the next big job. The only ones not cashing out are the players themselves.

Yes, they're given the opportunity to obtain a free education at some of the nation's finest colleges and universities. But, they are also pressure to sacrifice everything for the football team - and that includes their education. While there are some coaches, and some schools, that insist their athletes leave with a diploma - there are too many others who couldn't care less about what happens to those young men once they hang their helmets and pads up for good.

And that's the ultimate tragedy in all of this. College football should be an activity that brings students and alumni together - an activity that makes a university a family. It has, however, become the tail that wags the dog.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Medical experiments and murder

The Sunshine State was so desperate to kill William Happ this week that they used an untested drug as the sedative in their lethal cocktail. The three-drug protocol calls for a sedative to be pumped into the condemned man's vein. The sedative is followed by a drug that paralyzes the inmate which is followed by a drug that induces cardiac arrest.

The idea is that the sedative will help the inmate slip into unconsciousness so that he is unaware of the paralysis that is to follow. If everything works as planned, when cardiac arrest is induced the inmate will feel no pain.

But the State of Florida found itself in a bit of a pickle. Being that the supply of pentobarbital has dried up due to the manufacturer's objection to its drug being used to kill people, the death machine needed new fuel. They decided to use an untested sedative - midazolam hydrochloride - as the first course.

Now aside from the fact that the entire procedure is utterly barbaric and that we should be ashamed, as a society, that we murder inmates for the sake of revenge, this antiseptic form of murder is used to assuage those among us who might oppose the use of the electric chair, the gallows or the firing squad.

William Happ committed a horrible crime and he caused irreparable damage to a family who lost a loved one. For his actions Mr. Happ deserved to be punished by the society whose mores he violated. But Mr. Happ shouldn't have been used as a guinea pig or a lab rat to see if a new drug cocktail would work.

The drug is used as an anesthetic. The literature seems to indicate that a person could be fully anesthetized in a matter of a few minutes. But no one has ever tested the drug to see how it reacts with the other drugs in the lethal cocktail or to determine whether or not a person sedated with it feels any pain when cardiac arrest is induced.

I'm sure there are those who couldn't care less if Mr. Happ suffered excruciating pain while being executed. There are those who probably wished he suffered more than he may or may not have. For folks of that bent, there is very little I can say that would change their minds regarding the death penalty -- I can only hope that one day they might achieve enough enlightenment to understand how the use of capital punishment demeans our entire society.

Mr. Happ was a person. No matter how badly he behaved, he was still one of us. Even though he had been banished from society, he was still a living, breathing person. His death brought no one back to life. His death healed no scars or filled any voids. There was no purpose in killing him other than to do so because the men and women on that jury were really, really mad at him. But does that make it right to kill?

Does having a piece of paper signed by a judge authorizing the state to take the life of another make it right? Does that piece of paper make what the state did any different that what Mr. Happ did? There is no sanctity in that piece of paper. Innocent men have been convicted and sent to death row over and over again. That piece of paper signed by the jury foreman didn't make it right. That judgment signed by the judge didn't make it right. The decisions by the appellate courts didn't make it right.

A piece of paper is nothing more than a piece of paper.

We will never know what Mr. Happ went through as he lay there on the gurney with an IV in his arm. There's no one who can tell us. And that should be disturbing. We should all be outraged that the State of Florida decided to use an untested drug to kill a man just because the law said they had to kill him.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The new welfare

The other day, while perusing Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback site, I came across a link to an article he penned for The Atlantic last month regarding the way the NFL acts as a conduit for transferring money from the poor to the very, very rich.

We are, of course, talking about subsidies handed out like candy to NFL owners who want to build expensive new playpens for their teams without reaching into their own pockets. The most glaring example is that of Tom Benson and the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints play in the Superdome which is in the middle of downtown New Orleans. For those of y'all who remember Katrina, you will remember that the Superdome suffered severe damage as a result of not only the storm, but also the aftermath. It took millions of dollars to rebuild - and that money came courtesy of the taxpayers in Louisiana. In return, Mr. Benson pockets all, or damn near all, of the game day revenue in exchange for a mere pittance of rent. He also pockets millions of dollars of national television revenue. And, as if that wasn't enough, the taxpayers in Louisiana pay him about $6 million a year NOT to move the team somewhere else.

So, let's get this straight. The city of New Orleans is still rebuilding after the storm. There is still widespread unemployment and poverty throughout the city. But the state can't afford to spend any money rebuilding infrastructure and homes. The state doesn't have the money to provide good paying jobs rebuilding the city. But the state has plenty of money laying around to lavish on a billionaire who owns a football team that uses the city's name.

And, as Mr. Easterbrook points out, the NFL copyrights all images from the games played in the Superdome and charges a fee to use them. Let us not forget that the Superdome is a publicly funded stadium paid for by the taxpayers of Louisiana and yet none of the taxpayers see any revenue either from the NFL's television deals or from the copyright fees charged by the NFL. All of that money finds its way into Mr. Benson's pockets.

Disgusting doesn't even begin to describe it.

And that's just one example. All across the NFL extremely wealthy owners are threatening to move their teams if local municipalities and states down pony up the money to build new playpens. Then there are also the infrastructure improvements needed to support the stadium that are also paid for with taxpayer dollars. Not mentioned in Mr. Easterbrook's article is the ways in which cities exercise their powers of eminent domain to force landowners to sell their property at less than the going rate. Should a person who owns property the city needs to build the stadium dare ask for a premium price due to the value of his particular parcel of land, the city will step in and threaten to use its powers to take the land from him at a discount to what he could/should have made.

But that's not all. The price of admission to one of these grand gridiron palaces has become out of the reach of the ordinary football fan - the football fan whose tax dollars are being funneled straight into the bank account of the billionaire owner. So, not only are the taxpayers being fleeced by the NFL, they are also being denied entry into the buildings they paid for with their hard earned money. Nice.

We have all of this money being transferred from public coffers to private entities so that the owners can reap a fortune from their association with the NFL. At the same time cities and states are cutting the amount of money spent on social services, infrastructure improvement, housing and education.

We are told by the NFL and the media that these benevolent titans of football made their money the hard way - they earned it of the exploitation of others. They are capitalists to be admired. They are willing to part with vast sums of wealth in order to entertain us with football. No. They are nothing more than welfare queens who preach that unbridled capitalism is good for the masses while they belly up at the trough of the public till.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A new installment of Travel with Rick Perry

Rick Perry, he of the good hair and a love for limited government, is over in merry ol' London as you read this and is headed to Israel this weekend.

The purpose of the trips is (supposedly) to wrangle up new business opportunities for Texas. But the question I have is why is the governor of Texas making the trips. Mr. Perry's responsibilities are to the people of Texas. We are but one state out of fifty. Neither the governor nor the legislature has the authority to enter into treaties with foreign states.

According to this item in The Houston Chronicle, Mr. Perry will be speaking at a water conference in Israel and announcing some sort of partnership between Texas A & M and a school in Israel. The governor describes the trip as an "economic development mission." He says he will be traveling as a guest of Americans for Economic Freedom - which just happens to be headed up by a political consultant who works with Mr. Perry.

Of course Gov. Goodhair proclaims that no public money will be used for transportation, lodging or entertainment. And, while that is technically true, the taxpayers will pick up the tab (yet again) for his security detail.

The tab for Mr. Perry's security detail totaled over $35,000 for the three months ending on August 31. That runs the cost of his security detail since he launched his failed presidential campaign to nearly $2.7 million. That, my friends, is a lot of money for out-of-state trips for a governor.

At the very least the cost of his security detail while running for president should have been paid out of his campaign coffers or by his big dollar contributors. There is something very wrong with the taxpayers being forced to foot the bills for trips having absolutely nothing to do with his official duties.

Once again I feel compelled to point out that Gov. Perry pounds the lectern about his love for limited government and how he will cut spending that benefits the poor and disenfranchised. Yet, he has no compunction about billing the taxpayers for dragging along state troopers as bodyguards whenever he decides to travel out of the state.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Is the GOP dazed and confused?

Who thought we'd see the day when Republicans in Washington would fight for the legalization of marijuana? Oh, the ghost of the Gipper must be spinning in his grave as GOP representatives introduced a bill into Congress that would require the federal government to respect the marijuana laws passed by the states.

The latest Republican to jump aboard the pot train is Texas' own Steve Stockman, a certified wingnut from East Texas.

The question is what gives with the GOP bedding down with the stoners? Is it the libertarian wing of the party stepping out into the limelight and acknowledging that Uncle Sam doesn't need to have his hands in everything? Or is it the traditionalists who look at the decades-long War on Drugs as enormous drain on resources and tax dollars? Or is the the strict constructionists who believe that drug policy is the province of the states and not the federal government?

But how will this play with the true believers in the party - the social conservatives who have declared war on everything from drugs to sex to abortion?

And how is the Republican party going to keep these divergent interests together under their tent? Are we entering a period in which our two traditional parties will be shaken to the core and a new politics will emerge?

And, even more importantly, what will be the impact of this national debate on drug policy in Texas? Can the social conservatives maintain their power and influence in the face of changing demographics in the Lone Star State? Will the libertarians in the party start to move into positions of power?

However this plays out it's time we all took a look at the aftermath of the War on Drugs in Texas. Our jails are overcrowded with non-violent offenders convicted of possessing small amounts of a variety of drugs. It certainly makes more sense to use our jails to house violent offenders and those who have shown a lack of ability to be part of society. Our money could be much better spent by funding community programs aimed to helping folks address their addictions. The collateral consequences of minor drug possession convictions are far too severe for the crimes.

If the legislature doesn't want to take the extreme step of legalizing the possession of some drugs - then maybe they should take the baby step of decriminalizing it. Or, at a minimum, reducing the level of offense.

Meanwhile, here's a peak at what Mr. Stockman might have on his iPod.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book review - Enemies Within

When mainstream journalists muster up the courage to criticize the national security state they can't seem to let go of the notion that the world is a dangerous place. Their critique falls somewhere in between lamenting the loss of liberty and the mismanagement of the security apparatus.

Matt Apuzzio and Adam Goldman are two AP reporters who spent years researching their new "expose" on the security state - Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden's Final Plot Against America. The book takes a look at how the NYPD took advantage of national security apparatus and rain their own "demographics" unit. The backdrop of the book is the attempt to foil a supposed bomb attack in New York City.

True to form, Mr. Apuzzio and Mr. Goldman try to have it both ways. On the one hand they criticize the NYPD and the formation of its intelligence unit. They detail the ways in which the NYPD cultivated a vast array of paid and unpaid informants in Muslim communities. We find out how the police created detailed maps of mosques, delis, coffee shops and gyms across the city where Muslims gathered.

Then they criticize the NYPD for botching the surveillance of Najibullah Zazi. In the eyes of the authors, if only David Cohen had been more willing to cooperate with the FBI then all of the surveillance and the informants and the intrusions upon the personal liberty of the people of New York would have been worth it.

The operation was botched because Mr. Cohen's NYPD intelligence unit was more concerned about garnering headlines and acclaim for themselves than they were with working with FBI counter-terrorism agents as a joint task force.

Left unsaid is the assumption that something had to be done after the 9/11 attacks and that curtailment of some of our civil liberties and privacy was just the cost of being safe. But even with all of the sophisticated surveillance and other information gathering techniques available to the national security apparatus, Mr. Zazi and two of his friends managed to go to Pakistan and train with al-Qaeda. They learned to make bombs and set out to launch a suicide attack on the New York City subway system.

They also point out that after the 9/11 attacks the FBI was transformed from a crime-fighting agency to a counter-terrorism agency. Instead of reacting to and investigating crimes that had already occurred, the FBI attempted to become an agency that had the ability to predict the future - an agency that could catch the criminals before they had even committed a crime.

That change in mission is what fuels the ever-increasing need of the national security state to obtain more and more information on the citizenry. It's the mindset that allows secret national security (kangaroo) courts to authorize law enforcement to infringe upon the privacy of individuals without a showing that anyone broke the law. It's the mindset that allows government agencies to issue national security letters with the threat that should the recipient mention the receipt of such a letter he will go to prison.

In the end the book is hurt by the inability of the authors to step outside the mainstream journalist box and question the assumptions of the national security state. The answer is not to increase the efficient use of surveillance and intelligence-gathering tools, but to reduce the ability of the national security state to infringe upon our privacy. Unfortunately, with the revelations of the extent to which the government will go to obtain more and more information, our reasonable expectation of privacy has diminished to the point that it is barely existent.

So. in addition to scaling back the power of the national security state, we need to devise a new paradigm to determine just what constitutes a search because the one we have is fundamentally flawed.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Is today Mack's last stand?

Today is being touted by some as Mack Brown's last stand. The feeling in some quarters is that anything short of a Texas win at the Cotton Bowl will lead to a coaching change at the end of the season.

With the upcoming retirement of UT Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds, it is very possible that there will be someone other than Mack Brown on the sideline when the Longhorns kick off the 2014 season. But, if you take a closer look at who may or may not be available, the odds may very well favor Mack Brown keeping his gig as the head man at the Forty Acres.

Keep in mind that if you want to show Mack Brown the door, you damn well better have someone in mind to take his place. Mack might not be the best coach in the country, but he's a damn sight better than most. You should also keep in mind where the University of Texas was when Mack Brown took over.

From the last year of Darrell Royal's tenure through the John Mackovic experiment, the Longhorns spent two decades wandering through the desert. Yes, they had the national title in hand in 1977 under Fred Akers - that is, until they were dismantled in the Cotton Bowl by Notre Dame. They had another shot a few years later until they lost to Georgia in the Cotton Bowl as well.

The three most attractive candidates for the job are Art Briles, Gary Patterson and Chris Peterson. But I think we can take Briles and Patterson out of the equation early. Both coach in the Big XII and I think it's extremely doubtful that either one would leave their post for the Texas job. That would leave Chris Peterson from Boise State. He has kept the level of play high despite being at a significant disadvantage in recruiting. Just imagine what he could do with the type of players he'd have in Austin.

But would he want to deal with all the distractions that come with being the coach at Texas? Would he be comfortable schmoozing with big donors? What about hosting two weekly shows on the Longhorn Network and being the star of a weekly behind-the-scenes show? And what about the media glare and the expectations that come with the job?

Once you get past the big three there just aren't that many serious candidates for the job. Maybe James Franklin at Vanderbilt - but would he be ready to step up? There's Charlie Strong at Louisville. He served as defensive coordinator at Florida under Urban Meyer. With his star quarterback graduating he might be willing to listen to offers. But is he ready for Texas? Then there's one more intriguing prospect that someone mentioned to me today - Mark Richt from Georgia.

He's got the experience coaching a major state school. His teams have competed for SEC titles. He is used to coaching in the spotlight and he's been on the hot seat before.  He is, from all appearances, a class act. But would he want to leave Athens to move to Austin?

I don't know who else is out there that Texas would consider. Any new coach has to be able to recruit. He has to be willing to schmooze. He has to be able to deal with the distractions that come via the Longhorn Network. He has to be strong enough to withstand the criticism that he isn't Mack Brown.

And, no, Nick Saban isn't coming to Austin.

So, for those of y'all wanting to shove Mack Brown out the door, who are you going to hire in his place?


Friday, October 11, 2013

The unintended consequences of a campaign pledge

Back when the late Mike Anderson was running for DA against incumbent Pat Lykos he attacked her over and over again for her decision not to try so-called trace cases. Under the Lykos administration, if someone were arrested for possessing less than .01 grams of cocaine, the case was either dismissed or the defendant was offered a plea to a paraphernalia case.

There were a multitude of reasons for the policy. First, if there was less than .01 grams of residue, there wasn't enough for both the state and the defense to test the sample. Second, during her 2008 campaign, Ms. Lykos said the criminal (in)justice system couldn't cure every problem and that some folks were better off seeking treatment for their addictions. Third, the Harris County Jail was full to the gills and the county was having to lease jail space in other counties in Texas as well as in Louisiana. 

The situation was untenable. Not that Chuck Rosenthal and his team of true believers gave a second thought to the consequences of their actions.

Well Ms. Lykos wasn't part of the good ol' boy network so she had to go. Mike Anderson took up the banner of Holmes worship and pledged to undo everything that Ms. Lykos had done in office. One of his promises was to start prosecuting trace cases as felonies once again. The police and true believers thought the rapture had come and Mr. Anderson was swept into office.

Once there Mr. Anderson began the process of changing office policy. No longer would the Harris County District Attorney's Office go soft on those wrongdoers who had less than .01 grams of drug residue on their person. Nope. If you give them a break, the next thing you know someone else is going to want some leniency on some other crime. Damn that slippery slope!

Under Mike Anderson's watch, trace cases were prosecuted as felonies but defendants were offered so-called 12.44a sentences. That designation refers to a provision in the penal code that allows the court to assess misdemeanor punishment on state jail felony convictions.

And so, predictably, the inmate population in the Harris County Jail began to creep higher toward full capacity. Someone was going to have to to do something quick. The voters had already nixed the idea of issuing bonds to build a fourth jail downtown. County commissioners weren't keen on the idea of spending money to house inmates in other counties.

Interim District Attorney Devon Anderson, the widow of Mike Anderson, acknowledges there is a problem -- something that Mr. Anderson never did. Of course she told the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council that she wasn't worried about filing felony charges against folks possessing less than .01 grams of cocaine. She, on the other hand, was worried about the number of defendants who were punished under Section 12.44a of the Penal Code. She said she was concerned about the number of first time offenders who were now walking around with felony drug convictions.

She said she preferred treatment to incarceration. But she never said she was opposed to prosecuting the cases as felonies. And there's the disconnect.

If you charge folks with a felony and they can't post bond, the attorneys appointed to plead them out are going to try either to get the charges reduced to misdemeanors or, at worst, to get the prosecutor to offer county time for a felony conviction under 12.44a. Folks who are out on bond for a trace case are unlikely to go to prison or jail in exchange for a plea (though there are exceptions). They'll take their felony deferred or probation and walk on out of the courthouse.

Such pleas are rarely offered to someone sitting in the holdover - unless they are willing to put up a fight on their case. Besides, the folks who can't post bond tend to have backgrounds and live in circumstances that make them bad risks for probation.

Ms. Anderson points to her background as a drug court judge (before getting booted out of office in 2008) - but y'all already know my opinion of drug courts. The criminal (in)justice system does a very poor job of reducing addiction. Those who suffer from addiction are going to fall off the tracks from time-to-time on their way to recovery. When they do suffer a relapse, treatment and counseling - not prosecution - is the answer. 

Our courts operate in an adversarial environment. The theory is that the truth (or something vaguely resembling it) will emerge though two parties telling competing stories. When one side rolls over and plays dead - or, in the parlance of the specialty courts, works as part of a team - the adversarial system doesn't work as planned and the defendant is always the one getting jobbed.

The answer to reducing the county's jail population isn't to prosecute trace cases, the answer is to make treatment available for those who want it - regardless of their ability to pay. Drug addiction is a public health issue - not a criminal issue - and until we begin to treat it as such, we will never make any headway in reducing the problem.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Update: Dr. Lovloi and the Texas killing machine keep on keeping on

Chalk up another one for the Texas death machine and Dr. Jasper Lovloi III as the state murdered its 14th inmate last night.

Michael Yowell is the latest victim of Rick Perry and the killing machine. Mr. Yowell was convicted of a particularly brutal and heinous crime. He was no angel. What he did was inexcusable. But killing him doesn't solve anything. It doesn't bring anyone back. It doesn't fill any holes. It's nothing but an act of cold blooded revenge.

More troubling, however, is the mode in which Mr. Yowell was murdered last night. As you know, the drugs used to kill Mr. Yowell were acquired from Dr. Jasper Lovloi III and The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy. Since the drugs were produced in a compounding pharmacy they weren't subject to testing by the FDA. No one tested the drugs to see if they did what they were supposed to do. We have no way of knowing whether or not the drugs caused unnecessary pain and suffering.

I'm sure some of y'all couldn't care less if the condemned man felt any pain. I'm sure some of y'all think it's a travesty that we're so concerned with whether or not the condemned man suffered. I get it. Mr. Yowell didn't care that his victims suffered horribly in their deaths.

That's not the point, however.

What does our continued insistence on killing those we dislike because of what they did? What does it say about us that the US Supreme Court couldn't even be bothered to consider the argument that using an untested drug to kill an inmate should be considered unconstitutional?

In our rush to kill we have completely disregarded the law. We have completely disregarded the reason our founding fathers insisted on a government with limited powers. Worse yet we have allowed emotion to take over for our judgment when it comes to how we punish those who break society's rules.

We have created a system in which we systematically eliminate those who question state-sponsored murder while guaranteeing juries full of men and women who haven't the slightest qualm about the state exercising its most invasive power. We have become so enamored of results that we have forgotten that justice lives in the process.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What we do behind closed doors

Thanks to Grits for Breakfast we have a stunning insight into the mind of a pharmacist who had no idea what he was getting into when he agreed to produce pentobarbital for the death machine in Texas.
Based on the phone calls I had with Erica Minor of TDCJ regarding its request for these drugs, including statements she made to me, it was my belief that this information would be kept on the 'down low' and that it was unlikely that it would be discovered that my pharmacy provided these drugs. Based on Ms. Minor's requests, I took steps to ensure it would be private. However, the State of Texas misrepresented this fact because my name and the name of my pharmacy are posted all over the internet. Now that this information has been made public, I find myself in the middle of a firestorm that I was not advised of and did not bargain for. Had I known that this information would be made public, which the State implied it would not, I never would have agreed to provide the drugs to TDCJ.
The State of Texas didn't misrepresent the risk of exposure to Dr. Jasper Lovloi III.  No, Dr. Lovloi III was self-delusional. I can only assume that he was oblivious to the growing controversy over the death penalty. I can only assume that he was completely oblivious to the fact that the manufacturers of the drugs used to murder inmates were refusing to sell the drugs to states that carried out executions. The very fact that the state wanted to make the purchase on the QT should have set off alarm bells for Dr. Lovloi III.

The good doctor was more interested in pocketing cash than he was in upholding the oath he took when he became a pharmacist. He was willfully blind when it came to agreeing to compound the drug.

Now, as a result of the negative publicity he has received as a result of his decision to produce drugs for the death machine, Dr. Lovloi III asked the state to return the remaining vials of pentobarbital that he produced.

Sorry, Dr. Lovloi, you can't undo what's already been done. You had no problem making the drug and taking the money when you thought no one would find out what you did. Your problem with the backlash isn't that you provided the drug to the state so that they could kill an inmate - your problem is that someone found out about what you did.

If you want to know what someone's ethics really are, don't listen to what they say - watch what they do when no one else is looking. And just what did Dr. Lovloi III do when he didn't think anyone was watching?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Execution Watch: 10/9/2013

On Wednesday night the State of Texas will kill again without regard to the law...

MICHAEL YOWELL, convicted of a 1998 triple murder in Lubbock, in which his father, mother and grandmother died of injuries sustained before or during a fire at their home. Yowell's execution date has been delayed in the past based upon a claim that his trial lawyers failed to provide effective representation.

On Monday, Federal District Judge Lynn Hughes rejected Mr. Yowell's request for a stay on the grounds that the drug acquired from a local compounding pharmacy may result in cruel and unusual punishment. The US Supreme Court then turned around and denied his request without comment.

For more information on Mr. Yowell, click here.

Unless a stay is issued, we'll broadcast live:
Wednesday, October 9, 2013, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT FM Houston 90.1 and Online... > Listen

*** Since KPFT is in the middle of a fundraising drive, the broadcast may not be available live on the radio. You may have to access it via one of the digital channels on the website. ***

Monday, October 7, 2013

Oath, what oath?

At this time, I vow to devote my professional life to the service of all humankind through the profession of pharmacy.
I will consider the welfare of humanity and relief of human suffering my primary concerns.
I will apply my knowledge, experience, and skills to the best of my ability to assure optimal drug therapy outcomes for the patients I serve.
I will keep abreast of developments and maintain professional competency in my profession of pharmacy. I will maintain the highest principles of moral, ethical and legal conduct.
I will embrace and advocate change in the profession of pharmacy that improves patient care.
I take these vows voluntarily with the full realization of the responsibility with which I am entrusted by the public.
-- Pharmacist's Oath
Thanks to a public information request from the Associated Press - and a federal lawsuit filed by inmates on death row - we now know where the drug used to murder Arturo Diaz came from.

The source of the drugs was The Woodlands Compounding Pharmacy which is located at 3200 Research Forest Drive in The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb north of Houston. The pharmacy is owned by Dr. Jasper Lovoi III whose family owns another pharmacy in Beaumont. Dr. Lovloi III also runs Bimini Cosmetics which, according to its website, produces "the most amazing skin care products available today."

In his haste to make some money by filling an order for the "Huntsville Unit Hospital" - even though the hospital unit has been closed since 1983, Dr. Lovloi III mashed up eight 2.5 gram vials of pentobarbital - enough for the State of Texas to kill four people.

In so doing, Dr. Lovloi III tore up the oath he took upon becoming a pharmacist and tossed it into the trash. He didn't produce the drug to assist a patient battling pain. He didn't produce the drug to optimize any patient's drug therapy. No. He made the drugs in order to assist the state in ending the life of an individual.

The death penalty only continues because the state has been able to convince folks to compromise the oaths they took when they because doctors and nurses and to assist in the murder of people. It has also survived because drug companies were more concerned with the bottom line than in their ethical obligations. Now it's only lifeline are pharmacists who couldn't care less about the words they mouthed when they finished school.

Dr. Lovloi III is one of those people for whom a pocketful of cash is more important than ethics.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Update: Dying a free man

Herman Wallace died yesterday.

He died a free man after spending over 40 years in solitary confinement in the Louisiana penitentiary known as Angola.

A federal judge ordered him released earlier in the week. Even then Mr. Wallace had to fight the power of the state as officials refused to release him until the judge threatened to hold them in contempt.

Although the victory was all too short, it was a victory nonetheless.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Jury duty - City of Houston edition

Yesterday I had jury duty for the City of Houston. Although it was only traffic court, I was hoping I would at least make it on a panel to sit through someone else voir dire. Unfortunately I didn't even make it to a courtroom since they only needed three jury panels this afternoon.

Here's the blow-by-blow from Twitter today...
I have jury duty this morning in municipal court. I've got my fingers crossed I make the panel this time so I can see what goes on in back.
Dude in front of me in jury assembly room is wearing his shirt inside-out. Are there no mirrors in his house?  
Hmmm. One of the magazines in the jury room is Garden & Gun. Maybe that's the best way to handle fire ants and mosquitos.
Sitting here bored out of my skull waiting to get put on a panel. Rare that any trial starts before 1pm.
Back after a lengthy lunch break waiting to be assigned to a panel. Why did we have to be here at 9am again?
It appears that our friend with the inside-out shirt fixed it at lunch.
Dammit. They don't have my juror appreciation certificate printed out.
Just got dismissed. Never got on a panel. Never made it to a courtroom. Bummer.  
And, of course, it's raining.
Was it an inconvenience to have to spend my day in the jury room at the Municipal Courthouse? Sure it was. But there is something about being on the other side of things that I find interesting. I will also say that the administrator was very personable and kept us all informed about what was going on.

The room in the back for charging your phone and laptop was a great benefit. I spent most of my time after our first break and in the afternoon back there reading a book on my phone.

My one main criticism is having jurors come in at 9 am. In the eight years I've been working in the municipal courts, I've had all of one trial in which we started voir dire before the lunch break. In reality, trials aren't getting going until about 2 pm. There are generally a handful of cases remaining unresolved when the courts break for lunch. Give a few minutes to work out the cases that can be worked out at it's at least two before you can start a trial.

So, why not just have jurors come in at noon or 1 pm? It'll give the administrator plenty of time to play the jury service video. They'd have to find time to have a judge come down and talk to the jurors about exemptions and disqualifications - but they have three judges who all serve administrative duties so it can be done.

I would have preferred to have served on a panel so I could experience what happens back in the jury room. I think it would make me a better lawyer to at least have an idea of how things happen back there. At a minimum I would have liked to have watched someone else conducting a voir dire where I didn't have to keep notes.

But at least all of us who showed up this morning allowed three defendants to try their cases in front of a jury of their peers - and that's something to be proud of.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hypocrisy and human rights

Once upon a time there was a monarchy. The citizenry were divided into two distinct groups. The folks who belonged to the group the king belonged to were afforded more rights than the folks who were in the other group.

After a while the folks in that second group looked around them and decided that since no one was going to take up their cause that they would have to do it themselves. So they demonstrated and they called for basic human rights.

But the king defied them. He ordered their leaders to be arrested, jailed and tortured. Still the people carried on. They rallied for democracy. They rallied for equal rights.

But the king stood firm and ordered the army to break up the demonstrations.

More folks were arrested, jailed and tortured.

Then they got their day in court. Only the result was pre-determined. The only question was how long they would be behind bars.

Sixteen protesters were branded as terrorists and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Four others were sentenced to 10 years. Thirty others were sentenced to five years. More than a dozen of those convicted were tried in abstentia.

Now how would  a government that pats itself on the back and proclaims itself a champion of human rights deal with this king and his repressive policies? Would its president stand up and announce to the world that this type of behavior is unacceptable? Would he push for some sort of sanctions to punish the kingdom for its blatant violation of human rights? Would he seek to work with the opposition to force reforms?

Or would he sit back and do nothing for fear of pissing off a little tyrant with a whole lotta money?

If you chose the last option, you'd be right. Despite the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Bahrain, President Obama carries on like nothing ever happened. You see, the US Navy's Fifth Fleet is housed in Bahrain and the last thing President Obama wants to do is raise a stink about how Bahrain treats its own residents.

Human rights mean nothing to our government. It's but a phrase bandied about when someone needs an excuse for carrying out some policy. Oh, and I guess there's that little matter of the oil under the desert, too.

If this story had come out of a country with a leftist-leaning government that refused to sacrifice the well-being of its citizens for the good of global capital, President Obama would whip himself into a frenzy telling the world how awful it is for a government to treat its citizens that way. But that so-called concern for human rights goes away in a flash when the government in question flashes cash or barrels of oil.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Forty years of solitude in Angola

For 40 years, Herman Wallace sat in a tiny cell for 23 hours a day in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. He spent those years in solitary confinement after he and two other inmates, Robert King and Albert Woodfox, were convicted of killing a prison guard in 1973. It was a crime all three deny committing.

In 1967 Mr. Wallace was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 50 years behind bars. While in prison he helped start up the first chapter of the Black Panther Party behind bars. Shortly thereafter a prison guard was murdered and Mr. Wallace, along with Mr. King and Mr. Woodfox, found themselves faciug trial for murder.

The Angola Three, as they are known, were all placed in solitary confinement. Mr. King was released from prison in 2001 while Mr. Woodfox is still in solitary confinement.

Earlier this year Mr. Wallace was diagnosed with liver cancer and it is believed he has but a few days to live. His supporters petitioned the state for compassionate release - but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

Yesterday Federal district judge Brian Jackson overturned Mr. Wallace's 1974 conviction on the grounds that his right to due process was violated when women were excluded from the jury that convicted him. Judge Jackson ordered the State of Louisiana to release Mr. Wallace at once. An ambulance was sent to the prison.

However, showing the bull-headed stubbornness of a prosecutor who refuses to acknowledge that a conviction was unjust, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore challenged the judge's order and the state refused to release Mr. Wallace.

For the State of Louisiana it was a fight to see that Mr.Wallace didn't die as a free man. It wasn't enough that he's was locked up in a tiny cell for over 40 years. It wasn't enough that he was denied meaningful contact with the outside world. It wasn't enough that Mr. Wallace's life is almost over. The State of Louisiana was bound and determined to take not only Mr. Wallace's life, but his dignity as well.

But, despite their efforts to keep see Mr. Wallace die in prison, the state failed. Late last night Herman Wallace was released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The litigation surrounding his case will continue after he has taken his final breath.

Herman Wallace will die a free man.

See also:

"Cancer-stricken Anglola 3 prisoner Herman Wallace given just days to live after 42 years in solitary," Democracy Now! (Sept. 30, 2013)

Herman's House: The Film

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Burnt ends

For those barbecue enthusiasts out there, y'all know that the burnt ends refer to the tips of briskets that have been smoked for hours in a smoker. The burnt ends are tasty little meat nuggets that are crispy and charred and full of smoky goodness.

And, so, here are some burnt ends for today...

The Elevator Troll

Last week I tried a DWI case in Harris County. Ordinarily I park along the street a couple blocks away from Minute Maid Park and walk five or six blocks to the criminal courthouse. On trial days, however, I park in the county parking garage and take the tunnel into the courthouse so I don't have to worry about rain.

So there I am, pulling my cart behind me, walking through the tunnel complex until I get to the criminal courthouse. I go in the door and down the hallway toward the elevators. There are two elevators that travel to the basement of the building. One is a normal elevator that goes up to the 10th floor (there are 20 floors in the courthouse). That elevator is accessible to anyone.

The other elevator has a keypad next to the call button that only those with county badges can access. That elevator is special - it goes all the way to the top of the building so you don't have to change elevators on the 10th floor.

On this particular day the regular elevator wasn't working so everyone who entered through the tunnel got to use the "employee" elevator. Inside was the elevator troll, er, attendant. On the ground floor someone with the company that provides courthouse security got on. The fun began when the attorney who got on board with me in the basement stepped out of the car in order for someone in back to get out. When he stepped back in the security person asked if he had a badge.

He said that he was an attorney who got on the elevator in the basement and that he didn't have a courthouse badge. She tried to tell him that this was an employees-only elevator and that he was only given the privilege of riding the elevator because the other one was broken. He told her that the elevators belonged to the county, not the DA's office, and that anyone should be able to ride them. She took offense to the logic of his argument, but couldn't come up with anything intelligent to say.

After the attorney got off the elevator, someone looked toward the elevator troll, er, attendant, and tried to apologize for the lawyer's behavior. The consensus seemed to be that he was a jerk to insist that since the elevator was built with county funds that the residents of Harris County were entitled to use it. As I stepped out on my floor I turned around and told the elevator troll, er, attendant, that the other lawyer was right.

This notion that someone employees of the courts and the DA's office are entitled to special privileges because they work for the county is absurd. We all pay their salaries. We all pay the bills to keep the lights on and the elevators functioning. There is already a vast gulf between those who prosecute crimes and the folks who come in and out of the courthouse on a daily basis. Walling them off further by allowing them to use a special elevator while defendants and defenders wait around in a crowded lobby for the rest of the elevators distorts their perspective even more.

No 163rd Game in Fantasy Baseball

This past weekend was final weekend of the Criminal Defense Lawyers Invitational Fantasy Baseball League. This year's champion - who led it from start to finish - is former Galveston County prosecutor Vik Vij. Mr. Vij left the DA's office during the course of the season to open a criminal defense practice. I think it was because he was afraid he'd be disqualified if he stayed with the DA's office.

Congratulations, Vik.

Death of a Legend

In 1969 college football celebrated its centennial year. The final weekend of the college football season say two undefeated teams square off in The Game of the Century. President Richard Nixon was on hand in Fayetteville as the top-ranked Texas Longhorns squared off with the second-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks.

For three quarters it looked as though the home team would prevail. As the fourth quarter began the Razorbacks had a 14-0 lead and things were bleak for the visitors.

On the first play of the fourth quarter Texas quarterback James Street scrambled for a touchdown. Darrell Royal then sent the offense back on the field to attempt a two-point conversion. The decision had been made long before Street found the end zone. Coach Royal's gamble paid off and the lead was cut to 14-8.

After intercepting a Razorback pass in the end zone the Horns drove down the field but got bogged down near midfield with a fourth-and-three. Coach Royal called for a long pass to the tight end Randy Peschel. Street delivered the ball, Peschel hauled it in and two plays later Texas scored what would prove to be the winning points.

James Street died yesterday of a heart attack. Rest in pace, James, you will forever be a Texas legend.