Column for 23 July 2011

FIXING THE SYSTEM

 

“Keep far from a false charge and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.”

–Exodus 23:7

 

The criminal justice system in Texas is broken.  Badly.  We lead the nation (and indeed the industrialized world) in executions and exonerations of the wrongfully convicted.  Disturbingly, some of these exonerations involve clear cases of misconduct by prosecutors and/or the police, misconduct that is for all intents and purposes never punished.  We currently have well over 2,000 discrete felony offenses on the books, eleven of which involve oysters and the most recent of which makes cheating in fishing tournaments a felony.  Texas has one peace officer for every 300 men, women and children, a level one would more likely associate with East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell than in a democracy.  Our prison-industrial complex is the largest in the world, and only likely to grow as private prison corporations seek to influence legislators into passing draconian Arizona-style police-state legislation so that they can make even more money off taxpayers by housing an expected tide of illegal aliens.  Our incarceration rate is second in the nation (behind Louisiana, so thank God for that).  The Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court for criminal cases, has become a national joke for its’ ludicrously pro-prosecution bias, culminating in Presiding Judge Sharon Keller literally locking the courthouse doors to prevent defense counsel from filing an appeal in a death penalty case.  The conviction rate in criminal jury trials has held steady at around 84% over the last ten years (aided at least in part by a public that is woefully uninformed or misinformed about the law in general and criminal trials in particular), yet we are still eighth in the nation in per capita crime rate, some 25% higher than the national average.  Our institutional devotion to criminalization, prosecution and incarceration doesn’t seem to have accomplished much in terms of keeping the average Texan safe.  Part of the problem lies in the creaky, bloated, outdated Texas constitution: we have a highly politicized criminal justice system and pick our trial judges in just (more…)

Published in: on July 22, 2011 at 9:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Column for 17 July, 2011

JUSTICE FOR ALL?

 

“The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.  Then Abraham approached Him and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?  Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?  Far be it from You to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike.  Far be it from you!  Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’”

–Genesis 24:22-25

 

A little girl died in Florida.  Her mother was arrested and charged with her murder.  After a trial before an impartial jury of her peers, the mother was acquitted of that murder.  These are the facts we know.  Virtually everything else was buried in a froth of innuendo, grandstanding and digital lynch-mobbing by the insatiable beast that is the 24-hour news-cycle media.  Why was the Casey Anthony case important?  Primarily because the media told us it was.  Sadly, many children disappear or die in America every single year, but this case stood out because it had all the elements needed for exploitation: the victim was an adorable little white girl, the defendant a pretty white woman.  Casey Anthony’s behavior after her daughter’s “disappearance” was sufficiently disturbing and salacious to provide grist for hour after hour after endless hour of rank speculation and outright fabrication.  Moreover, the presiding judge in the case was naïve enough to yield to the beast and allow cameras in his courtroom, thus providing the loathsome Nancy Grace and others a never-ending supply of “post game footage” to comb through, jaw over and lie about.  In a world of repellent loudmouths like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, Nancy Grace stands out for her obnoxiousness and willingness to deliberately distort reason, logic and the law in support of her colossal ego.  Having exploited a personal tragedy to begin her career, Grace now mines human misery like a fracking operation.  Among the lowlights of her career: luring Melinda Duckett, the young mother of a missing child, onto her show and berating her to the point that she committed suicide; latching onto the infamous Duke Lacrosse case and relentlessly smearing the defendants, all of whom were of course later cleared.  In the Casey Anthony case, at least, her attorneys were smart enough not to allow their client within a country mile of this hectoring leech.  Nancy Grace and other media grotesques are exhibit A in my argument against ever, under any circumstances, allowing cameras into courtrooms.  I am proud to say that I did not watch a single minute of Casey Anthony “coverage”; the OJ Simpson trial was more than enough to put me off forever.  For the same reasons, I hardly ever watch deliberately fictional lawyer movies or TV shows: either they are inaccurate, which drives me up the wall, or if they are accurate, I find (more…)

Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 12:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Column for 6 March, 2011

THE SLUMBERING GIANT

 

“’So I will come near to you for judgment.  I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Lord Almighty,”

–Malachi 3:5

 

Governor Scott Walker is a miracle worker.  He has accomplished the impossible—singlehandedly reviving the American labor movement with his extremism, pettiness and obstreperousness.  This one man, who manages to make even Rick Perry look like a paragon of sober, mature leadership, has brought protestors literally out in the snow in their thousands to oppose him.  And the rebellion is spreading—to Ohio and Indiana at the very least.  The economic royalists and their pet monkeys in the Republic Party were caught off guard; they had assumed the Class War was long over, and their class had won.  Who would’ve imagined the peasants might resist?  FOX “News” was dispatched to blast propaganda—including faked coverage and deliberately inverted poll results—to the great unwashed masses.  Unionists?  Public employees?  Why, everyone knows they are despised by all Real Americans!  And yet…huge majorities (well over 2/3rds) of the American people support the right of public employees to bargain collectively.  Governor Walker remains hopelessly obtuse—locking the state capitol building in Madison in defiance of a court injunction, shamelessly lying about the budget deficit he himself exploded with tax cuts for the wealthy, ranting about “outside agitators” like some low-rent Orville Faubus, and being punked by (of all things) a lowly blogger impersonating one of the multi-billionaire Koch Brothers who serve the real function on the Hard Right that the fevered imagination of Glenn Beck imagines George Soros serves on the moribund Left.  The Mainstream Media, after initially attempting to ignore this un-serious threat to the status quo, have now actually started to pay attention. How can this be?  Is it possible, just barely possible, that the sheer depravity of the billionaires’ party in the very (more…)

Published in: on March 5, 2011 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Column for 27 February, 2011

THE MAN IN THE MIRROR

 

“Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin.  But you have neglected the important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

–Matthew 23:23-24

 

Fear is sweeping through local governments, particularly school districts, throughout Texas.  Not the normal sort of fear understandably caused every two years when the great clown car of State disgorges the idiocrats who mismanage the government; no, this is worse.  Texas is $27 billion in the hole, a deficit comparable to that of California’s, a state with 12 million more people.  Put another way, there’s nearly $1,100 of debt for every man, woman and child in Texas, but less than $750 of debt for every Californian.  Yet Texas already ranks dead last among the fifty states in per capita spending.  Accordingly, with their normal level of rank political cowardice, our alleged leaders are, as usual, looking to fob off as much of the pain of balancing the budget as possible onto the backs of local government.  Thus, the Cleburne School Board faces the very real prospect of closing one or more schools to make up the expected shortfall of money from Austin.  But don’t blame the school board.  How did Texas get (more…)

Published in: on February 25, 2011 at 1:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Column for 16 January, 2011

TOO FAR?

“A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

–Proverbs 15:1

 

Whenever a tragedy like the Tucson Shooting occurs, you be sure of one thing: politicians and the media will rush to spin and counter-spin it for their own advantage.  The “winner” of this tasteless sweepstakes has so far been Sarah Palin, hands down, for her narcissistic focus on herself, refusing to admit that painting bullseyes (as she described them, before her ludicrous claim they were “surveyor marks”) on congressional districts was at best in questionable taste.  Then, to top off her round of self-pity, she claimed she was a victim of “blood libel,” an anti-Semitic term.  Pathetic.  Of course, at this point, we have no idea what motivated Jared Lee Loughner to embark on a bloody murder spree.  We don’t know, and we may never know, if he was just a lunatic like John Hinckley, Jr. or politically motivated like Timothy McVeigh and Byron Williams.  What, you never heard of Byron Williams?  Not surprising, since he was pretty much ignored by the media.  The heavily-armed Byron Williams got into a shoot-out with the California Highway Patrol last summer on his way to shoot up the Tides Foundation, an obscure Oakland-based non-profit that no one had ever heard of.  No one but raving paranoid lunatic Glenn Beck who denounced the Foundation as a sinister cabal bent on “destroying capitalism.”  Williams said later that FOX “News” in general and Beck in particular “blew my mind” and “Beck is gonna deny everything about violent approach and deny everything about conspiracies, but he’ll give you every reason to believe it. He’s protecting himself, and you can’t blame him for that. So, I understand what he’s doing.”  Did Beck explicitly tell this obviously-disturbed person “go shoot up the Tides Foundation”?  No, of course not, but spewing violent, paranoid rhetoric has consequences.  And Beck, who publicly fantasized about (more…)

Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Column for 31 October, 2010

DEMOCRACY FOR SALE?

 

“Is he not the One who says to kings, ‘You are worthless,’ and to nobles, ‘You are wicked,’ who shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of His hands?”

–Job 34:18-19

 

The other great (and largely ignored) story of the 2010 elections, other than raving paranoia, is the unholy flood of secret corporate money.  Thanks to radical Right Wing judicial activists on the Supreme Court, the largest corporations in America are now empowered to dump unlimited amounts of money to purchase candidates.  And we the voters have no right to know how much money is being spent, or even where it comes from, as the donors hide behind benign-sounding special interest groups and the candidates are too cowardly to admit who is holding their leashes.  The US Chamber of Commerce, despite its’ homey name, is actually a clearing house, laundering money for foreign corporations to influence American politics.  Yes, surprisingly enough, Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito was either hopelessly naïve or deliberately lying when he mouthed “not true” to President Obama during the State of the Union.  Mega-banks and other beneficiaries of the awful Bush Bailout (and the slightly less awful Obama Bailout) are dumping money on, you guessed it, Congressional Republicans.  The top recipients of donations from companies that received TARP funds are John Boehner, (more…)

Published in: on October 29, 2010 at 3:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Column for 24 October, 2010

WEAPONS OF MASS STUPIDITY

 

“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.”

–Proverbs 14:8

 

To paraphrase Karl Marx, a specter is haunting the mid-term elections, the specter of stupidity.  Thanks to the generous efforts of John Roberts, Sam Alito, Clarence Thomas and the always-charming Antonin Scalia, a tidal wave of corporate money from secret donors is washing through this election cycle, mostly in the form of increasingly hysterical attack ads that all seem to operate on the guiding principal that the American electorate is a pack of drooling morons.  You’ve seen these ads: ominous slasher-flick background music, a deep James Earl Jones-esque voice importuning you to “Call Congressman Finkleblatt and tell him you’re against forcing everyone to get gay married under Sharia law to illegal aliens.”  Attack ads are nothing new, of course.  You should read some of the stuff the Democratic papers wrote about Abraham Lincoln or the Republican papers wrote about FDR.  What is different now is the increasing narrowness of the media outlets, which only adds to a bitterly divided, hyper-partisan environment, corrosive to democracy.  This has led to the phenomenon of massed attacks of outrageous stupidity.  As usual, the Right Wing Howler Monkey Media Chorus is leading the parade.  Just as with Bill Clinton, the Right Wing is obsessed to the point of monomania with Barack Obama’s brain.  It’s not enough to oppose the president simply because they believe his policies to be misguided; no, he has to be a racist, a Kenyan (or an Indonesian, or worse yet, French), a secret Muslim, a Socialist, a communist, a Nazi or (in the latest iteration by notorious hack Dinesh D’Souza) an “anti-colonialist” apparently possessed by the ghost of his dead father.  This latter was too much even for the Weekly Standard and was recently denounced by Editor Andrew Ferguson.  It is not enough to oppose healthcare reform (more…)

Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 8:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Column for 26 September, 2010

OBAMA’S PROGRESS REPORT

“When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.”

–Psalm 138:3

It is axiomatic that mid-term elections are a referendum on the party in power.  In 2002, George W. Bush got a boost due to public perception of his leadership in the wake of the 9/11 Attacks.  Plus, he hadn’t yet lied the country into a bloody fiasco in Iraq, though the planning was well underway.  In 1994, Republicans took both ends of the Capitol Building in a massive repudiation of Bill Clinton, though it was also partly due to Democratic corruption scandals and the historical 30-year trend of the Republicanization of the South.  Mostly, though, it was due to Clinton’s stunning political ineptitude.  First, he demoralized his own base by shoving NAFTA through an extremely reluctant Congress.  Next, he badly fumbled health-care reform, something that should have been a winning issue.  His clumsy handling of the issue of gays in the military managed to aggravate both sides while pleasing no one.  Now Barack Obama is facing his first mid-terms, and there are some similarities to 1994.  Obama’s approval ratings hover in the mid 40’s, about where Clinton was (and about where Ronald Reagan was in 1982).  Much like Barack Obama today, Clinton drove Right Wingers insane.  And by “insane,” I don’t mean “whimsically eccentric”; I mean “clinically psychotic.”  Bill Clinton was a murderer, a drug dealer, the mastermind behind the Oklahoma City Bombing.  Obama is a secret Muslim born in Kenya, a Communist, a Nazi, the Anti-Christ.  Like 1994, this level of drooling insane paranoia fires up a rabid base the Republic Party is willing to exploit: back then, it was the Militia Movement, now it’s the Tea Partiers, both essentially warmed-over reincarnations of the John Birchers (or, as we call them in Texas, Republicans).  Just as then, the Democrats’ liberal base is disenchanted, partly due to unrealistic expectations, but also legitimate disappointment over missed opportunities.  There are, however, significant differences.  Barack Obama, unlike Clinton, goes into the election with an impressive string of legislative victories: a stimulus package, Wall Street reform, rescues of the banking and automotive industries, and of course, healthcare reform, succeeding where Clinton failed.  None of these successes, though, are particularly popular with the general public.  The reason why relates to Obama’s main problem:   After winning by a (more…)

Published in: on September 25, 2010 at 10:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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Column for 2 May, 2010

SLOUCHING TOWARD NOVEMBER

 “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”

                                                                                            –Exodus 23:9

 Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Bill Flores, a registered Democrat and occasional tourist in the 17th Congressional District, has won the Republican nomination to get his head handed to him by Chet Edwards.  He’s also given me hope that I too can be a Republican candidate for Congress, since like him I voted in the Democratic Primary in 2008, although unlike him, I voted in the general election.  Also, I didn’t lie about it.  Repeatedly.  In public.  Say what you will about Chet, but he has the devil’s own luck in drawing opponents: Arlene Wohlgemuth (the only Republican too extreme for this district), previous carpetbagger Nicholas Van Campen Taylor (who at last found a county to pretend to live in where people will vote for him), and the hapless Rob Curnock.  You’d almost think Chet was recruiting these people.  In other news, State Senator Kip Averitt suddenly discovered that he has had diabetes for the last several years, a revelation that occurred only after the filing deadline and which caught both him and the GOP establishment completely off guard.  His erstwhile primary opponent, Darren Yancy, nevertheless managed to lose what was essentially an uncontested race.  This might have something to do with the fact that Yancy is a kook, running on the issue of state nullification of Federal law, an issue most of us who passed high school US history thought had been settled with the death of John C. Calhoun.  There’s also the little matter of his real estate license being suspended for violating the real estate code and being found to be “negligent…incompetent…dishonest…untrustworthy[y].”  So, clearly, he will fit right with the Republican caucus.  In the upcoming special election, Yancy faces former State Senator and current lobbyist David Sibley, Brian Birdwell (a military veteran severely wounded during the 9-11 attack on the Pentagon), and the lone Democrat, my former Baylor history political science professor, the redoubtable Dr. Gayle Avant.  I expect that Sibley has the edge in this very Republican-leaning district for reasons of money and name recognition, but the expected anemic turnout means all bets are off.  In fact, Sibley’s run makes me think the State could save money by simply privatizing the entire Legislature.  The lobbyists already run the place, so why are we bothering to pay 181 men and women to hang around every two years and pretend like they are in (more…)

Column for 28 February, 2010

PLAYING FOR KEEPS

 “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.  In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  –Genesis 15:13

There are a few hopeful signs that Barack Obama and the Democrats are starting to realize that they are actually in charge of the government now and are expected to govern.  First, coming off a well-received State of the Union Address, Barack Obama was handed an opportunity on a silver platter:  House Republicans invited him to a caucus meeting, where he proceeded to school them on live national television.  I expect the GOP will be somewhat better prepared at the Health Care Summit; at the very least they will keep twits like Jeb Hensarling away from the microphones.  Second, Senate Democrats have evidently discovered that 59 votes out of a hundred constitutes a majority.  Third, politically tone-deaf big health insurance companies chose precisely the wrong moment to announce massive rate hikes while simultaneously posting record profits, thereby reminding people who have been cool to reform so far just why they despise big health insurance companies.  And yet, it’s taken a year and a humiliating defeat in the Massachusetts Senate (more…)

Published in: on February 27, 2010 at 12:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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