Saturday, December 20, 2008

Miguel Roman Freed

The Hartford Courant reports on the release from prison of Miquel Roman. I spotted the story, which we've discussed before, only by reading Sarah's wonderful site. Why would this not be a major headline in the main stream press? Some of our gun enthusiast friends accuse the press of being biased against them, of suppressing defensive gun stories and the like. Is this the same thing? Do the major outlets of news shun stories which work against the criminal justice system?

Earlier this year, Innocence Project lawyers asked that DNA evidence used against Roman be retested. The retesting, with new technology, appears to have exonerated Roman and pointed to another man, Pedro Miranda, 51, who was charged on Dec. 5 with killing Lopez and two other teenage girls from Hartford in the 1980s. Miranda's DNA had been stored in a state database as a result of his convictions on felonies for sexual violence against women.

What could be a more fascinating lead story than that?

What's your opinion?

The War on Drugs is Vamping Up

CNN reports on the incredible story in which The United States and Mexico pledged Friday to redouble efforts in the war against drugs.

The $1.4 billion plan, proposed by President Bush in 2007, funds training, equipment and other assistance for Mexican law enforcement. Congress recently approved an initial $197 million, which the Bush administration made available to Mexico this month.

Could any program be more doomed to failure? Is this anything more than an attempt on the part of a lame-duck administration to spend a bunch of money before the end of the year? To me it's a pathetic joke.

"The United States and Mexico have reaffirmed a commitment to enhanced partnership, cooperation, training, assistance [and] information-sharing, built on the premise that we have a shared responsibility to confront these criminals and protect our citizens, and that success requires increased cooperation," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after the group's first high-level policy meeting.

That's the world famous Condoleezza who said that, the one whose track record speaks for itself.

We've discussed the problems in Mexico before. What's to be done? How can we diminish the hunger for cocaine that exists in America? Would legalizing the drug help? Is it really so difficult to intercept these huge shipments of coke or is it simply a matter of corruption? In which case, how can we combat the corruption that allows the drug business to flourish?

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Teah Wimberly Pleads Not Guilty

The Miami Herald reports on the second court appearance of Teah Wimberly, the 15-year-old accused of murder. She's the one we discussed before who allegedly killed her best friend who'd recently broken off the friendship.

Police said Wimberly told them she shot Amanda because "I wanted her to feel pain like me."

The family of Amanda Collette, the murdered friend, have called for increased security at the school, specifically mentioning metal detectors. As far as I can see, no one is talking about arming the teachers. Sadly, in a case like this, it probably wouldn't have helped anyway.

Of interest to me is the gun, not because I think it's an evil inanimate object with a frightening power all its own, but simply because it's availability to the young jilted Teah made this tragic incident possible.

It remains unclear how Wimberly obtained the gun -- a .22-caliber chrome pistol -- used in the shooting. Fort Lauderdale police said they would not release information about the gun or its owner until the grand jury hears the case.

Do you think Teah Wimberly committed a crime of passion? Does a spurned lover who lashes out at the object of her affection enjoy full mental capacity? Should such a person receive psychiatric help or should she just cool their heels in the state penitentiary for a good long while? What's your opinion?

Many people think I'm too soft on criminals, but in my defense I remind you of cases in which I agreed the violent repeat offender should not be on the street. But doesn't Teah qualify for compassion?

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

Snow in Las Vegas

CNN reports on a rare snow storm that hit Las Vegas. It reminds me of a day in about 1978, perhaps the last time it snowed there which the article refers to. I was playing cards during the afternoon in a small casino on the Strip. There was a window facing the street through which fluffy snowfall could be seen, white and beautiful. As the afternoon passed, and my chips slowly disappeared, the snow lent a dream-like effect to the scene. Driving home in the early evening I saw groups of adults, threes and fours of them, out playing in the snow like children. There were snowball fights, people running and sliding on the sidewalks. Some must have been transplants from the Northeast reliving their childhood. Others were natives who'd never seen snow in their lives. A rich memory it is.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No Commutation for Arnold King Says MA Governor

The Boston Globe reports on the hard line taken by the Massachusetts governor in the case of Arnold King.

Governor Deval Patrick yesterday denied the first commutation petition to come before him since he took office, concluding that a man serving a life sentence for shooting a Boston political aide to death in 1971 received "just punishment."

This decision came in spite of unanimous support by the Parole Board, various community leaders and interested academicians for his petition. During his 36 years behind bars, King earned undergraduate and master's degrees, mentored fellow inmates, and participated in programs counselling youths about the pitfalls of drugs and violence. Nevertheless the governor felt this case did not meet the exceptional circumstances necessary for executive clemency.

By the age of 18, Arnold King had already proven to be a violent repeat offender. In the intervening years, however, he seems to have turned his life around. Can good behaviour while incarcerated be interpreted as really turning one's life around? Is it possible that for three and a half decades he was faking his rehabilitation and if released would return to his old ways? What do you think?

Should the decision of a Parole Board be set aside by a governor? I thought the governor relies on their judgment and just rubber stamps it. What's your opinion?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Festival of Zappadan

Zappadan is a yearly festival to celebrate the life and music of Frank Zappa. It begins on the anniversary of his death, Dec. 4th and ends on his birthday, Dec. 21st. I first read the word on Litbrit, which led me to several wonderful sites, The Brain Police, Steven Hart, Alan Colmes, Fossil Apostle and The Aristocrats, all big fans of Zappa.

Frank was known for his innovative musical genius and his outspoken support of the 1st Amendment. I've always liked him because he didn't play the commercial game, you never see him on MTV, for example, and for his great music.

I picked up these two videos just because they appealed to me. The first, Cosmik Debris, is Franks "reply to spiritual hucksters," according to the Fossil Apostle. The second, Trouble Coming Every Day, was inspired by the Watts riots in 1965. The lyrics are there if you like.

The mystery man came over
And he said Im outta sight!
He said for a nominal service charge
I could reach nirvana tonight
If I was ready, willing and able
To pay him his regular fee
He would drop all the rest of
His pressing affairs and devote
His attention to me

But I said look here brother
Who you jiving with that cosmik debris?
Now who you jiving with that cosmik debris?
Look here brother, dont waste your time on me

The mystery man got nervous
And he fidget around a bit
He reached in the pocket of his mystery robe
And he whipped out a shaving kit
Now I thought it was a razor
And a can of foaming goo
But he told me right then when the top popped open
There was nothin his box wont do
With the oil of aphrodite, and the dust of the grand wazoo
He said you might not believe this, little fella
But itll cure your asthma too

And I said look here brother
Who you jiving with that cosmik debris?
Now what kind of a guru are you, anyway?
Look here brother, dont waste your time on me
(dont waste your time)

Ive got troubles of my own, I said
And you cant help me out
So, take your meditations and your preparations
And ram it up your snout!
But I got the crystal ball, he said
And held it to the ligh
So I snatched it, all away from him
And I showed him how to do it right

I wrapped a newspaper round my head
So I looked like I was deep
I said some mumbo-jumbo, then
I told him he was going to sleep
I robbed his rings and pocketwatch
And everything else I found
I had that sucker hypnotized
He couldnt even make a sound
I proceeded to tell him his future, then
As long as he was hanging around
I said the price of meat has just gone up
And your old lady has just gone down!

And I said look here brother-who you
Jiving with that cosmik debris?
Now is that a real poncho or is that a sears poncho?
Dont you know, you could make more money as a butcher?
So, dont waste your time on me
Dont waste it, dont waste your time on me

Well I’m about to get sick
From watchin’ my TV
Been checkin’ out the news
Until my eyeballs fail to see
I mean they say that every day
Is just another rotten mess
And when it’s gonna change, my friends
Is anybody’s guess

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ‘em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Wednesday I watched the riot…
I seen the cops out on the street
Watched ‘em throwin’ rocks and stuff
And chokin’ in the heat
Listened to reports
About the whiskey passin’ ’round
Seen the smoke and fire
And the market burnin’ down
Watched while everybody
On his street would take a turn
To stomp and smash and bash and crash
And slash and bust and burn

And I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ‘em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Well you can cool it,
You can heat it…
‘Cause, baby, I don’t need it…
Take your TV tube and eat it
‘N all that phony stuff on sports
‘N all THOSE unconfirmed reports
You know I watched that rotten box
Until my head began to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
The newsmen say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so
And further they assert
That any show they’ll interrupt
To bring you news if it comes up
They say that if the place blows up
They’ll be the first to tell
Because the boys they got downtown
Are workin’ hard and doin’ swell,
And if anybody gets the news
Before it hits the street,
They say that no one blabs it faster
Their coverage can’t be beat

And if another woman driver
Gets machine-gunned from her seat
They’ll send some joker with a Browning
And you’ll see it all complete

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ‘em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Hey you know something people
I’m not black
But there’s a whole lotsa times
I wish I could say I’m not white

Well, I seen the fires burnin’
And the local people turnin’
On the merchants and the shops
Who used to sell their brooms and mops
And every other household item
Watched the mob just turn and bite ‘em
And they say it served ‘em right
Because a few of them are white,
And it’s the same across the nation
Black & white discrimination
They’re yellin’ “You can’t understand me!”
And all the other crap they hand me
In the papers and TV
‘N all that mass stupidity
That seems to grow more every day
Each time you hear some nitwit say
He wants to go and do you in
Because the color of your skin
Just don’t appeal to him
(No matter if it’s black or white)
Because he’s out for blood tonight
You know we gotta sit around at home
And watch this thing begin
But I bet there won’t be many left
To see it really end
‘Cause the fire in the street
Ain’t like the fire in the heart
And in the eyes of all these people
Don’t you know that this could start
On any street in any town
In any state if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
For some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree
There ain’t no great society
As it applies to you and me
Our country isn’t free
And the law refuses to see
If all that you can ever be
Is just a lousy janitor
Unless your uncle owns a store
You know that five in every four
Won’t amount to nothin’ more
Then watch the rats go across the floor
And make up songs about being poor
Blow your harmonica son!

In Las Vegas - Road Rage or a Hit

The Las Vegas Sun reported on an incident which happened the other day.

A motorist stuck in traffic Tuesday morning in the central Las Vegas Valley exited his vehicle and fatally shot another driver also waiting in traffic, police said.

At first it appears to be an obvious case of the old road rage. But as the story unfolds, one has to wonder.

According to a witness on the scene, police said, the victim was in his vehicle waiting to go west on Owens when a man who was also in traffic left a white Nissan and walked up to the vehicle, then shot the victim multiple times. Police said the gunman calmly walked back to his vehicle and left the scene, making a U-turn eastbound on Owens.

That part about "calmly walked back to his vehicle," makes me think. Maybe I'm watching too many gangster movies, but I can't help but wonder if the guy wasn't a hit man following his quarry and calmly blowing him away at a red light.

No, it was probably road rage and just another example of the evil inanimate object causing harm all by itself.

What do you think road rage or a hit? Do you think there are too many guns out there or not enough? Should the victim have been armed himself for protection, or maybe the other witnesses?

Please leave a comment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trigger Happy U.K. Policemen Return to Duty

The Guardian reports on the decision to allow the Police Officers who killed the Brazilian man in the subway to return to duty.

Scotland Yard will allow two firearms officers who shot and killed Jean Charles de Menezes to return to frontline duties, even though an inquest jury fundamentally rejected their account of the shooting and criticised almost every aspect of the police operation, the Guardian has learned.

Thanks to our frequent commenter Tom for the heads up. I had missed this story, interestingly it does not appear on the BBC, but if you remember we had discussed it before. At that time I referred to these cops as "trigger-happy," and questioned if it was right to only punish their superiors. It now seems clear that is exactly what's happening. But, given the public uproar, and the international attention, the police officers involved may not escape unscathed.

Crucially, the jury did not believe the testimony of C12, the specialist firearms officer who fired the first shot. He said he had shouted the warning "armed police" at de Menezes, and that the Brazilian had stood up and moved towards him aggressively, as if to close down the distance between them. They also rejected the testimony of officer C2, who said he shouted "armed police" as he put his gun to de Menezes' head and fired. None of the civilians in the carriage heard the warnings.

It sounds to me like this is just another example of people abusing their power. I understand the heat-of-the-chase factor and the incredible stress associated with pursuing a possible terrorist, but that's exactly why police officers have to be held to a higher standard. These cops are more culpable than many of the killers we enjoy discussing and dissecting.

What's your opinion? Do you think this has something to do with the general tyranny which is taking over the U.K.? That seems to be Tom's point in commenting yesterday.

If you told people in the UK 20 years ago that their entire lives, from emails to phone conversations would be monitored, down to having the highest number of CCTV cameras per capita of any place on earth after having been forcibly disarmed by their government for "their own good" they would have laughed at you. Where are they now?

I've yet to meet a British person who feels that way. What do you think?

Lavenston Horne Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

The Miami Herald reports on a surprising decision reached by a jury in Miami. A Miami-Dade jury reached an extremely rare verdict, finding a Miami man not guilty of murdering his parents by reason of insanity.

Johnnie Horne was fixing dinner on July 8, 1996, when his troubled younger son walked into the kitchen. Horne's wife, Mary Anne, was on the phone in another room when she heard the first gunshots. When she rushed into the kitchen where her husband lay dying, her son turned the gun on her. After killing his mother, Lavenston Horne took aim at his sister, Inga, shooting her over and over again.

"Who's the king now?" he yelled at her.

That's a pretty insane thing to do. But when he was arrested, Horne claimed his father did the shooting and turned the gun on himself. That most improbable lie, according to the lawyers, made an insanity defense very difficult because it indicated an understanding that killing was wrong.

Nevertheless, the defense team was able to convince the jury to send the killer to the state mental hospital instead of the penitentiary. One theory as to why the jury came to this decision is the way the defendant appeared in court. Often that has a greater impact on their decision than the actual inciden itself.

I mark this as another indication of the positive direction we're moving: away from the death penalty. As Sarah wrote the other day, cases like these can one day result in "the death knell for the death penalty."

What's your opinion? Should killers who are completely crazy be held accountable? Should they be judged with the same standard as say the mafia hit man who does it for money?

Please tell us what you think.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Bill of Rights

I learned on that today is the day in 1791 that the Bill of Rights was ratified.

The Bill of Rights is commonly viewed as consisting of the first ten articles of Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America. But it is the specific guarantees of individual liberties in the first eight amendments that the public normally regards as the Bill of Rights.
It seems like I hear more about the 2nd Amendment than any of the others, of course that could be due to what I'm reading. The whole thing seems a bit antiquated to me, I must admit. Haven't many of these Amendments been variously interpreted through the years? There are ones about the nature of an accusation, about the “assistance of counsel” for the defense, the right to a trial by jury in civil cases, and the Amendment which protects individuals from punishments that are too harsh and fines and bail that are too high. Haven't these rights been treated in an extremely flexible manner throughout the centuries?

Why then is the 2nd Amendment spoken of with such reverence, as if it were an untouchable right, certainly not something up for interpretation or even discussion?

In 18th Century America weren't there a number of laws that have since been changed or actually repealed? Why would the 2nd Amendment be considered inviolate? Why do I so often here about the "Founders," as if that should lend weight or credibility? Aren't they the same guys who had slaves and denied women basic human rights? How does that work?

I'm sure these simple questions have been asked and answered, but indulge me if you would.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Colombian Drug Kingpin Extradited to Miami

The Miami Herald reports that Diego León Montoya Sánchez, was extradited Friday from Bogotá to Miami on federal charges of trafficking cocaine, laundering money and murdering witnesses.

At the peak of his power during the past decade, ''Don Diego'' commanded a narco-trafficking empire that exported at least 1.2 million pounds of cocaine to the United States and raked in $1 billion in illicit profits, authorities said. Montoya Sánchez's organization rivaled that of earlier generations of Colombian traffickers, from the Ochoa's operation in Medellín to the Rodríguez Orejuela's syndicate in Cali.

Since the defeat of the Medellín and the Cali cartels and now the extradition of this guy, perhaps the War on Drugs is succeeding. What do you think?

According to the article, back in the 1990s Montoya Sánchez took advantage of the demise of his former bosses in the Cali organization. Does that mean there's someone stepping up right now to fill his spot? It is said he controlled "export corridors along the southwestern Pacific coast." Does that sound like Mexico to anyone? Could this have something to do with the other discussions we've been enjoying lately.

I suspect in the big picture, arresting these guys and bringing them to justice costs a lot and does no good whatever. This is the War on Drugs at its worst. I suppose, attacking the problem at the source, at the place where the coca is grown and processed is as futile. That leaves only one aspect of the complex problem to focus upon: the hunger for drugs in the U.S. Can't something be done about that? What do you think? Is addressing the drug problem in America as much a waste of time as the other efforts that make headlines?

What's your opinion?