Saturday, January 17, 2009

Maryland Governor says Abolish Capital Punishment

Alan Colmes' wonderful site called Liberaland, ran this story. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley said in an interview that he plans to invest heavy political capital to persuade the General Assembly to pass a repeal bill.

O’Malley said the death penalty is not a deterrent, wastes resources that could be better spent fighting violent crime and leaves the state open to the possibility of executing innocent people. “That risk alone should be enough to repeal it and substitute it with life without parole,” he said.

The quote comes from the Washington Post, but rather than linking to that source, I linked to Alan's site because the comments are as great. As usual both extremes of opinion are expressed. Why do the hard-line conservative opinions seem so ridiculous? Is it just because I disagree, or is it more? For example, you have the phrase, "then your ass gets cooked in the chair." But that commenter qualified it by saying only if 100% guilt is established.

The comment thread on the Colmes' site degenerated, or should I say ascended, into a pretty healthy debate on abortion. The old, "how can liberals be for abortion and against the death penalty?" was asked. The ones who ask that are usually guilty of exactly the opposite belief system: against abortion but for capital punishment. Guess which group I align with.

Above all, in the governor's comments I noticed a terrible lacuna. He mentions the non-deterrent factor, and the waste of resources. He talks of the probability of executing an innocent person. But no mention is made of the moral question of whether it's right or wrong. For me that's the major reason for abolition.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

John Amato on MSNBC

Big hat tip to Skippy. Seeing Reagan and Clinton, made me lose hope in Obama. It made me think all politicians are the same.

Defensive Shooting in Atlanta - Robber Killed

Right on the front page of CNN today, this fascinating video appeared describing what happened in Atlanta the other night. I believe if I failed to post about this one my entire comments section would go into revolt. That's a joke. The truth is this is an extremely rare story, as anyone who reads CNN every day will tell you. The question we never satisfactorily resolved is "why?"

The AJC site has the story. After some dancing in the Graveyard Tavern, a popular East Atlanta night spot, a couple returned to their vehicle parked nearby. A man approached the passenger-side window. Atlanta police Detective Michael Willis describes the action.

Believing the man was going to beg for money, the passenger rolled down his window a few inches, Willis said. But he had a strange feeling about the man, so he grabbed his gun from the glove box and put it on his lap, Willis said.

He asked the stranger what he wanted, and noticed the man was reaching for his waistband or pockets, the detective said. Instinctively, the passenger shoved open his door, knocking the suspected robber back a few feet, Willis said. The woman started screaming.

The man got out of the truck and the suspected robber raised a weapon at him, Willis said. “When he saw that, he just started shooting,” the detective said.

The man shot the suspected robber five or six times, in the stomach and chest, Willis said. The robber did not fire any shots.

“He just got the jump on him,” Willis said of the victim. “He told me he fired until the guy was no longer a threat to him.”

This story bothers me a little bit. Mainly, why did it take five or six shots, all in the torso of the would-be robber? I would imagine the bumbling thief was no longer a threat after the second or third round. Officer Willis seems a bit quick to defend the shooter. Aren't the police supposed to be more suspicious than that?

But, assuming it happened exactly like that, I must admit it makes a beautiful argument for carrying a gun. I'm afraid it's a big assumption, though that it happened exactly like that. There must be cases among these defensive shootings in which it was really capital punishment meted out by a single citizen. One good guy killing one bad guy. If the bad guy was doing something bad, if he had a gun, the good guy easily gets away with it. The police help because it makes their job easier.

What do you think? Did this sound like a justified shooting to you?

Let's say the robber really did threaten to shoot the couple by raising a gun, and the man shot him in justified self defense, but kept shooting three or four times after the threat ended. Adrenalin was pumping, it happened fast. How bad is that? I say not so bad. It shouldn't even require the statement that "he fired until the guy was no longer a threat to him." The only question is was it justified to fire the first time. If the robber raised a gun, then yes it was justified.

Why is it that the main stream press so rarely runs a story like this? I'll bet it gets plenty of clicks. I don't think it's because these defensive gun stories aren't "sexy" enough. I say it's because they happen much less frequently then the violent, misuse-of-guns stories. That's why. Then when you remove all the defensive gun stories that are really murder, good guy killing bad guy, what's left? Not nearly as much as some people say.

What's your opinion? Do you think CNN has an axe to grind against the gun folks and for that reason suppresses these stories? That's been suggested around here, but I find it unconvincing.

What do you think?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wiretapping With No Warrent Upheld

Thanks to Weer'd World Arrrr regular commenter, Queenfan04 for the link. The New York Times reports that a secret federal court upheld the constitutionality of warrentless wire-tapping.
In a rare public ruling, a secret federal appeals court has said telecommunications companies must cooperate with the government to intercept international phone calls and e-mail of American citizens suspected of being spies or terrorists.

Where are we, for crying out loud, Saudi Arabia, North Korea? What is this "secret" business anyway? Plus, weren't we supposed to be getting away from this kind of thing now that we're on the threshold of a new era?

After much debate about whether this actually violates the 4th Amendment's Guarantee to the Right to Privacy, the court decided it meets the criteria for an exception.
Coming in the final days of the Bush administration, the ruling was hailed by the administration and conservatives as a victory for an aggressive approach to counterterrorism. The Justice Department said in a statement that it was “pleased with this important ruling.”

Didn't Obama promise to lessen the power of executive privilege? Didn't he criticize President Bush for secretly ordering the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the international communications of American citizens without the approval of Congress or the courts? I guess we'll soon see if he sings a different tune as President.

What do you think he'll do? Do you think he'll live up to his promises? Do you think this is too much power invested in one branch of government and therefore too much temptation for abuse?

Please feel free to comment.

John Connolly ex-FBI Agent Sentenced to 40 Years

CNN reports on the final chapter on the John Connolly story. He's the ex-FBI agent who inspired the role of Matt Damon in The Departed. In discussing this case before, here and here, I don't think much sympathy for Connolly was expressed. I myself thought he was certainly guilty; after all, he's already serving 10 years for racketeering. Now it's been bumped up to 40 for Second Degree Murder.

The cast of characters in the trial must have been something. Whitey Bulger, absent because he's on the run, was the boss of the Boston mob that Connolly was involved with. Stephen Flemmi was a high ranking member of the gang, now in prison. John Callahan was the World Jai-Alai exec targeted in the murder. John Martorano was the hit man sent to kill him based on information provided by Connolly.

But what I noticed is this:
During the first two decades of his FBI career, Connolly won kudos in the bureau's Boston office, cultivating informants against New England mobsters. Prosecutors said Connolly was corrupted by his two highest-ranking snitches: Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi.

During testimony, jurors heard that Connolly was on the mob payroll, collecting $235,000 from Bulger and Flemmi while shielding his mob pals from prosecution and leaking the identities of informants.

Isn't that what an undercover agent is supposed to do? Isn't this a perfect description of the dilemma often faced by undercover people: where to draw the line. By shielding his mob friends and providing information to them and by taking the money wasn't he solidifying his position with them in order to perhaps ultimately get the big guy? What do you think?

What lends credence to this idea is the fact that the real Donnie Brasco, Joseph Pistone, might have testified about the difficulties faced in covert situations like this, but he refused to take the stand after the judge denied his request to testify anonymously.

Might Pistone have been able to convince the jury that Connolly was just doing his job?

And, whatever happened to Bulger? Well you can see him on the FBI's top 10, right under Usama.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No Future For You

Wikipedia has the whole story on the Sex Pistols. I missed the punk movement somehow; I was into other things by then. Were these guys the leaders?

The Pistols' second single, "God Save the Queen", recorded in February with Chris Thomas, was released by Virgin on 27 May. Though widely perceived as a personal attack on Queen Elizabeth II,[39] Rotten later stated that the song was not aimed at her specifically, but was instead intended to critique the deference given to royalty in general. However, the perceived disrespect to the monarchy caused widespread public outcry. The record was banned from airplay by the BBC, whose Radio 1 dominated music broadcasting. Rotten later remarked, "We had declared war on the entire country—without meaning to!"[16]

Ricardo Montalban R.I.P.

I thank Weer'd for tipping me off to the sad news.

Weer'd Beard

I very much enjoyed the clip supplied by Steven, in memoriam.

Steven Hart

But for me, I'll always remember him as the Great Khan. Please notice though, no one, and I mean no one, can kick Captain Kirk's ass.

Giuseppe Setola, Camorra Boss, Captured

It's big news in Italy this morning that one of the rising bosses of the Camorra has been captured by the police. The International Herald Tribune has the story in English.

Investigators say the mobster Giuseppe Setola masterminded a terror spree that has bloodied the Caserta area of southern Italy for several months in a power struggle within the Camorra crime syndicate.

With a reputation as a sharpshooting hit-man, Setola, 38, has been convicted of murder and sentenced in absentia to life in prison. He escaped in the spring from house arrest, which was granted so he could recover from a purported eye problem.

Setola "was trying to escape by rooftop, further proof that he sees very well," Carabinieri paramilitary police Col. Carmelo Burgio told Sky TG24 TV.

The Italian police and legal system are known more for their bumbling bureaucracy than for their efficiency. Imagine a convicted murderer faking an eye ailment and getting house arrest out of the deal.

The brutality of Setola's world was dramatically described in the book by Roberto Saviano, which became the film Gomorra. It has received international acclaim as an amazing portrayal of what these Neapolitan gangsters have been getting up to.

What occurred to me, looking at Giuseppe Setola on TV this morning, was how normal he looks. This is not always the case, some of these guys look like the thugs they are, but I saw Setola smiling as the police were escorting him, and not in that lunatic way, but smiling like a regular guy. One quote said that at the moment of his arrest he said to the cops, "All right, you win."

The truth is he and the scores of young men who take orders from him are cold-blooded killers of the first order. How do you think people get like that? Are they born that way? Is it learned in childhood? Is it like James Gandolfini's character said in the great movie, True Romance?

"Now the first time you kill somebody that's the hardest. I don't give a shit if you're funckin' Wyatt Earp or Jack the Ripper..." (his speech starts at 3:40)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Book Banning in the High School Library

Another controversy about book banning has erupted in a small town in Oregon.
A book of cartoons featuring rabbits that commit suicide in various ways will remain in the Central Linn High School library, school board members said Monday.

"The Book of Bunny Suicides," by British humorist Andy Riley, follows 100 rabbits as they search for new ways to commit suicide. It has been the focus point of a long-running debate among the school board members since October, when parent Taffey Anderson threatened to burn the book after her 13-year-old son brought it home from school.

Shouldn't the school board members be allowed to decide which books are to be made available in the school library? Would determining that something is not appropriate be tantamount to book banning?

In this particular case, the ACLU of Oregon issued a "warning that removing the book could violate the First Amendment." But would it really? Isn't it up the school board?

Does the book, which is so offensive to some parents that one of them threatened to "burn" it, really pose a danger for high school kids? Is it possible that some depressed kids who get their hands on this "Rabbit" book will suddenly be inspired to actually take their own lives?

What about other books which may be deemed offensive? The school board decided after much debate to keep "The Book of Bunny Suicides," but would they feel that way about, say, a book called, "How to Build a Bomb Using Fertilizer," or "The Dos and Don'ts of School Shootings?" Should books like that be kept in the high school library? And if not, would that represent a violation of the First Amendment?

When we talked about this before, one interesting thing that came up was that some books "advocate homosexuality," and may be dangerous for young people. What do you think about that? Do we have to have those in the high school library in order to not violate the First Amendment?

What's your opinion? Is it OK for teenagers to read the "Bunny" book? Is there any point of trying to shield kids from offensive material? Who has the authority to decide what is offensive? And besides, isn't it all available on the internet nowadays?

Please tell us what you think.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Bush Farewell

Reports and opinions abound on the internet about President Bush's final farewell press conference. CNN reports that the President admitted mistakes but touted some accomplishments.
"Clearly, putting a 'Mission Accomplished' [banner] on an aircraft carrier was a mistake," Bush said about how his administration handled the fall of Baghdad to U.S. troops. "It sent the wrong message."

I thought that may have been the most embarrassing moment, but to mention it as a "mistake" seems to be an attempt to smokescreen the real mistakes. By contrast, more egregious things were called something else.
He termed other aspects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq "disappointments," including the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

On the site, Jacob Weisberg analyzed the outgoing president's term like this.
Bush's three most obvious legacies are his decision to invade Iraq, his framing of a global war on terror after September 11 and the massive financial crisis.

Probably the biggest question Bush leaves behind is about the most consequential choice of his presidency: his decision to invade Iraq. When did the president make up his mind to go to war against Saddam Hussein? What were his real reasons? What roles did various figures around him—Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice—play in the decision? Was the selling of the war on the basis of WMD evidence a matter of conscious deception—or of their own self-deception?

I feel these are good questions. To mention the silly incident on board the aircraft carrier as a "mistake" while describing these other troubling situations as "disappointments" is political spinning at its most transparent.

What's your opinion? Do you think Bush's selling of the Iraq war "on the basis of WMD evidence" is a punishable offence that should be investigated at the international level, as some have suggested? When do you think the President decided to invade Iraq? That seems to be an important question about which experts disagree. Do you think it was mainly his own idea or was there pressure from other sources to go to war?

Please feel free to comment.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dallas Gun Buy-Back Program

On the fascinating pro-gun site, Say Uncle, there's a post about the gun buy-back program being proposed by the Dallas City Council. This is a bit different from the Los Angeles program in which they offered food coupons for the guns.

Dallas police and churches have sponsored gun buyback programs in the past with relative success, paying from $50 to $200 per weapon surrendered.

"Folks can feel comfortable about bringing those guns in without going to the police station and feel threatened to be arrested," said Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway.

Caraway, speaking during a taping of Inside Texas Politics, said the goal is to get as many guns off the street as possible.

Commenters on both the Say Uncle site and the site he linked to were unanimously critical of the program, which I find surprising. Several people said the guns being turned into the so-called "buy-back" program are often not in working order, one person said 95%. I don't believe that. It was suggested that a program like this would encourage thieves to break into people's homes to steal their legally-owned guns in order to redeem them for the cash. Another idea was that the criminals use these programs to recycle their junk guns and upgrade them using the money.

What do you think? Why are legal gun owners so against a program like this? How does it hurt them?

The way I see it, the only problem here is it's only a drop in the bucket. The problem of gun availability is so vast that these few guns being removed is sadly inconsequential. But how about this for a motivation: let's say a junkie turns in his cheap gun for the $50 or $100 they offer, goes out and shoots dope till the money's gone. The next day he tries breaking into someone's house, gets busted and because he has no gun, goes to jail kicking and screaming. He's kicking and screaming because he knows he's going into withdrawals and will be kicking the dope that night. But no one got shot - not him, not the cop, not the homeowner, no one. Now, wouldn't that be worth it?

What's your opinion? Please let us know.

You Know the Difference Between a Lawyer and a Catfish?

The New York Times has published an article about Joseph Tacopina. Formerly a prosecutor from Brooklyn, he became known as the legal voice in the courtroom of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the ever-present voice of unconditional support for its officers. Recently, however, things have changed.

But a jagged crack has opened between Mr. Tacopina and the police union.

Mr. Tacopina recently defended Lillo Brancato Jr., the former actor who was charged in the killing of an off-duty officer, and the strain on the longstanding relationship showed at the end of a day of jury deliberations.

The president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch, himself not camera-shy, accused Mr. Tacopina of the high crime of smirking in the courtroom.

“To sit there and have a professional attorney laughing as if this was a joke in front of a dead man’s family is the most insulting thing that ever happened in front of a bench in this state,” Mr. Lynch told reporters outside the courtroom.

Although Tacopina denied that either he or his client "smirked," the mere suggestion of it indicates how the relationship between himself and the police has changed.

The NYT article says the strain was increased all the more with the acquittal of Lillo Brancato of the most serious charge against him: felony murder, in the death of Officer Daniel Enchautegui. Mr. Brancato was convicted of attempted burglary, and was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison.

Does it mean that Joseph Tacopina has switched from high profile police cases to high profile celebrity cases? Could Lillo's defense be called that, high profile? The animosity on the part of the police is interesting. Do you think it's part of that old "Blue Fraternity?" They're the ones who think killing a cop is worse than killing anyone else, and defending a cop killer is almost as bad.

I hasten to add, nothing could be worse than what happened to Daniel Enchautegui. The pain and suffering of his family should not be lost in these discussions. Yet, I feel 10 years for attempted burglary is a bit heavy. And I feel personal attacks from the PBA spokesman against the defense attorney are inappropriate especially when that attorney has been a great champion of theirs.

What's your opinion? Could it boil down to the idea that accused cops are somehow better than other accused people? Defending dirty cops is OK, but defending dirty criminals and cop killers is not? What about Tacopina's having been a prosecutor first? What kind of transition do you suppose that was, from State's attorney to defending accused cops?

Please leave a comment.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Top Twenty Country Songs of All Time

I could never claim to be a country music fan. That's why I was so surprised to be familiar with so many of these tunes, and to actually like them. I noticed the same thing a few months ago with the Sci-fi books listed as the best. In music I go for rock and roll. In books and films, I go for thrillers and suspense especially the gangster genre. Nevertheless, having been born and bred in the great melting pot during a time when communications across cultural and geographic borders exploded, other interests have made their way into my brain.

Patsy is the best, no offense to Johnny, whom I also appreciate very much. (most of the videos have become unavailable, sorry about that).

Mexico to Ban Toy Guns

The New York Times reports on a proposed toy gun ban in Mexico. Othón Cuevas Córdova, a Mexican congressman, is behind the move.

Cuevas' proposal to ban toy weaponry, introduced on Thursday, is one of a number of legislative proposals aimed at addressing in one way or another the explosion of killings and kidnappings that Mexico is experiencing.

Lawmakers have suggested legalizing marijuana to reduce traffickers’ profits, bringing back the death penalty for kidnappers and reducing the age at which criminal suspects can be tried as adults to 12 from 18, among other measures.

The bills face varying probabilities of success and are in some cases dismissed as irrelevant by security experts. But they show the concern, and even desperation, that many politicians feel toward the state of their crime-racked country.

Now let me get this straight, in addition to banning toy guns, the other proposals are 1. Legalizing marijuana, 2. Capital punishment for kidnapping, and 3. Trying 12 to 18-year-olds as adults.

Banning toy guns makes good sense to me, not so much for the immediate situation but for the long range. In fact, teaching kids that violence is not the answer is probably the only hope we have of curbing the vicious cycle. So eliminating the look-alike playthings of that cycle may be part of it.

Legalizing marijuana works for me too. The NYT article goes on to say that it has scant possibility of acceptance, but it opens talks of decriminalization like what was recently adopted in MA.

Capital punishment is never an option, I say, nor would it help in any way. Actually, I believe it would exacerbate the already dreadful situation if the death penalty were expanded in Mexico to include kidnapping and other crimes short of murder.

Trying young offenders as adults is out as far as I'm, concerned. I agree with what Weer'd has commented a few times that it's an individual call whether a kid might have the mental capacity to actually belong in the adult category, but since it's impractical to sort that out, they need to stay in the juvenal system. Resources may be needed there to accommodate the numbers.

After so much meandering around, we finally got down to the real problem: real gun availability. Now, I realize what can happen in a violent society when people have machetes by the thousands, lìke in Rwanda a while back, and I saw how many knife and strangulation murders there were in Jersey City last year, nevertheless, I'm gratified to see the government of Mexico agrees with me that something needs to be done about the "flow."

One priority of Mr. Calderón’s government is to reduce the number of real guns in Mexico, the vast majority of which are smuggled into Mexico from the United States. That is likely to be high on the agenda when Mr. Calderón meets with President-elect Barack Obama on Monday in Washington.

What's your opinion? Do you think it harms children to play with toy guns? Does it lead to violence and difficulty in handling confrontation as adults? Would legalizing marijuana help diminish the bloodshed in Mexico? How about the death penalty and trying kids as adults, would they help?

What do you think about the flow of guns into Mexico? We talked about it before; did we come up with any solutions?

Please leave a comment.