Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona has refused to pardon a man who has spent 35 years in prison for murders he didn't commit.  He was framed by his wife, an employee of the local sheriff's department.  Why would a sitting governor do such a thing?  The speculation is that because she is running for re-election, she cannot afford to "look soft on crime."  We have all heard this phrase or a variant of it for as long as we have bothered to keep up with politics.  It is one of the most enduring cliches of American electoral politics, that a candidate must "look tough on crime" to be seriously electable.  Leave for the moment the question whether the cliche is even accurate (count me a skeptic).  That cliche is part of a wider phenomenon that has twisted the American criminal justice system into something that is far more criminal than just, part of a mindset divorced from the principles of the Founding Fathers that has taken one thing that used to be so great about this country and turned it into exactly what our Revolutionary forefathers fought against.  That phenomenon is the "It-will-never-happen-to-me" syndrome.  Too many of our criminal laws are made and approved by politicians and an electorate who assume they will never have those laws applied to them, and who therefore don't bother to think through the real world consequences of the laws.

The Founding Fathers formed a system of "innocent until proven guilty" that placed limitations on the prosecutorial power of the state because they personally had been subject to the prosecutorial powers of the British Empire, and they knew how it felt.  They felt the injustices personally, and they were determined not to inflict those injustices on their fellow citizens.  They sought to protect future generations of Americans from what had been done to them.  They knew what it felt like to be staring down the barrel of the government's gun.  As a result, they insisted on the right to attorney, limitations on search and seizure, the right to a public trial in front of a jury of their peers, with the right to confront one's accusers.  They also fashioned a limited criminal code and tried to codify the idea that people had all the rights not specifically proscribed, with a government that had only the powers specifically enumerated.  They recognized that the people with power over others are the true threat.

We have forgotten that truism.  We have fallen prey to the age-old technique of fear-mongering, and allowed laws to be passed that flout all of the principles upon which our criminal justice system supposedly rests.  Politicians and the electorate have conspired together to craft a criminal code that is voluminous, cruel, and arbitrary.  We have developed a criminal procedure that protects arbitrary searches, deceives the citizenry, assumes guilt, stacks the deck in favor of the prosecution, and locks people away for long periods of time over trivial offenses.  We lock people up at a rate far in excess of any other nation on earth.  The "freest country on earth" has the most citizens locked up.
The way it works is like this: some politician needs votes to get elected, or needs votes for a pet piece of legislation.  So he seizes upon some news story, or some heart-wrenching letter from a constituent, about a heinous crime and he builds a caricature of the offender.  The target offender group is always politically powerless for one reason or another.  He then uses that caricature to blow the issue into a major "threat to public safety and order," a crisis requiring immediate action, and promises to "get tough" on this new threat.  The people respond to the threat with outrage, and demand immediate action.  A law gets passed punishing offenders severely.  The public is grateful, the politician gets what he wants, and everyone is happy.

The problem is that the caricature is not accurate.  It is not the Serial Killer, the Drug
Pusher, or the Deadbeat Dad who commits the vast majority of the offenses and goes to prison for years.  It is someone you know, a real person.  The vast majority of crimes are committed not by Criminals, but by real people with real lives who feel real feelings and make real dumb decisions.  In my personal experience as a criminal defense lawyer, I have come across very few "Criminals," and very many scared and desperate people who reacted to fear of loss with some very stupid decisions.  I've liked most of my clients.  Most of them are actually pretty decent people.  I could see myself being in their situation if things were a little different in my life.  And the system treats them abominably, because it doesn't view them as people.  It views them as two-dimensional cardboard cutouts, because that is the way the laws view them, because that is the way they are presented to a gullible public by a cynical ruling elite.

Most of the worst abuses of our criminal justice system that result in people being locked away for years (and rendered virtually unemployable) unnecessarily result from this phenomenon of passing laws targeting caricatures.  If we want to roll back these abuses and prevent ourselves from falling for this technique in the future, all we need to do is remember to "walk a mile in another man's shoes" before judging him.  When some politician proposes a new "get tough on crime" law, imagine yourself being in the situation where you might commit that crime.  Does it make you an evil person by itself?  Should you be locked away for years because of it?  Should you be ostracized and denied opportunities for the remainder of your life because of it?  Can you imagine gray areas and mitigating circumstances?  Is the true situation necessarily as stark and extreme as it is being protrayed?

I want to confront these abuses.  I want to show how the Drug War, marijuana prohibition, mandatory minimum sentences, three-time loser laws, and many other similar laws resulting in our massive incarceration rate and huge law enforcement budgets get their driving force from this caricature phenomenon, and how they destroy real lives by the millions.  I want to  delve into the realities and consequences of these laws, and propose real alternatives.  We need to constantly seek to do what the Founding Fathers did, and view the law as something that could be applied to us.  We need to attempt to view our fellow citizens as People Like Us, and not cardboard cutouts depicting some stereotyped Other.  We should seek to make the American criminal justice system about Justice, the way we all want it to be.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

OK, so it wasn't 3-0 but USA won group C and will play Ghana in the round of 16 on Saturday.  Saturday happens to be my First Anniversary!  Landon, Clint, Tim and Jozy, y'all can give me the best anniversary present possible if you WIN!  I am hoping for Uruguay to beat South Korea for two reasons: 1) I can't stand South Korea and 2) Beating Uruguay will bring more prestige.

I have nothing to say about the game that hasn't already been said, but I will add my voice to those acclaiming this team for it's heart and refusal to die.  I'm not one for jingoism, but I will say this team is everything I like to root for in a sports team or any group of people.  I have found the USMNT to be well worthy of fanatical support since qualification for the 2002 World Cup, and this edition is the best of all.  It is gratifying to see Landon Donovan mature into a great team leader, and I see the best yet to come for him in this Cup.

Saturday will be huge.  I would say that as round of 16 games go it could not be bigger than the 2002 game, but any World Cup knockout stage game is of monumental import and historic significance.  If we win, we will be one of a very few nations to make it to the quarterfinals of two World Cups in the twenty-first century.  Despite what people will want to say about our style or quality of play, those types of results in the most significant tournament in world soccer necessarily make a nation a member of the elite.  The world will have to admit that the USA has become a world soccer power.  It is a goal that I and many other Americans formed in the mid-90s as we were drawn into this game.  For me it was 1997 when my son was five and our soccer careers (his playing and mine coaching) began.  Thinking back to where American soccer was then and comparing it to what I see now -- on youth and scholastic fields as much as on professional and World Cup fields -- the growth in our game is astounding and something that everyone who has been a part of US Soccer (and that includes ALL youth players and coaches, as we are all members of the USSF) can be proud of.  The efforts of ALL of us have brought the USA to this historic moment, having won a group for the first time in modern soccer history.

I know that over on The Shin Guardian they are saying that the USA might be only the third or fourth best team in this knockout group, but I don't seeing any of these teams knocking us out.  This team has grit and perseverance.  It has Will.  It is going to take a Power to put us out of this tournament, and neither Uruguay, Ghana, nor South Korea is a Power.  The semi-final berth is there, and Landon Donovan is going to lead this team into it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Filip Bondy is like the football commentator who says halfway through the fourth quarter that the trailing team 'has to score here to get back in this game,' then the team fails to score there but comes back to win later. He wrote in the daily news that the USA had to beat Slovenia to stay alive.  We all know what happened, and the USA is still very much alive.

Fact is, the USA is not only in great shape to advance, but also to win the group. Contrary to Bondy's reflexive negativity, the USA is probably the most likely team to win the group outright.  The only way the USA does not have a chance to win the group is if Slovenia defeats England, an outcome that while quite possible is unlikely.  The English side has too much quality to continue playing punchless football.  A draw is the worst result likely for England.  If England and Slovenia draw, a US win over Algeria will put USA top of the group unless Slovenia scores  more goals than USA scores.  Highly unlikely the Slovenes will pull that off if the USA is winning its game.

If England beats Slovenia, it will depend on goal differential.  If USA defeats Algeria by more than England defeats Slovenia, then the USA wins the group, and vice versa.  If the margins of victory are the same, USA wins the group unless England scores 2 more goals than USA scores.  Again, highly unlikely.

Basically, if USA beats Algeria by two goals, that will probably make USA the group winner.  Winning a WC group will be a step forward for US Soccer, regardless of what happens in the knockout stages.  It will also set USA up for a deeper tournament run.

I feel good about this USA team, and think this is going to be a special Cup for America.  In fact, I am predicting a SEMI-FINAL appearance!  Yes, I am irrationally exuberant, but with reason.  I love the heart of this team and believe that they will catapult from the Slovenia injustice to a series of good performances.  We have seen that the USA can beat and compete with the BEST when playing at our best.  I believe that Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra and Michael Bradley will will this team to strong performances from here on out.  Cup history is replete with deep runs from teams that struggled early in group play.

This team has ability.  Jozy Altidore is going to score some big goals.  Landon Donovan is a world-class elite player, and he is finally in his prime.  Remember, he was the outstanding player of the U-17 World Cup back in the day, and that tournament featured some names that are among the pantheon of today's pros.  Bradley is the type of young, up-and-coming professionals who make their bones in the World Cup.  He's a tremendous player and will prove it.  He has more big goals in him.  Clint Dempsey is able to make magic.  We are coming into our own as an attacking team.

Defense is the problem, and I would pin it at concentration.  Our guys have not been able to bring the constant focus that is required for defense.  I think the Slovenia game will focus our men.  Nothing like a sense of having been wronged to motivate men.  If our defense prevents the lapses in coverage, Howard will deliver clean sheets.

Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride.  A 3-0 thumping of Algeria will put the USA on top of the group, and into the round of 16 against Ghana or Serbia.  I want Ghana.  I want revenge for that 2006 travesty.  After that, one upset win of a more favored team puts us in the semifinals where a true contender subdues us in a taut, thrilling match that leaves US fans thirsting for more.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Next American Hero: Tim Howard

I've been a fan of Howard for about ten years now.  It is wonderful to see him get his chance on this stage.  I guess he was the keeper in '06, but that team was dysfunctional.  Now there is a solid team in front of him, and he provided the edge in outperforming England.  Even after getting cleated in the chest, possibly suffering broken ribs, he didn't let it show and played an outstanding match.  He's had bigger performances, such as Spain last year in the Confederations Cup, where the US withstood a more potent onslaught, but this one is to date the most significant.

It seems that Oguchi Onyewu was as much at fault for the England goal as was the more obvious Ricardo Clark.  Yes, Clark should have marked Gerrard's run, but Onyewu abandoned his space in the back four to go for the ball, and it was that space Gerrard ran through.  Had Onyewu maintained discipline, he would have been in position to defend the pass to Gerrard.  Onyewu made the same mistake several times, but only that one was punished.

Overall, though, the US defense did quite well.  Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney are an attacking trio as able as any in the world, and they were held in check.  Rooney was a non-factor for most of the game, and even late was not able to impose on the game.  We will need better from Onyewu in future games, but he was playing his first full game, and his first meaningful game at all, since October.

Next up is Slovenia on my daughter's birthday.  I know next to nothing about Slovenia except that it is an eastern European side.  I have no idea if we should be favored or not, but I want to see a win.  If we win that game, we will probably be in shape to advance.  But I don't want to just advance.  I want to win the group.  I want the prestige and the competitive advantage of winning the group.  I'm looking for Landon Donovan to lead us there.  A goalkeeping hero can keep you in the game, but it takes a field player to win it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Goldenrod contains latex.  Rubber can be made from it.  Thomas Edison experimented with it, developed a process and a rubber-rich strain of the plant, and turned his results over to the U.S. government.  Nothing was done with it.  Gee, I wonder why.

Goldenrod will be the next plant I experiment with.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Form small communities of barter and shared labor.

Make vows to each other of eternal loyalty to takers of the oath against all others.  Only take the vows if your spouse will take the vows also.

Gradually withdraw from the dominant society.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Our system is going bankrupt.  Is there anyone who really thinks, deep down in his unconscious processes where most of the real work of thinking takes place, that we can go on living this way for a long time?  Really?  You really believe that we can support this level of expense and debt indefinitely?  We are a debtor nation.  We are a consumer nation.  We borrow and buy.  That is our function in the world economy.  We depend on the rest of the world for everything. 

When I think about the number of people on public assistance -- and I don't mean the stereotypical worthless shits lying around making babies and collecting a welfare check -- the demographics, the job prospects out there, the amount of unpaid child support and student loans, the amount of debt in general, health care costs, and the potential solutions that are within the realm of possibility as serious alternatives in this political system, I do not see how the American people can keep this economy afloat for long.  Wages are so low and obligations so high that I see many people who work 40 hour weeks and cannot afford to live.  When you can't get a decent room for one person for less than $500 a month, and a typical full-time retail worker makes $7.50 an hour, you've got people trying to pay rent and live on take-home of around $1000 per month.  Put a child support order for $245 per month for two children, and an order for $160 for another child by another mother, and you now have another person in a completely dependent position.  If he's really stupid in his late teens and early twenties, he'll have a couple more kids with about $350 more in court-ordered support.  He also has arrearages in all of his cases, is ordered to pay another $150 toward his arrearages, and every two or three months he is back in court with another court-appointed lawyer trying to stay out of jail for non-payment of support.  He will file a motion to reduce or two, and usually get denied.  Eventually, he will be sent to jail.  He will lose his job.  Now he will be on the looking-for-work/going-to-jail treadmill, and a system that has no mercy for losers like him will just send him to jail over and over again, expecting him each time to get out and within a week get work that allows him to pay that $900 per month in child support.  These expectations are completely without basis in reality.

And into all this the new President offers --

"And did they get you to trade . . . cold comfort for change?"