The rantings of a Public Defender constantly fighting against society's pervasive Police Industrial Complex. Enjoy the unique perspective of one whose life's work is to fight the system through the system.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Deeper Musings About Sara Palin

The polls are shifting not so well for Obama (Tremors!) and there are lots and lots of theories. I am swayed by the idea that Sara Palin is having an impact on the race. Conservatives love her, and they are rallying around McCain in response. I will give an additional critique of Palin to add to what PD Dude has said.

I am bothered that many people seem to treat Palin without ANY scrutiny. She is a fresh face in politics, she's pretty, and she has very little political history from which to judge her. She also has a multi-multi-million dollar attack machine behind her known as the GOP to get her message shaped. It is in this context that we should look at Palin.

First, how did we get here? McCain was probably desperate after looking at the polls and seeing Obama's convention speech, and he wanted a "game changer." You don't need to believe me. The reports are there that McCain was going to pick Lieberman or Romney, but he realized he wasn't going to win that way. He wanted someone who would energize the Republican base and who wouldn't detract. He went deep, deep into the bench (more precisely, he picked from the grandstands) to find Palin. She is a perfect example of the politics of today and how some people win who otherwise wouldn't.

Those of you who remember what happened to Governor Gray Davis in California will understand this. In 2003 Governor Gray Davis was deeply unpopular. California has been truly mismanaged for years, thanks to an uninformed electorate scolded by lots and lots of "special interests." Davis won re-election in 2002 through a deeply cynical maneuver: He should have faced Richard Riordan, a very popular Republican mayor of Los Angeles. But the problem with Republicans is that they won't elect those who fall a little outside orthodoxy. Riordan was pro-gay rights and pro-abortion, two really big no-no's for a Republican. But he was highly popular, and very likely could have beaten Davis. So Davis intervened in the Republican primary and spent millions of dollars trashing Riordan by saying those two things: he was pro-gay and pro-abortion. These two issues would have HELPED him in the general election, and they were pretty much the same positions held by Davis. But this was toxic to the Republicans. Bill Simon, a very conservative Republican, beat Riordan and then went on to lose. It was inevitable. Simon was great for the Republicans, but no one else liked him. Davis was tolerable by comparison and he cake walked to victory. The Republicans were pissed.

They got even when Davis kept stumbling. Davis got gamed by Enron and others, and he just couldn't bring himself to raise electricity rates (or undo the whole "open market" electricity thing that was being gamed by private electricity companies). People in California are, were, and have been pissed for a long time about how their government is so dysfunctional. Davis was a great example of what people hate in politicians. Although he is a Democrat, he mercilessly shook down the teachers union for campaign contributions, and even changed some of his core positions when the CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association) cut him some checks. He just didn't seem to have any moral center, and he didn't have many supporters when he needed it. He even took some money from energy companies like Enron, and this made it look like he was dragging his feet and costing California billions. Voters were mad.

The recall election in 2003 was the first time ever that a state public official was removed from office in California, although 17 other recall efforts had been done before. It was ugly. Davis was removed by a margin of 55.4% to 44.6%. Schwarzenegger was then elected governor (by the same ballot) with 48.6 percent of the vote. Schwarzenegger would NEVER, EVER have made it through the Republican primary process. Just ask some Republicans now how much they like Schwarzenegger and they will likely say that he is a "Socialist," or a "Democrat," or some other epithet that they hate. Point is, only through this extraordinary process did Schwarzenegger come to office.

One to Palin. Palin supports abstinence-only education, and that means what it says: no sex ed in the schools. This isn't just her opinion, but the opinion of someone a heartbeat away from the presidency. She has a 17 year old daughter who is now pregnant. Palin denied funds recently (she used her line-item veto and zeroed the funds out) to a home for underage, unwed mothers, particularly those suffering from domestic violence. Message: I don't want your kids taught about sex education on the government's dime, and I don't want poor unwed mothers cared for on the government's dime, but I, myself, have a 17 year old who didn't get the message and is having a child early. Palin's own pregnancy is the subject of some really questionable judgment about why she flew 8+ hours from Texas (after waiting hours to give a speech), then drove to a little hospital, all after she was leaking amniotic fluid (technically she was in labor) one month early with a special needs child (i.e. Down syndrome).

Palin lied about the bridge to nowhere (she advocated for it, then claimed in her first national address that she said "no thanks") and lied when claims to be against earmarks, yet eagerly sought them both as mayor of a small town and as governor of Alaska.

As governor, Palin sought to fire her sister's ex-husband from the state police (and if what he did was true, he no doubt is a jerk), then instead fired the head of the state police (also a jerk who probably deserved to be fired) when he refused to fire the guy she wanted to be fired. But then she lied about the whole thing and has repeatedly sought to have the whole investigation placed under the control of a three person panel that she controls.

Palin tried to get the librarian to ban certain books from the library because she thought they were offensive, and when the librarian refused to do so, Palin started the process to fire her.

Palin did a nasty speech at the Republican convention where she mocked Obama's time as a "community organizer" and essentially labeled him as a guy with no real experience. What chutzpah. But now she hides from the press, afraid of what questions they might ask HER about HER experience, and the issues above. Her surrogates in the media, meanwhile, blow smoke about legitimate questions about her, claiming that such questions are really about the fact that she has 5 kids (So what?), or that she is a woman and Democrats are being sexist (Wow!). Never mind the fact that she is simply a political unknown,and she hasn't been through the process to find out who she is and what she stands for.

And that is actually the point I was getting at regarding Schwarzenegger. He was a political nobody, with no previous office experience. He would have been eaten alive in the Republican primary because he is a "creature of Hollywood" and he is, in fact, a closet moderate. Republicans would have avoided him if they had the chance. Palin, on the other hand, would have been a darling of the Republicans. Until, of course, someone like Huckabee, or Romney, tore her apart for her clear lack of experience. Now she is the #2 girl to the oldest man to seek the presidency ever. McCain is 72. He's got a great chance of dying in office, and Palin will then take his place.

Hats off to Republicans for getting their "stealth candidate" into the ring. I have no doubt that, between her and McCain that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. I have no doubt that people will grow more and more pissed at their dysfunctional government. I sure hate to lose this round (and I hated losing when Bush took it in 2000 and 2004), but I know that, if McCain wins, the American people will be getting exactly what we deserve. Maybe not what we want, but definitely what we deserve.

Dennis Wilkins
The Guest PD Blogger

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

About the Aquittal of Former marine Nazario

Just before the weekend started, the federal jury in the trial of former Luis Nazario found the former marine not guilty. Good for him, I suppose. As a public defender, I enjoy hearing when the DA loses a case. I like it when someone is found not guilty, and a jury stands up for the rule of law. Whenever I hear a jury say (to me or to anyone else) "there just wasn't enough evidence to justify a guilty verdict," my heart skips a beat. That means that the jury was actually listening to the instructions about reasonable doubt.

Of course, the Nazario verdict cuts another way, a way that I am not fond of. He's a cop (temporarily former, but he'll probably get his job back) and he was a marine at the time. A jury will typically bend over backwards to help this kind of defendant. The minority defendant who claims that the rock of crack was planted on him by a bad cop will lose every time, but the former war-hero-turned-cop will win every time.

In fairness, the case against Nazario was actullay pretty tough to prove. Two witnesses, Sgt. Ryan Wheemer (whose confession during a background check started the whole thing) and Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, both refused to testify against Nazario and were found in contempt of court. Both still face murder charges in their upcoming courts-martial trials (although I seriously question whether there will be a different result). Both Wheemer and Nelson had been granted immunity, but neither was willing to rat on Nazario.

The witnesses called by the prosecution said that they did not see Nazario kill anyone, but heard the gunshots. There apparently were no forensics and no identities to back up the prosecution case.

There has been some discussion about whether civilian juries are "prepared to judge in cases of soldiers in combat" and I suppose that that is a fair question. But I have a different one: what on earth was the US Attorney thinking when he prepared and tried this case? I mean, really, how did he expect to get a conviction without eyewitnesses? Without forensic evidence? He knew these two witnesses would not testify. Why didn't he stop there? Without some serious proof that Nazario either killed people after they had surrendered, or that he had ordered their killing, why did he/she proceed?

The killing of people after they have surrenedered is, and always has been, a bad thing. I was and am against all the torture stuff that happened at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib (and the whole Iraq War, for that matter), primarily because of the human costs and atrocities. But I also don't like the idea of doing those things because later, when our people are captured, I want to be able to raise some righteous indignation to possibly prevent torture of our people if and when they are captured. That's the whole point of the Geneva Conventions - our people have some hope that their captors will treat them better if they are afraid that the whole world will vilify them if they mistreat captured soldiers.

Long ago I was in the National Guard (and the Army before that) and there was talk of us being activated to go to the first Iraq War. It never happened (thankfully), and that war turned out to be very brief. But during that time my fellow soldiers and I had a great discussion about the Geneva Conventions. I remember one guy in particular saying he simply wouldn't abide by "any of that stuff" and that he would kill everyone, even those who surrendered to him. To him the Geneva Conventions was "for pussies." I think he was joking (he sure sounded serious), and I remember that some were swayed by his nonsense talk. I even quizzed what he would do if, like 20 or 30 Iraqis surrendered to him all at once. He said that he would kill all "those ragheads" (his words, definitely not mine). Again, some others were swayed by his nonsense talk.

Later, when Desert Storm turned into such a huge cakewalk (thankfully) and the Iraqis were surrendering in droves, I saw a tape where 1000+ Iraqis tried to surrender to a predator drone. I'm really glad that neither I, nor my fellow Guardsmen went to that war. Or any war, for that matter. Learning how to kill is important in the military. But learning when NOT to kill is also important. I think that this kind of testing, moral and otherwise, happens all the time in Iraq today. And it is also frequently present on our city streets, tested by police officers frequently.

Dennis Wilkins
The Guest PD Blogger

Monday, September 01, 2008

Musings about the Sarah Palin thing

It feels a little like shooting fish in a barrel, or piling on, or something of the sort, but there is just so many places to go with this Sarah Palin pick as McCain's VP pick, that I just don't know where to begin. And I just can't leave it alone, because some of it is too glaring. A few random thoughts:

1) Alright, I understand it, she's your precious little daughter, and we want to protect her privacy. So the question is, when she's 5 months pregnant and due in, when is that, oh, election time, WHY THE HELL ARE YOU ACCEPTING A BID TO BECOME VP KNOWING IT WILL BECOME A PUBLIC SPECTACLE????? Maybe you don't support your daughter that much after all.

2) Why are we hearing this stuff from Palin and McCain that her daughter has "chosen" to have the baby and will marry the father (at some undetermined time - 10 years from now?)? In their view, having a child is not a choice, it's a crime to abort! Why use the language of her having a choice when they feel that this choice is akin to taking your live child and drowning it in a bathtub. They don't lionize their children by saying "she's chosen not to kill her 3 year old child after losing her job and going on welfare." By suggesting that a choice exists, they totally contradict their language on abortion equalling murder.

3) So both McCain and Palin are running on this whole family values thing, like liberals are anti-American because they suggest that women can do equal work to men, and that they can choose to do so even after having children and starting families, or waiting to have families if that's what they want. And yet, we have this mother giving birth to a special needs child 5 months ago, her 17 year old daughter has clearly not absorbed much of what her mother has imparted to her on the "family values" front, and yet, Mom is going to decamp 8,000 miles to Washington DC for the next 8 years and leave her 5 month old to the care of who - her 17 year old pregnant and unmarried mother while she goes off to help a 72 year old man with cancer run the free world? Am I missing something here? What family are they valuing if not their own?

4) Finally, this one's too good. The Eagle Forum in Alaska, a right wing organization dedicated to ensuring traditional American values in our politicians, sent a questionnaire to Alaskan Gubernatorial candidates back in 2006. Gov. Palin was kind enough to respond. You can read her responses here on the Eagle Forum's website, but here's some goodies.

Regarding a woman's right to choose, Palin responded: "I am pro-life. With the exception of a doctor’s determination that the mother’s life would end if the pregnancy continued. I believe that no matter what mistakes we make as a society, we cannot condone ending an innocent’s life." good thing her daughter has "chosen" to have the child.

Regarding support for "abstinence-only" education instead of explicit sexual education, talk of contraceptive and things of the like: "Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support." Obviously her daughter heard nothing of them either.

Regarding allowing parents to opt out of school curriculum's that they morally disagree with, such as, well, Sex-ed: "Yes. Parents should have the ultimate control over what their children are taught." I'm telling you, it's getting harder and harder not to think that this came from a Saturday Night Live skit or an Onion article at this point. I mean, obviously, she opted her daughter out, to these results.

There is so much more to talk about, it's almost not fair. The funniest thing is, most people won't care. They'll support her for whatever idiotic reason that they do, despite the fact that had she been a Democrat, they'd vilify her as a closet lesbian spear chucker who doesn't shave and wants to burn society's bras, imprison it's men, and establish worldwide female hegemony.

Don't worry, there will be more, I mean, she's only been the candidate for 3 days. But like I said, it won't matter, most Republicans would rather vote for a 3rd term for George Bush than vote for any Democrat (and this is essentially what they'll be doing when they vote for McCain).