Archive for November, 2014

Ferguson’s Prosecutor Problems

by on Nov.26, 2014, under politics, society

I was asked what I think should have been different about the grand jury in Ferguson. You know, where a cop fired a gun at least 10 times and killed someone, witnesses disagree on what happened, and then the prosecutor who presented before the grand jury used the opportunity of announcing the verdict to whine about the media for 20 minutes.

The grand jury process might have worked with a different/independent prosecutor. Charging a police officer is already a problematic thing given how closely prosecutors work with police on a daily basis. Some data points on this specific situation:

– Robert McCulloch is already known to be an unenthusiastic presenter to a Grand Jury when police officers are involved:

– Immediately after the shooting, there were people demanding an independent prosecutor:

– McCulloch is also President of a charity that supports Police Officers and Firefighters’ families. That’s not a bad thing, but it is another clear indicator that he might not be objective:

– Right after the killing, a video of Michael Brown stealing a pack of cigars was leaked to the media from the prosecutor’s office. Because shoplifting $3 worth of merchandise justifies getting gunned down in the street – and because they were interested in helping the police.

– Read the Grand Jury testimony. Wilson is walked directly to why he felt his life was in danger. He isn’t interrogated – he essentially appeared in front of the Grand Jury with the prosecutor interested in establishing that he was in grave danger, and that his actions were justified. He is allowed to go on and on about how intimidated he was by someone the same height as him, and dismiss any other options before he drew his gun, but not asked about emptying his clip to gun down a fleeing suspect:

– Here’s one analysis of testimony:

– Here’s some other analysis of the grand jury testimony:

– The context of all of this is very racially divided city with a bad history. The rejection of any call for independent oversight happened in a town already convinced the local justice system was out to get them – and they weren’t wrong:

– This is not a new problem. I think that the protestors have hope that this is the time people will pay attention. It’s not hard to find examples of police violence. The statistics I could find reported some number between 400 and 1100 police killings a year. I have no doubt that most of them are justified by circumstance – but even if 3 out of 4 are justified, that’s almost a person a day wrongfully killed by police. Do you believe that the justice system that they work with every day takes a hard, uncompromised look at the circumstances?

When the people in charge are so arrogant that they don’t even attempt to avoid conflicts of interest and abuses of power, they are very difficult to trust. If you still did for some reason, anyways.

My friend Curtis also had some thoughts:

“It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.”
– Justice Antonin Scalia – 1992 – US vs Williams

“And you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not act in lawful self-defense and you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not use lawful force in making an arrest. If you find those things, which is kind of like finding a negative, you cannot return an indictment on anything or true bill unless you find both of those things. Because both are complete defenses to any offense and they both have been raised in his, in the evidence.”
– Prosecution instructions to jury members in the Daren Wilson Grand Jury Session

There is no “presumption of innocence” in a Grand Jury. There is no probable cause determination in a Grand Jury. The prosecution from their opening remarks to their summary statements were actively trying to block this indictment. I’m pretty sure the trial (if it had happened) would have just been more of the same.

All the white people lecturing about the proper way to protest might want to consider that when you are repeatedly ignored, you are likely to raise your voice.

Leave a Comment more...

Mom’s Echoing Again

by on Nov.11, 2014, under politics, society, Uncategorized

So my mother posts some fairly right-wing essays, and then asks for respectful debate on them. I’ll give it a try, but if something is simply dishonest or wrong, it’s not an issue of politeness for me to point it out.

Seriously, read the essay first. You can tell by the author credits in his bio where this is headed, but still give it a try.

For starters, anyone who ignores simple inflation when throwing spending numbers around is intellectually dishonest at the jump. This error is compounded by ignoring that the country has grown over the period he’s talking about, so of course all figures are going to grow. Medicaid and Medicare costs are subject to the unsustainable increases in the cost of medical care, so they are also artificial accelerators in the fake numbers.

Finally, lumping Social Security in with all entitlement spending ignores the demographic spike of baby boomers hitting retirement age over the last few years. If you wanted to reason about the issue of entitlements, you’d separate Social Security, or at least acknowledge the issues in including it. If you need scary numbers, you count Social Security the same as food stamps or unemployment to make your point.

Real subtle to slip in this, too: “…minimum wages, maximum hours, and mandatory benefits for employees, or rent control for tenants. ” – which is simple regulation of commerce, not the creeping tendrils of the welfare state. No one who talks this way is attempting to make a reasoned case for anything. They are only trying to rile up people that are already receptive to the message, and further insulate them from reality with shoddy reasoning designed to convince them that the other side are all idiots who don’t see “obvious” things, instead of people who don’t accept the same framing.

For example, the framing of approaching the entire set of issues of common social welfare as one single issue, and then only with dollars and cents. That’s no way to consider or conduct complex policy that affects the health and well-being of people. I’m not saying to ignore money, because of course we want to get value for what we spend. I’m saying that money is not the start and end of the conversation.

And that’s the most obvious bullshit in the whole thing. Poverty *is* diminished by welfare spending. It’s preferable to be poor in America in 2014 instead of 1964, or 1914. Social programs are only successful if we achieve zero poverty? Is it really so hard to imagine that despite some waste and fraud, real people benefit from what we spend on social programs? Millions of children, elderly, and disabled people get housed and fed this way. Despite this fact, social programs are often characterized as setting money on fire.

The structural problems in our economy are growing poverty pretty fast, too – real wages are flat over the last 40 years despite a six-fold increase in worker productivity and greatly reduced job security and retirement benefits, while housing and health care continue to climb as a percentage of income, pushing people closer to the edge. The fact that we subsidize too-low wages with social programs, instead of the wages being high enough to not need them is also part of the issue.

I can’t blame people who can’t reason more effectively, but I can blame people who won’t. This guy knows – or should know – his version of “facts” as presented have obvious errors of reasoning in them. This does not qualify as debate.

2 Comments more...

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!


A few highly recommended websites...