Color Bar

7 06 2010

Not too long ago in this country, there were two sets of laws in this country- one for whites and one for everyone else. This was (and is) utterly stupid and a violation of everything this country stands for. There are still vestiges of this unpleasantness lingering furtively in many neighborhoods in the country (not just the deep south), but it has largely been forced underground- for the most part. This is a good thing- it means that society (in general terms) is unwilling to accept this sort of inequality and injustice any more, and it will gradually wither and die out. Hopefully sooner than later.

Then we started paying more attention to another separate and unequal set of laws based on color. This time, the color was green. Court cases have been widely publicized wherein wealthy people- regardless of skin color- were allowed to treat the laws as suggestions. Acts which would land Joe Citizen in the pokey only resulted in verbal warnings or “personal recognizance” bonds for those with money. In court, the wealthy very rarely were forced to suffer the consequences of their actions until those actions grew into atrocities- and sometimes, even that wasn’t enough to put a really wealthy person behind bars. We’re still dealing with this as a culture, but the American people are growing less willing to put up with this sort of inequality as well. Call it schadenfreude if you will, but we like it when the wealthy get more than a slap on the wrist for breaking the laws. The trend for many years was toward fewer repercussions for those with money, and this, too, is un-American. It needs to become extinct.

Lately, however, a much more sinister color bar has raised its ugly head. There are increasing stories in the media about a new double-standard for laws based on color, only this time, the color is blue.

Let me start by conceding that police in this country have a tough job. This does not give them the right to treat the citizens who employ them as enemies, however. Unfortunately, this is increasingly the case.

The latest outrage concerns an off-duty police officer in Baltimore who shot an unarmed man to death in an alley behind a bar. This officer fired off all thirteen rounds at his target- who was about ten feet away- and only hit him six times. When the on-duty cops arrived, the shooter refused a breathalyzer test and was not arrested. But wait- there’s more! He was also involved in a drunken shooting in 2005, wherein he had shot someone in the foot during an altercation outside a bar. Sound familiar? Worse still, it turns out that this same officer had shot another unarmed man to death in 1995- this time shooting his victim in the back as he was running away.

After the first two incidents, why was this imbecile permitted to carry a firearm, much less remain a police officer? We (the People) grant police authority over us to enforce the laws, but the police don’t seem to enforce those laws fairly or equitably when a police officer is involved. When was the last time a police “internal investigation” returned a verdict that even implied that a police officer had broken the law- or even “departmental policy”? The police brass in the Baltimore incident privately said that they were “troubled” by the officer’s actions. Troubled? WTF are these idiots smoking? Why isn’t this officer behind bars right now? Oh, right. Two sets of rules- one for cops, and one for everyone else.

In some jurisdictions, it is now a felony to videotape the police in public during the performance of their duties. I’m having trouble finding any rational thinking behind that decision. The Supreme Court has ruled that no one has any inherent right to privacy in public, but that apparently doesn’t apply to police officers in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland. Other states haven’t made filming cops illegal, but some deliberately target citizens who do so with bizarre interpretations of anti-wiretapping laws. It’s almost as though the police are trying to antagonize the public they supposedly serve, and then deliberately remove any possibility of legal redress for those wronged by the police. Are they trying to force us to open that Fourth Box?

This crap is unacceptable, especially in light of the growing trend toward militarization of police agencies across the country. The police in this country are increasingly treating their own citizens worse than our military treats foreign civilians in the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. What happened to “protect and serve”?

When police officers break the law, kill or injure innocents, or engage in corrupt activities, it is the duty of other police officers to turn them in. Even if only a small percentage of police officers do these things, the fact that their brother officers refuse to allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions tars all police with the same rotten odor of corruption. If the police wish to behave as if the public the are supposed to serve is their enemy, they run the risk of the public returning the sentiment. I am naive enough to believe that would be a bad thing for everyone involved, so I’m having a hard time understanding the headlong rush toward just such a catastrophe.

Science fiction author Ed Howdershelt once gave a speech which included a phrase I find appropriate: “There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order.” The actions being taken by separate police agencies across the country are working to remove public access to these remedies. Police routinely cut other police officers a break for transgressions all the way up to felonies, while citizens who commit the same offenses are immediately arrested and jailed. Citizens who complain are subject to reprisals- some quite overt- and harassment from the police. Citizens who record the police in action are harassed, intimidated, and arrested for doing so, with little or no legal recourse. The public perception of widespread corruption among police is frankly more dangerous to successful police work than anything else. Here’s a clue chit for the police in this country: When you remove the legal means of redress- those first three boxes- you push the people closer and closer to opening that Fourth Box.

So what is the solution? How about acting according to your public mandate? Police are paid to enforce the law. Period. Full stop. There are no exceptions in the law for brother officers or the blue wall of silence. When a police officer breaks the law, treat him or her exactly as you would any other suspect. Better still, treat every suspect the same as you would a fellow officer. It’s a concept called “sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander“, which is just a fancy way of describing “equal justice under law“. If you’re a police officer, that is your only task- enforcing the laws equally. Anything less leads inexorably toward that Fourth Box. No one wants that.

I hope no one wants that.

Current status: Irate

Current music: Plush by Stone Temple Pilots

Random Bits

23 05 2010

Yet another extended failure to post. As is my custom in such instances,  I will now post a few odds and ends in lieu of making a more coherent narrative on a single topic. Lack of coherence, thy name is Archvillain.


This story has never received a lot of attention here in the US- or the western world in general, for that matter. There are several explanations for this, from media incompetence to thinly-veiled public disinterest in the affairs of “brown people”. I happened to run across a blog by someone actually on the ground in Thailand, who does a very good job of analyzing and explaining the “troubles” over there. Please read this blog.

I’m conflicted. The current government is technically illegitimate, because it came into being in the aftermath of a military coup. On the other hand, the current government is far less corrupt than any previous Thai government, and was democratically elected. The US has dealt with similar governments in other countries, some of which were much worse, in the past. Since it isn’t my country, I’m going to leave it to the Thais to work out. The fact the people like S.P. Somtow are involved gives me hope that things will turn out better than they are.


Apparently, the police in this country can’t spell. They’re supposed to be fighting the “war on drugs”, but they seem to have morphed that into the “war on dogs”. Here are a few links to show you what I’m on about.

Note that these are all fairly recent acts. Couple these events with the tendency of police to completely screw up the relatively simple matter of getting the right address when serving warrants, and every dog owner in the country should be getting on the phone to his local, state, and federal legislators to stop the carnage. Too many innocent people, nonviolent offenders, and even cops are getting killed as a result of this idiotic “war on drugs”- to say nothing of the wanton butchery of family pets. Politicians are fond of claiming that you have nothing to fear if you’ve done nothing wrong. This turns out to be a heaping pile of bullshit, like most political claims.

Just ask yourself how you would feel if the police raided your home by mistake and shot your dogs to death.


Back in the days before email (yes. I AM that old. Get off my lawn!), people used to get letters in the mail claiming a wide variety of really unlikely things and urging the recipient to pass the letter on. This practice was swiftly and easily adapted to email, and now these bits of nonsense are roaming around the web, infesting in-boxes with their drivel (and occasionally with malware). The only reason this continues is because people are invariably stupid enough to believe the lies and distortions of truth without checking into the matter.

Case in point: I received one of these nonsensical emails from a friend of mine. Never mind what it was about, I could tell right away it had the disagreeable odor of bullshit about it. So I spent a grand total of five minutes doing a little online research. The only sources for the “information” in the email were all deeply whackjob “newspapers”- the same ones which claim that aliens from outer space are impregnating our women, for one ludicrous example. Next, I did a little Google searching for the facts underlying the story. I found lots of information from a variety of sources- both in and outside the US- which directly contradicted the fearmongering in the email. I forwarded this research to my friend, with a gentle reminder to do some fact-checking before becoming outraged.

As consumers of information, it is our responsibility to do our own fact-checking. Find out the sources of the information and do a little digging of your own. You’ll be a lot better informed, and will also develop skills which are universally useful.


Whoo boy. I lived in Texas for several years. Despite the greyhound-size  mosquitoes, the debilitating heat and humidity, and the presence of herds of obstreperous christian zealots, I rather liked the place.

As I’ve previously discussed, Texas is one of the country’s largest purchasers of school textbooks (only California is larger). This gives Texas an inordinate amount of influence over what textbook publishers put into their products. That influence is even greater this year, because California’s budget apocalypse prevents that state from buying textbooks for several years. This means that whatever standards Texas sets for textbook purchases are likely to be adopted by publishers- who are understandably unwilling to print a different textbook for every state.

Enter the Texas Board of Education, a nominally independent group who determines the educational standards for all textbooks purchased in Texas. Since few people pay much attention to the actions of this group, the Governor and his religious cronies have managed to pack the Board with christian supremacists. Here is the result.

Ignoring the recommendations of experts, professional educators from far and wide, and any trace of objectivity, the religious fuckwits on the Board have decided to re-write history on their own terms. Gone is any notion that the Founders were adamantly opposed to mixing religion and politics. Thomas Jefferson is all but redacted. The existence of slavery in this country is being de-emphasized. Worst of all, gone is the fact that a majority of the Texas patriots who fought Mexico for Texan independence were Mexicans themselves.

Thankfully, the people of Texas (who aren’t all religious zealots with axes to grind) have become so alarmed at the rabid fanaticism of the current Board that many of them have been invited to go away and not return. Unfortunately, the damage will have been done by the time the new Board is seated.

Here’s an idea for the publishers: Make standards textbook templates and post them online. States can purchase these boilerplate textbooks as needed, with whatever local modifications they choose. Publishers will no longer have to juggle the competing standards of various special-interest groups, and states won’t be subject to the religious hypocrisy of a small group of fanatics. Everyone wins.

Except the students in Texas, of course. They’ll find out the hard way that their public education diplomas are literally worth less than the paper they’re printed on.

Current status: Vexed

Current music: Come Dancing by the Kinks

Last Chance

4 11 2009

Argh! The stupid, it burns!

I’ve spoken at length about the Four Boxes to be used in defense of Liberty. Those are Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo, and should be used in that order. The purpose of that saying is to discourage people from resorting to violence when peaceful methods are available- and more likely to produce positive results without a lot of unnecessary collateral damage to society. Implicit in that description is the idea that, at some point, the destruction of liberty becomes so onerous that nothing less than a total write-off and re-build is in order. If the justice system (Box #3) in this country stops actually providing justice, there will be little recourse but to wipe the slate clean and start over.

There is a case being heard before the Nine Worthies right now that has the potential to push the country over that particular precipice. Here is the story from NPR– just take care your blood pressure does not reach dangerous levels while reading it.

Worse than the initial criminal actions by the prosecutors and police in the original case is a single quote from the prosecutors- backed up by the Attorney General of the United States, no less: “There is no free-standing Constitutional right not to be framed

Pop quiz time: Can anyone point to any part of the US Constitution which might give lie to this assertion by trained legal professionals? Anyone? Buehler?

Let us take a look at the Fifth Amendment, shall we?

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

That seems to pretty definitively send the prosecutors’ argument into the shitcan where it belongs. The two men in question did not receive due process. They were maliciously framed by the police and prosecutor. Due process of law wasn’t even allowed in the courtroom.

The main issue seems to be Prosecutorial Immunity. Long-standing legal precedent holds that prosecutors cannot be held civilly liable when a case goes south on them. This is largely in place to protect prosecutors from civil penalty if they inadvertently convict the innocent. The prosecutors (who still claim that Terry Harrison and Curtis McGhee committed the crime in the face of really impressive evidence to the contrary) are trying to convince the Supreme Court that the Public Interest would be harmed by allowing any variation from the doctrine of Prosecutorial Immunity.

That’s as may be, and I could not care less. Two completely innocent men were framed by a Prosecutor and the police, and spent twenty-five years in prison as a result. I submit that the Public Interest is harmed far more by allowing prosecutors to withhold evidence and suborn perjury. The evidence for this assertion is simple and clear: If prosecutors can commit felonies with impunity against the very public they allegedly serve, our justice system (and the Republic on which it is based) is no more. The Supreme Court is the last resort for those who have worked their way through the first three Boxes. If the final appeal from the Third Box rules against the innocent victims, what choice do we (the People) have left?

The Supremes will probably issue a ruling on this early next year. I hope that they will rule in the interests of Justice over the interests of the rules and procedures. Reading past rulings lends a certain degree of hope that they will, but another chilling quote from a sitting Justice makes me fear the worst (“Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached.” – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia). If the Court rules in favor of the prosecutors, that’s it- game over. Such a ruling would mean that we are no longer free citizens, but serfs. Slaves to the Government, to be imprisoned at the whim of Government functionaries. If the Government fails to “establish Justice”, and “secure the blessings of Liberty”, it will be time to vote from the rooftops.

And that would be the end of the United States of America.

Current status: Disturbed

Current music: Play the Game by Queen