Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tizona update

See my first post (just an introduction, nothing fancy) here.


I'm big down under

No, there's no double-entendre there. Let me explain.

Since around the time I went on vacation last month my site hits have been way down. Way down. Like, just barely out of the single digits. I thought that the numbers would come back up once I was back into a regular pattern of writing again. But no. The numbers are every bit as bad this week as last week as the week before.

I was starting to get a little dejected about this. After all, my blog is over 3 years old and I should be WAY past the days of daily hits in the teens. Hell, in the previous months my hits were routinely in the 30-70 range. WTF!!!

I was starting to consider that maybe I'd never establish any sort of real following and even toyed with the idea of hanging up my soapbox. Then I received an email that changed my mind.

You've been invited to The Tizona Group at as an author.

If you don't care, just ignore this email. :)

WHA?!!?!? That's freaking awesome!!!!!

A little history. The Tizona Group is big down under. Again, no double-entendre. Tizona is a group blog featuring notables such as bingbing, spot_the_dog, thefrollickingmole, 1.618, and the Beef of God - Angus Dei. The Tizona Group is popular - approximately 2M site hits since its inception. The Tizona Group got more hits in one day - over 72,000 - than my blog has received in over 3 years!!!

Technically, Tizona is an "International Group Blog". It lives up to that status certainly, with bloggers located in South Korea, the US, and, if I recall correctly, the UK as well. But the vast majority of the contributors are Aussies, and the flavor of the blog is quite Australian. Fortunately, I speak the language.

I've been a follower of The Tizona Group for quite some time. I've....hinted....from time to time that I would love to be a contributor. And now it's finally happened.

This is the second blog to which I have been extended "author" rights, the other being Ye Olde Journalist, to which I've contributed from time-to-time since December of last year.

Much like a virus, I'm spreading. Damn it people, I'm gonna get you to read my shit one way or the other!!!! [/tongue-in-check]


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Prosecutorial misconduct - Texas style

When last I opined on the subject of prosecutorial misconduct, it was in the context of a fictional event from a television show. This is most assuredly NOT a made-for-TV miscarriage of justice. This is the real thing, and it cost a man 18 years and came this close to costing him his life.
For eighteen years Anthony Graves insisted that he had nothing to do with the gruesome murder of a family in Somerville. That’s exactly how long it took for justice to finally be served.
This is a tale of four prosecutors: one worthy of the harshest penalties society can mete against the wicked, one who showed himself to be a complete slimeball, one who showed himself to be a front-running publicity whore, and one who deserves to be praised from the rooftops.

Prosecutor Charles Sebesta is the worst kind of human scum. Let me count the ways.
  • Sebesta suborned perjury. Co-defendant Robert Carter was told that unless he testified, his wife would face criminal charges for capital murder as well.

  • Sebesta hid exculpatory evidence. Carter recanted his claim that Graves committed the crime with him before a grand jury well prior to Graves' trial AND the morning before he testified in the trail. Graves' defense was never made aware of this fact.

  • Sebesta used the power of his position to intimidate an alibi witness. Sebesta said in live court regarding that witness, "Judge, when they call Yolanda Mathis, we would ask, outside the presence of the jury, that the court warn her of her rights. She is a suspect in these murders, and it is quite possible, at some point in the future, she might be indicted.” No such allegation had been levied prior to this statement nor subsequent to the trial. This was bald-faced and cynical intimidation. Nothing more, nothing less. Needless to say, the witness fled the courtroom and never returned, nor did she testify.

  • Sebesta fabricated evidence. Graves' close friend Roy Reuter was asked if Graves owned a knife. Reuter, foolishly, said yes, that he had given Graves a knife just like one he himself owned. He - again foolishly - allowed the police to take possession of the knife. No surprise, the police "expert" found that the knife "fit the holes" in one of the victim's skull. Never mind that the knife in question was so flimsy it would have shattered upon contact with something as hard as a human skull, or that any one of a thousand knives would "fit" in a MF'ing hole. This, to Sebesta, was "evidence".

  • Sebesta employed the old tried-and-true "jailhouse snitch" technique, getting two skels to claim they heard Carter and Graves speaking in their cell and admitting their guilt. I can't believe that juries still fall for this. But they do, and cynical prosecutors know it. For the record, both snitches recanted later.
The Texas Rangers weren't exactly circumspect in their conduct in this case, either. But this isn't about them. This is about a public official that is expected to act in the public's interest and administer justice fairly.

Due to the work of a journalism class project and amazing investigative reporting by Pamela Colloff of Texas Monthly magazine (see here for the best pre-release details), Graves was freed from Death Row after 14 years in prison. The Federal appeals court issued a scathing rebuke of Prosecutor Sebesta.
In a unanimous opinion, the panel held that the state’s case had hinged on Carter’s perjured testimony. Had Graves’s attorneys known of Carter’s statements to the district attorney, wrote circuit judge W. Eugene Davis, “the defense’s approach could have been much different . . . and probably highly effective.” The court reserved particular criticism for Sebesta for having prompted two witnesses to say on the stand that Carter had never wavered, other than in his grand jury testimony, in identifying Graves as the killer. (Sebesta had done this not only with Carter but with Ranger Coffman as well.) Wrote Davis, “Perhaps even more egregious than District Attorney Sebesta’s failure to disclose Carter’s most recent statement is his deliberate trial tactic of eliciting testimony from Carter and the chief investigating officer, Ranger Coffman, that the D.A. knew was false.”
One would think that the Fifth Circuit's stinging rebuke of Sebesta coupled with their decision to free Graves would be the end of the issue. One would think. But remember, this is Texas we're talking about, and Texans are nothing if not persistent when it comes to being assholes.

The criminal justice system (heavy emphasis on the "criminal" part) decided to take one more bite of the Anthony Graves apple. The successor to Charles Sebesta decided to retry Graves. Never mind that the Fifth Circuit had stated as a point of fact that Carter's testimony was perjured. This is Texas, gawd-durn it, and when we say someone is guilty, they're guilty! In 2007, a special prosecutor, Patrick Batchelor, who, like Sebesta, had a penchant for convicting the innocent, was appointed to handle the retrial. One of his first actions was to try to pass the original case's transcript through a jury to get a rubber-stamp conviction. This action was rightfully disallowed by a judge.

For four more years Graves remained imprisoned, this time in County Jail instead of Death Row, awaiting his retrial. Seriously, four years? WTF?!?!?

In 2010, a new special prosecutor was appointed when Batchelor had to withdraw due to "health issues".  Unfortunately, those "health issues" weren't fatal.

The new special prosecutor was Kelly Siegler. Kelly Siegler is a superstar among prosecutors. She is 19-and-0 in death penalty cases. But she is also a courageous and ethical individual; after a complete review of the "evidence" against Graves, she moved to dismiss all charges. She herself said that Graves is "an innocent man". Courageous and unusual behavior for a prosecutor.

Not unusual was the behavior of District Attorney Bill Parham.
At a press conference at the D.A.’s office in Brenham—just across the street from the courthouse where Graves’s retrial was to have taken place early next year—Parham told reporters that he was “absolutely convinced” of Graves’s innocence after his office conducted a thorough examination of his case.
His office?!?!?!? If not for the courageous actions of outsider Siegler, HIS EFFING OFFICE would have rammed through another death sentence for Graves. What a tool!

Siegler wasn't done, not by a long shot.
Former Harris County assistant district attorney Kelly Siegler, who has sent nineteen men to death row in her career, went even further in her statements. Siegler laid the blame for Graves’s wrongful conviction squarely at the feet of former Burleson County D.A. Charles Sebesta. “Charles Sebesta handled this case in a way that would best be described as a criminal justice system’s nightmare,” Siegler said. Over the past month, she explained, she and her investigator, retired Texas Ranger Otto Hanak, reviewed what had happened at Graves’s trial. After talking to witnesses and studying documents, they were appalled by what they found. “It’s a prosecutor’s responsibility to never fabricate evidence or manipulate witnesses or take advantage of victims,” she said. “And unfortunately, what happened in this case is all of these things.” Graves’s trial, she said, was “a travesty.”
Yeah, about that. Surely criminal charges have been filed, right? After all, Sebesta is technically guilty of attempted murder!

Silly Vulture! This is TEXAS.
In 2007, Houston attorney Robert Bennett filed a bar complaint saying Sebesta and two assistant district attorneys acted unethically in the prosecution.

The State Bar dismissed the complaint, and officials said Sebesta has no disciplinary record.

But wait! Texas STILL isn't done effing with Anthony Graves!
Graves should have plenty of money -- about $1.5 million -- what Texas state law says 18 years of wrongful imprisonment is worth.

Graves told CBS News, "They stole 18 years of my life man for something I didn't even know anything about -- and they tried to murder me."

He'd at least have the money, Schlesinger said, if it weren't for a paperwork snafu. The prosecutor who dismissed the charges and set him free did not write that there was evidence of "actual innocence," and because he didn't use those two words, Graves doesn't get one penny.

"Two words, two words -- they're holding me hostage behind two words," Graves said. "They're holding my future hostage behind two words."
Texas. Effing Texas. Be glad you don't live there. Be very glad.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Maryland's lost icon

There are certain people one associates with Maryland. Cal Ripken. H.L. Menken. John Unitas.

One of those people synonymous with Maryland passed yesterday.
William Donald Schaefer, the dominant political figure of the last half-century of Maryland history, died Monday after a "do-it-now" career that changed the face of Baltimore while bringing a burst of energy to the city he loved. He was 89.
William Donald Schaefer was Maryland. No one before or since has dominated Maryland politics like Schaefer did in his heyday. He served 4 terms as Mayor of Bawlmer, 2 terms as Governor, and a couple of terms as State Comptroller for good measure. And he did it with a style all his own.

Schaefer transcended political labels. I voted for him every time he ran for whatever office he was pursuing. His party? Which office? Didn't matter. Willie Don Schaefer flat out got things done. Positive things.

Schaefer converted Baltimore from "Cleveland by the Bay" into the kind of place that actually attracts tourists (and their money). He acted to keep businesses in Maryland when his fellow Dems were actively trying to tax the bejeesus out of anything that moved (Maryland motto: "If you can imagine it, we can tax it").

But the most important thing WDS did, IMO, was take Maryland's third-world quality highway system and convert it into the East Coast's finest in the span of only 8 years. This is no exaggeration. Baltimore/Washington International Airport used to only be accessible via a 2-lane highway (actually a paved-over cattle trail) in the 1980's. Seriously, can you think of anything more third-world than that?

Willie Don could be a buffoon, to be sure. But it was calculated buffoonery. It was his self-deprecating way of calling attention to Maryland, and particularly to Bawlmer, HIS city.

RIP Willie Don. There'll never be another one like you.


I had to share this

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture, courtesy of Theo Spark, is worth as least that many.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Law and Order UK

The other evening I was relaxing in Vulture Manor with Deadeye watching an episode of Law and Order UK. The BBC version of this venerable franchise is, IMO, every bit as good as if not better than the original was back in the 90's.

Okay, I watched TV. What does that have to do with anything?

The episode in question unfolded with what police at first thought was a copycat murderer mimicking a convicted white supremacist serial killer (hereinafter referred to as "Whitey"). When they found the killer, they received quite a surprise: the murderer was a black Jamaican, the murders weren't racially motivated at all (the killer was channeling "commands from God"), and, the biggest bombshell of all, he wasn't a copycat. He was the killer behind all of the murders for which Whitey was convicted!

This is where the course of justice, UK version, diverged sharply from the course of justice, USA version.

Whitey was freed right away. That makes perfect sense, right? Except that in the US, once it's been established that you're innocent, you're lucky if you don't wait months for someone to get around to issuing orders for you to be freed. If at all.

Then the solicitor (attorney) for Whitey dropped an accusation that the Crown Prosecutor (DA) had spiked exculpatory evidence in Whitey's original trial that would have cast doubt about his guilt in the murders. The CP was actually brought up on criminal charges of perverting the course of justice as a result of this single accusation. Stop for a moment and ponder that. A prosecutor was charged with the crime of perversion of justice as a result of an accusation of withholding exculpatory evidence. Whoa!

It got me thinking. Why in the name of all that is holy is there no such statute on the books in any jurisdiction in the US for the crime of perversion of justice? Why is it that DA's in the US can run roughshod over the rights of the accused, prosecute individuals they know to be innocent, and hide or manufacture evidence without fear of any sort of consequences? Lest you think I'm exaggerating or simply spewing hyperbole, I suggest you take a nice long look at actual evidence of prosecutorial mischief. Spend a half hour at Will Grigg's place. Or at William Anderson's place.You'll swear that I've understated the problem by half.

Until US prosecutors are held to the same high standard as Crown Prosecutors, we can expect innocents to continue to be sacrificed on the altar of some scumbag prosecutor's career aspirations. One day it might be you.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Feeling like a jackass

The following is re-posted from April 15, 2010. It is every bit as relevant now as it was then.

Once upon a time a community of wild mules, donkeys, burros, and jackasses roamed free.  They lived in complete freedom.  But there were problems.  They were susceptible to predator attack.  There were no rules preventing mules from abusing donkeys (or vice-versa).  There were no protections against feeding ground encroachment.

So they formed a Pact.  This Pact established common defense against predators and rules to protect against abuses and feeding grounds violations.  Most importantly, the Pact gave assurances to each and every one of the assembled that their freedoms would never be violated.

The Pact established leaders who would represent the animals.  These leaders would have a special wagon to be pulled by the other animals from place to place so that the leaders could perform their duties.

At first, because the wagon was small and the leaders and wagon workers few, it took but a few of the beasts to pull the wagon.  This responsibility was shared by all.  The burden was light, and the demands few.

But over time the leaders started to feel that the Pact restricted them too much.  They became convinced that they could do "amazing things" if those limits were, well, limited.  They were engulfed in an awful hubris.  The "amazing things" they wanted to do were more important to them than the freedoms promised by the Pact.

The leaders were shrewd.  They knew that any overt attempt to break the Pact would result in rebellion.  So over time, bit by bit, the leaders chipped away at the Pact.  By making rules that bordered on violating the Pact without actually doing so, the leaders set precedents that made other rules that DID violate the Pact seem okay.  It was an incrementalist approach.  It was brilliant.

The leaders engaged in a "divide and conquer" strategy.  A number of the new rules were designed to create "favored" classes.  Mules had been greatly wronged in the early days of the Pact.  The leaders used this fact to make rules that allowed many of the mules to ride in the wagon with them.

Then animals without sufficient grazing lands were deemed a "favored" class and were beneficiaries of rules that allowed them to ride on the wagon as well.

The new rules required making the wagon bigger - a whole lot bigger.  Now there were large numbers of animals on the wagon - leaders, wagon workers, and "favored" classes - and many animals were required to pull the wagon.  No, required is too nice of a word.  They were compelled to do so.

Some of the animals - particularly the donkeys and jackasses - began to resent the leaders and the demands placed upon them.  They were branded as uncaring, bigoted, and evil by the leaders.  Those on the wagon certainly agreed.  And, unfortunately, there were enough donkeys, burros, and jackasses who believed the leaders were simply trying to help the "less fortunate" to prevent the donkeys and jackasses from pressuring the leaders to rescind the new rules.

More rules were created.  Some rules limited the amount of feeding ground a beast could have.  Others forced animals to cede some of their feeding ground to animals on the wagon.  The amount of time animals spent pulling the wagon was then linked to the amount of feeding ground they controlled.  More and more animals began to climb aboard the wagon, some as wagon workers, but most as "favored" classes.

Large numbers of burros began to enter the area.  Some pulled the wagon, as had the burros who had been there at the start of the Pact.  But some cried for "favored" status, and were granted seats on the wagon.  Many - WAY too many - simply took over feeding grounds and avoided pulling the wagon.

Over time the situation worsened to the point that there were nearly as many animals on the wagon as there were pulling the wagon.

Most of those pulling the wagon were jackasses.

What prompted this little parable?  This.
Tax Day is a dreaded deadline for millions, but for nearly half of U.S. households it's simply somebody else's problem.

About 47 percent will pay no federal income taxes at all for 2009. Either their incomes were too low, or they qualified for enough credits, deductions and exemptions to eliminate their liability. That's according to projections by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research organization.
Wait, it gets better.
The bottom 40 percent, on average, make a profit from the federal income tax, meaning they get more money in tax credits than they would otherwise owe in taxes. For those people, the government sends them a payment.

"We have 50 percent of people who are getting something for nothing," said Curtis Dubay, senior tax policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
Feel like a jackass yet? If you don't, you're probably part of the problem.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Vulture Droppings: Budget negotiated, or theater of the absurd

Vulture Droppings is a semi-regular feature of this blog. It's a kind of "Random Thoughts" post in which I try to quickly summarize a particularly large event or series of events. Think of it being sort of like what a vulture leaves behind after devouring a horse. You don't get the whole horse, just highly processed leftovers.

At one point in the budget negotiations, Il Duce said, "It's time for adults to take over the budget talks."

As if!

Sadly for We the People, there are no adults in Washington. It makes for a lousy government. But it also makes for great theater, if "theater of the absurd" is your preference.

This edition of Vulture Droppings looks at the absurdities of the past week's negotiations.

First, a little history.

Normally a budget is proposed shortly after the State of the Union speech and approved well before the end of the current fiscal year in September. Last year was different. Even with a Donkey as president, a Donkey-controlled House (by a big margin), and a Donkey-controlled Senate (with a 60-40 supermajority), Congress was unable (or, more accurately, unwilling) to complete a budget prior to the end of FY10. They elected to punt. The government has run on "continuing resolutions" for this entire fiscal year.

Fast forward to March. NOW all of the sudden it's the end of the world if the budget doesn't get passed! Mark this down on your score card as Childish Act #1.

But that was minor league compared with what would follow. Over the past two weeks we've been treated to juvenile behavior the likes of which is seldom seen in any government at any time.

First it was the Elephants, trying to slip in targeted cuts based on pure ideology. Oh, don't get me wrong: the government has no business giving tax dollars to Planned Parenthood, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR), or the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Each and every one of those things need to have their funding cut. But, by playing the ideology card during a period in which the stated goal was to avert a shutdown (and the resultant boost to a wounded and vulnerable president: see Clinton, Bill), the Elephants proved yet again that they are the Stupid Party.

Not ones to let an opening go to waste, the Donkeys used the de-funding of Planned Parenthood as the focus of their retrenchment strategy. Or as an excuse to come unhinged, depending on your viewpoint.

Sen. Charles Schumer roared, "The dangerous, ideological cuts to Planned Parenthood that passed the House are never, never, never going to pass the Senate.” Never mind that your dangerous, ideological spending on Planned Parenthood is part of our debt problem. Schumer also got in a cheap shot against the Tea Party, saying, “What we have here is a flea, wagging a tail, wagging a dog,”

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter said that Republicans are "here to kill women". Get hysterical much?

Nevada's curse on the country, Sen. Harry Reid, said, "Republicans want to shut down the government because they think there's nothing more important than keeping women from getting cancer screenings. This is indefensible and everyone should be outraged." Srsly, Harry? That was stupider and more hysterical than Congresswoman Slaughter. He also took a shot at the Tea Party, saying, "[T]he Tea trying to push its extreme social agenda, issues that have nothing to do with funding the bill." Extreme? Really, Harry? This from the guy selling "Republicans support cancer in women"?

And, as carefully choreographed as it always is, professional protesters appeared on the scene, complete with hysterical signs like, "Republicans! Stay away from my vagina!

You can't make this stuff up.

The Elephants were more restrained, but still managed to underwhelm. House Majority Leader Boehner haughtily sniffed that the Donkeys weren't serious about cutting spending. Various members of Congress sniped at the idea of our troops not getting paid. Uh, whose fault would THAT be, exactly?

To the Elephants' credit, Sen. Paul Ryan presented a serious budget plan that would result in eliminating the debt. This plan, of course, was met with hysteria by none other than the former Air Force 3, Nancy Pelosi, who called the plan "a path to poverty for America's seniors [and] children and a road to riches for big oil". Damn, Nancy! You hit two hot button moonbat issues in one fell swoop.

For the record, Sen. Ryan's plan has a snowball's chance on the plains of Hell of passing.

Bottom line, nothing real was accomplished. The Elephants and their sycophants at Fox News are trumpeting a GOP victory. Victory? Srsly? You reduced spending by $31 billion in a budget whose deficit alone is $1,500 billion! That's a victory?

No, that's sad.

Coming soon: the rematch, as the Elephants and the Donkeys renew their kabuki dance with the looming debt ceiling brawl. Hilarity will ensue. Sadly, hilarity will ensue.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

The looming government shutdown - what to fear

I'm sure that most people who read my blog are rooting for the government to shut down, preferably for a long, long time. But there is a very real risk to a government shutdown, one that scares the living crap out of me.

From The Smoking Gun.
With a possible shutdown of the U.S. government looming, it is helpful to remember what happened the last time federal workers received a forced furlough.

According to an FBI interview report:

• Unable to begin a new paying job, a 22-year-old female intern continued to work at the White House.

• Said intern’s “personal relationship” with President Bill Clinton began on November 15, 1995, the day after the government shutdown began.

• On that Wednesday evening, the intern, seizing the moment, told Clinton she “had a crush on him.” The 42nd President responded by accompanying the intern to a back study behind the Oval Office, where he kissed her.

• “Unclothed genital contact” would later occur, along with “kissing, hugging, touching, and oral sex on the person of the President, but not intercourse.”


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I'm baaaaaaack

Just like a case of herpes, I have returned. My vacation was refreshing and invigorating. But now I'm back and it's time to address the "big issues of the day".

As if!

Nah, I'm going to dedicate my first post-vacation post to saying, "I told you so!"

Did I not tell you? DID I NOT TELL YOU?!?!?!?

When Il Duce named Jeffrey Immelt as his "jobs czar" back in January, I said that Immelt was a repugnant slug who represented the very worst in crony capitalism. I said that the company he chairs, General Electric, is "the #1 looter corporation".

Seems there are those who agree with me.
The New York Times reported last month that General Electric earned $14.2 billion in international profits, including, $5.1 billion in the United States. Yet GE did not pay a dime in federal income taxes last year. Oddly, President Obama chose GE Chairman and chief executive Jeffrey Immelt to head his President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

According to the Associated Press, Immelt's compensation package doubled to $15.2 million last year, while this year, GE is seeking major concessions from the unions that represent its shrinking American workforce. That makes Immelt the wrong guy for the job of jobs czar.

Or as former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold wrote, "Someone like Immelt, who has helped his company evade taxes on its huge profits -- and is now looking to workers to take major pay cuts after his compensation was doubled -- should not lead the administration's effort to create jobs."
I almost wish I could just paste the whole essay, written masterfully by Debra Saunders, into this post. But in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, you should go to RealClearPolitics and read the whole thing yourself. You'll be glad you did.

One last quote from the opinion piece.
When Obama appointed Immelt to his jobs and competitiveness council, the president said that Immelt "understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy."

Unfortunately, Immelt seems to have learned that the best way to increase GE's profits was to eliminate a fifth of its American workforce, ship jobs overseas and hire a small army of tax attorneys.

A generous person might argue that GE's experience makes Immelt the smart choice to reform the tax code.

But Immelt can't be in charge of GE and reform a tax system it helped pervert. Obama must know that. Obama must not care.