Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Show This Guy The Money

So what happens when you get a speeding ticket and have a large amount of cash in your trunk? Apparently in Seattle, you lose your money:

The 35-year-old from British Columbia, who had a valid driver's license, struggled to tell the trooper where he was going and how long he had been in Washington, prompting the trooper to search his car, Merrill said.

The trooper found two suitcases in the trunk — one filled with $276,640 in cash. The driver claimed he won the stacks of dollar bills at 23 casinos in Washington, California and Nevada, but he was unable to produce any receipts, according to Merrill.

The money was confiscated as the State Patrol investigates the incident. [Washington State Patrol spokesman Jeff] Merrill said if it is determined the man obtained the money legally it will be returned to him. [Emphasis mine]

First off, under what law was the trooper allowed to search the car? Is struggling to tell an officer where you have been really "probable cause"?

More importantly, I want you to pay close attention to the bolded sentence. One would expect the legal system to default to the presumption of innocence and, in the absence of evidence on which the cops could file charges, let the guy keep the money. But no; the man has to prove his innocence in order to get his money back. Essentially, the Washington State Patrol has told this guy that, while he may have come by this large sum of money perfectly legally, he has to provide evidence that the money didn't come from a crime or else he loses everything. Anyone else see a problem with this? Why is the burden of proof on the accused here?

I currently have $10 in my wallet. I know I didn't get it by robbing anyone or dealing drugs, but I can't possibly prove that. Should I just go ahead and fork that over to the cops if I get caught stealing?

Monday, September 24, 2007

You Try Too Hard To Make Me Smile

To the chronologically retarded DJs at Mix 96.9 in Phoenix:

The 2003 release "Calling You" can NOT be reasonably referred to as "the new one from Blue October." So please don't do it again.

That is all.

If You Should Take The A-Train...

As I'm writing this, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is preparing to speak at Columbia University in New York amid the obvious protests. CNN reported from the protest sites - there were some clever signs, like one of A-Train with his limbs shaped like a swastika, and a red line through the whole thing. That one is my favorite so far.

Those of you who read my blog regularly know I have no problem with protests - I've even been known to indulge on occasion. What I do have a problem with is the habit of many on the right to cast blame on the host - in this case, Columbia - for inviting someone with highly objectionable/dangerous views to speak. This position was taken by Henry Kissinger and Newt Gingrich (admittedly two people with whom I rarely agree). The latter claimed that Columbia was "lending its prestige" to Ahmadinejad. How ridiculous is that? Does Gingrich think that someone will refer to A-Train as "that dude that spoke at Columbia that one time"? Or that someone will say, "you know, he thinks the Holocaust is bogus, he wants to eliminate Israel, and he supports terrorism, but he spoke at Columbia, so it's all cool"? No. No one will say that. One capital derectalization for Gingrich, please.

My point is this - protest all you want. In fact, if I were in NYC, I'd probably be there with you. But don't prevent A-Train from speaking, and don't criticize the host for letting him speak. A beneficial free exchange of ideas requires that we allow all points of view to be voiced, even if they are utterly repulsive. Besides, don't we want our point of view to be given a voice and listened to seriously in other countries? Why should we deny others the same courtesy here?

It's refreshing to see other people I rarely agree with, in this case Zbiginew "I'd Like To Buy A Vowel" Brzezinski and Sen. Chuck Hagel, voice support for Columbia for letting a ridiculous yet undeniably important person speak at their university. It proves that you don't have to be a dedicated civil liberties junkie to understand the value of the unfettered exchange of ideas.

And personally, I think that President Bush should have invited A-Train for a state visit to the corner of 14th SW and Independence in Washington (not telling him that this is the site of the U.S. Holocaust museum/memorial). I don't think anyone can go through that museum and still be a denier...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Who The Hell Is Michael Mukasey?

Someone who will, in all likelihood, be our next Attorney General.

So what is Mukasey like? According to Bush, he shares Bush's views on the importance of executive power. This is bad. But there's a bright side - though Mukasey, as a federal judge, ruled that Bush could hold "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla indefinitely without charges, Padilla still had a right to an attorney. What's more, New York Senator Charles Schumer, a relatively liberal fellow, seems to be cool with his nomination. He might not be all bad.

You learn a lot about someone from their writings. This is Mukasey's most recent public writing - a diatribe about the inadequacies of our judicial system in the wake of the Jose Padilla verdict. In it, Mukasey seems to think that the current legal system is not well suited to deal with terrorism. He makes some valid points - the current disclosure system in the criminal court system often aids terrorist intelligence, for example - but to me, he doesn't convincingly make the case that terror suspects shouldn't be tried like other criminals.

Let's go into depth on this portion of his column and try to divine what he'd be like as an AG:

And third, consider the distortions that arise from applying to national security cases generally the rules that apply to ordinary criminal cases.

On one end of the spectrum, the rules that apply to routine criminals who pursue finite goals are skewed, and properly so, to assure that only the highest level of proof will result in a conviction. But those rules do not protect a society that must gather information about, and at least incapacitate, people who have cosmic goals that they are intent on achieving by cataclysmic means.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, is said to have told his American captors that he wanted a lawyer and would see them in court. If the Supreme Court rules--in a case it has agreed to hear relating to Guantanamo detainees--that foreigners in U.S. custody enjoy the protection of our Constitution regardless of the place or circumstances of their apprehension, this bold joke could become a reality.

The director of an organization purporting to protect constitutional rights has announced that his goal is to unleash a flood of lawyers on Guantanamo so as to paralyze interrogation of detainees. Perhaps it bears mention that one unintended outcome of a Supreme Court ruling exercising jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees may be that, in the future, capture of terrorism suspects will be forgone in favor of killing them. Or they may be put in the custody of other countries like Egypt or Pakistan that are famously not squeamish in their approach to interrogation--a practice, known as rendition, followed during the Clinton administration.

At the other end of the spectrum, if conventional legal rules are adapted to deal with a terrorist threat, whether by relaxed standards for conviction, searches, the admissibility of evidence or otherwise, those adaptations will infect and change the standards in ordinary cases with ordinary defendants in ordinary courts of law.

First, we see the idea that terror suspects are intent on carrying out cosmic goals by cataclysmic means, and that this needs to change the nature of the legal system. This perpetuates the myth of the "war on terror" and legitimates overuse of executive power to "incapacitate" those who break our laws. It's true that Islamic terrorists pose a serious threat, but the same might have been said about Timothy McVeigh or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (all terrorists with "cosmic goals" who used "cataclysmic means" - the latter two were suicide terrorists who likely would have been tried via the courts had they survived). The bright line that Mukasey draws between "national security" cases and regular criminal cases is bothersome to me - he seems to draw said line well before it needs to be drawn. A clever Senator might ask him during the confirmation hearings what the difference between McVeigh and Padilla might be, and why they should be treated differently. Mukasey makes the case earlier in the column for why terrorists should be treated differently from regular criminals, but not at all convincingly in my opinion. I suppose I don't share with him the same concern that the possibility that terrorists will learn anything from our judicial proceedings warrants the scrapping of the system altogether for terror suspects. Seems like he's creating a straw man here - it's the classic "create a fear so I can alleviate it" ploy.

Second, we see the most disturbing part of Mukasey's column, the idea that foreigners' access to the legal system and an attorney is "a bold joke." It is perhaps the case that a foreigner intent on our nation's destruction should not be entitled to the same legal system as a regular citizen or a common criminal - this is a matter worthy of debate. But this idea is not a joke, and it should not be treated as such. This comment seems to betray a sense of arrogance about executive power - which was one of the biggest complaints about Gonzales. One wonders whether Mukasey would be able to work with a Congress skeptical of executive power-grabs, or whether he would dismiss Congress' criticisms as "jokes."

Third, I have to take offense at the gratuitous ACLU-bashing that conservatives like to engage in these days. The ACLU doesn't "purport" to protect civil liberties - it does protect civil liberties. It is a valuable organization that seeks only to preserve the ideals that make the U.S.A the great nation that it is. Its concerns ought to be taken seriously, and not dismissed with ridiculous claims that blame it for excessive use of force by the military and for extraordinary rendition/torture. Yet again, I see a typically neoconservative disdain for critics that ought to set off alarms with any Senator that gets the opportunity to question him.

Finally, Mukasey at least seems to realize that terror investigations and prosecutions ought to be circumscribed - that we ought to make sure that, in non-terror-related cases, the judicial system should work as before. A Senator would be well-advised to ask Mukasey his opinion on the use of anti-terror legislation to pursue non-terrorist criminals. This bit seems to suggest that he might be sympathetic to complaints about such executive overreaches that have been circulating recently. This is good, and might even lead to a desire to set up judicial oversight for Bush's intelligence-gathering plan, which would be excellent.

And I'm not entirely certain what to make of this statement:
Perhaps the world's greatest deliberative body (the Senate) and the people's house (the House of Representatives) could, while we still have the leisure, turn their considerable talents to deliberating how to fix a strained and mismatched legal system, before another cataclysm calls forth from the people demands for hastier and harsher results. [Emphasis added -J]

"While we still have the leisure?" What the hell does that mean? Looks like if Mukasey gets nominated, we have a lot more fun fearmongering to look forward to. Just what we need; another politician who will play the 9/11 card to accelerate or eliminate a necessary debate.

All in all, I'm not as sanguine on Mukasey as Schumer and other high-powered Democrats seem to be. Sure, we could do - and have done - a lot worse than Mukasey, but we could also do a lot better. I'm somewhat heartened by the idea that Mukasey would like to see Congress set the terms for a judicial system that deals with terror suspects, but I worry that Mukasey seems to simply be seeking Congressional approval for the executive power-grabs that Bush has been making as of late. Mukasey might not be as bad as Gonzales, but we ought to tread carefully and make sure he answers pointed and incisive questions from the Senate. Mukasey seems to intimate that intelligence gathering should be a court issue, and this is a marked improvement over Gonzales. But Mukasey's seeming disdain for those who disagree with him, as well as his penchant for fearmongering, ought to be a warning that Schumer and company might not be getting the cooperative AG that they bargained for.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Everything Changed"

It's six years after the terror attacks that shocked the world, and I'm sure pretty much everybody and their little brother will be publishing a column on their blogs giving us their personal reflections or weighing in on the significance of the event or the lessons we should have learned or other such comments. This blog is no different.

We hear the phrase constantly: "September 11th changed everything." It's part of an answer to pretty much every foreign policy question of the past six years. It's a mantra frequently recited by those in the administration and the punditocracy who want change in the way we pursue terrorists/seek security. Hell, it's practically the entirety of Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign.

And it's utter bullshit. I confront you with this bit of national heresy: The events of September 11th, 2001 changed nothing, at least not in the global sense.

Consider: Terrorism was nothing new when the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were struck. We had suffered terror attacks on our soil before, most notably in 1993 (the WTC bombing) and 1995 (Oklahoma City). Al-Qaeda had begun attacking us well before 9/11 - remember the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya or the Cole bombing? Radical Islamist terrorism didn't suddenly spring into existence for 9/11, and it was no less of a threat to Americans on September 10, 2001 than it was on September 12, 2001. Terrorism, and the need to fight it, did not suddenly grow on 9/11. We're no more "at war" with Islamic extremists now than we were pre-9/11.

What's more: you're not any more - or less - likely to die in a terrorist attack now than you were then. And if a terrorist does take your life, it will probably be a deranged homegrown loony like John Allen Muhammad or Cho Seung Hui rather than a radical Islamic terrorist bent on the destruction of the Western world.

Radical Islamic terrorism is a threat, and it needs to be taken seriously, but we've gone from understating the threat (remember the 1998 bombing of al-Qaeda targets in Sudan and Afghanistan, when Republicans and many Democrats thought the attacks were just a ploy to distract Americans from Monicagate?) to drastically overstating it. Somewhere deep down inside, you know this: radical Islamic terrorism is not an existential threat to the United States. It never has been, it never will be.

What September 11th did change is this: the fear factor. Let's face it - 9/11 scared us shitless. As someone who grew up 15 miles from the Pentagon and 2 miles from Dulles Airport, I know I was. But instead of having leaders who would calm us down, who would help us look at the situation for what it was and would direct a rational debate on what needed to be done to prevent future attacks, we had demagogues and fearmongers. We should have been talking seriously about improving intelligence-gathering, beefing up port security, and facilitating information sharing between investigative agencies. We may have done this, but instead we heard about the "war on terror" and all the empty rhetoric and hasty legislation that went along with it. We should have been talking about integrating our intelligence gathering with that of our allies so that we can track terror suspects across borders. Instead we got Guantanamo, military tribunals, and unnecessary FISA breaches. We should have been talking about using all our military ability to track the leaders of al-Qaeda and bring them to justice. Instead we got Iraq.

All the mistakes of Bush administration foreign policy, all the overreaches of the administration's anti-terror policy, have been fed to us with the reminder that we're "at war." And that "September 11th changed everything."

I wish our leaders would stop using the specter of 9/11 and the fear factor to sell us whatever they want to sell us. But you and I know that's just not going to happen. I therefore encourage you to stop and think when someone talks about an "imminent threat," or when someone claims that this policy or that policy is a necessary part of the "war on terror," or justifies something by saying "September 11th changed everything." It's not smart to dismiss threats out of hand (ask all those who did so when we first learned about al-Qaeda in the late '90s), but we should also realize that when someone starts talking about the next big threat, there's a decent chance that they're feeding you bullshit.

A final note: we're not "at war" with terrorists. Terrorists may be criminals with a sweeping, dangerous ideology and complex organizational skills, but they're still common criminals. I can think of no reason why Osama bin Laden is any more worthy of some special legal status than Timothy McVeigh. He and any other terrorist ought to be tried like any murderer.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


UM's historic egg-laying against App State must have really affected the Wolverine State's sense of self-importance. How else can you explain their decision yesterday to completely screw up our nominating process. (Florida moved its primary to mid-January a couple of weeks ago, but Florida has a habit of screwing up presidential elections, so this is nothing new.)

A little background - the Democratic Party has threatened any state not named "New Hampshire" that held its primary before January 29 with the withdrawal of all their delegates from the national convention. This means these states have no official sway in the Democrats' nominating process. Furthermore, Democratic candidates have stated that they won't campaign in these states; Republicans have taken no such measures.

This is such a disaster because, by moving to January 15, Michigan threatens to throw the whole process into 2007. Why? Because New Hampshire has a batty law that requires its primary to be held at least a week before any other primary, which means that the NH primary will be January 8 at the earliest. And Iowa state law requires that their caucus be a week before any other caucus or primary. A week before January 8 is January 1, which is a rather bad day to hold an election. Ditto with the next Tuesday back, December 25. So should Iowa wish to hold its caucus on a Tuesday, they would be forced to December 17. There's talk that Iowa will contravene state law and hold their caucus sometime in the first week of January, so this save us a couple of weeks or so.

Essentially, Michigan single-handedly forced our nominating process to move up a month. At the most, we are now four months away from the Iowa caucuses. God help us.

This is beginning to be one of the most interesting sub-stories of the 2008 election - whether or not the parties still have control over their nominating processes. If Democratic candidates ignore FL and MI in '08, and they have little to no effect on the nominating process, this will prove that the parties still have some control over the process, and they'll start flexing their muscles before the '12 election. That would likely lead to MI and FL moving their primaries back to join the big melee on the first Tuesday in February. If, on the other hand, a candidate can ride a strong performance in FL and MI to success later on, it pretty much forces the Democrats to campaign in early states in '12, and the delegates will be reawarded.

I'm hoping that MI and FL are forced to back down - that way, the parties can flex their collective muscles and nuke their current primary system in favor of something a little more sane. It's worth noting that parties are not legally bound to select candidates based on the primaries. This means that they could threaten to scrap the whole thing and return to smoke-filled-room horse trading unless the states get their acts together and hold their primaries in a way that doesn't extend the race horrifically. That'd be a fun pissing contest to watch.

Anyway, this whole thing reminds me of those idiots who go around on comment boards in Nerdland and try to get the first comment, usually by posting "First!" on the thread. I think South Carolina just passed a law saying "n00b" and Florida is now claiming to be a "l33t h4x0r" or something.

Florida correspondant Mike has a take on this that I find interesting, even if I'm not sure I agree with it.

Finally, sign of the times: this was in's politics section. This bugs me, and I don't know why. Maybe it's the implication that the only reason the number of military deaths (the use of the euphemism "casualty" also bugs me) in Iraq is important is political. I'm sure there are quite a few families - say, 3700 of them - that would disagree.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

That's Why You Will Not Survive

Congratulations to the University of Michigan college football team, who became the first nationally ranked team to lose to a Division Formerly Known As I-AA team when Boone, NC's own Appalachian State took them down 34-32 in Ann Arbor.

Granted, App State is a two-time defending I-AA champion who could probably beat half the I-A teams. But still... Michigan? Really? I'd expect Vandy to lose to a I-AA team (we have a shot tonight against Richmond). The preseason #5 team in the country? Not so much. Hell, the only thing in which App State is nationally ranked is the number of hippies per capita.

Next step? For Wolverine Nation to say to Lloyd Carr: "Don't let the door hit you where App State just kicked you."