Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tom Coburn has a really dumb idea

From an article about the border agents who shot at a suspected drug trafficer:

"Why is it wrong to shoot the [trafficker] after he's been told to stop?" asked Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma.

I can think of some reasons:

1) Maybe the person isn't really a drug trafficker.

2) Maybe he doesn't understand English.

3) If you told him in Spanish to stop . . . maybe he doesn't understand that either.

4) Maybe he didn't realize you were talking to him.

5) Maybe he doesn't realize you are a law officer. For example, he might think you are a thief.

6) He might be hard of hearing, or deaf.

7) Even if none of the above apply, the US does not have the death penalty for drug smuggling, or for running away from the cops.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Another New York Times misinformation campaign

Engram over at Back Talk has been taking apart a misinformation campaign led by the New York Times. This campaign is designed to convince its readers that Al Qaeda is not the biggest source of trouble in Iraq today. I'm currently on vacation and don't have time to go into the details, but Engram has done an excellent job of explaining what is going on.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Letter to Lewis Libby

Below is a letter to Lewis Libby. I would send it to his home if only I could find his address. Since I can’t, I’ll settle for posting it on this blog.

Dear Mr. Libby,

I was recently relieved (though doubtless less so than you were) to see that President Bush commuted your prison sentence, saying:

I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.

I believe our President was absolutely correct. Doubtless your attorneys will continue to argue that you are innocent, and I take no stand in this debate. However, even if you are guilty, I believe that 30 months in prison for the crimes for which you stand convicted is simply too great a punishment. This is particularly true in light of your numerous good works and lengthy service to our country. My purpose in writing you this letter is to point out that there are many Americans who, like you, were given excessive punishment for the crimes for which they stand convicted. Based on what I have read about your life, I know that you have a great capacity to feel empathy for your fellow humans. I would like to share some of their stories with you. I do not personally know any of these people, but am moved by what I have read of their plight. I will start with the story of Patrick Lett.

Mr. Lett’s life is described in a recent appellate opinion:

After fourteen years in the military, Lett returned to civilian life the week of Christmas in 2003. It was not a happy time for him. He had lost frends and seen fellow soldiers killed in Iraq. He had also seen what he described as “some very, very strange things.” While he was in Iraq, his fiancee died. When he came home his father was dying. He had trouble supporting his children. He felt pressured. He was depressed. He began to drink heavily, which only helped the downward trajectory of his life. Lett felt, in his words, like “the lowest person on the face of the earth.

Lett then joined his cousin’s drug-dealing operation, and for five weeks delivered packages of crack cocaine for his cousin to various people. What Lett did not know was that one of these people was an undercover law enforcement agent. The Court’s opinion continues:

He felt guilty about his actions. He realized . . . that “it takes a cruel-hearted person to actually take advantage of someone who has . . . addiction,” and he “decided to . . . ask God to pull me back together, . . . which He did.” He quit selling drugs . . . .

Lett re-elisted in the military in October, 2004, and again rendered exemplary service to his country. His superior officers attested that Lett, a sergeant, was an outstanding soldier dedicated to the welfare of his men and to accomplishing whatever mission he was given. He made his men’s lives better and his superiors’ jobs easier. His captain said that Lett “exemplified the Army values” of “loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage.” He would be willing to entrust his life to Lett. . . .

Lett may have thought he had left his past behind him . . . [but] in September, 2005, a grand jury indicted Lett . . . . Lett pleaded guilty to seven counts of possession with intent to distribute . . . . Lett admitted to selling 60.42 grams of crack cocaine and 7.89 grams of powder cocaine . . .

Without going into the legal details, the judge originally thought that he was required to sentence Lett to a mandatory minimum of five years. He did so. Then a law student pointed out that the judge was mistaken, and Lett’s attorney had also missed the error. A week after the original sentence, the judge resentenced Lett to probation. The government appealed, arguing that the judge had no authority to correct this sentence. The appeals court agreed with the government, along the way making the observations I quote above. Further appeals are still possible, but as things currently stand, the district court will be required to give Lett a five-year sentence.

Like you, Lett has done great service for his country. Like you, I believe Lett was given an excessive sentence for his crimes. Like you, he faced Government attorneys determined to argue for that excessive sentence. Unlike you, he has not, to date, received the benefit of a Presidential commutation.

You and Lett are far from the only Americans on the receiving end of an excessive and irrational sentence. Others include David Henson McNab (currently serving eight years for importing lobster tails in violation of certain Honduran regulations – though the Honduran government has given contradictory information about whether or not these regulations are in fact valid), Genarlow Wilson (currently serving 10 years for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl when Mr. Wilson was 17), and Elisa Kelly and George Robinson (currently serving 27 months for serving alcohol at their son’s 16th birthday party). Of the above people, Lett, McNab, Wilson, and Kelly are first offenders. I was unable to find any information on whether or not Robinson had a prior record.

While some amount of prison time might be justified in each of the above cases, none of these people deserved the harsh punishments they have received. Our system appears unable to recognize this or do anything about it. As you have yourself just gone through such an experience, I thought their stories might be of interest to you.


William Jockusch

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Libby's prison sentence commuted

President Bush has commuted Lewis Libby's 30-month sentence for perjury, false statements, and obstruction of justice. I doing so, he characterized Libby's sentence as "excessive". This characterization was absolutely correct.

It has long been known that the Bush administration values loyalty over other virtues such as integrity. By lying to the investigators, Libby was doing neither more nor less than what Bush would have expected of him. So it is appropriate that Bush should take political heat for Libby's action, rather than Libby having to live the pain of prison. By commuting Libby's sentence, Bush is taking the responsibility on himself, which is exactly where it belongs. In this sense, the commutation was appropriate. If the American people want an Administration with integrity, let them elect one.

Lest anyone think that lack of integrity is strictly a Republican vice, let us remember that President Clinton, like Lewis Libby, also committed perjury. For this he was impeached by the House. The Senate then acquitted him -- not because they thought he might be innocent, but because they felt his perjury was too petty to warrant removal from office.

There is, however, one sense in which the Bush commutation is highly hypocritical. During his term in office, Bush has almost never used his pardon and commutation powers, and has generally pushed for stricter criminal sentencing. This strict sentencing has lead to other sentences which are just as unfair as Lewis Libby's. Yet the President has not commuted those sentences. The message, apparently, is that crime should be punished severely -- unless it is done in the service of the President.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Anne Ream's bigoted mind

Anne Ream's recent column in the Chicago Tribune was bad enough. But her recent attempt to justify herself is even worse. Taken together, the two reveal Ms. Ream's bigoted mind.

According to Ms Ream, she is looking at the whole thing "in moral terms". In her column, Ms. Ream condemns the Lacrosse players because:

1) Three of them hired strippers.
2) Most drank alcohol at the party.
3) One of them made a raunchy joke about a broomstick, and
4) Another sent a tasteless joking Email.

The young men have been publicly introspective. David Evans said on 60 minutes that, in choosing to help host a party with strippers, he made a "terrible judgment".

For his part, Reade Seligmann, talking about the party, said he "felt . . . obligated to go." As for the strippers, he said he "found out [about them when he] got there". And apparently he didn't like the party too much, because within 15 minutes of the start of the dancing, he was calling a taxi to take him elsewhere. However, when he found out he would likely be indicted, Mr. Seligmann said “thank god they picked me!” He said this because he knew he could prove his innocence – and others might not have been able to. This sentiment reveals a kind heart and generous spirit.

But what do we know about Ms. Magnum?

1. She was a stripper.
2. That evening, she was passed out drunk.
3. According to the Attorney General's report, when the AG's office interviewed her, her state of mind appeared to have been altered by some unknown drug.
4. According to her own account, she once helped deal drugs!
5. She accused three innocent people of a rape that never happened.

Yet Ms. Ream condemns the Lacrosse players, but not Ms. Magnum! Indeed, in her attempt to justify herself, Ms. Ream views sex workers as people making the best of a difficult situation, and declines to find anything wrong with Ms. Magnum's conduct.

I will be honest with you, Ms. Ream. It looks to me like you have something against men. Of the men, you write that "legal vindication is not moral vindication." Yet on one count (being or hiring strippers), it looks like Ms. Magnum's conduct was more or less equivalent to that of the Lacrosse players. On another (drinking vs. being passed out drunk), Ms. Magnum's was somewhat worse. On a third (dealing drugs vs. not dealing drugs) and fourth (accusing someone of a "crime" that never happened vs. not doing so), Ms. Magnum was far worse by any standard. By choosing to condemn the men, but not Ms. Magnum, you only reveal your own bigotry.

Bigotry such as Ms. Ream's is harmful to real rape victims. It also hurts boys and young men. Because when they grow up reading writings like Ms. Ream's, they can start to think that there is something wrong with them -- or that they are somehow bad, just for being male.

Ms. Ream's column about the Duke Lacrosse case in the Chicago Tribune ends with a parting shot about "the myth of the 'false report' of rape." This post will end with a parting shot for Ms. Ream:

How exactly does the Duke Lacrosse case show that false reports of rape are mythical?