Friday, November 28, 2008

Still Think I'm Crazy To Carry in Church?

From The Boston Globe: Police: Wife shot and killed at New Jersey church

Two killed and one wounded in this incident, apparently motivated by some domestic dispute. The point is, two innocent and uninvolved people were shot, and dozens more affected by the shooting. There was another church shooting not too long ago, either.

Are the odds extremely low that it will happen at the church I attend? Sure. The odds were also extremely low at those two churches.

Whether it happens or not, the odds are extremely high that the outcome can be affected by an armed thug running into something he didn't expect: a church member who can shoot back.

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WSJ: Treatment of Bush Is Disgrace

From the Wall Street Journal: The Treatment of Bush Has Been a Disgrace
According to recent Gallup polls, the president's average approval rating is below 30% -- down from his 90% approval in the wake of 9/11. Mr. Bush has endured relentless attacks from the left while facing abandonment from the right.

This is the price Mr. Bush is paying for trying to work with both Democrats and Republicans. During his 2004 victory speech, the president reached out to voters who supported his opponent, John Kerry, and said, "Today, I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust."

Those bipartisan efforts have been met with crushing resistance from both political parties.

...

It seems that no matter what Mr. Bush does, he is blamed for everything. He remains despised by the left while continuously disappointing the right.

Yet it should seem obvious that many of our country's current problems either existed long before Mr. Bush ever came to office, or are beyond his control. Perhaps if Americans stopped being so divisive, and congressional leaders came together to work with the president on some of these problems, he would actually have had a fighting chance of solving them.

Just as Americans have gained perspective on how challenging Truman's presidency was in the wake of World War II, our country will recognize the hardship President Bush faced these past eight years -- and how extraordinary it was that he accomplished what he did in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The treatment President Bush has received from this country is nothing less than a disgrace. The attacks launched against him have been cruel and slanderous, proving to the world what little character and resolve we have. The president is not to blame for all these problems. He never lost faith in America or her people, and has tried his hardest to continue leading our nation during a very difficult time.

Our failure to stand by the one person who continued to stand by us has not gone unnoticed by our enemies. It has shown to the world how disloyal we can be when our president needed loyalty -- a shameful display of arrogance and weakness that will haunt this nation long after Mr. Bush has left the White House.

Interestingly, the author interned with President Bush's 2004 election opponent, John Kerry.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Celebrating Androgyny?

I saw the following advertisement on Facebook several days ago:



Somebody tell me...is that a male or female?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lose Like Men

You don’t need me to tell you this past election was historic, that’s been said enough. Young people like myself have no recollection of a country blighted by racism, and so perhaps don’t fully appreciate the significance of electing a black man. Racism is a dying institution, and good riddance. However, we must be careful not to allow “reverse racism” to creep in. Let’s remember that favoring someone because of skin color is wrong, no matter what that color is.

In 2006, I wrote out my thoughts about the Republican defeat at the polls on my blog. If I removed the date-specific material, I could republish much of it today and still be relevant. But there is plenty more to add. This election has taught me a lot about who people in my party are – and it’s not a pretty sight.

I was like a lot of conservatives and had no great passion for a John McCain presidency. Was the long-time thorn in the Republicans’ side now going to lead the party? But consider the alternative! We truly were condemned either way. In the end, even the plucky Alaska Governor Sarah Palin couldn’t save us, and McCain lost, lost fair and square.

It didn’t take long for Republicans to morph into the depressed Democrats of 2000 and 2004. “He’s not my president!” snorted countless indignant Republicans on forums. “Who wants to join me in moving to Canada?” said others. “January 20, 2013” signs – the day the next presidential term begins – began showing up as a number to be anticipated by conservatives. Images of Obama in horns appeared. All are exact mirrors of the woebegone Democrats who were inconsolable after George W. Bush won. Twice. Republicans were getting a taste of that sentiment, and reacting the same way.

Then things got ugly. Officials with the McCain campaign began vomiting their (undoubtedly pent-up) vitriol and blame at the very person who brought energy to the campaign, Governor Palin. Prominent conservative voices such as Peggy Noonan and Scott Ott were quickly savaged for offering positive thoughts for the future. “IS there one?” seemed the derisive response.

Sometimes, politics really is just two parties trying to do different things the same way.

Well I have a message for you miserable Republicans. SNAP OUT OF IT. Buck up. Grow up. Try being a gracious loser and remember who you are. Don’t copy the foolish sulking of defeated Democrats; there is no room for that in a party that is supposed to be exceptional. And above all, accept that as long as you are an American citizen, Barack Obama is going to be your president for the next four years.

I have a message for you Democrats too: It’s your turn now. It’s up to you, the ball is in your court. No more blaming Bush for everything. You haven’t had a chance like this in 12 years, and now you have it. Take some responsibility for what goes on, good and bad. But beware the dangers of placing all of your trust in one man, for people will always let you down, and Constitutionally, the power still belongs to the People.

Power is cyclical in this country, and I daresay President-Elect Obama won because of John McCain, not in spite of him. There are other elections to come, and plenty to do in the meantime. I mean this sincerely, enjoy your hard-earned victory.

And finally, to the army of I-told-you-so’ers ready to diagram why we lost, put away your chalk boards, we already know. We didn’t have a real conservative in John McCain, and we’re paying for some major PR mistakes in the past several years. But, as former Clinton adviser Dick Morris notes, if Republicans had to pick an election to lose, this was it. Rather than start pointing fingers and firing off your pouting accusations, let’s focus on pulling together, rebuilding and try being conservatives again . I was talking with a friend about the election results, and mentioned having stern words for the sore losers in the party the next day. My friend disagreed.

“The election was the spanking,” he said in a very fatherly, inspiring way. “It’s time for the hug and for the hope.”

Indeed.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

An Election Irony

I was going through some old papers yesterday, and found a four-year-old LIFE magazine supplement that I found rather ironic:


The lady on the right is Tina Fey, the Saturday Night Live comedian who so squarely nailed the role of Sarah Palin for the show's skits. The fellow on the right, of course...John McCain...

Interestingly, it occurred to me to wonder who Tina Fey voted for? Job security (four to eight years if John McCain won, and maybe even another eight if Sarah Palin ran on her own!) or her personal politics?

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

My Day in Court

As I entered Courtroom 3 of the District Court, my first observation was how crowded the room was. Here were all manner of misdemeanor violators, summoned to appear at 10am for their hearing. Attorneys were present for many, and clearly distinguishable from the crowd in their jackets and ties. It seems to reflect poorly on the individuals present that few bothered to dress more formally out of respect for the law. Perhaps that lack of respect is why they are there to begin with.

As I locate a seat near the front, a felony hearing is taking place. It later becomes apparent how fortunate I was to catch the tail end of these proceedings, as most of the rest of the docket is routine to all of the actors in the court except the defendants.

The man accused is young, dressed in prison clothes and slouching in his seat, not appearing to take much notice of the hearing. The charge is theft by unlawful taking. The prosecutor is questioning a police officer. For him, it is routine. He is careful to ask questions to establish the officer’s personal knowledge of the matter, and to confirm jurisdiction by establishing through testimony that the incident took place in Fayette county. The suspect is accused of taking a DeWalt drill and a violin (among other items not mentioned) and pawning them, and the prosecutor has pawn tickets to prove it. Judge Bell finds cause on the testimony and evidence, and the defendant is taken away.

The next person is unmistakably of Hispanic origin, and a translator is required. He is accused of driving with expired registration, no license, a forged social security card, and admitted to being in the country illegally. This too requires testimony from an officer, but his defense makes no argument, and the man is removed.

The next case is delayed because the defendant in question (not in custody) did not show. The judge issues a warrant for arrest. He will do this at least a dozen more times in the next two hours.

The next and perhaps final “interesting” case was delayed for a full five to ten minutes as the prosecutors and judge were waiting on an officer, a captain with the Fayette County Police, to arrive for testimony. The judge is mildly annoyed after several minutes, noting that he expects the procedure to be very simple, and orders one of the courtroom officers to locate the man. The defendant, a convicted sex offender, is brought in. His feet are not visible below the bar, but the jingle and hobbled walk make it clear he is in shackles. He is accused of moving addresses without notifying his parole officer, and to a location less than 1,000 feet from a daycare facility, no less. The prosecutor proceeds to prove through testimony that the man was actually living at the residence, while the defense makes an argument that he was not. The judge finds cause, but because of poor acoustics, his ruling is inaudible. This seems to be an interesting case, so I catch up with the man’s attorney, Mr. Sam Cox, who explains that the proceeding was only a preliminary hearing, and that the judge bound the case to a grand jury.

The Judge recesses for five minutes, during which time suited attorneys take their place along the right wall to represent the various pending misdemeanor charges. A new prosecutor also steps in. As the judge reenters (and in my detached observation, I nearly forget to rise!) the attorneys step forward. Without fail, they plead guilty, contingent to the prosecutor’s recommendation. These are misdemeanors, so the recommendations are not harsh. The offenses range from operating without a license, to driving with a suspended license, driving under the influence, shoplifting and evading police, terroristic threatening, domestic abuse, the occasional drug charge (the majority of which are first offenses which can be expunged with community service) and at least one count each of harboring a vicious animal or prostitution. The prosecutor is often willing to cut deals, seldom recommending jail time exceeding two weeks, instead probating the sentence over twelve or twenty-four months. The Judge instructs them that this means they must “stay out of trouble.” The majority of penalties, however, are fines. On a few occasions, the judge agrees to a structured serving of incarceration, including letting one man spend three weekends and a half-day in jail, in order to work. One man, accused of DUI, protests that his sentence is carried out over the holidays, and asks for an easier ruling. The judge responds that it would have been easier not to drive under the influence at all, and sustains the ruling.

The interpreter is called in at least five or six more times, and each time the offense is similar; a driving or drug infraction. Some defendants have made an attempt to beat the insurance charge by getting insurance afterwards, but the judge does not buy it. It seems strange that the immigration status of these individuals is not questioned.

Only one defendant challenges a charge, pleading guilty to an expired registration, no insurance and intoxication, but contests the charges of probation violation and harassing communications. He is given a jury trial, and taken into custody on the other charges. He mildly protests to the judge, something about foot shackles, which the judge sternly responds that “That’s not my problem. I can do whatever I want.”

One man appears for numerous offenses, and his attorney asks for a competency test, and to review the other charges. The judge denies the request, wanting to “keep it sane.” He later remarks that he’s seen that guy multiple times.

Judge Bell is not overweening in the way he wields his authority, but he is clearly both confident and comfortable in the dozens of rulings he hands down, and takes his role very seriously. At times, he seems like a parent as he mulls over requests for leniency, and often betrays reluctance in granting it. The attorney for the woman who engaged in prostitution pled for leniency because of her multiple medical issues, and asks that they get help “to see if we can keep this woman from killing herself.” The presence of her two adult children in the court certainly seem to help, the judge grants the request.

For the attorneys on both sides, this is all very habitual. The prosecutors have stacks of paper inches thick, with only a few pages each devoted to defendants. Only once was there a deviation from the fill-in-the-blank script they seemed to be following, when a confused defendant (whose case had been dismissed!) mistook her attorney’s gesture to leave as a signal to approach the prosecutor. The prosecutor tried to ignore her, particularly as his next case was being called. He finally protested to the judge, who declared “Madam, I don’t know what you’re doing, but…get out of here.”

With a court full of defendants, habitual is a good thing. Almost every proceeding is smooth and quick; defense attorneys are more interested in plea-bargaining (clearly, no one, including the defendants themselves, feel it worthwhile to claim innocence) and the overwhelming number of successes by the prosecutor seems a testament to the selective process for who to charge.

The supply of attorney-involved defendants is exhausted, at which time the judge then instructs the rest of the courtroom (populated by people with minor offenses … and one observer) what to do, what’s going to happen, and where to line up. These are the smallest of the offenses, and no attorneys are needed. No one is taken into custody, and there is certainly a difference between the people who have only to pay some fines and leave versus the hopeless and ashamed expressions of the detained individuals who were ushered in wearing jail clothes.

Sound and identification of the charges were two difficulties in the court. Despite having a microphone system and speakers in the court, there was no sound amplification. Some defendants even make a futile effort to speak into them. Fortunately, the prosecutor’s announcement of the recommended sentence is very clear and methodical, and the judge identifies each charge when asking how a defendant pleads.

Court is undoubtedly an imposing place, and it does truly seem that it is only those who don’t take the law seriously that end up there. The intimidation seems to be on purpose; the judge frequently remarked that if the fines were paid on time, or if the defendant behaved, “you don’t have to come back.” The message is clear; court is a place for the average law-abiding citizen to avoid.

For me as a prospective law student, it may be just the opposite.


© David Burnett 2008. All Rights Reserved.

All content of this paper, excepting quotations and where noted, are my original, intellectual property. This paper exists in paper and digital form with two university professor as well as on the internet, and the contents thereof can be cross-referenced by other professors both inside and outside the state of Kentucky, to guard against plagiarism. Anyone using materials from this paper, or submitting the paper itself without permission or citation, is subject to disciplinary action by the educational institution in question.

Specific judge, county and suspect names have been removed from the internet version of this paper.