Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why I Can’t Stand Bob Woodward

It’s been an intriguing few days watching the self-immolation of formerly respected investigative journalist Bob Woodward. Slate’s Matt Yglesias – who, for what it’s worth, is not shy about criticizing the Obama Administration – explains:
It started with Woodward’s odd weekend assertion that the White House is trying “to move the goalposts” by replacing sequestration with a deficit reduction package that includes tax hikes. The idea of sequestration was always that it was something elected officials were going to want to replace with alternative deficit reduction. Republicans have been trying tio replace it with a package of cuts targeted at income support programs for the poor. Obama’s been trying to replace it with a mixture of spending cuts and tax hikes. Either everyone’s moving the goalposts (which I think is tendentious but even-handed) or no one is moving them. But it really intensified Wednesday morning when Woodward went on Morning Joe to suggest it’s crazy of Obama to be applying the law as written to the military, instead of simply ignoring it.
Things moved into the absurd last night when it was revealed that National Economic Council director Gene Sperling had concluded an email disagreement with Woodward with the observation that in Sperling’s view Woodward would come to regret clinging so tenaciously to an untenable position.
As if determined to prove Sperling right, Woodward chose to start talking around town about how Sperling had threatened him—a ridiculous interpretation that the ridiculous conservative media has been running with—rather than sticking with the obvious interpretation that Woodward's reputation among journalists is going to suffer from flagrant wrongness. It would be interesting to see Woodward try to hash this out with, say, fellow Post-ie Ezra Klein but instead he’s going the full wingnut and will be appearing on Sean Hannity’s show tonight to advance the agitprop agenda.
Over at my blogging home-away-from home, Angry Black Lady Chronicles, Zandar surveys the damage: The media, left, right, and center, picked up on Woodward’s Annoying Peasant routine and ran with it. Quelle surprise.
But what really struck me about the Woodward dustup was this: People still listen to Bob Woodward?
I know, I know. He was of half the Washington Post team that broke the Watergate story and took down Pres. Nixon. Kudos to Bob. That was forty years ago.
Since Watergate, Bob Woodward’s career has been … how shall I put this delicately? … less than consistent. Of course, he was feted on the left when he skewered the Bush Administration in his Bush at War series, but he’d already lost me by then.
The chief source of my frustration with Bob Woodward was his 1987 work, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. Veil should have been one of the most important books of the 1980s, but instead it became a source of distraction, and, ultimately, an opportunity missed for Woodward as a writer and for the country as a whole.
A little backstory is in order. I’m certainly not the only person to have observed that the seeds of our most significant 21st Century problems, including 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, and the ill-advised “war on terror,” were sewn in days of Pres. Reagan. When Reagan came into office, his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, had made significant progress towards peace in the Middle East, but had badly misread the tealeaves in Iran. Reagan effectively halted Carter’s efforts to forge a real peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and Israel’s Arab neighbors, cheering from the sidelines as Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1982. The subsequent massacres at the Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila, carried out by Lebanese Phalangist militiamen but tacitly encouraged by Israel, still haunt the region and fuel extremism.
Reagan also exacerbated Carter’s mishandling of Iran, further isolating that country and pushing its nascent revolution further in the direction of theocracy and despotism. Ultimately, Reagan supported Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the horrific war between Iran and Iraq, a war that cost more than 1,000,000 lives, and, in the process, helped to provide Hussein’s regime with chemical and biological weapons.  We all know where that led.
And then there was Afghanistan. While it’s understandable that the U.S. provided aid to the Afghan people in response to the Soviet Union’s unprovoked invasion, Reagan saw Afghanistan, and, for that matter, all of Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, not as countries inhabited by actual human beings but as squares on a massive chessboard. Consequently, his support for the Mujahidin had less to do with promoting the national aspirations of the Afghan people than it did with fighting a surrogate war against the Soviets. And so, wittingly or not, Reagan helped to arm and, perhaps more importantly, to burnish the credentials of a young Osama bin Laden.
All of this is the backdrop of Woodward’s book, Veil. Imagine how important it would have been not only to expose the hidden, likely illegal goings-on in the CIA on Reagan’s watch, but to focus the country’s attention on the terrible foreign policy mistakes of the Reagan Administration in the Middle East and beyond. Had Woodward accomplished that, our country might have greeted the misadventures of both Presidents Bush – and Pres. Clinton, too – with much greater skepticism.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, Veil became not merely controversial, but openly mocked. Why? Because of Woodward’s penchant for lurid, and sometimes questionable, details, most notably his supposed deathbed interview with Regan’s CIA Director, William Casey. A 1987 review in the Chicago Tribune goes relatively easy on Woodward:
The value of  “Veil” also is obscured by the controversy over Woodward’s “deathbed” interview with Casey. Woodward said he talked to Casey at a Washington hospital while the former CIA director was recovering from brain surgery. Woodward said Casey acknowledged that he knew funds from arms sales to Iran were diverted illegally to the Nicaraguan resistance. But Casey’s widow says the interview never occurred.
It is difficult to understand how Woodward could write a book about Casey’s constantly misleading Congress and almost everyone else in Washington, yet believe a comment uttered by the CIA director when he was recovering from brain surgery and probably under medication.
Doubts about the accuracy of the Casey interview dogged Woodward for years after. In 2010, Woodward’s own Washington Post reported:
Kevin Shipp, a member of Casey’s security detail at Georgetown University hospital while he fought a brain tumor in 1987, asserts in a forthcoming, self-published memoir that, “None of the agents allowed Mr. Woodward into the room.”
“Indeed, Woodward did try to enter the hospital room, but was interdicted by the agent in the hot seat [outside Casey’s door] and gracefully shown to the exit,” Shipp recounts in “In from the Shadows: CIA Secrecy and Operations,” the first published account of the controversy by a member of Casey's security detail.
Woodward, of course, has always maintained that the interview occurred exactly as he related it in the book, but because Casey died in May 1987, no one knew for sure. So the doubt that surrounded the story – and the ghoulish nature of the interview itself – completely overshadowed the hugely important issues the book should have explored. Meanwhile, Woodward paraded from one talk show to another, reveling in the controversy (and selling a lot of books), as the media and the public were consumed not with Reagan’s misdeeds but with a celebrity journalist and his outsized ego.
Woodward’s latest foray into the public arena – claiming to have been threatened by an apologetic, non-threatening email – borders on Alex Jones territory, to be sure, but that’s nothing compared to the opportunities he squandered after Watergate.
[Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Just When You Think You’re All Out Of I Can’t Even …

… A crazy, gun-loving Downstate Illinois legislator makes you go out and get a whole new bushelful.
This afternoon, my friend John V. Moore (fresh off of helping Robin Kelly score a crushing victory in the Democratic primary to fill Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat in Congress), tweeted a link to this piece on Think Progess that pretty much breaks the I-Can’t-Even-O-Meter:
In a rant on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives Tuesday, State Rep. Jim Sacia (R) objected to statewide gun violence prevention efforts comparing them to castration.
As the right-wing Red Alert Politics reported, Sacia screamed that the bill was being forced by Chicago legislators because they have a “runaway gun problem.”
SACIA: Don’t blame the rest of us. This isn’t about Democrats, it’s not about Republicans. It’s because Chicago wants a warm fuzzy. “Let’s pass a bill that will eliminate assault rifles.” Last year, there were more people killed with hammers than with assault rifles. Here’s an analogy folks, I ask you to think of this: You folks in Chicago, want me to get castrated because you’re families are having too many kids. It spells out exactly what is happening here! You want us to get rid of guns. … You bet I used Chicago as an example, because you’re the folks that want this craziness.”
(Emphasis in original.)
While it’s unclear what got Rep. Sacia so worked up, you should know that the only gun control legislation the Illinois General Assembly voted on recently involved “banning guns in schools, casinos and on public transit.” Not exactly “get[ting] rid of guns,” of course, but there’s something about gun-adoration that leads some people to lose their damn minds.
Seriously, though. I don’t even know where to begin with this bucket of crazy. First of all, if you’re a grown-ass man, there are virtually no circumstances in which you should talk about your deal – all or any part of your deal – in public, you know? You may need to talk about your deal in the privacy of your doctor’s office. You may want to talk about your deal in the privacy of your bedroom. Who am I to judge? But there’s never a reason to talk about your deal on the floor of the Illinois General Assembly.
Moreover, if you’re trying to come up with a cogent argument against some imaginary gun ban and the first analogy you think of is to castration, I don’t need Dr. Freud to psychoanalyze that stuff. You just told the whole world that you equate your gun with your junk.
Or, your junk with your gun. Not sure that that makes it any better, though.
Actually, when I first wrote that, I wrote “penis” – you equate your gun with your penis, and vice versa – but on further reflection, I realize castration is more … um … testicular in nature. But it’s all deal/junk-related. So my point stands.
In any event, what really got me going was Sacia’s all-too-predictable nonsense about Chicago:
You bet I used Chicago as an example, because you’re the folks that want this craziness.
On behalf of the 9.5 million residents of the Chicago metropolitan area, let me kindly invite Rep. Sacia to go pound salt. Because for the last four years (at least), we’ve been subjected to an endless stream of Chicago-bashing from every right-wing semi-literate tool with access to a microphone, a telephone, a mobile phone, an internet connection, or a Sharpie pen. And we’ve had it, alright?
It’s bad enough when they use moribund clichés to attack the President (often clichés that poorly hide racist thoughts they’re afraid to say out loud). But when they discuss Chicago in the context of gun control, there’s something particularly mean spirited about it.
Lately it seems that every right-wing hack, from doctor/blogger Melissa Clouthier to playwright/angry person David Mamet, is holding up my fair city as an example of why gun control doesn’t work, even though it’s a manifestly disingenuous argument. And now we’ve got a Republican state representative – and potential castrati, apparently – saying Chicagoans are crazy for gun control, which is disingenuous for precisely the same reasons.
I’ve gone on about this ad nauseam, but I’m going to keep saying it until it sinks in: According to the Chicago Police Department, murders in Chicago declined steadily from 943 in 1992 to 433 in 2011. See Chicago Police Department, 2011 Murder Analysis, p. 2 (.pdf file). The number of murders did, in fact, rise from 433 in 2011 to 506 in 2012, but here’s the fact conservatives overlook: During the period from 1992 to 2010, Chicago had a handgun ban in place. In 2010, the United States Supreme Court struck down that handgun ban in a case called McDonald v. City of Chicago, ___ U.S. ___, 103 S. Ct. 3020 (2010). So for nearly two decades, while the handgun ban was in place, the murder rate steadily declined. Then, two years after the handgun ban was eliminated, the murder rate increased by about 17%.
So if you only compare the relative strictness of Chicago’s gun laws to the murder rate, which is what anti-gun control advocates consistently ask us to do, you would come to precisely the opposite conclusion they want you to reach.
But, more to the point, those facts make Rep. Sacia’s Chicago-bashing all the more reprehensible. Chicago’s not looking to “get rid of guns,” because, thanks to the Supreme Court, that option’s essentially off the table, at least in terms of handguns and hunting rifles. What Chicago is looking for is a comprehensive solution to the problem of gun violence – and yes, that includes examining what kinds of firearms regulations are still permissible after McDonald and District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) – because people keep getting shot here.
Maybe you don’t agree that gun regulations should be part of that solution, but you’ve gotta have great big brass ones to say we’re crazy for looking into it.
Well, great big brass ones for now, anyway, Rep. Sacia … For. Now.
[Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Man In Black Would Be 81 Years Old Today

John R. “Johnny” Cash was born February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas, and he died September 12, 2003, at the age of 71, entirely too young for a man who left a cultural legacy that rivals Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis … you name it. There isn’t an artist in any genre who had a greater impact on American music than Johnny Cash.
Known primarily as a country singer, he always was much more than that. He befriended Bob Dylan at a time when Dylan was just another hippie war protester, supported the American Indian Movement in the early 1970s, and his signature song – which he played for a somewhat embarrassed Richard Nixon at the White House in 1972 – is the consummate tale of forgotten Americans:

I wear the black for the poor and beaten down
Living in the hopeless hungry side of town
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime
But is there because he’s a victim of the times …
I wear it for the sick and lonely old
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold
I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could have been
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men …
Well there’s things that never will be right I know
And things need changing everywhere you go
But till we start to make a move to make a few things right
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white …
Later in life, he stretched his music further, covering Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” among others on the American Recordings series. And then there’s this: Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer doing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”:

(Yeah, I’ve posted that video two or three times before. Because it’s Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer, that’s why.)
In any event, Johnny Cash was a great American liberal to the very end. Here’s his daughter, Rosanne Cash, in the October 2010 edition of Progressive magazine, discussing his opposition to the war in Iraq in the final months of his life:
He was so fragile. We invaded Iraq in March, and he died in September. And because his health was so fragile, he couldn’t take the controversy of making a public statement against the war. He knew that people were rabid. They attacked me mercilessly after I did the press conference with Musicians United to Win Without War. He knew that he couldn’t tolerate that.
In the two weeks leading up to the invasion, my father was in the hospital. He was very sick. The doctors put him in a medically induced coma. He went to sleep not knowing if we had invaded Iraq. It was the last thought on his mind. When he woke up, I was sitting by his side. He looked at me and reached over to pull the television over to him. He was looking at me like, “Did it happen?” I said, “Dad, it happened.” He went, “No! No!” Can you imagine? This is the first thing he thought of when he woke up from a weeklong coma.
Conservatives, of course, will always try to claim Johnny Cash as one of their own. That just goes to show what a badass he really was. But he didn’t dress in black to represent the rich and powerful; he did it for the rest of us.
And one more thing. Via @pourmecoffee on the Twitters, here’s a picture of Johnny Cash with kitten:

[Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]

In Illinois, Gradual Change You Can Believe In

On Valentine’s Day, the Illinois Senate passed SB 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which, if enacted by the full General Assembly, will provide that:
[A]ll laws of this State applicable to marriage apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children; parties to a marriage and their children, regardless of whether the marriage is of a same-sex or different-sex couple, have the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law; parties to a marriage are included in any definition or use of terms such as “spouse”, “family”, “immediate family”, “dependent”, “next of kin”, “wife”, “husband”, “bride”, “groom”, “wedlock”, and other terms that refer to or denote the spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout the law, regardless of whether the parties to a marriage are of the same sex or different sexes; and, to the extent laws this State adopt, refer to, or rely upon provisions of federal law as applicable to this State, parties to a marriage of the same sex and their children shall be treated under the law of this State as if federal law recognized the marriages of same-sex couples in the same manner as the law of this State.
Today, marriage equality likely will take another step forward in my home state. From Chicagoist:
The Illinois House Executive Committee is expected to vote Tuesday afternoon on Senate Bill 10, the legislation proposing marriage equality in Illinois, in the latest obstacle the bill must face before becoming law.
SB 10, aka the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, was passed by the Illinois Senate in an historic Valentine’s Day vote 34-21. Proponents of the bill expect it to clear committee and head to the House floor for a full vote, but they expect to see stronger opposition to the bill in the House than the Senate. The bill’s sponsors, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), believe they have the necessary 60 votes for passage.
Chicagoist also notes that public opinion polls suggest roughly half of the state’s population supports marriage equality – including about 48% in rural downstate Illinois – and Gov. Quinn, a Democrat, has promised to sign the legislation if it passes the House.
Change is coming in Illinois, albeit slowly. In the meantime, it’s helpful to remember that real people are affected by this decision, even if the churches and other organizations who oppose marriage equality want those people to remain invisible. Real people, like my college friend William Hall and his husband, Rev. Kevin Tindell, who are featured in this video (beginning around the 2:27 mark) from Chicago’s ABC affiliate, which aired on May 12, 2012, the day Pres. Obama announced his support for same sex marriage:

My friend and his family deserve the same respect that my family deserves; they are every bit as valuable to the world as my family is; and nobody has the right to say that the love between Mr. Hall and Rev. Tindell, the entirety of their relationship, is any less worthy than the love between my wife and me, or between any other two genuinely committed adults. By this time next month, the state of Illinois may (finally) catch up with the rest of us.
As I like to say: America – Now Even More America-ish.
[Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]

Monday, February 25, 2013

Blogging News!

I am very pleased to announce that Imani Gandy has asked me to contribute to Angry Black Lady Chronicles, one of my favorite blogs. It’s good to be part of a genuine Kenyan Marxist Fascist Socialist Cabal, and if I can contribute something to the cause … or, just, you know, be my usual cranky, er, charming self … hey, I’m always glad to help.
Imani and I have been Twitter pals for some time now, and I have huge respect for her not only because she’s hilarious and smart and really good at that blogging thing, but because she’s a lawyer, too, only she figured out how to get out of the law biz and be an actual productive member of society. And any lawyer who figures out how to get out of the Stony Lonesome practice of law is a hero to me.
I will continue to post here on a regular basis. Much of what I post here I will cross-post at ABLC, but in the event I post something exclusively there, I’ll link to it here. Because I’m all about vigorous cross-promotion.
In any event, here’s my introductory post at ABLC, for those who might not be familiar with this blog.
So please do me a favor and check here and there on a regular basis for all sorts of bloggy goodness. You may not agree with everything you read over there – I doubt you agree with everything you read here – but they’re a smart, provocative bunch who will get you thinking.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sometimes, You Just Gotta Listen …

Following yesterday’s post, let’s sit back and listen to the wisdom of Garland Jeffreys, the most honest man in rock ’n roll. The son of an African American father and Puerto Rican mother, he knows a thing or two about race in America. His 1992 album Don’t Call Me Buckwheat should have been the starting point for a discussion that’s still never really taken place in our country, even after the election of Pres. Obama.
In any event, the title song, “Don’t Call Me Buckwheat,” highlights the point I was trying to make yesterday:
The power of words
Well it all takes place
In a big city
With a very small mind …
And then there’s “Racial Repertoire”:

Put on my armor of defense
I never know who I’m gonna meet
To me it never did make much sense
You don’t have to go too far
Riding in a subway car
Walk inside a cocktail bar
To feel the racial repertoire
It’s become unconscious
Deep within the psyche
Generations stymied
A permanent scar …
And “Hail, Hail Rock ’n Roll,” the essential history of pop music, with all its racial complexity:

Rockets of love
It's never too late
For change in the color of
The color of her
The color of him
It really does matter
What skin you’re in
Big yellow taxi cab passed me by
Stop on the next corner to pick up a white guy
The color of you
The color of me
You can’t judge a man
By lookin’ at the marquee
Hail hail rock ’n’ roll
Comes from R & B and soul
Don’t leave me standing in the cold
Used to think I’d never grow old
Hail hail rock ’n’ roll
Don’t leave me standing on the beat
Leave me stranded on the street
I see the light, I feel the heat …
On a related note, Garland’s latest album, The King Of In Between (2011), is fantastic. Let’s hope he comes out with another soon. In the meantime, you can follow him on Twitter (@garlandjeffreys) and on Facebook. He is a very cool dude.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

But Do You Really Want To Take Away The Meaning Of That Word?

Believe it or not, I don’t know everything. No, wait. Strike that. Believe it or not, I don’t actually believe I know everything. You might think I think I know everything, what with all the opinionated blogging and all. But, really, I don’t. Think that, I mean.
So when I wrote recently about White people using the n-word (and yes, that’s how I’m going to refer to it; sorry), and then wrote about some of the reactions I got to that post, I wasn’t suggesting that I know everything there is to know about the topic. Because I most certainly don’t.
In fact, there are quite a few people who understand the issue in ways I can’t. Like, for example, Shayla Pierce (@ShaylaDPierce on Twitter) who writes at XO Jane. She explains, in ways I never could, why it is not, and likely never will be, okay for White folks to bandy that word about:
But would it really be horror, Shayla? It’s 2013 in allegedly post racial America.  Your president is Black for crying out loud.  Wouldn’t that word just roll right off your back?
Quite the contrary.  All that is precisely the reason why it doesn’t.  A complete stranger has the ability to come along and remind you that, still, after all this time and all the progress you think you’ve made, people still hate you just because your skin is brown.  And in an instance, with little more effort than it takes to breathe, can reduce you to absolutely nothing.  
Read the whole piece. It’s brilliant, but more than that: It comes from someone who knows. And because she knows, people ought to listen.
That’s right, my fellow White folks. We could stand to do more listening than talking on this particular subject.
In any event, Pierce’s description of having been victimized by the n-word at age 9 struck me on a visceral level. My daughter is 11 – not far removed from the age Pierce was when that occurred – and if anyone ever hurt my daughter like that, let me tell you: Their dental records had better be up to date. You know. For purposes of identifying the body.
But, of course, no one ever could hurt my daughter precisely like that. There are all sorts of mean, awful, horrible, vicious things somebody could say to her – things that would, I assure you, cause me to visit that same swift and terrible retribution upon the offender mentioned above, like the hand of freaking God – but nothing precisely like calling a 9 year old Black girl the n-word. Is it the worst thing anyone could ever say to a young person? I don’t know, because I can’t know.
That’s called privilege. White people like me, my wife, my kids … we can’t know what it’s like to be victimized by those kinds of racial slurs; all we can do is listen to those who actually do know it, and try to understand, however imperfectly. Because it’s important to try to understand what other people have gone through, especially when the effort to understand means you come to grips with your own privilege.
Which leads me to ask this question. I understand the counterargument that some people make; the argument that by using the n-word – or, for that matter, any other slur, racial, ethnic, religious, gender-based, whatever – you deprive that word of its hurtful meaning. Recall that famous scene from Lenny where Dustin Hoffman, playing the title character, says if we used that word regularly, then maybe, eventually, nobody’d be able to use it to hurt a Black child ever again.
So, yeah, I get the point. But I have to ask: Do you really want to change the meaning of that word? Do you really want to take the hurt out of it?
No, I’m not asking if you really want to stop hurting people by using racial slurs. Of course you do. But there’s a very easy way to stop hurting people by using racial slurs: Stop using them. Which was the point of my original piece.
My point here is this: The hurtful nature of that word has actual, historical significance. It is, in a sense, an historical document in its own right. Racial slurs, racist language and imagery, and especially the n-word itself, were part-and-parcel of our history of racial oppression. Language was one of the chief weapons in the racist’s arsenal, a tool used to dehumanize African Americans and make institutionalized racism, from slavery to segregation, possible. Because you can’t do that to other human beings unless you see them as less than human.
Let’s imagine Lenny Bruce was right and by repeating the word over and over and over again, it loses all of its power. It’s no longer a hurtful word. Then how do you teach that aspect of our history? How do future generations come to understand what that word meant, in its historical context? They wouldn’t be able to grasp the meaning of that word as it was used by Twain and Faulkner, let alone how it was used in the days of Jim Crow.
It’s a word that’s ineluctably tied to our history. I don’t believe you can understand the history of America in its entirety without understanding the power of that word.
So, I’m sorry, White people, but I think we’re stuck with it. And with all its mean, awful, horrible, vicious power. We own the hurt it’s caused over the years. We can’t wish away that part of our history.
But fer Chrissakes, please stop saying it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Your Friday Clash Song: Crime And Punishment Edition

Apropos of yesterday’s post on crime and punishment, “Somebody Got Murdered” from Sandinista! (1980):
While riding in a car

Some ol’ guy takes a swig

And passes back the jar

But where they were last night

No-one can remember

Somebody got murdered

Goodbye, for keeps, forever
Or, perhaps more on point, here’s a live version of the Clash doing Junior Murvin’s “Police And Thieves”:

(I actually think the live performance is better than the studio version on the UK and US editions of The Clash.)
And, of course, “Police On My Back,” originally from Sandinista!:

Which leads, of course, to “Ghetto Defendant,” from Combat Rock (1982):

And, finally, to “Bankrobber,” which was released in 1980 as the B-side to the “Train In Vain” single and on the Black Market Clash compilation that same year. Because fuck, yeah, that’s why!

I could go on like this all day … but you know what to do.
Your Friday Clash Playlist.
Turn ’em all up!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Convicted Of Murder And Still Above The Law?

The case of former Bolingbrook, Illinois, police officer Drew Peterson is troubling in many respects, not the least of which is the fact that not one but two of Mr. Peterson’s former wives died and/or went missing under suspicious circumstances. But Mr. Peterson’s conviction for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, is also troubling in that it was based in no small part on questionable hearsay testimony; specifically, witnesses were allowed to testify to statements allegedly made by both Savio and Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, who is missing and presumed dead.
Today, though, was not the day to address the legal issues arising out of Mr. Peterson’s conviction. Those issues will be addressed, as they should be, on appeal. Rather, today was the day Drew Peterson was to be sentenced on a conviction that, for now, has to be considered perfectly valid. And he was sentenced – to thirty-eight years in prison, including credit for the four years he’s served to date. Peterson will have to serve every one of the remaining thirty-four years he has coming, which means he won’t be released until he’s 93 years old.
Nonetheless, Peterson’s sentencing, like so many aspects of his case, is troubling, too. That’s because, according to the Chicago Tribune:
Peterson had faced as much as 60 years, but Judge Edward Burmila said he gave Peterson some consideration for his years as a police officer and his service in the military.
Let me stop here for a moment and interject the obvious: I wasn’t at the sentencing hearing, and the Tribune article provides little more by way of an explanation for the Judge’s sentencing decision. So there may be more to it than that.
But if the Tribune accurately characterized the basis of Judge Burmila’s decision not to impose a longer sentence, the decision itself is rather disconcerting. First, Peterson expressed no remorse; instead, the Tribune says, “he screamed, ‘I did not kill Kathleen!’,” and launched into a bizarre diatribe in which he attacked the investigation, his prosecutors, and the criminal justice system as a whole. I’m not a criminal lawyer, but it’s axiomatic that a convicted defendant will ordinarily receive a harsher sentence if he refuses to acknowledge his guilt and apologize for what he’s done – even if he intends to appeal the underlying conviction.
Second, it’s puzzling, to say the least, that the Judge “gave Peterson some consideration for his years as a police officer.” Note that this is not a case where an individual served as a police officer years ago, then committed a crime later in life after having left the force. Peterson was convicted of killing Savio while he was serving as a police officer. You would think that committing murder while you’re a police officer would actually make matters worse, not better.
You’d think that, and you’d be right – at least, according to the law. In Illinois, judges sentencing criminal defendants to prison time are supposed to consider a series of mitigating and aggravating factors that are set out in Sections 5-5-3.1 and 5-5-3.2, respectively, of the Unified Code of Corrections. See 730 ILCS 5/5-5-3.1, 5-5-3.2. You will search Section 5-5-3.1 in vain to find “being a police officer” listed among the mitigating factors a judge is supposed to consider. You will, however, find that the judge is supposed to consider whether “[t]he character and attitudes of the defendant indicate that he is unlikely to commit another crime” (730 ILCS 5/5-5-3.1(a)(9)) – which is why showing remorse is considered to be so important.
On the other hand, you’ll also find, among the aggravating factors that may lead a judge to lengthen a sentence, the following:
[Whether] the defendant, by the duties of his office or by his position, was obliged to prevent the particular offense committed or to bring the offenders committing it to justice …
730 ILCS 5/5-5-3.2(a)(6). That provision doesn’t mean a police officer who commits a crime should automatically be sentenced more harshly than another individual who commits the same crime, but it does mean that when an police officer violates the trust the public puts in him, the court should at least consider whether that merits a harsher sentence.
Here, the jury found that Peterson committed murder – one of the crimes he’s supposed to prevent – at a time when he was a police officer. And, of course, being a police officer put Peterson in a position to cover his tracks, and possibly to influence the outcome of the initial investigation into Savio’s murder. We’ll probably never know why that investigation went awry, but there’s little doubt that when a police officer murders his wife, or anyone else for that matter, he violates the public trust in the worst possible way.
So it’s hard to understand why the fact that Peterson was a police officer should weigh in his favor in the sentencing decision.
Of course, as a practical matter, it may make little or no difference whether Peterson was sentenced to 38 years or the full 60 years permitted under the law. He’ll probably die in prison anyway. But the larger issue here is whether there is a separate legal standard that benefits police officers when they commit crimes and thereby violate the public trust. And given a handful of notorious cases in the Chicago area over the past few years, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether such a double standard exists.
In addition to Peterson, there was the case of Anthony Abbate, who received two years probation after viciously beating Karolina Obrycka in a bar in 2007 – a sentence many of us felt was exceedingly light under the circumstances. But at least Abbate was convicted of aggravated battery in that case; in 2009 a judge acquitted Chicago Police Officers Paul Powers and Gregory Barnes and Sgt. Jeffery Planey of aggravated battery in connection with a brawl outside another tavern, a decision that raised more than a few eyebrows here. And then there was this case from August 2010:
When off-duty Chicago Police Officer John Ardelean, 36, was involved in a suspected DUI accident on Thanksgiving that killed two people — Miguel Flores, 22, and Erick Lagunas, 21 — he was not arrested immediately after the crash or at the hospital. Instead, a police Lt. John Magruder ordered him arrested hours after the crash when he smelled alcohol on the officer. An judge has now thrown out the charges due to a lack of probable cause.
Of course, each of these cases has to be evaluated on its own merits, but when incident after incident occurs in which it appears as though police officers charged with serious offenses – murder, aggravated battery, DUI that results in fatalities – are given particularly lenient treatment in comparison to non-officer offenders charged with similar crimes, the courts have an obligation to address the growing distrust the public feels in the administration of justice. Maybe there is a rational explanation for the results in each of those cases, but you can’t fault the public for perceiving the existence of a double standard that protects cops gone bad.
At a minimum, I would think that Drew Peterson’s judge would have wanted to avoid adding to that perception today.