Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

WSJ: ‘Politics Is Not a Crime’

I’m sharing this for the headline as much as anything else.

When I saw that former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was arguing before the Supreme Court that he “had engaged in nothing more than politics as usual,” I thought, how sleazy can you get?

But then I saw the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal make the same argument, and this time I paid attention:

Bob McDonnell

Bob McDonnell

A jury convicted Mr. McDonnell in 2014 for taking more than $170,000 in gifts from a Richmond businessman who was also a family friend. The gifts included a $50,000 loan, $15,000 to finance their daughter’s wedding, fancy dresses, a Rolex watch and vacations. Let us stipulate that this is reckless and sleazy, and that the businessman hoped the Governor would take actions to promote his diet-supplement business.

The legal problem is that Mr. McDonnell never provided much of any quo for the quid. Virginia law lets politicians accept gifts, and prosecutors never charged him with violating state law. They charged him under federal law with performing “official acts” to benefit the business, but none of those acts influenced policy or changed a government decision.

Mr. McDonnell was convicted for attending a lunch at the executive mansion where the businessman’s company gave out grants to universities, for attending a reception with the businessman, for asking an aide about research pertaining to the company, and for arranging a meeting with his staff and the man.

This stretches the bribery statutes to criminalize the normal transactions of politics…

So basically, yeah, taking all those gifts was sleazy, but the man did not commit a crime. And they make a good case for that position.

For the WSJ, this fits with their overall limited-government guiding principle; they see the federal prosecutors as overstepping. It also afforded them the excuse to include this subhed: “If Bob McDonnell is guilty of corruption, then so is Hillary Clinton.”

But the larger point is also worth making. Just because we find something about politics distasteful doesn’t mean it’s a crime.

Often, it isn’t even sleazy — in this case, taking the gifts stank to high heaven, but what McDonnell did for the giver was in no way corrupt. As the Journal notes:

Public officials routinely act as boosters for local businesses. They also frequently meet donors and introduce them to others. Citizens also have the First Amendment right to petition their elected officials. If arranging a meeting for a benefactor qualifies as corruption, prosecutors will be able to target any politician in the country.

And that would be wrong.

Other lawmakers think solicitor should probe RCRC

BRP-Prk10

Bluff Road Park, one of the facilities overseen by RCRC.

This is an interesting wrinkle:

Four members of the Richland County legislative delegation now are asking Sheriff Leon Lott to turn over an investigation of the Richland County Recreation Commission to 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson.

In a letter sent Friday to Lott, Sen. John Scott, Sen. Darrell Jackson, Rep. Jimmy Bales and Rep. Christopher Hart ask Lott to engage the Solicitor’s Office in investigating any possible criminal activities of the legislative-controlled Recreation Commission….

Two weeks ago, Sen. Joel Lourie, Rep. Beth Bernstein and Rep. James Smith, asked the sheriff’s department to investigate the commission in light of further recent reports of possible criminal activity.

“We think it is a more appropriate channel” to have the solicitor investigate, Jackson told The State. “Our goal is just to get down to the bottom of this. If something criminal has happened, then we need to take action. … If there are no criminal activities, then we hope we will put this to rest.”…

So… what’s that about? Why the solicitor instead of Lott? I hope it’s not just as simple as a superficial analysis would suggest. This matter is rife with racial tension — until now, you’ve had white officials seeking an investigation of black officials. Is it meaningful that three white lawmakers sought for the white sheriff to investigate, while three black lawmakers and one white one want the black solicitor to be in charge?

Perhaps, in the minds of some, both white and black.

One thing I’m sure of: Anyone who would accuse Lourie, Smith, Bernstein or Lott of racism would be light years off base – and I can’t see Jackson, et al., doing that. So what’s the real reason for the other four lawmakers choosing this other course?

The story doesn’t mention, by the way, where the four stepping up on the issue today would back the call by Lourie, Smith and Bernstein to turn the commission over to county council — which is the most obvious reform measure from a legislative perspective…

FYI, Bobby Harrell is once again out there, in the public eye

Harrell

This is certainly just coincidence, but as the struggle between Alan Wilson and David Pascoe has been in the news, I keep running into Bobby Harrell on Twitter.

There he is, popping up with some frequency, still using the @SpeakerHarrell handle, even though the content is purely business, and “Speaker” is something he will never be again.

It has seemed to me that this started just as the ongoing legislative investigation hit the front pages again, but his re-emergence on social media predates that a bit.

Harrell was absent from Twitter from 10 Sep 2014 to 14 Apr 2015, and after that Tweeted infrequently and with no apparent aim for several months — two Tweets in April, one in May, none again until September. But in December he launched his campaign, Tweeting 32 times, then 43 times in January and 43 again in February, rising to 45 in March.

The content ranges from the blandly seasonal…

… to the kind of content meant to position himself and his company as authoritative on insurance-related matters:

And no, I haven’t seen him weigh in on politics even once.

It’s interesting that he decided to use his own feed, his own identity (complete with “Speaker”), to promote the business — as opposed to having an employee Tweet via a feed branded more directly with the name of the business (which is the approach he takes on the Facebook page). Apparently, he’s decided the value of his name recognition outweighs other considerations.

No, I don’t have any particular editorial point to make here. I just thought these renewed sightings were interesting…

Scoppe: The law tends to support AG Wilson’s position

Wilson presser

I was glad to see Cindi Scoppe’s column Sunday, in which she spelled out more clearly what I thought I knew about the Wilson/Pascoe contretemps: That as hard as it might be for the casual observer to see (particularly given Wilson’s emotional presser), the attorney general seems to be on the right side of the law in this.

As Cindi wrote:

Cindi croppedThere are three major issues here: Did Mr. Pascoe have the legal authority to initiate a State Grand Jury investigation, or did he need Mr. Wilson’s authorization? Did Mr. Wilson have the legal authority to remove Mr. Pascoe from the case? And was Mr. Wilson justified in removing Mr. Pascoe? That last question is entirely different from whether it was legal…

And as you find from reading the rest of her piece, her answers are:

  1. No, Pascoe did not have that authority; Wilson has to sign off on a State Grand Jury initiation. The law doesn’t allow the AG to delegate that, however he may recuse himself from any other involvement in a case.
  2. Yes, of course Wilson has the authority to remove Pascoe and assign someone else. The attorney general is the boss of the solicitors. As Cindi notes, “recusal is a voluntary thing, left entirely to the discretion of the prosecutor. In fact, when judges recuse themselves, it’s not uncommon for them to later unrecuse themselves.” When it comes to appointing and firing special prosecutors, recusal is neither here nor there; it does not vacate the AG’s constitutional authority.
  3. Finally, on the judgment call of removing Pascoe, Cindi is less certain — but she doesn’t doubt the purity of Wilson’s intentions: “In his mind, he had to remove Mr. Pascoe — not to stymie the investigation but to salvage it. I’m not certain that was necessary, but I believe that he believed it was.”

Personally, on that last point, it seems that Pascoe’s insubordination demanded his removal — if Wilson’s account is accurate. That is, if Pascoe did indeed refuse to meet with the AG’s office to get proper authorization for a State Grand Jury investigation, choosing instead to launch an attack on the attorney general.

But then, we’ve yet to hear Pascoe’s defense of his actions on Good Friday…

Angry, indignant AG Wilson says Pascoe chose politics over proper procedure

Wilson, backed by former attorneys generals Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster (Travis Medlock is off camera to the left)

Wilson, backed by former attorneys generals Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster (Travis Medlock is off camera to the left)

An angry, indignant Attorney General Alan Wilson, backed silently by three former attorneys general, said this afternoon that Special Prosecutor David Pascoe would have had the State Grand Jury investigation he says he wants if only he had met with Wilson’s office Friday as requested.

Instead, Wilson said, Pascoe chose to file a complaint about Wilson with the state Supreme Court, and apparently tip the media off that he had filed it.

Throughout his press availability Wednesday, Wilson insisted that a State Grand Jury investigation can only be called for by a joint request from the SLED chief and the attorney general, and the fact that he recused himself from the case does not change that requirement. (He also drew a distinction between his own voluntary recusal in “an abundance of caution” and involuntary “disqualification” by a judge.)

He said he stands ready to give that ratification for an investigation at the request of an “untainted” prosecutor — which he does not consider Pascoe to be.

“I’m here today to say that not only do I support a state grand jury investigation, but I’m here to tell you there will be a state grand jury investigation,” he said at the outset of the presser. “But it has to be done lawfully, and by someone who is not tainted.”

Wilson recounted the history of his involvement with Pascoe, going back to “the legal battle of our lives” trying to prosecute former House Speaker Bobby Harrell in 2014.

He said “Solicitor Pascoe was not my first choice, nor my second, nor my third, nor my fourth, nor my fifth…” because “The solicitors wanted no part of this case… they saw the living hell I was going through…”

“I had reservations, he said, “about Solicitor Pascoe’s temperament.” He said he was also concerned because someone related to Harrell had worked in Pascoe’s office.

In the end, he found the charges that Harrell pled to “disappointing,” but said “we were tired, and we just wanted to move on.”

As Pascoe continued investigating possible legislative corruption, Wilson said, the AG’s office had concerns about how Pascoe was conducting it a number of times, but let it pass.

When Pascoe tried to call for state grand jury involvement, “We had concerns… we wanted to fix his mistake…” So, he said, Pascoe was invited to meet with the AG’s office on Good Friday.

Pascoe declined to meet, and instead filed with the Supreme Court his petition for a writ of mandamus saying that Wilson was acting improperly.

Wilson said this document contained as “outright lie” — that he had sought to impede the investigation. He insisted that “at no time has anyone on my staff” done such a thing.

Wilson was mad about that. He was also mad that John Monk knew to show up at the court to get that petition Monday. When Wilson invited questions at the end of his statement and the first one came from John, he said he would answer the question if John would tell him how he knew the document had been filed. (Moments later, he apologized to John for being so confrontational.)

In the end, Wilson’s position is that he will ratify a request from an “untainted” prosecutor. But with Pascoe insisting Wilson can’t fire him and 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson declining to take over unless there is a definitive ruling on the matter of Pascoe’s firing, it’s unclear who that untainted prosecutor might be.

To all his critics, Wilson issued a challenge: “Keep doing what you’re doing… You do your worst, I will do my best.”

Anyway, that’s what Wilson had to say. This isn’t a complete news story until we hear from Pascoe and others. And we likely won’t know where all this is going until the Supreme Court makes a determination. For that matter, had I been in the room instead of watching this on a live feed from WIS, I’d have had some questions of people in the room.

But it was an extraordinary live performance by a very angry AG. When I find a complete video recording, I will embed it. (HERE’S THE VIDEO.)

Wilson

Our own Kathryn Fenner on the pellet-gun vandalism

I’ve been extremely busy the last few days — my wife was out of town and I was among other things filling in for her taking care of grandchildren part of the time — and I just now saw this, brought to my attention by Doug Ross.

For the sake of Kathryn and her neighbors, I hope they got the right guys

 

Apple against our duly constituted authorities

In a Tweet on Friday, I put it as plainly as I could in 140 characters:

And since then, I’ve not seen a word that even comes close to justifying the outrageous position taken by Tim Cook. There was certainly nothing in his public letter that excused his behavior.

Probably the most outrageous part of the letter is when Cook essentially condescends to say the FBI’s intentions are no doubt quite honorable, and that Apple has cooperated with authorities (when Apple approved of how it was being asked to help), but the poor, simple creatures just don’t understand what they’re asking now. Fortunately we have the unelected wise men of Apple to countermand the requests of our duly constituted law enforcement authorities.

And I’ve seen quite a bit to confirm me in my view of the matter. Such as this piece today in the WSJ:

Apple was asked to adjust its software that wipes iPhones clean after 10 failed passwords, to enable the FBI to find the password. Prosecutors want this only for Farook’s phone, to “mitigate any perceived risk to Apple iOS software as to any other Apple device.” The local agency that employed Farook owns the phone and wants Apple’s help. “The user was made aware of his lack of privacy in the work phone while alive,” prosecutors note.Apple_Logo_Png_06

There’s no risk to encryption and the dead terrorist has no privacy rights. So what is Apple trying to protect?

The answer, according to the Justice Department, is a “business model and public brand marketing strategy.” Apple admitted as much last year in explaining to a federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., why it refused to unlock the iPhone of a methamphetamine dealer. The company had unlocked some 70 iPhones in criminal cases since 2008, so the judge was surprised by its sudden refusal.

Apple’s lawyers explained that customers are so concerned about government access to data that compliance with court orders would “substantially tarnish the Apple brand.”…

Yeah, I bet the families of those murdered by the phone’s owner sit up nights worrying about poor ol’ Apple’s brand.

You want to improve your brand? How about not selling me a phone set to destroy all my data after 10 failed passwords?

I’ll anticipate my libertarian friends’ arguments and say you’re right — I don’t understand the technology. And maybe the fact that I don’t believe Apple when it says it can’t crack one phone without making all iPhones immediately insecure makes me an ignoramus. But I don’t believe it. And even if I did, I would consider granting Apple the power to choose which court orders it will obey to be far too high a price to pay for having an unhackable phone….

A local case in which armed citizens stopped a crime

The barber shop where the shooting took place. Image from Google Maps.

The barber shop where the shooting took place. Image from Google Maps.

… and killed a suspect in the process.

Bryan, our friendly neighborhood gunslinger, rings to my attention this story that was in The State (and which I admit I read right over), in which local armed citizens stopped a crime… cold:

Elmurray “Billy” Bookman was cutting hair at his barber station, the second chair from the door, when two masked men, one wielding a pistol and the other carrying a shotgun, entered Next Up Barber & Beauty, he said.

Minutes later, Bookman and one of his customers drew their weapons as the robbers were taking money from customers and employees. They fired shots that left one of the suspects dead and sent another on the run just before 7 p.m. Friday.

“The kids were crying, hollering, and their parents were hollering,” Bookman said. “I think (the suspects) were getting kind of frustrated. They started putting their hands on some of the customers.”

About 20 people, including several women and children, were at the barbershop on Fort Jackson Boulevard. It sits behind the Applebee’s restaurant on Devine Street, across from the Cross Hill Market that houses Whole Foods….

Thoughts on this, gentle readers?

Putin probably LIKES being accused in Litvinenko death

Russia is issuing denials, but it occurs to me that on a certain level, Vladimir Putin relishes the British report that concludes he “probably” ordered the death of Alexander Litvinenko in London 10 years ago.

All his old pals from KGB days are bound to be jealous. Or scared. Or both...

All his old pals from KGB days are bound to be jealous. Or scared. Or both…

He’s likely to be congratulating himself that the whole world — and especially the part of it that consists of critics of his regime — thinks he gave the order. And having his old KGB cronies believe he did it in such a Dr. Evil kind of way, with polonium-210 slipped into the victim’s green tea, should be enough to have him hugging himself with delight. That impatient Obama can blow people up with drones, but this was real artistry by comparison. What a way for one spy to do in another!

Such reports would be embarrassing to most world leaders, but not to Putin. Really, what penalty is he ever likely to have to pay for this?

At this moment, he’s probably fighting the urge to strip his shirt off and go running through the countryside, holding a rifle. Or not. Fighting it, I mean.

Newman and Washington face tax charges

Both Richland County Councilman Kelvin Washington and former Columbia City Councilman Brian Newman have turned themselves in to authorities in connection with a tax investigation, and Newman’s attorney says he will plead guilty today.

Here’s The State‘s story, which I assume will soon be updated:

A former Columbia city official and a current Richland County councilman turned themselves into law enforcement Tuesday to face tax charges stemming from an ongoing investigation by the S.C. Department of Revenue.

Former Columbia City Councilman Brian Newman, 33, a local attorney who owns his own practice specializing in criminal defense, will plead guilty to two counts of willful failure to file timely tax returns for a total of $201,179 and be sentenced at a hearing scheduled for 2 p.m., his attorney Bakari Sellers said.

“He wants to get this wrapped up,” Sellers said. Already Newman has filed his back-tax returns and has paid his back taxes, which total about $9,800, Sellers said.

Richland County Councilman Kelvin Washington, 51, is charged with three counts of failing to file income tax returns for 2012, 2013 and 2014 for a total $426,000 in alleged unreported income. He is represented by attorneys Mike Duncan, Tim Rogers and Rep. James Smith, D-Richland….

It’s somewhat unclear at this point whether there’s any direct connection between these charges and the county’s penny sales tax, the handling of which the state Department of Revenue is investigating, except in this sense: “In a detailed audit such as the…  one DOR has done of the penny sales tax program, it is routine for auditors to check the income tax records of top people involved.”

But who knew Newman was even involved in that? The big shock in today’s news (to me, anyway), is the name of Brian Newman. The voters of District 2 just can’t seem to catch a break — first E.W. Cromartie, now this. Here’s hoping they fare better with Ed McDowell

336 days, 355 mass shootings

I got this from The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog. How is a “mass shooting” defined for the purposes of this count?

The San Bernardino shooting is the 355th mass shooting this year, according to a mass shooting tracker maintained by the Guns Are Cool subreddit. The Reddit tracker defines mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people, including the gunman, are killed or injured by gunfire.

The Mass Shooting Tracker is different from other shooting databases in that it uses a broader definition of mass shooting — the old FBI definition focused on four or more people killed as part of a single shooting.

It would be also be the second mass shooting just today — in the early morning hours, one person was killed and three were injured in an incident in Savannah, Georgia.

Speaking after the Colorado Springs shooting last week, President Obama urged Americans to not let this type of violence “become normal.” But the data show that this type of incident already is normal. There have been more mass shootings than calendar days so far this year…

So if only three people are hit, it’s not a mass shooting, by this count.

A few thoughts on ‘Spotlight’

One thing they definitely got right: The disaster area that is the typical reporter's workspace...

One thing they definitely got right: The grubby disaster area that is the typical reporter’s workspace…

I’ve had an extremely busy day and haven’t been able to keep up with the news. In any case, I was tired because I didn’t get home from the theater until about 10:30 last night, and then couldn’t resist popping my DVD of “All the President’s Men” into the player. I didn’t watch all of it, mind you, but… I was tired this morning.

I doubt that many of you have seen “Spotlight” yet, but you should. And against the day when you do see it, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the things that struck me about it, most of which I shared with the audience last night during our panel discussion after the show.

First, a plug: That was my first time attending a show in the new Nickelodeon, and it was great. You should give it your custom if you don’t already. Andy Smith and the gang are doing a good job.

Now, my impressions…

I had said I was eager to see whether it really was the best newspaper film since the aforementioned Redford-Hoffman vehicle, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, given that the cinematic art has improved over the last four decades (or is it me?), it was better in a number of ways, although there were one or two things ATPM did that this did not (I loved the awkward, naturalistic, disconnected conversations Woodstein had with their sources — very much like real interviews). I was particularly impressed by how thoughtful and nuanced “Spotlight” was. If you watched the trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking it would be a cartoonish, black-and-white depiction of courageous, hard-driving journos relentlessly bringing down wicked Cardinal Law and his army of perverts. It was way more intelligent than that.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

For instance, while the film did show how a newspaper with the right resources and good leadership can peel away the layers hiding a dark secret eating away at its community, it did the opposite very well. By that I mean, it showed how a newspaper can fail to get that story, year after year. In a different context during our panel discussion, Charles Bierbauer mentioned the old saw that journalists live by, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That very skepticism caused this team and the newsroom in general to fail to grasp the enormity of what they were facing. Yeah, they had a story about a pedophile priest on their hands, similar to a case they’d thoroughly covered years ago. But as indications emerged that maybe there were as many as 12 or 13 such priests in the archdiocese, then maybe as many as 90 (which would represent 6 percent, which a researcher told them they should expect — after all, that’s roughly the proportion of pedophiles in the adult male population), they just could not believe it. It was too outlandish; it didn’t fit their expectations in any way. John Slattery (of “Mad Men” fame) as Ben Bradlee Jr. spoke for all when he cried “b___s___!” to what the team had found at one point.

The members of the Spotlight team — three reporters and “player coach” Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton — were time and again dismayed to learn how they had missed the story over the years. After Robinson and a reporter ambush and harass a lawyer who has been dodging them, demanding that he provide the names of priests his clients had made claims against (leading to settlements that were sealed by the court), the lawyer finally explodes at them and says he had given the paper the names of 20 such priests several years ago, and the paper had essentially done nothing with it. Look at your own damn’ clips, he told them as he walked away. They look, and find a story buried inside. (This isn’t made clear, but I’m assuming they didn’t actually publish the names of the priests in that story — it would have been amazing if they had, without the kind of exhaustive investigation they were finally conducting at the time when the film is set, 2001-2002. You don’t run something like that on one lawyer’s say-so.)

The paper had also in the past brushed off a victim turned victims’ advocate, Phil Saviano, and an experienced editor can easily see why. When Saviano meets with the team and presents them with what he has, he starts out patient and then keeps slipping back into deep resentment that he had been ignored by others at the paper in the past, which causes him to lash out angrily. As he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, the reporters exchange a look behind his back. Yeahhh… one of those. We all have experience with sources like that. Full of passion, and full of stuff you can’t prove, and they come across as a bit unbalanced. Maybe he was abused, and it sent him over the edge. Or maybe the thing that sends him there is his frustration that no one believes the truth. At this point, the team is determined to find out if he’s right.

That the paper had missed opportunities in the past doesn’t mean the Globe is a bad paper; it’s far from that. This was just a particularly difficult story to a) believe, and b) nail down. Why, you wonder? Couldn’t they just go look at the court cases? No, they couldn’t. Lawyers for the victims who made claims — a small minority of the number of actual victims — generally didn’t file lawsuits in court. They went straight to the archdiocese, settlements were mediated, and the records were sealed. There would be a case over here that came to light, then one over there — and the paper covered those extensively, and everyone felt like they were on top of it. That there were so many priests, so many victims, that Cardinal Law was aware of the scope of it, that guilty priests would be shunted from one parish to another after useless “treatment,” all came as a shock as the resources of the Spotlight investigative team were devoted to the case.

And how did that happen? How was the decision made to have Spotlight drop what it was working on and bring to bear the kind of resources necessary to get the story at long last? That was interesting. It was the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron, from The Miami Herald. He was an outsider in a newsroom full of people with deep Boston roots. He was Jewish in a Catholic town (all the members of the Spotlight team were raised Catholic, although apparently none were attending Mass any more). He wasn’t even interested in the Red Sox. He comes in feeling pressure to cut expenses, and focuses on Robinson’s team — four extremely talented, experienced reporters who only turn out a story about once a year (not because they were lazy, but because they put that much into their stories — making the team a very expensive luxury). And then he raises the question, if we’re going to have this team, why not have it look further into these sex abuse cases? He suggests they drop what they’re working on (some sort of police story) and turn to this. They do.

But it’s easy, if you’re not a journalist, to focus on the superficialities in the situation. A member of the audience asked me about that aspect of the story — the Jewish outsider being the only one who could make this bunch of hometown mackerel snappers take on the church in the most Catholic city in the country. I pointed out that he was missing the most salient aspect of Baron’s outsider perspective. It wasn’t that he was Jewish, or that he didn’t care about baseball. It was that he was from Florida — born in Tampa, coming up through the Herald‘s newsroom.

I could identify with his perspective. When I arrived at The State after having spent most of my career to that point in Tennessee, I was shocked to find out how much of public life in South Carolina could remain hidden — closed records, closed meetings. In Tennessee, we had had a Sunshine Law based on Florida’s groundbreaking open-government law. We’d had it when my career started. It spoiled me. I would hear stories of the bad old days before the law, when government bodies could go into something called “executive session” and shut out the press and the public, and I would shudder at the idea of such a thing. Then I came to South Carolina, where government bodies regularly go into executive session. It was like I’d been transported to the Dark Ages. Shortly after I arrived here, Jay Bender came to brief editors on improvements to FOI law that he and the Press Association had managed to push through the recent legislative session. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I kept saying things like, “That’s an improvement? You’re kidding me! You couldn’t do better than that?” I don’t think I made a good first impression on Jay.

(As governmental affairs editor, I was determined to break through the culture of closed doors. This led to an embarrassing situation one day. I left the newsroom to go check on my reporters and see what was happening at the State House. There was an important meeting going on somewhere that I was concerned we were missing. I spied a closed door, to one of the rooms off of the lobby near the exterior doors that open to the sweeping outdoor steps, and I strode over and put my hand on it. One of the loungers in the lobby called out that I shouldn’t barge in; there was a meeting going on. Aha! I thought. I self-righteously (I mean, I really made an ass of myself) replied, in a dramatic tone, “I know. That’s why I’m going in!” and pushed the door open with a flourish. It wasn’t my meeting. It was a couple of guys having a private chat, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I muttered something, backed out sheepishly, closed the door and endured the laughter of the lobby as I resumed my search.)

So, when Baron expressed surprise that it was so hard to get access to records in the sex-abuse cases, I felt his pain. And it made all the sense in the world that he would decide to overcome the barriers whatever it took, and suggested Spotlight drop what it was doing and get all over it. Which, as I said, they did. And they got the job done, against the odds.

I spoke of nuances. I loved a couple of the touches that undermined popular prejudices about the church, even as the film told in detail of the exposure of the church’s darkest secret. Sure, Law was the villain of the piece, but he was no Snidely Whiplash curling the ends of his mustache. Early on, when he meets Baron — one of those meetings that a new editor routinely has with key people in a community — he speaks of when he, too, had been an outsider, standing up for civil rights in Mississippi.

As for the old saw about a celibate priesthood being the culprit — hey, you don’t let ’em get married, so they take it out on the kids — there was a very interesting touch in the film. Stanley Tucci, wearing an impressive hairpiece, appears as attorney Mitchell Garabedian — as an Armenian, another outsider — who has decided he will try to make the abuse problem more public by actually suing on behalf of his victim clients in open court. He’s an irascible guy, and it takes some time for reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) to build a relationship of trust with him. At one point as they’re getting to know each other, Garabedian asks Rezendes whether he’s married. Rezendes says he is (although apparently, it’s complicated). Garabedian asks whether his demanding job causes problems in the marriage. Rezendes admits it does. Garebedian says yeah, that’s why he never married: His work is too important, and he just doesn’t have the time. Which, you know, is the rationale behind priests being celibate — that they’re supposed to devote themselves entirely to being shepherds.

All in all, a rich feast of a film, that never falls back on easy answers. You should see it.

Come see ‘Spotlight’ tonight at the Nickelodeon

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom -- and it's not empty!

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom — and it’s not deserted!

I was interested in seeing “Spotlight” because I’d heard it was the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men.”

That’s a high bar. I recently watched it again and was surprised how well it held up. I went to see it at the time because it was topical, and because Woodward and Bernstein were heroes to my generation of journalists. I was really startled at how good it was, independent of all that, going on 40 years later.

And I’ve seen Michael Keaton in a good newspaper movie before. I really identified with his character in “The Paper.” Of course, that was largely played for laughs, making it nothing like this film, which I’m anticipating being rather grim.

So, wanting to see it anyway, I was pleased to get an invitation to come watch it at the Nickelodeon tonight, and then participate in a panel discussion with Charles Bierbauer and Sammy Fretwell.

Y’all should come. The movie starts at 6:30 p.m., and the discussion follows.

The folks at the Nick asked me how I wanted to be billed on the website. I said, “Given the subject, I guess you could call me a 35-year veteran newspaper editor who is also a Catholic.” Which they did.

Why not ask SLED to investigate deputy’s actions?

UPDATE: Sheriff Lott called me this afternoon, and he has a pretty good explanation for why he went with the feds first. Later tonight, I’ll write a new post about it

I said this in a comment earlier, but I think it’s worth a separate post…

So Sheriff Lott has fired the deputy involved in the Spring Valley incident.

But here’s something I want to know, and would have asked Leon had I been at the presser: Why go straight to the FBI? Why not invite SLED in? Or, I don’t know, the statewide grand jury.

Yeah, I know, even though he’s my twin and all, Leon may not be as enamored of subsidiarity as I am. But why immediately buy into the cliche that NO ONE in SC can be fair and objective about this; we have to bring in the feds?

As Harry Harris said in a comment yesterday: “SC seems to be the one state that has reacted to most of the police excessive force revelations in a sound manner – prosecuting and disciplining the officers involved.” Leon’s immediate firing of this deputy demonstrates that — unless it just demonstrates a Pilatesque desire to wash his hands, and I don’t think that’s the case.

I would have given the SC system a chance to work. If the feds wanted to do a civil rights investigation on a parallel track, nobody’s stopping them.

But I just don’t get why, in this case and previous ones, Leon doesn’t want to turn to SLED…

Forest Acres officer shot, killed at Richland Mall

The fallen officer, Greg Alia.

The fallen officer, Greg Alia.

Horrible news travels so fast these days.

By the time I got a news alert from WACH telling me that a Forest Acres officer had been shot and killed at Richland Mall this morning, the flags at City Hall were already at half-mast:

And more astoundingly, my friend Mary Pat Baldauf had already contributed to a memorial fund for him:

It’s like we don’t even get a moment anymore to absorb the news, to say, “Oh, my God. How terrible…”

So consider that to have been said by me. Perhaps I’ll have more to say later.

The death penalty for Roof?

Thoughts on this?

A South Carolina prosecutor says she will seek the death penalty for an alleged white supremacist, Dylann Roof of Columbia, who is charged with killing nine black churchgoers in June in Charleston.

“This was the ultimate crime, and justice from our state calls for the ultimate penalty,” 9th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told a group of reporters shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday….

To state what I’ve stated many times before, if I thought the death penalty was right, this would certainly be a case in which I would apply it.

But I don’t, so I wouldn’t.

I found this particularly intriguing:

In recent weeks, Wilson has met with families of the nine victims. At her Thursday press conference, she told reporters that some family members agreed with her decision and others did not. But in the end the decision was hers, she said….

Often, prosecutors will cite the wishes of victims’ families as reasons to pursue a particular charge or penalty. Which is, of course, wrong in a nation of laws and not of men. The prosecutor is right: It is her decision to make.

That said, do you think she has made the right one? Particularly in this case, when our state was pulled together so dramatically by the gestures of forgiveness by the families.

(I had breakfast this morning with Mark Lett, executive editor at The State. As we were leaving, he asked whether I had ever thought South Carolina could come together like that, so quickly, to remove the flag. I said I certainly had not imagined such a thing. I told him that when I ran into Aaron Sheinin at that first flag rally after the shootings, he and I got to talking about how the very earliest anything could happen would be January. And then I said, “Of course, our governor could call on lawmakers to come back into session especially to take the flag down,” and we both laughed in the cynical way that ink-stained wretches of the press tend to do. And then, two days later, it actually happened. It was a miracle — it was a whole raft of miracles to see those people standing together for such a purpose — and it was brought about by those exhibitions of forgiveness. Which gives us additional reason to regard what the families did with awe and reverence.)

Of course, I suppose there’s a school of thought that you can personally forgive someone, but still believe that person should face the consequences of his actions. And this is a consequence for which our laws provide.

I would say that death is not the right way to go. But that’s what I always say. You?

OK, let’s talk about guns in America

State Sen. Marlon Kimpson says he’ll introduce legislation to do the following in the wake of the Emanuel AME massacre and other recent mass shootings:

▪  Close a three-day loophole that allows some S.C. gun purchasers to buy and take home a gun before a background check has been completed. That rule, and errors in the federal background-checking system, allowed alleged Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof to buy a gun.

▪  Require background checks to be conducted through the State Law Enforcement Division and the federal system before a gun sale can be completed

▪  Ban assault weapons, defined as semi-automatic firearms designed and configured for rapid fire

▪ Require reporting of lost or stolen guns

▪ Require state registration and permitting of all guns…

In response to Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin’s statement that there is “no appetite” in the State House for gun control legislation — which you had probably guessed already — Sen. Kimpson “said the Charleston church shootings, which killed nine African-Americans including a state senator, ‘opened people’s minds to doing things in the State House that have never been done before.'”

Which is true enough. Whether that applies to this, however, remains to be seen.

On the same day that I read that, I received a graphic from someone with a blog called CrimeWire, urging me to share it.

Actually it doesn’t tell me a lot I didn’t know, but I share it for those of you who like infographics. It’s lighter on numbers than most such efforts. For instance, I doubt many minds will be changed by such an assertion as, “The Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that there’s substantial evidence that indicates more guns means more murders.” Oh, yeah, says Jim Bob, sittin’ with the boys around the cracker barrel. I bet they’s a heap o’ hunters up at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

For those who prefer text, the facts in the graphic seem to have come from a Washington Post story, headlined “11 essential facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States,” that ran the morning after the Charleston shootings.

As for my own views… As I’ve stated before, I think the problem in America is just that too many guns exist. Everybody talks about the rights of individual gun owners, but I don’t really look at who owns the guns. Ownership is something that can change easily, through burglary for instance. There are just too many of them in existence, and it’s inevitable that some of them will be in the hands of the wrong people at the wrong time.

It’s an economic problem: Too many violent people chasing too many guns.

But while I feel like I diagnose the problem correctly, I have no idea what to do about it. I just don’t see a solution. We are so far down this road, and nothing but the mass destruction of the overwhelming majority of guns that exist would back us up. And there are far too many Americans who adamantly oppose taking a single step back. I don’t see that changing.

So I’m not terribly hopeful that any legislation I’ve seen or heard of would have a chance of significantly reducing gun violence. Anything that passes constitutional muster just tinkers with the technicalities of how guns change hands and move around.

Oh, and before the more dedicated advocates for the 2nd Amendment start hollering, “Brad’s gonna round up all your guns and destroy them,” allow me to clarify: That is NOT gonna happen. Not in this country. No one can MAKE it happen. It’s a political impossibility. So stay cool. I only mention this to underline the fact that I see no workable solution to the problem of Too Many Guns.

I usually don’t say “I give up” on an issue. I usually try to suggest a solution. But I just don’t know where to go on this.

GunsAndAmerica_IG

Dylann Roof to face federal hate crime charges

This just in a little while ago:

A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted Dylann Roof for hate crimes in the June killings of nine African-Americans at a Charleston church, according to sources familiar with a federal-state investigation.

The 33-count indictment charges Roof, 21, a white man from the Columbia area, with 12 counts of committing a federal hate crime (nine counts of murder and three attempted murders), 12 counts of obstructing the exercise of religion and nine counts of the use of a firearm to commit murder.

Hate crimes under federal law are crimes committed against someone because of their race, color, religion, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. South Carolina does not have a hate crimes law, but some 45 states do.

Under federal law, prosecutors may seek the death penalty where violent death has resulted The U.S. Justice Department is exploring whether to seek the death penalty against Roof….

Personally, I’m happy to see “the book” and all the charges it contains thrown at this guy.

But… I should note that I don’t believe “hate crimes” should be in the book to start with. Punish the deed, not the political attitude behind the deed. This is one of those few areas where I agree with libertarians: Allowing the government to punish attitudes is giving government too much power, and an offense against the freedom of conscience enshrined in the 1st Amendment. One is allowed, in this country, to harbor horrible ideas, as long as one does not act upon them.

Which leads me to the possibility of the feds pursuing the death penalty.

Three points on that:

  1. I don’t believe in the death penalty.
  2. If I did believe in the death penalty, the killer of the Emanuel Nine would definitely be a candidate for it.
  3. If I did believe in the death penalty, I certainly wouldn’t want it administered for “hate crimes,” for the aforementioned reason. If you’re going to hang a man, do it for murder, not for his motivation.

The confusing knot of jurisdiction lines around Columbiana

CKDuZ3sWUAguyzXRemember the post last week about the confusion of county and city boundaries around Columbiana Mall, which speculated about how that might have contributed to the mixup that allowed Dylann Roof to get a gun?

At the time, I bemoaned the fact that I was unable to find a map showing those jurisdiction lines.

Alert reader George Chisenhall, who uses Google Maps Pro, came to the rescue over the weekend. As he explained, yellow lines are city/town limits, while the light green ones show county boundaries.

Thanks for helping out, George!

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