Category Archives: Rule of Law

‘Stand Your Ground’ asserted in high school stabbing

Don’t know whether you’ve seen this yet today:

LEXINGTON, SC — An attorney for the 18-year-old former Lexington High School student accused of stabbing to death a student at a rival school said Thursday his client will seek to invoke South Carolina’s “Stand Your Ground” law and not face murder charges.

At a bond hearing Thursday morning before Circuit Judge William Keesley, attorney Todd Rutherford said Kierin Dennis was in “fear for his life” and a “victim” rather than the aggressor in the death of Dutch Fork High School senior Da’Von Capers on Feb. 17 following a tension-filled high school basketball game between their two schools….

You may have last seen Rep. Rutherford in court action defending Rep. Ted Vick against a DUI charge, saying that the reason his client was walking so unsteadily was that he had a rock in his shoe. That made The Daily Mail. (OK, that’s the second time today the Mail has been invoked on this blog. It’s a steady job, but I want to be a paperback writer…)

Davis, other SC senators push to legalize CBD oil

This comes from Tom Davis:

Statement by SC State Senator Tom Davis

 

Earlier today, SC State Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) filed S1035, a bill whose objective is to allow doctors in South Carolina to prescribe Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a non-psychoactive chemical in cannabis, to South Carolina patients who suffer with intractable epilepsy.  The following state senators have signed onto S1035 as cosponsors: Ray Cleary (R-Georgetown), Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington), Larry Martin (R-Pickens), Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley), Lee Bright (R-Greenville), and Luke Rankin (R-Horry).   A copy of the bill is attached.

 

Davis said he recently became aware of the therapeutic benefits of CBD oil when one of his constituents, Harriett Hilton, told him about her six-year-old granddaughter, Mary Louise Swing, who resides in Mt. Pleasant.  A picture of Mary Louise is attached.  “Harriett told me that Mary Louise sometimes suffers up to 100 epileptic seizures an hour,” Davis said, “and that none of the drugs prescribed by her doctors at the MUSC Epilepsy Center has provided relief.  Harriett also told me that Mary Louise’s caregivers at MUSC believe CBD might help, but that the law prevents them from prescribing it to her.   That is morally wrong, and the purpose of S1035 is to jumpstart a process to remove those legal barriers.”

 

Scientific and clinical studies have confirmed CBD’s potential as an effective treatment for those with intractable epilepsy.  Accordingly, last fall the federal Food and Drug Administration green-lighted clinical studies of CBD as an anti-seizure medication at two research universities in New York and San Francisco.  The drug — manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals, called “Epidiolex™,” and in the form of a liquid that is administered orally with a syringe dropper – is currently being prescribed by doctors to patients with intractable epilepsy at the NYU School of Medicine and at University of California at San Francisco.

 

“The doctors and medical research facilities at MUSC are every bit as good as those in New York and San Francisco,” Davis said. “I want to legally empower MUSC and its epileptologists to prescribe CBD oil to those with intractable epilepsy like Mary Louise, and S1035 outlines the critical path to making that happen.”

 

S1035 would revise a South Carolina law passed in 1980 titled “The Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act of 1980,” which authorized DHEC to engage in clinical studies regarding certain medical therapeutic uses of marijuana. That 1980 law has never been funded and has lain dormant, and Davis says it’s time to breathe life into it.  “I realize that federal law still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance,” said Davis. “But as the FDA itself has acknowledged, it makes no sense to ban CBD oil, a non-psychoactive chemical derived from cannabis.  You can’t get high on it and it has no street value, and it makes zero sense to legally prohibit doctors from prescribing something that would relieve their patients’ suffering.”

 

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Of all the legalization arguments I’ve heard and seen, this one makes the most sense.

We continue to lock up too many people, for too long

The badly overcrowded San Quentin Prison in California.

The badly overcrowded San Quentin Prison in California.

Federal Judge Michael A. Ponsor, celebrating the fact that the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has reported out the “Smarter Sentencing Act,” laments all the years that he was forced to put away prisoners for long terms that they are still serving, even though in recent years Congress and the courts have thought better of those mandatory minimum sentences:

In 1984, at the start of my career, 188 people were imprisoned for every 100,000 inhabitants of the United States. Other Western industrialized countries had roughly equal numbers. By 2010 that figure had skyrocketed to 497 people imprisoned in the U.S. for every 100,000 inhabitants. Today, we imprison more of our people than any other country in the world.

How did “the land of the free and the home of the brave” become the world’s biggest prison ward? The U.S. now houses 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. Either our fellow Americans are far more dangerous than the citizens of any other country, or something is seriously out of whack in the criminal-justice system.

The capricious evolution of federal sentencing law makes the moral implications of this mass incarceration especially appalling. In 1987, all federal sentencing became subject to sentencing guidelines designed to smooth out disparities among sentences of different judges. This move was not in itself a bad thing; sentences for similarly situated offenders obviously ought to be roughly the same. The problem was that the appellate courts interpreted these guidelines so rigidly that judges like me were often forced to ignore individual circumstances and hit defendants with excessive—sometimes grossly excessive—sentences….

Now, his sleep is haunted by all of those people who are still imprisoned, and he can do nothing to free them from the unjust sentences to which he condemned them.

I’ve said it before — I see little point in locking up people who have not demonstrated that they pose a physical danger. Unless, of course, they have repeatedly refused to cooperate with more sensible punishments — restrictive paroles, payment of restitution, community service and the like.

Had I been forced for decades to impose the sentences this judge has, I’d likely be sleepless, too.

I recommend you read the whole piece, in The Wall Street Journal today.

Good for Jean Toal, and good for SC for having such a choice

I’m pleased to congratulate Jean Toal on her re-election as chief justice of South Carolina.

And I congratulate South Carolina, because it has just renewed its lease on one of the finest legal minds I’ve encountered in my time in my decades of observing the public sphere in my home state.

Which is not to denigrate Costa Pleicones, who mounted such a creditable challenge to her bid for re-election. He would have been, and still may one day be, a fine chief justice. In the meantime, we are fortunate to have his continued service as an associate justice. Based on everything I’ve ever seen or heard, he would have been my first choice to head the court if we could no longer have Jean Toal in that post.

This way, we don’t have to be deprived on any count. We continue to have the service of two people who are superbly suited to their positions.

It’s weird how this happens sometimes in South Carolina. Too often, elections are about choosing the lesser of two weevils, as Jack Aubrey would have said had he ever actually existed.

But from time to time, we’re offered a choice between two candidates so strong that you hate to have to reject one — you wish we had a way of spreading that wealth around. Some legislative districts seem unfairly blessed in this way. An example of the kind of election I’m talking about was when Anton Gunn challenged Bill Cotty back in 2006. Forced to choose, we endorsed Cotty, but then I was pleased to see Gunn run again and win two years later. (And sorry to see him leave his House seat.)

I’m glad we didn’t have to turn away either of these two candidates.

Bryan Caskey’s dispassionate analysis of CWP bill

Relax... Bryan says it won't be like this...

Relax… Bryan says it won’t be like this…

Today, I offer you two views of the new bill to allow patrons to carry firearms into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. There’s Cindi Scoppe’s “Armed, untrained and cruising the bars.” (And I’m not at all convinced she was unaware of the double entendre implication of “cruising,” just to take it to an unexpected level.) Excerpt:

YOU’RE IN A bar in the early morning hours, and there’s a guy across the room who’s drinking heavily, who keeps glaring at you. It’s more than a little unsettling, because you know South Carolina now allows concealed-weapons-permit holders to carry guns into bars. You also know that the Legislature watered down the training requirements when it passed the guns-in-bars provision. And you know that South Carolina has an extremely liberal stand-your-ground law, which allows you to use lethal force if you feel threatened.

So when the drunk across the room suddenly reaches inside his jacket, you pull your own pistol and shoot.

Only you’re not the best aim, so you hit his companion.

And it turns out that he was reaching for his ringing cell phone.

That scenario was described to me a year ago by a Republican senator who was troubled by the obsession of some of his colleagues with lifting the state’s restriction on carrying concealed weapons into establishments that sell alcohol. Clearly, his scenario won’t play out every day once the guns-in-bars legislation becomes law. (The bill still must be signed by the governor, and she can’t do that until a ratification session, which can’t happen until at least next week because the Legislature is taking the week off due to the possibility of snow.) It won’t happen every month, and probably not every year. But it’s not much of a stretch to imagine it could happen once or twice….

And then there’s our own Bryan Caskey, who seems to have hit his stride as a blogger with this topic, combining his knowledge of the law and his love and respect for guns (and rifles, too, I assume). He reports via email:

On Friday I got my post up about the CWP bill, and boy, did it take off, traffic-wise. I normally get a couple hundred hits on my whole blog during an active day, but my CWP bill post got over 300 hits alone…and counting. What’s more amazing to me is that the post has received 51 “likes” via the Facebook button. I think my record for “likes” on a post is maybe 2. For my blog to penetrate to Facebook, someone else has to pick it up, since I don’t use Facebook.

 

Pageviews is one thing, but having someone hit that “like” button on Facebook is different – it requires actual clicking interaction from the reader than simply doing nothing. Anyway, just thought I’d pass that along and toot my own horn a little.

As always, feel free to link or disregard.

And of course, I prefer to link. Good for Bryan. Basically, he was dissatisfied with reporting on the bill itself, and decided to provide a detailed, dispassionate analysis. He did so quite well. Just as he says he learned a good deal from the 8-hour CWP course that would no longer be required under this bill (which he thinks is a bad thing about the bill), I learned a good bit from his post.

He saw good and bad in the bill — but neither as much good as most gun lovers would like, nor as much bad as those of us who say, Yeah, that’s just what was missing in SC — a new law saying its OK to pack heat in bars (people like Cindi, and to some extent me) — think.

Here’s the weirdest aspect, to me. After explaining that the bill would still allow bar and restaurant owners to declare their establishments gun-free zones by posting signs, Bryan adds this:

Additionally, even if the bar or restaurant doesn’t post the sign, they can still request that any particular person carrying concealed leave on a case-by-case basis. If that person refuses to leave, same penalty as above. So if you’re a bar or restaurant, you can either chose to have an entirely gun free zone, or a selectively gun free zone….

Yeahhhh… I’m just trying to imagine a bar owner with the cojones to carry that off. Think about it — the only time a proprietor might intervene in such a manner is when there’s a tense situation, right? You know, the kind where he goes, “Well, normally I’d allow guns (hence no sign), but THIS guy’s worrying me right now…” The guy’s packing heat, he’s apparently losing it, and you’re going to change the rules on him now? If Gary Cooper, or better yet Wyatt Earp, came back to life and opened a bar in Five Points, maybe. But I don’t know who else would manage that.

Anyway, Bryan’s post is helpful and informative. I recommend it. And he now has 86 “likes” on Facebook.

Making ‘Citizens United’ hip, glib, funny and nonthreatening

I just got around to this video from yesterday celebrating the Citizens United decision four years and one day ago.

Yes, I said, “celebrating.” As in, “Yippee!,” as opposed to what I usually hear about it, which is more in the Egon Spengler range, as in, “Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”

Here’s the release about it:

Group Recognizes Citizens United v. FEC Anniversary with Video
Center for Competitive Politics Releases Video by Noted YouTube Artist GoRemy

For Release: January 21, 2014

ALEXANDRIA, VA - 
Today the Center for Competitive Politics marked the fourth anniversary of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling by releasing a video about the decision by noted YouTube artist GoRemy.

The video examines five common misconceptions about the Citizens United that many critics of the decision tend to gloss over, such as the government’s argument that they should be able to ban books and that the decision did not create the concept of corporate personhood.

What the Citizens United decision did do was overturn blatantly unconstitutional parts of a law designed to prevent freedom of association among individuals with the purpose of speaking out about politics. And, despite repeated assertions that the decision would lead to the corporate takeover of our democracy, we’ve had some of the most competitive elections in our nation’s history.

At its core, Citizens United was about whether the government could ban a nonprofit corporation from distributing a movie about a political candidate. The decision did not “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections,” as President Obama famously chastised the Supreme Court. Rather, the decision allowed organizations to do what wealthy individuals have always been able to do: make independent expenditures advocating for or against a chosen candidate.

Now why am I posting this? Because I agree with it, or because I wish to rip into it? Neither. Basically, it attracted my attention because on the thumbnail for the video, I saw the very same mug shot of Nick Offerman in the role of Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation” that one of y’all — I want to say Silence Dogood — used to use as an avatar. So I thought at least one of y’all would enjoy it on that basis. Yes, I know that’s a thin premise, even though I cannot measure how thin it is.

I decided to go ahead and post it after seeing it, because I was intrigued by — whatever you think of the message — how slick it was.

Starting with the choice of pitchman, who I am told is “noted YouTube artist GoRemy.” OK, whatever. I’m just impressed by how well-chosen he was to make people think more kindly of the idea of corporations being people and such.

If you have an “Occupy Wall Street” picture in your head of the people who celebrate Citizens United, then you expect the spokesman to be somebody like Robert Stack, or Charlton Heston, or Peter Graves, or some other old, dead, establishment-looking white guy. (You may object that a dead guy couldn’t shoot a video, but we’re not talking about reality; we’re talking about the way Occupy Wall Street sees the world.)

This guy is like the opposite of that, only in a cool way, so you’re not beaten over the head with it.

According to Wikipedia, GoRemy is Remy Munasifi, “an Arab-American stand-up comedian,[1] parody musician and video artist who became an Internet celebrity after his production of comedic sketches based on Arabs under the name “GoRemy” on YouTube. His videos had gained over 78 million views as of late 2010.”

He’s hip, he’s young, he’s glib, he’s of nonspecific ethnicity, he’s nonthreatening, he’s not dead, and he most assuredly is not Robert Stack — not even the funny, ironic Robert Stack in “Airplane!

Perhaps a little too glib. I have to say I was a bit offended at having the Plessy vs. Ferguson case dismissed with a funny picture of a baby with a perplexed expression and the caption, “WHO VS. WHATNOW?”

Or at least, I would have been, if it hadn’t all gone by so quickly that I had to back it up and freeze frames in order to see what the baby was supposedly saying.

The point of the video is to make your brain dance lightly along to the tune of the fun wordplay, and then wander away humming to itself and thinking, “That Citizens United isn’t so bad after all…”

citizens

We descend into lawless chaos: Basketball player travels 7 steps, without penalty

My son shared this with me, knowing the sort of thing that makes me all indignant. Note that neither officials nor the announcer paid any attention when this player moved one foot or the other seven times, without dribbling.

Well, what are we to expect? We long ago stopped enforcing basic rules of the game “Shooter” regarded as “the greatest game ever invented.” Is it any wonder the world is in such sorry shape?…

So now that another judge says NSA program’s legal, Greenwald will say he and Snowden were wrong — right?

That would be the logical response, in any case — although that’s not what I expect to see, unfortunately.

When one federal judge questioned the legality of NSA collection of metadata, that was sufficient to cause alleged newsman Glenn Greenwald to crow to the skies that it was a “pure vindication” of his creature, Edward Snowden.

By that same logic, now that another federal judge has disagreed

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in New York on Friday ruled that the National Security Agency’s program that is systematically keeping phone records of all Americans is lawful, creating a conflict among lower courts and increasing the likelihood that the issue will be resolved by the Supreme Court….

 Judge Pauley said that protections under the Fourth Amendment do not apply to records held by third parties, like phone companies.

“This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” Judge Pauley said in the ruling…

… we’ll hear Greenwald saying, “OK, we were totally wrong.”

Right? Right? I’m listening…

Cindi’s thoughtful piece on SC chief justice contest

Someone was praising Cindi Scoppe’s column today on the contested election for chief justice of the SC Supreme Court, and I agreed: “Yes — Cindi’s probably the only journalist in SC who knows enough even to have the idea of writing it.”

You may be disappointed after that buildup to find that there’s no hard-hitting, simple editorial point in the piece, and she certainly doesn’t take sides between incumbent Jean Toal and challenger Costa Pleicones. The overall point is to lament the system we have for picking justices, and the lack of transparency in it after that one, brief, qualification hearing — which everyone knew that both of these exceptional jurists would pass with flying colors.

What she does is provide perspective on the court and its place in our, um, unusual system in South Carolina.The piece should be required reading for legislators, who will be the voters in this particular election.

The piece does a number of things. First, she explains that this is yet another chapter in Jean Toal’s precedent-breaking career, and I don’t (and she doesn’t) mean that in the facile sense of trailblazer for women, yadda-yadda:

1118photo1

Jean Toal

But things never have been normal where Jean Toal is involved, and by that I’m not referring to the fact that she was South Carolina’s first female justice and chief justice.

In 1988, she became the first non-judge elected to the high court in more than three decades. That happened after ethics questions derailed the candidacy of Circuit Judge Rodney Peeples, who entered the race with more than enough votes sewed up to win.

Eight years later, Mrs. Toal became the first sitting justice since 1893 to be opposed for re-election, when Circuit Judge Tom Ervin challenged her amidst anti-tax groups’ absurd efforts to paint her as a liberal; her support was so overwhelming that he dropped out of the race less than two hours after legislators were allowed to start making commitments.

Now she’s the first chief justice since at least the 1800s to be opposed for re-election…

Clearly, the Legislature will break precedent if it elects Mr. Pleicones. But even if it re-elects Mrs. Toal, the status quo already has been interrupted, making it much easier for lawmakers to break with tradition and skip over Mr. Pleicones and, who knows, perhaps skip over Mr. Beatty, possibly even select a chief justice who isn’t on the court….

In future SC history books, there will likely be quite a few footnotes devoted to Jean Toal.

As I said, while this piece may be interesting to other readers, it should particularly be read by lawmakers. Cindi takes it on herself a lot to put things into perspective for legislators. Someone needs to.

One key thing she explains — and these days we have more and more lawmakers who need this explained — is that there are important issues at stake here, but they have nothing to do with notions of left and right, Democrat and Republican, the way those things are force-fed to us today out of the Beltway:

1127photo1

Costa Pleicones

Some Republicans in the Legislature — and lots outside, particularly of what we now call the tea-party variety — have been grumbling for years about having a court full of former Democratic legislators.

I suppose it’s understandable that people would be confused about the role that partisan politics plays on the S.C. Supreme Court — none — given the diet of hyperpartisan Washington politics on which a frightening number of South Carolinians feed, forming not only their world views but their state views.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court is in fact composed of two well-defined ideologies, you’d be hard-pressed reading state Supreme Court decisions to guess the partisan or ideological inclinations of the justices. So I was a little disappointed when Justice Toal, asked about complaints that she’s too “political,” dismissed them by noting how well she has gotten along with the Legislature and governors, even as their politics have changed.

The political temptation Supreme Court justices face has nothing to do with party or ideology. It is the temptation to kowtow to the Legislature, whatever the Legislature’s partisan leanings or political philosophy. It’s to look the other way when the Legislature tramples on our state constitution. It’s to pretend that the laws say what the Legislature meant them to say rather than what they actually say.

That temptation must be greatest for the chief justice, whose dual role as chief executive officer of the entire judicial branch of government brings with it the heavy burden of convincing the Legislature to fund the courts adequately, and keeping lawmakers from exacting retribution, financial or otherwise, when court decisions go a way they don’t like…

It is for this reason that Cindi laments that “Justice Toal, asked about complaints that she’s too ‘political,’ dismissed them by noting how well she has gotten along with the Legislature and governors, even as their politics have changed.”

And of course, in SC, things get very personal, as Cindi suggests in suggesting an apparent reason why Associate Justice Pleicones is making this extraordinary challenge to his old friend:

… one of the themes of criticism that Justice Toal received in anonymous surveys from lawyers stemmed from what Justice Pleicones has called her broken promise to retire when her term ends next year, which would give him an extra year and a half as chief justice….

In the end, the main concern expressed is that from here on, we won’t know what these candidates are saying to individual electors: “For the mind reels at where even the most honest and well-intentioned justices might be tempted to go when they meet behind closed doors with legislators who have votes to provide them — and requests to make of them.”

Cindi doesn’t mean to besmirch either candidate. She notes in particular how Jean Toal’s tenure has been characterized by a “steady move toward judicial independence, toward calling out the Legislature when it needs to be called out.”

But moments such as this create enormous potential for undermining that kind of essential independence. And that is indeed disturbing.

Benjamin says Randolph charges shouldn’t be dropped, and Wilson shouldn’t have run to the scene

The mayor, (rightly) injecting some politics into policing in Five Points, back in September 2012.

The mayor, (rightly) injecting some politics into policing in Five Points, back in September 2012.

I thought this was an interesting thing for a major running for re-election to do. He sent out a release weighing in on a controversial recent arrest by the city’s police department:

Keep Politics Out of Policing

July 24, 2013, Columbia, SC

Dear friends,

As you know, public safety has and continues to be my top priority in the City of Columbia and, while we’ve made real progress over the past several years, a number of recent high-profile incidents have further demonstrated the need for continued focus and action.

It is for that reason and because we must ensure the public’s trust in our police department, that last week I called for a SLED investigation into claims made against the Columbia Police Department and I firmly believe that we must allow that investigation to proceed without any political interference. Our state’s law enforcement officers are very capable of conducting a thorough investigation. I am confident that they will perform their duties objectively and comprehensively and provide us with a full report to act upon. Furthermore I will make absolutely certain that whatever SLED reports will be transparent and fully disclosed to the public.

Let me be clear: I have no tolerance for corruption of any kind and if there is any wrongdoing found as a result of SLED’s investigation, I will push for any wrongdoers to be immediately fired and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

It is extremely important that we remove politics from this equation. We must let the cops do their jobs without interference. That is a key concern of mine with this investigation as well as with the issue of Dr. Lonnie Randolph’s arrest in Five Points.

Out of concern for Dr. Randolph and out of concern for our criminal justice system, I am strongly recommending Dr. Randolph’s charges not be dropped before the case reaches the courtroom.

Dr. Randolph appears to have a medical condition that influences his behavior beyond his control and, if so, he has my deepest concerns and sympathies. But we must let the legal process unfold like it does for any other citizen. It is up to a judge or a jury, with the victims’ input, to decide the end result, not politicians, police chiefs or administrators.

Dr. Randolph’s arrest demonstrated why we should not have administrators or elected officials showing up at crime scenes unless specifically requested by law enforcement. However well intentioned, it can send the wrong message and can create an appearance of impropriety and it needs to stop now. People must know that the criminal justice system works the same for all of us and does so without political interference and without special treatment for anyone. Justice for all requires special favors for none.

That’s why I’ve asked city legal counsel to draft a policy which I will present at our next City Council meeting clearly stating that, in accordance with our ethics policy, an active crime scene is no place for politicians or administrators.

At that same meeting, I will also push for us to move forward with a comprehensive, nationwide search for a permanent Police Chief. It’s time to bring stability to CPD’s leadership.

I believe a lot of these issues would be easy to resolve if, in fact, the Mayor had the authority to resolve them.

As Mayor, I have used the bully pulpit provided this office to push for much needed change and often been successful in doing so. That’s how we passed our local preference policy and kept tens of millions of dollars in city contracts with local businesses, that’s how we got the Bull Street deal done and that’s how we’ve achieved the rebirth of downtown securing roughly $300 million in new capital investment over the past two years alone.

But it’s important to understand that I have very little administrative authority under our current form of government. Here in Columbia, the Mayor does not supervise city staff, the City Manager or the Police Chief. And when we are faced with challenges like these which require swift and decisive action, all I have is one of seven votes on City Council and the long slow process that goes with it. That is the simple fact of our system, a fact that we need to change.

That being said, I will continue to use those tools afforded me to keep pushing for a safer and more secure Columbia. That is my priority, it is the people’s priority and nothing is more important.

As always, thank you for keeping informed, getting involved and making a difference in our city.
Yours in service,


Steve Benjamin
Mayor
City of Columbia, South Carolina

This may seem kind of weird to those who don’t understand the city’s council/manager system of government.

In a more logical and politically accountable system of government, the mayor wouldn’t be a helpless witness to the actions of the city’s administrators. He wouldn’t have to propose policy changes to be voted upon by the whole council; he could just tell his manager (or chief of staff, or whatever his senior appointed subordinate was called) not to do that anymore.

Contrary to the mayor’s headline, I think we need more politics in policing, in the sense that the department should report to an official elected by the people of the city, rather than to an unelected person who, since she has seven bosses, really answers to no one.

Anyway, I thought it interesting that the mayor chose to speak out in this manner.

In speaking about race and justice in America, Obama makes good use of bully pulpit, only without the ‘bully’ part

This story about the speech in the WSJ this morning summed up the challenge:

The remarks, delivered without a teleprompter, were a striking example of America’s first black president seeking to guide the country’s thinking on race without inflaming racial tensions or undermining the judicial system.

He managed to do that, and he did it just right. While the topic was a sensitive as all get-out, the president didn’t make a big deal of it. He wasn’t making a pronouncement, or proposing policy. He wasn’t speechifying at all. He started out by lowering the temperature, reducing expectations, making the whole thing as casual as possible without making light of it. It came across this way:

This isn’t really a press conference — we’ll have one of those later. Today, I’m just this guy, talking to you, sharing a few thoughts that I hope will help help black and white people understand each other a little. Not that I’m some oracle or something, I just have some life experiences — just as we all have life experiences — that might be relevant to share…

It was the president using the bully pulpit, only without the bully part. No-drama Obama. Just talking, not speechifying. Thought, not emotion, even though some of the thoughts were about deep, visceral feelings, and the way people act as a result of them. Just, “I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit…”

He had said earlier, on the dispassionate level — what needed to be said: The jury has spoken, and that’s that. He repeated that (read the whole speech here):

The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a — in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works.

Going beyond that, he downplayed any expectations that his administration would somehow take up the cudgels against Zimmerman as a way of undoing that verdict:

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government — the criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels…

This speech Friday was about trying to explore, just as calmly, the emotional reaction that causes such dissatisfaction with the verdict, appropriate as it may have been given the case:

But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.

In other words, look, a lot of white folks don’t understand why a lot of black folks react to this thing the way they do, and here’s my take on that:

There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

Furthermore, a lot of whites may be laboring under the impression that black folks are blind to the fact that young, black men are statistically more liable to be dangerous, especially to each other:

Now, this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naïve about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context…

I think the African-American community is also not naïve in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.

So — so folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or — and that context is being denied. And — and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different…

Oh, and in case you think he had some pompous, trite notion of launching something so grand as a “national conversation on race,” he deflated that:

You know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.

On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

Again, and again, his manner, his verbal cues, kept the intensity on the down-low: “watching the debate over the course of the last week I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit… And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but…” Throughout, he interjected the phrase “I think,” to make sure you knew he was just this guy talking, and not The Man, speaking ex cathedra.

Another thing that a lot of whites say about blacks is that they “talk about race all the time.” Well, Barack Obama certainly has not. He’s been the president, not the black president. But it’s a fine thing for America that when he does, on rare occasion, decide that OK, in this situation, maybe he should say something about the topic, he does it so deftly, so thoughtfully, so well.

Barack Obama, like any other presidents, has his strengths as well as weaknesses. Some of his strengths were on display Friday.

obamaspeak

Before “stand your ground,” was there such a thing as a “run to the wall” law?

Here’s something for you lawyers out there, or you martial artists, or somebody.

I attended the University of South Carolina for exactly one semester, the fall of 1971. On top of my regular classes, I took a free short course in the evenings, not for credit.

It was karate. A friend from the Pee Dee and I took it, and we probably spent more time practicing our moves outside of class than we did studying for any of our academic classes. Or at least, I did. (We never hit a dorm elevator button with our fingers — we always used our feet.) One night, we staged a huge sparring match in the hallway of Bates House, and drew quite a crowd. We were really over the top, leaping into the air, kicking, and generally pretending to be Billy Jack, since that movie was huge that fall.

Amazingly, none of the guys watching us cracked up laughing. I think we actually fooled some of them into thinking we knew what we were doing.

Anyway, the guy who taught the classes — I remember his name as being John Bull Roper, which I thought was a great name for a black belt — used to tell us that in South Carolina, there was something called a “run-to-the-wall” clause in the law.

What that meant, he said, was that if you were an expert at killing with your hands and feet, as we believed him to be, you had to do everything you could to avoid a fight. You had to “run to the wall,” and only when there was nowhere else to retreat to could you defend yourself with your skills.

I forgot about that over the years, until everybody started talking about “stand your ground” laws. Which, of course, would be the opposite thing.

Was there ever such a thing? Anybody remember it? I can’t find it on Google. Maybe I’m remembering the words wrong; I don’t know…

Pouring oil on the waters: Obama’s statement on verdict

The proper expression, to go with the proper statement striking the proper emotional tone.

The proper expression, to go with the proper statement, striking the proper emotional tone.

First, let’s set aside the fact that I don’t hold with the morphing of the job of president of the United States into Emoter-in-Chief. The idea that the president is supposed to comment, strike the proper emotion, on every news development that engages people’s morbid curiosity at a given moment — whether it has the slightest thing to do with his duties and responsibilities or not — is a discomfiting sign of a republic in decline.

But that’s where we are today, and if the White House didn’t put out a statement on the latest sensation, meaning would be read into the lack of it, so a president who cares about the dignity of his office is really in a spot.

The best he can do is put out as dispassionate a statement as possible, and move on.

That said, I think President Obama did a pretty good job with this statement yesterday:

“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.”

I could have done without the bit at the end, which mentions “honoring” Trayvon Martin. Those aren’t words I would have chosen. Nothing against the victim of this horrid mess — it’s just that that is what he is, a victim. He’s not a hero, he isn’t a martyr to a cause. He didn’t set out to make a statement. He just had a late-night yen for Skittles (possibly the expression of a case of the munchies), and it got him killed.

I don’t know him, and I think “honoring” him is best left to those who did.

But I know why the president used those words. He used them to head off people who would react inappropriately to this verdict under the guise of “honoring Trayvon.”

Anyway, beyond that, I thought the piece just right. There are two main messages here. The first is neatly contained in this statement: “But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken.”

Absolutely.

But for those who feel that’s not enough, that something must be done, are challenged with the second message, which is a corollary to the first: That, this being a nation of laws, if you didn’t like the way this turned out, engage the system and change the society in which you live, from changing the laws down to “being the change” in your own interactions with fellow citizens.

And I think that if the president had to say something, those were pretty much the right things to say.

Rewriting the rules of war, Obama-style

The New Republic this week is devoting itself to suggestions for how Barack Obama might have a more successful second term. I was sort of intrigued by this suggestion, “REWRITE THE LAWS OF WAR,” to wit:

One of the most persistent criticisms of President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism policy is that he has not definitively broken with the troubled legacy of George W. Bush. But he could put that judgment largely to rest by pushing to modernize the laws of war.

The Geneva Conventions and other similar instruments were designed to deal with traditional armies—not groups with no ties to state sponsors or that operate in failed states. Obama should organize an international conference to establish new standards and agreed-upon interpretations for such subjects as the definition of enemy combatants, the treatment of detainees, and the rendition of suspected terrorists. Drones could also be considered—especially standards to minimize civilian casualties and to establish whether targets pose an imminent threat…

Things have changed, so maybe we should convene a new gathering in Geneva. Or somewhere. If we do, here are some ideas of new rules that the president might want to suggest, but which might not go over well with other potential signatories:

  1. If you make my personal list, I get to take you out with a drone, like Zeus hurling thunderbolts from Mt. Olympus. And if you don’t like that, you just made the list, buddy.
  2. If you make our special short list, we will send in the bully-boys to give you a triple-tap in the forehead in your boudoir in the middle of the night, no matter where in the world your boudoir happens to be. As for countries who object to our doing this within their borders, you, too have a special right under this agreement: You get to try to stop us. Heh, heh.
  3. All battles must take place at night. In the event that night-vision equipment becomes sufficiently ubiquitous that all of our potential enemies have it, this rule will be revisited.
  4. Guantanamo will close when I damn’ well get around to it.

And so forth. You get the idea. I’m sort of kidding, sort of not, given the way this president has continued to conduct the War on Terror. Not only has he “not definitively broken with the troubled legacy of George W. Bush,” as TNR so daintily puts it, he has in some ways been more aggressive than his predecessor in employing the Bush Doctrine.

Basically, the way I just worded all that is probably pretty close to the way folks in some other nations out there see the current U.S. policy. And they’d probably want to address these perceptions at a convention.

So maybe POTUS would like to convene such a gathering, and maybe he wouldn’t…

Studies: smoking dope can lead to schizophrenia

By Torben Hansen, via Flickr

By Torben Hansen, via Flickr

What I had always heard, and even seen in real life, was that teenagers who smoke a lot of dope tend to have trouble maturing, that things that are going on in their undeveloped brains get derailed, with long-term cognitive effects. Hence the phenomenon of the 30-year-old stoner who seems in some ways like a 15-year-old.

But I don’t recall having read this before, even though the research results seem to have been out there for awhile:

There is a significant and consistent relationship between marijuana use and the development of schizophrenia and related disorders….

Though they receive little attention in the legalization debate, the scientific studies showing an association between marijuana use and schizophrenia and other disorders are alarming. A 2004 article in the highly respected British Journal of Psychiatry reviewed four large studies, all of which showed a significant and consistent association between consumption of marijuana (mostly during teenage years or early 20s) and the later development of schizophrenia. The review concluded that marijuana is a “causal component,” among others, in the development of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

A 2007 study in the Lancet, a British medical journal, concludes that using marijuana increases the risk of young people developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia. This risk is greatest—up to a 200% increase—among those who use marijuana heavily and who start using at a younger age.

So I pass it on, for those who still think the stuff’s harmless, and Sheriff Lott was a Blue Meanie for busting the Olympic swimmer.

And yeah, for those who think it’s a terrific argument to say “Alcohol’s worse” — it may be indeed. But we tried outlawing that, and it didn’t work out, because it was too far ingrained in the culture. I’m not ready to give up on this ban. We have enough trouble with alcohol.

Rep. Ted Vick DUI charge moves forward

A couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance was telling me about meeting a couple of people that morning, and when one of them turned out to be Rep. Ted Vick, my acquaintance said, “Oh, I’ve heard of you.”

Rep. Vick, in this telling, rather ruefully replied, “I suppose you have…”

We all have our burdens to bear. No matter what I do or where I go (in South Carolina, that is), I get, “You’re the newspaper guy, right?” Sometimes these conversations take the form of the way Robert Duvall was addressed on the street in “Tender Mercies” — “Hey, mister, were you really Mac Sledge?” Yes, ma’am, I guess I was…

But that certainly beats being a lawmaker of 8 years, a committee chairman, and yet what people remember when they see you is the news stories about DUI charges.

Anyway, I got to thinking about all of that when I saw today that a judge has denied Mr. Vick’s motion to dismiss that latest charge:

Vick’s attorney, state Rep. Todd Rutherford, argued last week to drop the charge because police did not capture the reading of Miranda Rights on videotape as required by state law.

Marcus Gore, an attorney for the S.C. Department of Public Safety, said the reading was off camera because Vick wrestled the arresting office away from the police cruiser and out of view of the dash camera…

That’s a new allegation, to me. If that was in the previous news stories, I missed it.

Happy side-effect of SCOTUS ruling on Prop 8 — undermining government by plebiscite

I thought this was an interesting sidelight on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that advocates of Proposition 8 had no standing to defend the law made by referendum:

SACRAMENTO — Activists on both sides of the bitter fight over same-sex marriage managed to agree on one thing in the wake of Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The justices, they said, set a worrisome precedent by giving elected officials undue power over ballot initiatives.

The court essentially voided Proposition 8, a measure placed on the state ballot by foes of gay marriage and passed by voters in 2008. The justices said supporters of the initiative had no standing to defend the measure after state leaders — who opposed the law — had refused to do so.

Their reasoning drew a testy dissent from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a Sacramento native, who wrote that the decision “disrespects and disparages” California’s political process — a staple of which is the ballot initiative.

The court, Kennedy wrote, did “not take into account the fundamental principles or the practical dynamics of the initiative system in California.”…

I read that, and I think, “Good.” Nothing worrisome about it. Anything that undermines California’s chaotic government-by-plebiscite process is a good thing for representative democracy (a.k.a., “The American Way”).

Everybody’s writing about this now. I first saw the subject raised in the WSJ, this morning, and here’s the Washington Times take on it:

DENVER — The Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday on Proposition 8 unlocked the door for same-sex marriage in California but also may have stifled the voices of the state’s voters…

No, it didn’t stifle anything. They still get to elect their representatives, and that’s how things are supposed to work in a republic.

Whether it’s the definition of marriage in California, or the Confederate flag flying on the State House grounds in Columbia, or more routine, everyday laws, they are far better made through the deliberative process of representative democracy, as imperfect as that is.

There is almost no issue that is best defined as an option between “yes” and “no,” which is all you get in a referendum. True, as our politics have become more and more polarized, far too many issues get defined as “yes” or “no” even in our supposedly deliberative bodies. And that’s a tragedy.

But the cure for that is not to dumb things down further by reducing them to “yes” or “no” on a ballot voted on by people who haven’t even had the opportunity to interact with each other through ordered debate.

So anything we can do to move away from that trend, in California and the rest of the country, is a plus.

Left and right both wrong about Voting Rights Act

The left and the right are both wrong about the Voting Rights Act.

I agree with the right, and disagree with the president and other Democrats, that it’s a good thing that the Supreme Court has struck down the provision requiring South Carolina and other pariah states get preclearance of any change in voting procedures.

That requirement was fundamentally unjust. It assumed a guilt on the part of these states, and required them to prove their innocence before they could conduct their own voting business in ways other states were free to do without undergoing such procedures.

This was wrong. It condemned people who had absolutely nothing to do with past discrimination — all those who were guilty have long, long ago left office, and most are dead. Everyone in public office, appointive or elective, today has spent his or her entire career, if not entire life, in a world shaped by the provisions of the Voting Rights Act. It is completely unjust to require that some people, and not others, labor under the burden of greater suspicion because of the accident of where they happen to live.

If someone did enact new voting lines or procedures, and they in some way violated the Act, then they were subject to being accused of doing so, and having to answer for it. That will still be the case without preclearance. And that is the way it should be. Individuals, and governments, should have to answer for what they do wrong, and not be automatically punished with suspicion over everything they do.

So… preclearance has been an unjust burden, as conservatives say. And it’s particularly hard to justify such an injustice in a time when, for instance, minority voter participation is better in Mississippi than in Massachusetts.

However… where the right is wrong is when it says that the Voting Rights Act is a huge success, particularly for minorities, and that it has moved us racial discrimination in our politics.

On the contrary, under the Voting Rights Act, we have a new kind of racial tension in our politics. Conservatives rail at Democrats, saying the liberals only want to keep the thumbscrews on the South so they can draw more minority-majority districts. And perhaps they do, if they are fools. For in fact, the drawing of such districts has been a tremendous boon to white Republicans.

White Republicans in South Carolina seized power in the early ’90s by giving the Legislative Black Caucus more districts that were likely to elect black legislators. The way this was done was by putting as many black voters as possible into a few districts, and given the racial patterns common to both black and white voters, those districts had a greater tendency to elect black candidates.

But the truth, which for some reason is not painfully obvious to everyone, is that you can’t make some districts super-black without making surrounding districts super-white. What this meant was that for each new “black” district, you created several districts far, far more likely to elect white Republicans. Not only that, but a certain kind of white Republican — one far less likely to give a damn about the concerns of the black citizens who live in other districts.

So, you get two kinds of people — those from majority-minority districts, and those from ethnically cleansed white districts — who are elected BECAUSE of racial considerations, and who know that.

And the way they start to engage issues starts to reflect that. You can see it in debates over public health, education, and all sorts of things that we desperately need to be considered with regard to the good of all the public. Instead, what we get is a few lawmakers elected from districts with a high poverty rate (which tends to correlate to race, although it’s certainly not a one-to-one relationship). They tend to see the value in, say, expanding Medicaid (especially when the federal government is picking up the tab).

But they are outvoted by people from suburbs who can honestly say that their constituents don’t care about such things, and who can afford to treat the whole thing as an abstract, ideological issue. They can dismiss health care reform designed to provide care for the uninsured for something as frivolous as the fact that the name “Obama” is attached. Their constituents are largely fine with that. That is to say, enough of them are to keep electing the same kinds of representatives.

And so we don’t get policies designed for the benefit of the whole state. Because neither kind of gerrymandered district “looks like South Carolina.” Neither represents whole communities, but rather subsets of communities, defined by race. So relatively few legislators see themselves as there to serve a broad range of people in different circumstances, with different viewpoints.

It’s great that we don’t have poll taxes. It’s great that minorities who were marginalized are now so engaged with the political process. In those respects, the Voting Rights Act is a great success.

And we have seen success stories that give us hope for a future without elections that are predetermined by the skin color of the electors. Barack Obama’s two election victories offer that kind of hope.

But on the district level, our politics are still largely defined by race. And there, the Act has not been such a boon.

Aw, Jeez, Edith — here we go with the ACLU again

Consider that headline my tribute to Jean Stapleton.

There are some things that bring out the Archie Bunker in me, and the ACLU suing the government for doing its job is one of them:

 WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its “dragnet” collection of logs of domestic phone calls, contending that the once-secret program — whose existence was exposed by a former National Security Agency contractor last week — is illegal and asking a judge to both stop it and order the records purged…

Oh, and for those who don’t think the government is “doing its job” in this case — well, yes it is, by definition.

On a previous thread, Mark Stewart wrote:

The issue is not whether bureaurocrats’ believe that data mining Americans’ communications is the most appropriate way to “protect” our country; rather it is whether Americans have decided that such “protection” is in the best interests of our society.

And we have not…

On the contrary, Mark — we have.

We’ve decided it through our elected representatives, which is how it works in a representative democracy. This is not a direct democracy; nor should it be.

We’ve had years and years to decide whether we want to elect people other than the ones who decided to follow this course, and we’ll have more such opportunities in the future.

Again, I stress that the fact that the government was doing these things is not new information. We’ve had this discussion before. It’s just that some new details have brought it back into headlines, and a lot of people who weren’t paying attention before are startled.

Jenny wins; Sanford admits to being in contempt

Of his divorce decree, that is:

By BRUCE SMITH — Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Newly elected Congressman Mark Sanford and his ex-wife have settled a complaint that said he was at her home without her permission in violation of their divorce agreement….

Under the settlement, Sanford admits he was in contempt of the divorce decree then and on previous occasions. The judge agreed to withhold sentencing Sanford as long as he complies with the provision in their divorce settlement that he not enter his ex-wife’s Sullivans Island, S.C., home without her permission.

Sanford also agreed to pay her $5,000 in fees and court costs…

As to the matter of his showing contempt for the people of the 1st District, and them just eating it up, that’s another story.

He’s all yours, Lowcountry, and welcome to him.