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The legal lynching of Tim Masters

[ 0 ] March 17, 2009 |

This is a long story, but it deserves to be read in its entirety. I met Tim Masters recently and was struck by two things: how comparatively normal he seemed under the circumstances, and the extent to which his life has been completely destroyed. After spending several years in the Navy learning to be a jet mechanic, and then working in private industry on Lear jets, he now can’t get a job in his field, because he has a ten-year gap in his resume — the ten years he spent in prison, serving a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit, and indeed for which there was never a shred of real evidence tying him to the crime.

The outrages in this situation are too numerous to list, but they include the fact that Jim Broderick, the man who became so obsessed with Masters’ supposed guilt that he ignored an almost infinitely more probable suspect, perjured himself on the stand, and then ordered the destruction of mountains of evidence that might tie that suspect to the crime, remains a high-ranking member of the Ft. Collins police force; that the two prosecutors who brought this farcical case and then illegally withheld crucial evidence from the defense, Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair, are now Colorado district court judges (they were given an essentially meaningless censure by the state supreme court last September); and that the Larimer County district attorney’s office insists on continuing to classify Masters as a suspect in the crime, although he has been exonerated by the evidence.

University of Colorado sociologist Michael Radelet, best-known for his work on the conviction of innocent defendants, points out that the distinguishing mark of cases like this — in which someone falsely convicted of a crime is eventually exonerated — is simply luck. Masters, who is quite bright, taught himself a lot of law in prison, and managed to write the sort of pro se motion that actually caught a clerk’s attention. That helped start a process that eventually led to some dedicated public defenders getting involved in the case, and forcing the state to spend a half million dollars to prove that Masters was innocent beyond a reasonable doubt (as a practical matter, this is the insane standard that has to be met to get someone convicted of murder out of prison).

How many others like Masters are sitting in prison, or on death row, today? The answer of course is that we have no idea. The conventional wisdom of the American legal system — that false convictions are extremely rare or even non-existent — (the Adams County district attorney, where Denver is located, once assured me that his office had never wrongfully convicted anyone) was shattered as soon as that axiom was subjected to any real testing, via DNA evidence and the like. How bad the situation actually is, in a nation with 2.5 million people in prison and jail on any given day, is anyone’s guess.

Just Sayin’

[ 0 ] March 17, 2009 |

In the midst of one of her excellent posts about the (largely unrepentant) Gary Condit lynch mob, Digby reminds us of this column from alleged liberal national treasure Frank Rich, reminding us how empty his banal critiques of similarly bluenosed conservatives are:

I love this story, though it’s essential that I hereby insert the standard disclaimers required of any journalist making that admission. (1) My paramount concerns — of course — are for Chandra Levy and for justice. (2) My secondary concern is for the Broader Themes, which include the scandalous behavior of our public servants, the limits of privacy and the presumption of innocence, the fate of women in the workplace, the balance of power in the House, and the heroism of the media in selflessly seeking out the truth even if that requires doing battle with such all-powerful adversaries as the D.C. police and a back-bencher congressman from Modesto, Calif.

I concur with Brian Williams of NBC’s ”Nightly News,” which has devoted more acreage by far to this story than its broadcast competitors, that Ms. Levy’s disappearance has also ”brought the science of lie detectors front and center” — and about time too! I join Bob Barr and The New Republic in calling for Gary Condit’s resignation, and only wish that I had had the courage to take this unpopular position as early as they did. It takes guts to confront those legions of Condit defenders out there who are sticking up for his right to impede a missing-person investigation, to engage in serial philandering and to allegedly ask a flight attendant both to sign a false affidavit and to participate in ”peculiar sexual fantasies.”

Perhaps Al Gore could have convinced Rich that he was at least a marginally better candidate than a moron who governed to the right of the Texas legislature if he had only spent a little more time analyzing the country’s important “Where the White Women At?” crisis instead of that silly environmental stuff. Although in fairness it’s pretty clear that (Democratic) politicians getting blowjobs was the most important problem the country faced in the summer of 2001.

"Be Very Afraid" Idiocy of the Day

[ 0 ] March 17, 2009 |

Kevin Coleman at Defense Tech:

In any contest there is an outside chance a long-shot could come from behind and win. The race for cyber warfare dominance is no different. In the recently updated “Cyber Warfare Capabilities Estimate” (2009 version) those who could break out of the pack and come from behind and take a leadership position for cyber dominance are listed below.

Wait for it…. wait for it….

1. Iran
2. India
3. North Korea

Ahem.

One of these is not like the other two, in that one of these has a non-absurd prospect for “a leadership position for cyber dominance.” Let’s repeat that for effect: “Cyber dominance.” North Korea and Iran could break out of the pack and take “a leadership position for cyber dominance” ahead of the United States, China, and Russia (not to mention Japan, Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, France, and about forty other more plausible countries) if they just try hard enough. Yep.

Here’s a tip; if you have a metric that produces a list of leaders for cyber dominance, and North Korea is near the top of that list, then there’s something wrong with your metric.

No such thing as bad publicity…

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

At a certain point, you might think I’d grow weary of the attention periodically bestowed upon me by Donald Douglas, Pro-Victory Associate Professor of Political Science at Long Beach City College.

But no. As Donald’s latest ode convincingly demonstrates, there’s really no disadvantage to being randomly cited as a “representative of the utter ideological bankruptcy of contemporary academe,” particularly if the vehicle that salvages you from the professional and geographical margins happens to be an unctuous brief on behalf of David Horowitz’s latest book, which the esteemed Professor Douglas has not, in fact, actually read yet. By this point, it would be an insult not to be mentioned.

Bringing the Unfunny

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

It is certainly true that late-period P.J. O’Rourke is painfully unfunny. But I think you have to remember that his prominence may result in some serious grading on the curve, in what one might call the “Half Hour News Hour Effect.” The one valuable thing about Andrew Breitbart’s Aesthetic Stalinism For Dummies is that it seems dedicated to finding people so unfunny they can almost make you understand why O’Rourke is a conservative’s idea of the new Lenny Bruce. First, we have Chris Muir, whose work for ASFD is just as unfunny but considerably more pretentious and incoherent than his usual strip. But that’s nothing: I bring you Ernie Mannix, who is not merely unfunny but is actually the anti-funny. (“Check his Blackberry’s GPS for Hillary’s location.” Stop it, you’re killing me!)

Given the competition, it’s hard to imagine O’Rourke being removed from his sinecures anytime soon…

It’s 3 AM; Do You Know Where Your Nuclear Submarine Is?

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

Remarkably interesting post this morning from Hans Kristensen on nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) patrols; last year the United States Navy conducted 31 deterrent patrols, as compared to a combined total of 22 by Russia, France, and the United Kingdom. Although China possesses three SSBNs, the PLAN has yet to perform any deterrent patrols. A deterrent patrol amounts, essentially, to an extended effort on the part of the submarine to hide underwater, while aiming its missiles at a potential opponent; USN patrols last three months of so. The thirty-one patrols (by 14 SSBNs) is the lowest number of patrols since 1962, in part due to a different operational tempo (fewer, longer patrols), but mostly because the number of SSBNs in the fleet has declined substantially since the early 1990s.

I’m of two minds on the SSBN patrols. As Hans notes:

In short, the nuclear powers seem to be recommitting themselves to an era of deploying large numbers of nuclear weapons in the oceans. Most people tend to view sea-based nuclear weapons as the most legitimate leg of the Triad. Yet of all strategic nuclear weapons, sea-based ballistic missiles are the most difficult to track, the most problematic to communicate with in a crisis, the hardest to verify in an arms control agreement, and the only ones that can sneak up on an adversary in a surprise attack.

I’m not sure that SSBNs are that hard to verify in an arms control agreement; they’re easy to hide at sea, but not in port, and we apparently have enough data about submarine patrols that Hans can write a long post describing each nation’s patrol strategy. That said, the other arguments are largely true, especially the points on crisis communication and surprise attack. The latter is less of an issue for the United States (I very much doubt that any Russian or Chinese submarine could “sneak up on” the US), but remains a concern for those navies unable to detect modern SSBNs. And as the French and British have recently demonstrated, SSBNs can have accidents just like any other nuclear platform.

Absent multilateral nuclear disarmament, however, I think that SSBNs are probably the safest place for the world’s nuclear powers to keep their weapons. The other legs of the nuclear triad (bomber aircraft and land based missiles) have their own issues, and SSBNs go a long way towards ensuring secure second strike. If both Pakistan and India possessed SSBNs, the nuclear balance between them would be more stable, rather than less. Hans is correct, I think, to suggest that the United States could do with rather less than fourteen SSBNs, as the British and the French manage with only four. The Russians have twelve, with seven in reserve and three under construction; some energetic arms control activity might serve to further reduce both the US and Russian SSBN fleets.

The Week In Wingnuttery

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

From Edroso. Apparently, “going John Galt” means “taking as much taxpayer money as possible.” I may have misread the novel; it’s been a long time, and it’s not like anybody actually read his speech…

Breast Is Best?

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

Via Belle Lettre, an interesting article from Hanna Rosin about breast-feeding. Despite the title, it’s not exactly a case against breast-feeding, so much as an argument that the (apparently quite marginal) health benefits of breast-feeding to infants have been overstated, and the burden on mothers tends to get overlooked:

Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let’s say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That’s nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.

Since I’m not a parent and hopefully for all concerned am not going to become one in the foreseeable future I have no direct skin in this game (and more importantly don’t know enough to effectively evaluate the evidence), so I’m more interested in opening up the discussion to people who have devoted more thought and research to this issue. Given my inherent skepticism about arguments from nature, I find Rosin’s arguments very interesting.

…More interesting discussion at CT.

What Talent?

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

Shorter Verbatim A.I.G. head Edward Liddy: “We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent to lead and staff the A.I.G. businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers — if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury.”

Yes, I can’t imagine the consequences if people responsible for losing more than a billion dollars a week were to lose performance-based ex post facto compensation. Similarly, it’s too bad that the Lions couldn’t have received a bailout so they wouldn’t have been faced with the prospect of losing Matt Millen’s immensely valuable services.

Random WBC Thoughts

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

1. Jerry Hairston is Mexican? (To be clear, having read his bio I understand why; I was just surprised to turn on the Korea-Mexico tilt and see him leading off)

2. I guess I’d never really thought about it, but I’m mildly surprised that Jehovah’s Witnesses are willing to represent national athletic teams, given the faith’s distaste for nationalist symbols.

Tourney Challenge Reminder

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

Brackets are now up. For some reason, they’ve prefixed a “W” to Kentucky; I really don’t understand why.

League: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

From Colony to Superpower XIV: This Shit Just Got Real

[ 0 ] March 16, 2009 |

by September 1945, the United States was, by far, the most powerful state in the world. It had the largest economy, the largest military, and held a monopoly on the ultimate weapon. Over the next six years, the United States would learn that unprecedented hegemony granted neither freedom of action nor freedom from fear. This is a lesson that the US would painfully relearn fifty years later. Chapter XIV of From Colony to Superpower takes us from 1945 until 1951.

In the wake of World War II, the US wasn’t really set up for global empire. This is not to say that the US hadn’t always had global interests; part of Herring’s point has been that isolationism has never fully described US policy. The US also maintained foreign possessions, especially after 1900. The post-1945 situation was different, though; for the first time the US accepted a dominant role on the world stage. The institutions of governance that had conducted US foreign and security policy were insufficient to this challenge; accordingly, in 1947 the national security state was revised and streamlined. Herring suggests that the changes were relatively shallow, but I doubt that the US could have conducted the quasi-imperial strategy it undertook post-1947 without some significant institutional change.

Within five years of the end of World War II, the United States had become involved in militarized disputes in Greece, Iran, and Germany, and in a fully fledged war in Korea. Herring is, rightly I think, skeptical of the Truman administration’s handling of the immediate post-war crises, allowing that tremendous accomplishments were made, but also serious mistakes. He doesn’t really take seriously the idea that the Cold War could have been avoided; although there were misunderstandings on both sides, fundamental disagreements existed between the US and the USSR. Nevertheless, he argues that Truman and his lieutenants reacted with more alarm than was strictly necessary, and gave up opportunities for some significant cooperative gains. He pins much of the blame on Truman himself, who lacked a sense of nuance about international politics, and also lacked Roosevelt’s distaste for colonialism. Herring maintains, correctly again, that Truman’s team was far more successful in Europe than in Asia, and that NATO and the Marshall Plan helped lay the foundations for a peaceful and prosperous Western Europe. Neither of these things were given, but Truman successfully co-opted or overwhelmed domestic opposition.

As in the last few chapters, Herring touches on the influence of the China lobby. However, he never fully develops an argument explaining or detailing its influence. It’s a relevant question; advocates of China changed US policy prior to, during, and after the Second World War, often to disastrous effect. Moreover, the relatively small but fairly prosperous Chinese immigrant population played only a marginal role in China advocacy. It’s not too much of a stretch to argue that the China lobby helped structure the terms of US entry into WWII, helped shape the strategy under which the war was conducted, helped create the quasi-state of Taiwan, and finally helped bring about the age of McCarthy, one of the darkest periods of US history. While the history of the China lobby has been detailed elsewhere, I wish that Herring had given it just a bit more attention here.

More to come…