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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Final Thoughts on the Troy Davis Case

I can’t think of a time when I have been drawn to a court case the way the Troy Davis case has pulled me in.  Who can honestly say they have sat down and read a 100+ page court ruling?

There is much we can learn from the goings on of this case.

IN GENERAL, PEOPLE DON’T RESEARCH.  We are a busy society.  We don’t have time to fact check, research, look up things.  We like the first part of what former president Ronald Reagan said (“trust”) but leave out the second part (“but verify”).  It is not a stretch to say that many people made a decision based simply on hearing many times how 7 out of 9 witnesses recanted their testimony.   I’m willing to bet that for many, they immediately assume there were 9 total witnesses, and that 7 previously said Davis did the crime but were now saying that he didn’t.  Simply reading even a synopsis of the testimony given would show that wasn’t the case.  Further, even the media doesn’t get it right.  Members of the media would also use the 7 out of 9 line.  But we must remember, whether its an opinion piece or a non-slanted article, it’s all meant to sell newspapers (or drive clicks to a website). My buddy over at the Nullspace has a good piece on that:  http://thenullspace.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/on-capital-punishment-troy-davis-media-bias/

UNDERSTANDING THE COURT SYSTEM IS KEY.  Reading through court docs was very eye-opening.  One of the main points I took from this is that simply saying someone recanted is not grounds enough for a new trial.  The judge from the Savannah hearing stated it best in his ruling.  If it were that easy to get a new trial, especially after the fact, we would have people gathering witnesses to recant all the time.  Then, said witnesses would just fail to show up for court.  When requesting a new trial, defendant needs to show that new evidence not shown at trial has become available, or that the prosecution acted improperly.  Most importantly, whatever the new evidence is must be enough to where the jury in the initial trial would have found the defendant not guilty.  We may look at that and say its bad, or that the system is broken, but without that, the justice system could implode from trials and retrials.

HOW MANY WITNESSES DOES IT TAKE?  Take away the witnesses who are on the “recant” list.   When looking at the people who did not change testimony, who identified the shooter based on what he was wearing, and based on other testimony, it seems there is still a strong case that Davis was the shooter.  The question is, if there was a new trial, how would you handle the testimony of those who didn’t change theirs, especially if they weren’t available for the new trial?

AFFIDAVITS DON’T CARRY A LOT OF WEIGHT IN COURT.  The recanters all signed affidavits.  Sounds good.  But the difference between an affidavit and a statement on a piece of paper is simply a notary stamp.  They don’t carry a lot of weight until the person making the statement can be cross examined in court to determine credibility.  In Davis’ case, there were at least two who were actually at the last hearing but were not called to testify.  In the court’s eyes, that make their statement suspicious.  Also, without cross examination, the statements by people saying that Coles (the guy Davis said shot the officer and who was with him that night) did it is considered hearsay. This link– http://legalcases.info/troydavis/ –has a good breakdown of the case and further, has a very good breakdown of what the witnesses said at trial and later so that you can actually see what is and isn’t a recant.

 

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Actual Court Documents From the Troy Davis Case

After a long, very good conversation with one of my closest friends, I realized that with my last post, I should’ve put a disclaimer.  The article I used as reference did not itself reference any actual documents.  So though much of what Mr. Erickson put in seemed to be factual (I applied my “why would he lie” filter), its better to have actual information with reference to remove doubt.

We did discuss the Wikipedia entry on the case, though we know that wikis can sometimes be full of wrong information (anyone can log in and edit to make a wiki slant in a desired direction).  Since this entry was chock full of reference entries, I will assume there is at least some validity there.  But further, I wanted court documents.

A search produced court documents f rom the Southern District court case in South Georgia in 2010.  Within the documents are the original statements from witnesses the night of the shootings.  If going by the statements, and even giving a second look to the statements made by those who recanted, I would be interested in knowning what other lawyers and law experts saw that the courts didn’t see.  It would seem from testimony that there were many other witnesses that did not recant who gave enough info in testimony to convict Davis as the shooter.

The court docs from the case are here: Part 1 and Part 2. For those interested, the wiki for the case is here.

I am interested in getting opinions from people after reading the court documents.

The Troy Davis Death Penalty Case: It Helps to Know the Whole Story

I am not a supporter of the death penalty, so I wanted Troy Davis’ death sentence to be commuted on those grounds, for starters.  Then, over the last few months and years, many of us have heard things that seemed to make the case for Davis to be spared, and possibly be innocent.  The other day, discussing the case among my Facebook crew, I stated that I really need to get up to speed on what appeals courts look at when a case comes before them.  I figured that maybe, I’m relying too much on just the anecdotal information being put forth in the news, mainly by people who support his innocence.

Interestingly enough, I came across a piece by Erick Erickson, radio talking head and editor at Redstate.com, where he lays out the case.  It was just the information dump I was looking for and made me come to a simple conclusion–Troy Davis was guilty as charged.

What he points out make arguing to the contrary very difficult.  There were three Air Force airmen who were firsthand witnesses to the murder.  Troy Davis had Officer McPhail’s blood on his clothes.  Davis had a .38 that had been linked to a previous crime, and a .38 is what was used to kill Officer McPhail.

But there were two p0ints he made that really jumped out at me in this case that really point to Davis’ guilt:

For the first time in 50 years the United States Supreme Court ordered a federal court to conduct an entire rehearing of all the evidence. The court did and found all the new stuff was, again, “smoke and mirrors,” including the retracted confessions. And while building the case to claim that Sylvester Coles was the real murderer, the defense would not call Coles in for examination.

One would presume that with all the reviews of evidence and the rehearing, one of the courts would raise a fuss if there was a chance he wasn’t guilty.  None did.  Then, the second thing:

MacPhail reported in that he had run passed Sylvester Coles. MacPhail was shot from the front in the chest and face — not from behind where Coles was, but from the front where MacPhail himself located Troy Davis.

That one is hard to shoot down.

You can read the entire piece here.

NFL Player Passes New Contract to Go to Grad School and Help Kids

Came across this story of Jason Wright. Instead of signing a new contract with the Arizona Cardinals, he opted to accept entry into the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. His reason? He wants to help inner-city kids:

After agent Mike McCartney informed the Cardinals that Wright was retiring, general manager Rod Graves insisted he would improve on the running back’s previous contract, which was for two years at $2 million. But in making the decision, the Northwestern graduate questioned himself.

“That was the thing that was on my mind, the biggest hiccup,” says Wright, who spent seven seasons in the NFL. “What’s the motive behind me playing longer? What is it in there that draws me? So people would know my name?

“For me, it was superficial. For me and my family, and our belief in God, it wasn’t a good enough motivation.”

The rest of the story is just as inspirational, about how he and his wife have taken in people who just needed someone to point them in the right direction.  Props go out to this family, not as an indictment to others who may not have made the same decision, but for following what they feel is the best course for them.  Also, a few brownie points to the Arizona Cardinals.  Seems they have been good at picking some decent guys who happen to be able to play football.  Wright follows Pat Tillman (RIP) who gave up millions in the NFL to join the Army after 9/11.

That Jobs Plan Sounded Good…Then Reality Set In

Last week I listened to the president outline a new plan to help create jobs.  “Pass this bill right away!” the president implored.  Initially, I was right on board with what he was saying, and was impressed that instead of the non-stimulating shotgun approach of the first bill, President Obama was firing targeted rifle shots with each line.  Even better, he started off by saying the plan would be paid for.

Then, about 2/3 of the way through, things started going downhill.

First, the president pulled out some of the tried-and-true garbage talking points.  He spoke of removing tax breaks for oil companies (hey, that *could* bring in a whopping $2 billion a year!), of millionaires and billionaires that don’t need tax deductions, and of the rich paying their “fair share” (I’m STILL waiting for specificity on what exactly their “fair share” is).  he even pulled out Warren Buffet’s claim of paying less in taxes than his secretary (I suggest people read up on capital gains taxes vs marginal income taxes to understand why this is bogus).

Second, President Obama punts the responsibility for paying for the bill to the newly-formed supercommittee, who will already have to find a way to cut $1.5 trillion in spending before December.  Seems to me there is a difference between saying something is paid for and saying “well, THEY are going to figure out how to pay for it.”

Then, for the coup de grace, the bill is rolled out on Monday…and its designed to be paid for via tax increases.

Sigh.

Though I don’t support the idea of absolutely no tax increases, the move makes the president look downright indecisive.  Not only that, but he knows that under the current environment, the chances of passing his bill (which came under criticism from all sides shortly after the post-speech euphoria wore off) just went from possible to “snowball’s chance in hades.”  Granted, a bill may get passed, but it definitely won’t fly through paid for just with tax increases.

“Tea Party Debate Audience Cheered Idea of Letting Uninsured Patients Die:” One of the Most Misleading Headlines EVER

While cruising through the news sites, I came across a disturbing headline:  “Tea Party Debate Audience Cheered Idea of Letting Uninsured Patients Die.”  Now, surely, people wouldn’t be so shallow as to cheer the idea of letting someone die!  That’s just not the American way!  So, of course, I clicked the link to see what the fuss was about:

CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer’s hypothetical question about whether an uninsured 30-year-old working man in coma should be treated prompted one of the most boisterous moments of audience participation in the CNN/Tea Party Express.

“What he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself,” Paul responded, adding, “That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risk. This whole idea that you have to compare and take care of everybody…”

The audience erupted into cheers, cutting off the Congressman’s sentence.

Now, let’s stop right here. Anyone reading this the say way I did notices something very important. The crowd cheered in response to Ron Paul’s comments, that clearly spelled out the idea of people taking personal responsibility for themselves. But just to make sure, let’s see what happened next:

After a pause, Blitzer followed up by asking “Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?” to which a small number of audience members shouted “Yeah!”

Paul, a doctor trained in obstetrics and gynecology, said when he got out of medical school in the 1960s “the churches took care of them.”

“We never turned anybody away from the hospital,” he said. “We’ve given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves or assume responsibility for ourselves. Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it. That’s the reason the cost is so high.”

So…a few idiots (not even close to being the entire audience) decides to be stupid. But this is not how the headline portrays it. The casual observer (or staunch Liberal) is led into the story thinking everyone let out a roar when the option of letting an uninsured person die. Paul never implied that was the case.

For the record, a number of the republican candidates issued statements to condemn the cheering. But let’s be clear. This is an example of poor journalism, made even worse by the fact that many outlets picked up the story and ran with it. Now we get to hear about how the Tea Party wants uninsured people to die. Just lovely.

Wait–Did Chris Matthews Say Social Security was a Ponzi Scheme?

Oh my, oh my! With all of the left-leaning folks eager to shoot down the notion that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, I’m sure they would be surprised to hear who agrees with that notion. Can you believe MSNBC’s Chris Matthews actually agrees?

Matthews first put forth what he thought Social Security was originally intended to be: “You pay for it while you work. When you retired and have no other form of income, this will help you out. In fact, a lot were impoverished in the old days without Social Security. It’s a great anti-poverty program. But then people started to live past 65. Even the great Franklin Roosevelt didn’t make it to 65. In those days, if you made it to 65, you were lucky. You got a few bucks on Social Security.”

Then he put forth what it has become: “Today, lots of people fortunately make it past 65,” he said. “They live into their 80s and 90s. They’re still getting checks. The system doesn’t work that way anymore. It’s not as healthy as it once was. So, how does a Republican deal with the fact it is a Ponzi scheme in the sense that the money that’s paid out every day is coming from people who have paid in that day. It’s not being made somewhere.”

The actual video clip can be found following the link.

By the way, giving credit where credit is due, yesterday’s post about SS and Ponzi was spurred by a conversation with my buddy Carl, who blogs here.

Social Security and Ponzi Schemes: What’s the Difference Between Bernie Madoff and Uncle Sam?

While listening to popular radio talk host Neal Boortz, I heard a comparison that has been made many times.  Simply put, Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.  And when you look at, the that assessment is dead on.

For the uninitiated (which included me until I looked it up), the father of the Ponzi scheme is Charles Ponzi, who at the peak of his pyramid scheme in the early 1900s was bringing in $250,000 a day before his downfall. There is a good Wiki on this here, but in short, hundreds of investors paid money into his scheme, with the promise of high returns in a short amount of time. What was really happening was, Ponzi was taking the money from new investors and paying out to “older” investors. A more recent grassroots example that many may have heard of was the infamous “Friends Helping Friends” scheme (I can’t be the only one that was asked at one point to join this). Same concept–you pay in, work your way up the pyramid, and cash out. And of course, there is Bernie Madoff, who had a $50 million dollar Ponzi scheme going until he was ratted out by family.

For the plan to work, there has to be a constant influx of new people and new money. When that stops, the pyramid falls.

So, let’s compare Social Security, that bedrock of entitlement programs, with the common aspects of the Ponzi Scheme.

  • In a Ponzi scheme, new people coming into the pyramid-like scheme pay in, expecting a payout later.  With Social Security, workers pay in during their working career, expecting a payout after retirement.
  • Ponzi scheme:  the people at the top of the pyramid get their payouts using the money from the new investors at the bottom of the pyramid.  Social Security:  recipients are paid using the money paid in by current workers.
  • Ponzi scheme:  money coming in is spent immediately, not saved.   Social Security:  money coming in goes right back out.  There is no “lockbox,” and by law, surplus Social Security funds are put into the general fund to pay for other government things having nothing to do with Social Security.
  • Ponzi scheme:  rate of return may vary, but is usually very high, which is what attracts investors.  Social Security:  compared to the rate of return available on the private market, that of Social Security is a joke (for lack of a better description).
  • Ponzi scheme:  when there are not enough folks paying in, the pyramid collapses.  Social Security:  when there are not enough folks paying in (we’re getting to that point), insolvency occurs and the government goes into debt to fund it.
  • Ponzi scheme:  investors pay in voluntarily.  Social Security:  attempt to opt out, and you will get a visit from government agents with badges and guns.
  • Ponzi scheme:  people who run them are arrested and go to jail.  Social Security:  Well, you know the answer to that one.

There you have it.  Our Social Security program that everyone knows and loves is a government-endorsed Ponzi scheme.  Anyone saying otherwise just doesn’t get it.