Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Innocent man freed after 20 years in prison

This morning I watched a live interview with Steven Barnes, a man who was released from prison in upstate New York yesterday, after serving 20 years behind bars for a rape and murder he did not commit. New DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project led a state judge to throw out the conviction. When asked how he was doing and what he planned to do next he responded simply, "I'm going to take it one day at a time." I couldn't help but think about what he really wanted to say. Hmmm, let's see. I just spent the last 20 years of my life behind bars for a crime I didn't commit, the best years of my life by the way, my twenties and thirties. I'm now 42 years old, flat broke, and I live with my mom. I have no prospects for employment and no skills that would make me employable. I was forced to turn gay out of fear and necessity, and now my butt hurts and I'm completely confused about my own sexuality. I haven't had a decent night's sleep or meal in over two decades, and I can't look at myself in the mirror without crying. But other than that I'm great. Oh and what do I plan to do next? I plan to sue the shit out of the state of New York, that's what.

The really sad thing is that convicting innocent people for crimes they didn't commit has become a regular occurrence in New York state. Through the work of the Innocence Project, 23 people have been exonerated in the state of New York through DNA testing, and 10 of those wrongful convictions involved invalid or improper forensic science. In a report released last year, the Innocence Project concluded that New York State leads the nation in wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing but lags behind other states in enacting policy reforms to make the criminal justice system more fair and effective. The New York State Bar Association Task Force on Wrongful Convictions is studying this issue, and will issue its report to the NYSBA House of Delegates in January. “Steven Barnes’ case is a reminder that wrongful convictions are very much a reality in New York State, and that very few of the reforms that prevent wrongful convictions – and simultaneously help catch real perpetrators – have been implemented in New York,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law.

Eyewitness testimony at the Barnes trial was shaky (eyewitnesses testified that they saw Barnes in town on the evening of the murder, and that they may have seen Barnes and Kimberly Simon, the victim, together – but no witnesses could say with certainty that Barnes ever met Simon, let alone that they saw him with her on the night of the murder), but forensic testimony linked him to the crime and ultimately led to the conviction. The forensic evidence included testimony that soil on Barnes’ truck tires was similar to soil at the crime scene and testimony that an imprint on the outside of Barnes’ truck matched the fabric pattern on a particular brand of jeans the victim wore when she was killed. It's important to note that neither soil comparison nor jean pattern imprinting is considered scientifically valid.

What's up New York? You convicted this poor guy of rape and murder because of mud on his tires and a jean pattern that could've been left by anyone? WTF - you got better things to do with your time up there than give people fair trials? If this keeps up you're gonna have to steal the "Don't Mess with..." slogan from Texas. And to think you call yourself a blue state? Until you fix up your clearly flawed criminal justice system you'll remain purple in my book. Wow.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Big Three Auto Execs arrive in Washington, D.C., via private jets?

I love this story. If anyone was thinking that Wall Street executives are just regular people like you and me, and that they might actually be slightly in touch with reality, here's a good reminder that they're not. Not even close. The CEO's of the Big Three auto makers (Alan Mulally of Ford, Robert Nardelli of Chrysler, and Richard Wagoner of GM) flew into Washington, D.C., yesterday to request a 25 billion dollar loan package from the federal government. Apparently the state of their respective corporations is so bleak that they need these federal funds to stay afloat.

The great irony of this situation comes not in their need for the federal loan package, but in how they traveled to Washington, D.C., to ask for it. You're probably thinking they flew in via first-class commercial, right? They must have tons of frequent flyer miles being CEO's and all so the upgrade to first class wouldn't cost their companies a dime. No, that's not how they flew in. Okay, so now you're probably thinking they jet-pooled in to make for a cheaper flight, right? It does cost a little more than flying commercial but they are CEO's afterall and splitting the cost three-ways couldn't have been too expensive. Wrong again. Get this - those dumb bastards flew into Washington on their own private jets, at an estimated round trip cost of $20,000 each. What - you don't believe me? You think it doesn't make any sense? That with their companies in financial ruins because of blatantly irresponsible spending, now in need of a $25 billion loan package from the tax payers to bail them out, they wouldn't possibly spend $60,000 to fly into Washington, D.C., when they could have flown in on commercial for just $1500? Well believe it because it just happened. I know - what the hell were they thinking, right? That's what I'd like to know too.

Each of the three companies were quick to defend their CEOs' travel as standard procedure, pointing out that like many other major corporations, all three have policies requiring their CEOs to travel in private jets for safety reasons.

"Making a big to-do about this when issues vital to the jobs of millions of Americans are being discussed in Washington is diverting attention away from a critical debate that will determine the future health of the auto industry and the American economy," GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said in a statement. Hey Tom - who's the one trying to divert attention away from a critical debate now? A debate about ethics and integrity and common sense. That would be you, my friend.

Chrysler spokeswoman Lori McTavish said in a statement, "while always being mindful of company costs, all business travel requires the highest standard of safety for all employees." So I guess what you're saying Lori is that Chrysler plans on giving all of its employees private jets of their own to fly around the country in? Is there a line item for that in Chrysler's fiscal 09 budget?

Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker pointed to the company's travel policy but did not provide a statement elaborating. Well done Kelli - at least one of you idiots had sense enough to keep your mouth shut.

I would say this situation is analogous to a panhandler getting chauffered to his street corner in a stretch limousine to spend the day holding his sob-story sign and begging for money. The only difference is that the panhandler isn't using the government to steal money from the tax payers.

Mr. Mulally, Mr. Nardelli, and Mr. Wagoner,
If you want people to sympathize with you and the companies you represent, pull your heads out of your asses. Each of your companies employs thousands of hard working Americans and it would be a real shame if Ford, Chrysler, or GM, had to go out of business. That being said it's pretty hard to support giving you a $25 billion federal loan package when you have such a long track record of pissing money away like you're Mike Tyson. Effective leadership is the lifeblood of any company. I think it's time you started behaving like effective leaders in an attempt to save your respective companies from insolvency the old fashioned way - with hard work, an unflappable focus on innovation, and last but not least fiscal responsibility. It starts with you. In other words sell the jets you deuche bags.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Well done Nebraska

Safe haven laws were created to allow distraught parents, who fear their children are in imminent danger, to drop them off at hospitals without being charged with abandonment. Safe haven laws exist with the intent to protect INFANTS. Nebraska was the only state in the country without such a law in existence... until recently. The only problem is that when Nebraska passed their safe haven law in July, 2008, they forgot to include an age limit (oops). All 49 other states have age limits written into their safe haven laws ranging from 72 hours up to 1 year in North Dakota, but Nebraska apparently overlooked this small, but very important detail. Way to go Nebraska - leave it to you to fxxk up a simple law you should have passed years ago. Jesus - it's not like you didn't have 49 other examples you couldn't have just cut and pasted into your own law. But no, you had to go out and reinvent the wheel, and when you did you left out the most important part. So now stupid, irresponsible parents from all over the country are using your fxxk-up as an excuse to dump their unwanted teens. Since Nebraska passed their safe haven law in July of this year 34 children have been dropped off at Nebraska hospitals. Of the 34 children dropped off none have been infants; 28 have been older than 10. Five of the abandoned children were brought into Nebraska from out of state. Deadbeat parents have traveled in from Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Florida, and Georgia.

"Please don't bring your teenager to Nebraska," Governor Dave Heineman told CNN. "Think of what you are saying. You are saying you no longer support them. You no longer love them."

Tysheema Brown drove from Georgia to leave her teenage son at an Omaha hospital. "Do not judge me as a parent. I love my son and my son knows that," Brown said. "There is just no help. There hasn't been any help."

Thank God I don't have to live in Nebraska or Georgia, or in any other red state for that matter.

State officials in Nebraska are scrambling to fix the problem. But because of legislative procedures it will take at least a week to change the language of the safe haven law, creating a window where more parents could try to take advantage of the loophole in the statute. "We are ready and prepared if that situation occurs," said Todd Landry of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. "We want people to understand that this is not the right way of getting the service for your child, your teenager or your family."

State Senator Tom White said lawmakers have been caught off-guard by the number of teenagers taken in under the law. Clearly Sen. White, you haven't spent enough time in middle America.

I'm not sure what's more surprising here. The fact that Nebraska state officials were stupid enough to create this loophole, or the fact that loser, deadbeat parents from across the country were actually smart enough to discover the loophole and then take advantage of it accordingly. I guess this proves if there's a way to cheat the system and shirk your responsibilities, the lowlifes of America will find it. Perhaps if Nebraska wants to avoid a rush on parents abandoning their teens before the law is revised, they should spend the next week passing out free moonshine to all residents and visitors crossing the state line. This way by the time all the freeloading scumbags sober up and shake off their hangovers, the law will be changed and they'll be stuck with their mutant offspring, the way God intended it to be.

God bless America. Wow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Guns, alcohol, and off-duty cops

There's a quiet debate taking place in the corridors of City Hall. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca wants to implement one of the nation's toughest policies barring deputies from carrying firearms when they are under the influence of alcohol. But the deputies' union adamently opposes any restrictions on a deputy's ability to carry a weapon while off-duty.

I'm not sure what's worse, the fact that a policy doesn't already exist banning off-duty cops from carrying guns while intoxicated, or the fact that some cops are actually stupid enough to bring their guns along on a night out boozing with the boys. Guns, alcohol, and unstable cops who joined the force because of a deep rooted sense of powerlessness and insecurity in their personal lives - there's a recipe for disaster.

Baca is pushing for this new policy because as he notes there has been a "very disturbing" rise in alcohol-related misconduct among his deputies. This year alone, 61 deputies have been arrested on alcohol-related charges. Of those, 39 were accused of driving under the influence, nearly twice the average of recent years. Many of those arrested were armed. Furthermore since 2004, more than a dozen sherrif's deputies have been involved in incidents in which they were accused of displaying or shooting a gun while under the influence of alcohol. Union leaders say the sheriff's plan would put deputies in danger. "What Sheriff Baca wants to do is disarm the deputy and embolden the dangerous individual", said Steve Remige, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.

Like a drunk ego maniac carrying a gun isn't himself a dangerous individual? Why are statements from union heads always filled with so much irony? I digress... the scary thing is that very few local agencies have taken a position on off-duty drinking.

The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, has no policy restricting an officer's consumption of alcohol while carrying a weapon. The Orange County Sheriff's Department also has no specific policy, but officials said "common sense" would hold that deputies under the influence should not be in possession of firearms.

You would think this to be the case but what about New Year's eve of 2008, when an off-duty deputy who had been drinking at a party in Los Angeles accidentally shot a man in the leg while trying to show off a new holster? The duputy has been placed on leave. Or what about in 2004, when an off-duty deputy, driving while under the influence, hit another vehicle and was accused of pointing his gun at men from the other vehicle when they approached him? The deputy pleaded guilty to drunk driving and was suspended from the Sheriff's Department for 15 days. Or how about in 2003, when an off-duty deputy, who was drinking with friends at a bar, tussled with a security guard and then attempted to intimidate the guard by displaying a firearm in his waistband? Or how about in 2006, when Los Angeles County Sherrif's deputy Chris Sullivan, recently back from a tour in Iraq, went out with a buddy to celebrate his return and ended the night by shooting his friend in the mouth and killing him? Sullivan was heavily intoxicated at the time of the shooting.

I stongly believe that the majority of police officers joined the force for the right reasons and I also believe that the majority of police officers exercise good judgment on a regular basis. But like anything else in life it's a numbers game. For every 1000 stand-up cops who do the right thing all the time, there's inevitably 1 dip shit cop who'll decide that bringing his loaded 9-millimeter Beretta along for a weekend bender with the boys is somehow a good idea. Do the right thing here Sheriff's Union of Los Angeles and accept Sheriff Baca's new policy. Given the rise in alcohol-related incidents involving deputies, it makes too much sense not too. Not only will it make the city of Los Angeles a safer place for its citizens, but it will also help prevent a few bad eggs from giving the entire department a bad name.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stay classy Padres management

Sixteen years of loyal service, the most saves in major league history (554), 2 Cy Young runner-up finishes, 6 all-star game appearances, the highest career save percentage (.892) among active pitchers, and it all came to an end with a cell phone call from Padres GM Kevin Towers. Really? Don't you think you owed him more than that Padres management? Sure he made plenty of money pitching for the Padres during his career, and sure parting ways with him was absolutely the right business decision for next year (his numbers were way down in 2008 and the last thing a team needs who lost 99 games in 2008 is a high-priced closer). But to part ways over the phone?

Apparently Trevor and his agent (Rick Thurman) were not happy with the Padres $4 million offer for 2009. They saw it as a polite way to nudge him out the door. The Padres indicated that it was the best they could do and sources familiar with the offer said it reflected, to a degree, Hoffman's diminished performance in 2008 (he pitched 45 1/3 innings last season and posted a 3.77 ERA, his highest since 1995, and went 3-6 while converting 30 of 34 save opportunities). Hoffman had Thurman ask for a meeting with Padres president Sandy Alderson, GM Kevin Towers, and owner John Moores, to discuss the offer. If Hoffman's time with the team was going to end he wanted to hear it directly from the team's executives. Can you blame him? But the Padres declined to arrange the meeting, and last Friday, the day after Thurman spoke publicly about Hoffman's desire for a face-to-face sit-down, Towers called Thurman and indicated to him that the Padres intended to withdraw the offer. The organization was upset, Towers told Thurman, that the details of Hoffman's offer had leaked out. Hoffman again had Thurman ask for a meeting with Alderson and Towers. He wanted to be told directly by Alderson that the Padres were ending his time with the team. Is that so much to ask for? Towers told Thurman that the offer was withdrawn and the negotiation was over. Towers then called Hoffman on Monday night and let him know about their decision over the phone. Over the phone? Are you kidding me? Sixteen years in a Padres uniform, the face of the franchise since Tony Gywnn retired in 2001, a model citizen in the community, and you didn't even have the decency to tell him face to face? What the hell is wrong with you Kevin Towers? John Moores is in the middle of a messy, expensive divorce and he rarely interacts with the players anyway so it's somewhat understandable that he didn't want to be involved. But for the club president and the GM to deny Trevor Hoffman the decency of a face to face meeting to let him know he was no longer a Padre is simply inexcusable.

Shame on you Padres management. Shame on you for tricking the city of San Diego into building you a new stadium with the promise of a higher payroll, then slashing said payroll by shipping our best players out of town (Peavy and Giles are next). Shame on you for turning healthy profits while the product you put on the field is little more than a minor league team. And shame on you for not treating a veteran player with the respect he deserved.

Trevor Hoffman is a class act. Always has been, always will be. And although his best days as a baseball player are clearly behind him I wish him the best of luck wherever he lands in 2009. And let me take this opportunity to apologize to you Trevor for the entire city of San Diego. You deserved better. And we deserve better.

Go Angels.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and France's reaction to his comeback

Dear France,

Please get off Lance Armstrong. The guy is a cancer survivor, a seven time Tour de France champion, and an inspiration to people all over the world. What is your problem? It was bad enough when you falsely accused him of doping and said his Tour de France legacy is tainted. But now during his historic comeback, you’ve come out and said he is unwelcome to compete in the Tour de France in 2009, and you’ve gone too far. Maybe the Tour de France is a big deal in your country but until Lance came across the pond and dominated it seven times in a row nobody over here gave a rat’s ass about your precious Tour. What Lance has done for cycling is analogous to what Tiger Woods (another American) has done for golf. And now after all he’s done for your beloved sport, you have the audacity to say he is not welcome to compete in the Superbowl of cycling? Polls conducted by a major French newspaper (L’Equipe) and a major French TV network (France 2) showed that 70% of your population does not want Lance to compete in the Tour de France in 2009. On the bright side at least 30% of your country doesn’t have their heads completely up their asses. What is wrong with you? Lance Armstrong stands for everything that is good about America. He’s competitive, ambitious, resilient, determined, and driven, not to mention the fact he’s filthy rich and bangs hot, famous chicks on a regular basis. Is it Lance Armstrong that you have a problem with or the fact that he’s an American? Or perhaps it's the fact that no Frenchman has won your coveted Tour de France championship for the past 23 years, and Lance came over there and did you seven times in a row? You say you don’t like his style – that he’s too methodical, too robotic, that he doesn’t show emotion or pain or suffering or ease. That’s because he's a winner when you’re a winner you don’t need to be flamboyant, clearly a concept you are not familiar with. Your fellow Euros have been quick to pile on. Just last week little known 26-year old German rider, Linus Gerdemann, called Armstrong’s return a bad thing. “This is not positive for cycling,” Gerdemann said. “But there’s nothing anyone can do about it.” He was underscoring comments made by German media executives in September when ARD, a large German TV network, announced it would not televise major cycling events because of continued doping scandals. “For us, Armstrong is a piece of the past we don’t want to see again,” Rolf-Dieter Ganz said in the Die Welt newspaper. “The future belongs to young riders, certainly not to Armstrong’s generation.” Lance’s response to this German criticism was classic. “I don’t even know who that is,” Armstrong said. “I am older. I am part of the older generation. I’ve been around a long time and I don’t know who the hell Linus Gerdemann is, but when I rolled up to the line in 1992 I started winning races and when I roll up in 2009 I’m going to be winning races. And so he better hope he doesn’t get in a breakaway with me because I’ve got a good hard drive.” Well done Germany, now you’ve pissed him off, like he needed any further motivation. Here’s something to think about during your excessive 5 week slacking sessions you like to call Holiday. While you’re over there lounging around in trendy cafes, drinking wine, eating cheese and pastries, and burning through countless packs of skinny cigarettes, just know that Lance is over here at a technology center, training in a wind tunnel , sculpting his body and perfecting his form, so that come the 2009 Tour de France he’ll be ready to kick your Euro asses… yet again. He might say he’s undecided about competing in the 2009 Tour and that he’s not sure he wants to deal with all the “tension” that exists between him and your country. But trust me he’ll be there. You see we Americans don’t back down, we fight our own battles, we rise in the face of adversity, and we play to win. And I’ll bet you dollars for doughnuts (or croissants in your case) that’s exactly what Lance is going to do. And after he does win the Tour de France for an unprecedented eighth time I hope he turns to Linus Gerdemann (and all the other haters) and drops the infamous Shaquille O’Neill to Kobe Bryant endearment on him: “Yo kid, tell me how my ass tastes.” But we all know he won’t because he’s Lance Armstrong and Lance Armstrong is a class act to the end. Besides he’s already been there seven times before, so no big deal.