Friday, January 30, 2009

A Detour to Africa

Although I know these kinds of posts are the least popular on here, I feel this topic is just not getting enough attention.

In the last few weeks some big events have taken place in Somalia. Ethiopian troops, really the only reason the transitional government was able to hold onto any semblance of "power" at all, have withdrawn. The president of the transitional government has also resigned, and his successor has not been named by paliament. This leaves an incredibly large vacuum in this desperate African nation, not only in the transitional government itself, but in the country as a whole. Already the previously expulsed Islamic fighers have retaken the country, and the areas they don't control are ruled by warlords. According to this article:

The government, with its 10,000 strong army and 3,500 African Union AMISOM peacekeepers, controls little more than a few blocks in the capital, Mogadishu. The election is being held in Djibouti because even the provisional seat of parliament in Baidoa fell to Islamists several days ago.

The fact that the parliament can't even sit in its own city is pretty telling.

We only hear about Somalia primarily when the pirates sitting off of the coast of the Horn of Africa board a large foreign ship of some sort. And, of course, piracy is no laughing matter. The piracy off of the coast of Somalia, however, is the symptom of a much larger disease. Some order needs to be established in this country and soon, otherwise Iraq and Afghanistan are going to be fond memories compared to the crisis that emerges there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

San Francisco's Goodbye

Good find Eddie!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration

After listening to the talking heads this morning wax poetic about how Obama and Bush had eaten sponge cake together on a replica set of Lincoln's china, I was not sure if I could bear much more of the symbolism and hoopla. But then Obama spoke, and again, I was taken aback at just how articulate he is, and how he is able to inspire. I particularly liked this part.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
I could not think of a more fitting "good bye" to W. Good riddance. And isn't it wonderful that we now have a president who is so well-spoken that he out-did the poet?!?!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bart Officer Pleads "Not Guilty"

The Bart officer who has been charged with murder for the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant plead "not guilty" to the charge yesterday in Alameda Superior Court. His attorney, Christopher Miller, stated that he plans on moving for a reduction of bail.

No real surprise. But I did want to make a few points, somewhat in response to a lot of what I've heard in the media.

1. My previous post about the propriety of the charges against Johannes Mehserle, I was in no way indicating that I thought he was actually guilty of murder, or any other crime. I was only commenting on the DA's decision to charge him with murder, based on the publicly available information. I think it was a reasonable, if somewhat aggressive charge. This doesn't mean they won't change their minds later once further information is discovered, or the Mehserle begins to mount his defense. I think if the defense can bring up the chaos that preceded the now infamous video, to show the stress of the situation, and how at the time perhaps the situation was not as calm and under control as it might seem from a 1 minute film on youtube.

2. Getting a lawyer and not making any public statements should not be held against Mehserle. This is what any sane person should do if confronted with a charge like this. Even if you are innocent, the best way to stay that way is to get a good lawyer, rather than depend on the mercy of the DA in an adversarial system that will, in all likelihood, not be forthcoming.

3. Also, a correction. Contrary to initial media reports, it appears that Grant was "restrained" but not handcuffed at the time he was shot. The fact that Grant could have reached for something, I think, might change the dynamic of this case.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BART Officer Charged With Murder

On New Year's Eve (rather early in the morning on New Year's Day) in Oakland's Fruitvale station, a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) officer shot and killed a 22 year-old man who had allegedly been involved in a brawl on one of the trains. At the time of the shooting, it appeared that the victim, Oscar Grant, was already handcuffed and lying face down on the ground.

The incident was caught on many a cell phone.

Since then, the BART officer has resigned, a protest turned violent in Oakland, and the BART officer, one Johannes Mehserle, has turned himself in.

Today, the Alameda District Attorney announced that they will charge Mehserle with murder.

I was a bit surprised at first, as that seemed more severe than I guess I was expecting. But, if you think about it, it's not that far fetched. If you watch the video, he seemingly quite calmly pulls out a gun (and as an officer, he has been trained on what those do and how shooting someone in the back will often be fatal) and shoots the guy lying prostrate on the ground in handcuffs. While I think "premeditation" might be hard to establish for first-degree murder (though not impossible), I think establishing malice aforethought would not be that difficult.

I had initially thought that voluntary manslaughter would probably be the extent of the charge (as a "heat of passion" kind of crime), but as I watched the video again, I think I see the DA's reasoning. While he might have been initially "provoked," he 1) is a BART officer on the beat, so confrontations are really a part of his job, and 2) the situation looked pretty calm at the time of the shooting. All of those who were allegedly involved in the altercation on the train were in handcuffs and on the ground. I think it would be hard to show that he was any longer in the heat of passion.

Although this post, like the hundreds of others like it, will definitely be fodder for a motion for change of venue based on Mehserle not being able to get a fair trial in the Bay Area given all of the news coverage.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hot and Bothered

Maybe it's because I just read the Economist's report "Troubled Waters" on how we've screwed up the world's oceans, but I am having a really hard time enjoying California's current heat wave. Seventy-four degrees in SF in January? That's warmer than it is here in the Summer on most days.

A lack of water not only screws up skiing in Tahoe, but it also does not bode well for wildfires. Especially considering that Schwarzenegger's proposed budget rests on the assumption that the state will spend half of what it did last year on fighting fires. If this keeps up, this won't be a likely scenario at all.

Image: (Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sarko To Scrap Defining Characteristic of French Civil Law Tradition

In the French judicial system, magistrate judges ("judges d'instruction") are often the ones tasked with leading criminal investigations, with counsel for the parties playing a much more passive role. Critics have suggested that this essentially does away with any hope of a presumption of innocence and that this inevitably leads to an abuse of power. Proponents suggest that this method is much better because it allows an independent judge to look at the facts, rather than letting a beauty contest between two arguing attorneys (who may or may not get the law right) decide the outcome.

But after a few egregious cases where the investigating judge did not do such a hot job, Sarko thinks that it is time to have an adversarial process.

Unsurprisingly, French lawyers and judges protested the suggested reform.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Carnie Sidewalk Graffiti

in front of my old apartment. Not sure if this was a neighbor intimating that I was immortal, or if it had something to do with the circus school down the street.

You should hum "taps" when you watch this

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

If You Can't Appreciate Irony

then don't bother reading this article, penned by former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton (who was never confirmed by the Senate) and John Yoo (he who penned the infamous torture memos that were based on his opinion that in times of war, the executive branch is not bound by normal separation of powers limitations or international law).

In this article, they both call for the restoration of the Senate's Treaty Power.

Yes. Seriously.

It is consistent at least in the sense that they see no benefit to be gained from international law at all. But now they are worried that the executive will enter into international agreements without congressional authorization, rather than flout international law, as with questionable interrogation techniques and Guantanamo Bay.

They seem to gloss over the fact that one treaty that was signed by the president and ratified by the Senate was the Geneva Conventions; the very set of treaties that John Yoo advocated the president did not have to follow and that he could authorize alternative interrogation techniques at Guantanamo and elsewhere in contravention of those treaties.