82% oppose the war in Afghanistan

December 30, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Russia Today is reporting the results of the latest CNN/ORC poll measuring support and opposition to the war in Afghanistan.

82% oppose the war

17% support it.

There is less support for this war than there was for the war in Vietnam.

57% believe we are losing the war in Afghanistan and a majority of Americans want our military to withdraw before the deadline in December, 2014.

Meanwhile, our government is attempting to negotiate an agreement with Afghanistan to extend the presence of our military beyond December, 2014.

Our government appears to be seriously out of step with we the people on this issue and other related issues, such as the NSA bulk collection of telephony metadata and our use of drones to fight the war.

Support for social security and opposition to cutbacks is around 84% for Republicans as well as Democrats and Independents.

A majority of Americans believe unemployment, underemployment and disparity of wealth are our most important and pressing issues. Austerity to reduce government debt has little supported.

Last week most people agreed that this Congress is the worst one we have ever had.

In a democracy the government should listen to the people and govern in accord with the views of the majority. A government that ignores what the people want will not last long.

This is our 828th post.


Hearing today in Kelly Thomas case: UPDATED BELOW

December 27, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Good morning:

The trial of two former Fullerton police officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, charged with killing Kelly Thomas has been in recess this week. With the exception of a hearing today that will take place outside the presence of the jury, the trial will resume on January 6th with a continuation of the prosecution’s rebuttal case.

Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, Cicinelli with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force. Neither defendant testified.

The issue the court will decide at today’s hearing is whether it will permit the prosecution to introduce the personnel records of the two former officers into evidence to rebut the testimony of the use-of-force expert called by the defense. This is a rule 404(a)(1) opening-the-door issue.

Rule 404(a) generally prohibits the prosecution from introducing evidence of a defendant’s character to prove that he had a propensity to commit the crime charged. Rule 404(a)(1) creates an important exception to this general rule by permitting the prosecution to rebut evidence of a relevant character trait offered by the defense. The rationale for this exception is that the defendant opens the door by introducing the evidence thereby permitting the rebuttal.

Rule 404(b), which permits the prosecution to introduce specific acts of misconduct committed by the defendant, does not depend on the defense opening the door. Such evidence may be offered at any time to prove the defendant’s motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident. Of course, such evidence must be probative or relevant to an issue in the case.

The use-of-force expert called by the defense was the officer who trained the two defendants. He testified that, after watching the video, he concluded the two defendants did not use excessive force or violate any departmental rules.

The prosecution claims that the incident reports filed by the two defendants should be admitted to rebut the testimony of the use-of-force expert.

Both officers were permitted to review the video before they wrote their incident reports. This is unusual as I am not aware of any police department that would permit this to be done.

Normally, police reports are inadmissible hearsay unless used to impeach the author of a report by introducing his prior inconsistent statement.

This our 826th post.

UPDATE: The prosecution asked the judge to order the Fullerton Police Department to turn over its internal investigation file regarding the incident with Kelly Thomas. The investigation resulted in a decision to fire defendants Ramos and Cicinelli. The prosecutor wants to review the file because he believes the two were fired for violating department policies. He argued that the defense had opened the door to admitting such evidence when it elicited testimony from the use-of-force expert that he had watched the video and the two former officers had not violated department policies.

The defense called the use-of-force expert. He is a corporal employed by the Fullerton Police Department and he taught the two defendants regarding appropriate use of force.

The judge ordered the department to turn over the file to the prosecutor and scheduled another hearing at the end of next week to consider whether any of the information in the file is admissible. In the meantime the City of Fullerton, which is representing the department, can seek appellate court review of the judge’s decision should it desire to do so.

I believe the judge made the correct ruling pursuant to Rule 404(a)(1) since the contents of the file may contain relevant admissible evidence to rebut the defense expert. By testifying that the two officers did not violate department policies, the defense opened the door for the prosecution to admit evidence that they did violate department policies.

When I was trying cases I exercised considerable caution to avoid opening doors. The last thing I wanted to do was to hurt my client and make a bad situation worse.

Whether the file contains the hammer that the prosecutor is hoping to find remains to be seen. There is no doubt that the department fired the two defendants for cause. Given the disturbing video, I suspect they were fired for violating department policies regarding use of force.

Defense counsel should know the answer. I would certainly question their judgment in eliciting testimony from their expert that the two officers did not violate department policies regarding use of force, if they knew their clients were fired for violating policies regarding use of force.

If that is what happened and the defendants are convicted, I would expect them to argue on appeal that they were denied effective assistance of counsel, a Sixth Amendment violation.

Whether that claim would be successful pursuant to Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), would depend on whether defense counsel’s conduct was so far out of bounds that no reasonably competent criminal defense attorney would have elicited that testimony from the use-of-force expert knowing that his client had been fired for violating department policies, and (2) the misconduct was material such that it undermines confidence in the verdict.

Based on the notion that hindsight is 20-20, the SCOTUS specifically exempted tacticcal decisions by counsel as a legitimate basis for an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. Assuming defense counsel consciously decided to risk opening the door by eliciting the use-of-force expert’s opinion that the defendant’s did not violate department policies regarding use of force, I doubt that defense counsel’s decision could reasonably be characterized as a tactical decision, if they knew the department fired their clients for violating department policies because they would have violated an ethical rule that prohibits lawyers from misleading the tribunal. Actionable misrepresentations before the tribunal cannot be excused as tactical decisions.

Since I have not watched the trial, it’s not possible for me to determine whether the error was material, assuming for the sake of argument that defense counsel erred and the defendants are convicted.

I have watched the video several times, however, and I think it speaks for itself.

With the exception of the hearing yesterday, which occurred outside the presence of the jury, the judge recessed the trial for two weeks (last week and next week).

The trial is scheduled to resume on Monday, January 6th with the prosecution continuing to present its rebuttal case. Depending on whether the department fired the officers for violating department policies regarding the use of force and whether the judge permits the prosecution to introduce that into evidence, the prosecution might rest its rebuttal case on Monday or Tuesday.

The defense would have a chance for surrebuttal, assuming it has evidence to present that rebuts the evidence presented by the prosecution in its rebuttal case.

Both sides have indicated that they expect to argue the case to the jury during the week of January 6th, so we are getting close to the end of the trial.

Christmas in Prison

December 26, 2013

Christmas in Prison

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

card from prison commissary

Christmas card from prison commissary that I sent to my family for Christmas, 2008.

Blue Jay, Prison art

Partially completed Blue Jay, prison art. I was not able to complete this drawing, because of the poor quality of the made-in-Indonesia colored pencils from prison commissary. The pencils broke, and the colors were not what they were labeled to be. It would not have mattered anyway; the prison stamped the drawing as you can see, to indicate that this was “Inmate mail.”

KCIW PeWee Valley, Christmas, 2008

While families across the country gather to exchange gifts, attend services, and enjoy the lights, food and decorations, we are gathered and silent, in the day room of Ridgeview Dormitory, waiting for our names to be called so that we can receive our Christmas gifts.

The gift is a Christmas card, handed to us each personally by the Ridgeview House Mother, Mary. Everyone receives the same card. For many, this is the only Christmas gift they will receive. We are thankful for this card.

Some women who trick write, will receive financial gifts from sugar daddies.

Christmas in prison is Christmas ruined because the pain of family separation is magnified. Women miss their grandchildren’s first Christmas, or their parent’s last Christmas, as was the case with my friend Sarah, whose father committed suicide two days after Christmas.

We miss our families. But what do we miss, exactly? We miss the innocence and awe of our childhood Christmases, I think. We chase and chase this rose-colored-glasses version of happier times, until we stop. Because it will never be that way again.

Many choose to continue the fantasy of family reunion. Of childhood excitement. Of joy. Of sleds and snow and kitchen baking smells, and opening presents early on Christmas Eve. We chase and chase the fantasy until we are too tired to chase it anymore and we must accept that we are unwanted. We must accept that it is possible for family love to stop. Even if we cannot understand, we must accept it.

Others widen the chasm from the outset and extend the geography and psychological valleys of separation because not to do so is too painful. These are the realistic women, I think. They are able to accept the end of love and move on to something else.

How does one accept the unacceptable? “You cannot live in here and out there at the same time,” other inmates tell me. “Do the time and do not let the time do you.” The women who tell me these things are wise women, I think. They are wise because they have let go of something I cannot turn loose of: regret.

When I was a child I loved snow globes. I broke one once, but I refused to believe that it was broken. I squeezed my eyes shut tight and prayed for it to magically come back. Each time I opened my eyes, the plastic globe remained broken on the floor, the liquid spreading. That is what Christmas is like in prison. No matter what you do, no matter how much you pray, no matter what you do not do, your life is still in shards. One time in my adult life I was within a mile of my childhood home. I kept on driving. Because to stop would have broken the fantasy that you can go home again and things will be the same.

When my name is called, I thank Mary for the card. But I cannot stop longing for my snow globe.

The Man Who Never Cried (short film)

December 25, 2013

And All Through the House

December 25, 2013

by Crane-Station

Old Barn  Oakland County MI

Image by Rodney Campbell on flickr

Letty Owings, age 88, recalls how a rural German Evangelical farming community in Missouri observed Christmas during the Great Depression.

And All Through the House

In the 1930s I lived in the rural Missouri countryside in a farming community of Evangelical Germans. The community was small and the people came over to this country quite a long time ago in the 19th century, but they hung onto their language and traditions. We spoke low German in the home, and there was a strict division of work, between the men and the women. This is how we observed Christmas.

The cutting of the tree was my mother’s task, but I went with her. We picked a scrub cedar in the woods, and my mother would get the ax on Christmas Eve, and cut the tree. The snow was deep on that day. The tree fit on top of the dining room table. We decorated the tree with the same decorations year after year that my mother saved in a closet: bells, icicles and tinsel. The tinsel was always a bit tarnished because it was metal. The decorations came from before I was born, and there was a star for the top of the tree.

My mother used the same cloth on the table each year, and she set the table with the same bluebird dinner plates. She and my dad put something on the plate, usually a few pieces of hard candy from the church, maybe a few nuts. Gifts were placed on top of the plates. Nothing was wrapped.

We burned wood in the stove. We had two wood stoves. Even though coal was cheap and plentiful, we didn’t use it for heating. Mom wouldn’t burn coal because it was dirty. Since coal burned hotter, they used it in the church and the school, so you saw the coal dust in those places. People kept talking about how the REA (Rural Electrification Administration) was going to come to us with electricity but they never did. It’s just as well because as it was we were blowing our lamps out early to preserve coal oil for the lamps, so you can imagine nobody had enough money to pay for electricity.

Impulse did not figure into our lives, things were the way they were. There were gradations of poverty with some better and some worse, but we never saw things in comparison, because we had nothing to compare ourselves to. We didn’t have money to subscribe to a newspaper, for example, but we were careful to save the occasional issue of Arthur Capper’s newspaper that made its way into the house, because we could stuff it around the cracks of the doors and windows, and it made lovely insulation.

On Christmas morning my dad got up very early and milked the cow, fed the animals, and put hay in the manger. Then, he came in and started the fire in the kitchen and made cornbread. When he and my mother had put the gifts on the plates and the cornbread was ready, he would call. We raced downstairs. There were three kids, and my parents carefully hid things ahead of time. They pretended not to know what the gifts were, even though they did, and they always showed great anticipation and excitement. We prayed, ate, and talked. On this particular year my sister got a scarf, my brother got socks (the men always got socks), and I got a doll. Her name was Pearly, and since my mom wouldn’t let me take her to the hay loft, I rocked her all day, inside. I still have Pearly, to this day.

On Christmas night, we went to church. The church had a Christmas program. We sang songs in English- Silent Night, and Joy to the World– and we got a sack of candy to take home. The men sat on one side, and the women on the other, although when I was little I sat with my dad on the mens’ side. The women covered their heads. My mother made our clothes out of feed sacks on a treadle sewing machine; she had a dress for church and my dad wore overalls.

The Germans celebrated a second Christmas day on the 26th. That was also a holiday. We lived three miles to the nearest kin by road, but the walk through the field was a mile. My uncle and aunt had three little boys, and on this day Uncle Jake took to the snowy field and made his way to our house. He brought me a Christmas present, wrapped in paper, from the three boys. The gift was a nickel. That may sound silly today, but it was a great sacrifice for them.

Loreena Mckennitt – Dickens Dublin


Also, from Rome this morning:

Christmas Message and Urbi et Orbi Blessing

CHRISTMAS 2013 Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Pope Francis states in part:

Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance. Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid.


Grant peace, dear Child, to the Central African Republic, often forgotten and overlooked. Yet you, Lord, forget no one! And you also want to bring peace to that land, torn apart by a spiral of violence and poverty, where so many people are homeless, lacking water, food and the bare necessities of life. Foster social harmony in South Sudan, where current tensions have already caused too many victims and are threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state.

Prince of Peace, in every place turn hearts aside from violence and inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue. Look upon Nigeria, rent by constant attacks which do not spare the innocent and defenseless. Bless the land where you chose to come into the world, and grant a favourable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Heal the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq, once more struck by frequent acts of violence.

cross-posted at Firedoglake/MyFDL

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