Letting The Old Obsessions Go

Yesterday a Nevada parole board voted unanimously to grant parole to O.J. Simpson.  Simpson, who is now 70, has served nine years for robbery and kidnapping offenses stemming from a bizarre incident in Las Vegas.  He could be released from prison by October 1.

170720-oj-simpson-parole-lovelock-ew-311p_fea89e6c6b7d1f50e0397eabec2defd9-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Simpson told the parole board that he’s changed.  Whether that is true or not, only he knows . . . but I wonder if the world in which O.J. Simpson became the focus of seemingly unending national attention has nevertheless stayed the same.  Simpson’s parole hearing — normally a proceeding that happens without being noticed by anyone except the convicts, their attorneys and families, the parole board, and perhaps the victims of the crime — drew worldwide attention, and as soon as the decision to grant parole was announced it was immediately the lead item on all of the news websites.  It was an uncomfortable reminder of the American obsession with his murder trial — not exactly a sterling moment for the news media, the police, the legal system, the weird Hollywood world in which O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson lived, or anything or anybody else that was involved in that whole sordid spectacle.

At his parole hearing, Simpson said he just wants to reconnect with his family and has no interest in being in the limelight.  Of course, our crass culture being what it is, Simpson is reportedly being besieged by TV producers who want to pitch him as the star of a reality TV show, and no doubt he’ll have plenty of other opportunities to get back on TV in some fashion if he wants to do so.  I sincerely hope he resists the temptation and sticks to his stated intention to just live out the rest of his life in as private a way as possible.

In America, we accept the verdict of juries and parole boards and other elements of the criminal justice system — whether we agree with them or not — because that’s how the law works.  Part of that process means moving beyond the old controversies and, finally, letting old obsessions go.  I don’t want to read anything more about O.J. Simpson, nor do I want to think, ever again, about a time when our whole country seemed slightly off its rocker.  But, will Simpson, the news media, and the Hollywood hype machine cooperate in achieving that goal?

When Not Even Early-Morning Baseball Practice Is Safe

Yesterday members of the Republican congressional baseball team met early in the morning for a practice session in advance of an upcoming game against a team of Democrats.  The annual game, which gets played in the stadium where the Nationals play and typically produces lots of money for charity, is one of the handful of remaining vestiges of civility and across-the-aisle cooperation that can still be found in our increasingly polarized national politics.

2017-06-14t131000z1lynxmped5d12artroptp4virginia-shootingBut the world being what it is these days, even an early-morning baseball practice is no longer safe.  A heavily armed gunman, who has been identified as James Hodgkinson, showed up and began firing — apparently with the intention of killing Republicans.  He shot  Congressman Steve Scalise, who remains in critical condition, and others as well before engaging in a firefight with authorities and sustaining fatal injuries.  In view of the fact that the gunman got off dozens of rounds, and the players practicing on the field were described as “sitting ducks,” it’s almost miraculous that more people weren’t killed or seriously injured.  Those who were present say that the heroism and prompt actions of police saved many lives.

The shooter is described as a Bernie Sanders supporter who hated Republicans — but in reality you could just call him a nut, based on what he’s written and posted to social media.  Senator Sanders immediately disavowed what the shooter did, because of course Sanders’ political positions don’t call for his supporters to engage in murderous violence.  And yet there are people out there on the fringes, at both ends of the political spectrum, who can’t simply content themselves with political opposition and have to take the next step, and the next, first into more vitriolic speech and imagery and ultimately into some kind of twisted mindset where going to a baseball practice and shooting whoever is out of the field seems like the right thing to do.

There have always been nuts out there.  What’s discouraging about the modern world is that there seem to be more of them ready to act out their disturbed impulses, heedless of who might get hurt.  And now we’ve reached the point where even a simple baseball practice isn’t safe.

The baseball game is going to be played, by the way.  That’s a good thing, I think, but it’s the only good thing about this whole ugly episode.  And you inevitably wonder:  how many more nuts are lurking out there, thinking the answer to what troubles them is a lot of indiscriminate killing?

 

Shootout At The OK Library

I got a disturbing email from the Columbus Metropolitan Library system this afternoon.  It wasn’t about fines, or overdue books, or anything like that.  Instead, it reported on a shooting that occurred at the Main Library yesterday afternoon.

columbus20main20library20shootingAccording to the Columbus Dispatch, there was a dispute between two guys in the study area on the second floor of the Main Library.  The second floor is a very nice space that is one of the recently refurbished areas that I reported on last summer.  The article reports that the two guys exchanged words, then one guy pulled out a gun and started shooting.  The other man was shot in the ankle and limped away, being chased by the shooter, until the shooter surrendered to library security.  He eventually was taken away by police.

A shooting, in a library?  How sad, and also disturbing, too.  Main Library is my nearby library branch of choice, because it has the greatest selection of books on the shelves, and I enjoy browsing and seeing whether anything strikes my fancy.  Main has always been a bit gritty, with more than its share of apparent homeless folks hanging around inside and outside, but a shooting?  That raises grittiness issues to a whole new level.

This is the kind of thing that many of us find unnerving about the prevalence of guns in our culture.  Two guys are sitting in a library, they start to argue, and suddenly things escalate out of control — and because one guy had a gun, he skipped the physical brawl step and just started shooting.  Weapons are barred in the library, but obviously that didn’t make a difference.  Fortunately, none of the other people who were in the library at the time got hit.  And I can’t help but think that, if Russell and Emily weren’t around, I might have been walking past the area where the confrontation occurred at the moment things spiraled into chaos.

I’ll continue to use Main — at least, I’m pretty sure I will — but I’m not going be able to enjoy the same kind of leisurely strolls through the shelves that I have enjoyed before.  I’ll keep a wary eye on everybody, and I’ll be looking to get in and out quickly.  Who knows whether that guy reading Sports Illustrated over there might be packing, and have a short fuse, to boot?

Bad Litter

I despise litter, and litterbugs, and I pick it up and dispose of it because I feel it is my civic obligation to do so.  I’ll dispose of cans, plastic bottles, hamburger wrappers, newspaper, and french fry containers . . . but there are some forms of litter even a litter hawk like me won’t touch.

Like discarded q-tips.  Kleenex.  Soiled napkins.  And, today, used dental floss.

Seriously — used dental floss?  What kind of sociopathic jerk would throw used dental floss onto a public thoroughfare?

Siccing The Cops On Scofflaws

There’s a Starbucks on a street corner near our house.  It’s a busy place in the morning, and it doesn’t have its own parking lot, although there is an available lot only a hundred feet or so away.  I walk past the Starbucks every morning at about 6 a.m. on my outbound early morning jaunt, and walk past it again at about 6:30 on my return home.

By then, inevitably, there are extremely important people who have parked illegally right in front of the store, so they can dash in to get their morning Starbucks fix without having to wait an instant longer, walk a few steps after parking in the available lot, or comply with posted parking signs like the rest of us average folks.  And they’re not just parking in a legitimate spot that requires a special sticker, either.  No, they’re leaving their cars in clearly posted “No Stopping” zones, where their cars block the crosswalk, meaning anyone walking by has to squeeze between parked cars — which isn’t very safe when people are driving in and out, like at a Starbucks — and anyone who happened to be using a wheelchair, walker, or stroller would be totally out of luck because the curb cut and incline are totally blocked.  And, also inevitably, these self-absorbed illegal parkers who can’t spare an extra minute of their time then put their car in reverse, in the process going the wrong way on a one-way street, and back out onto Third Street before going on their merry way.  In the process, they pay no attention to anybody who might be crossing the street behind them.

This who scenario bugs the crap out of me (obviously), and I’ve had to restrain myself from saying something to these scofflaws when they happen to leave the Starbucks as I am walking by.  Last week I thought we had reached the nadir of lawful compliance in our society when somebody parked in the no stopping zone — immediately behind a police car that was parked legally!  Talk about chutzpah!  And I toyed with the idea of actually calling the police to see if they could send out somebody to ticket a few of these selfish people and remind them that the parking laws apply to them, too.  But I restrained myself, trying to adopt a “live and let live” attitude.

This week, though, a police office magically appeared at the Starbucks corner at just the right time and wrote tickets for every illegally parked car.  I actually patted the guy on the shoulder and thanked him for doing something to promote pedestrian safety and take a step to advance the “broken windows” theory in our neighborhood.  I didn’t summon him, but somebody did — and I was glad.

I hope the illegal parkers enjoyed reading their tickets as they savored their triple caramel latte and thought about their enormous importance.

 

Leaking Like A Sieve

We’re living in the midst of the leakiest America in history, and it’s causing lots of problems for our country.

leaky-sieveThe leakiness isn’t confined to just Washington, D.C., the Democratic National Committee, or the confused conduct of the Trump White House, where it seems as though every confidential meeting must end with a dash to the door so that everyone in attendance can call their favorite journalist and recount what just happened in excruciating detail.  Now the leak-fest is also affecting foreign affairs and criminal investigations, too.

The latest evidence of this problem involves the investigation into the horrendous suicide bombing in Manchester, England, where an Islamic extremist specifically targeted kids and their parents at a concert and killed 22 innocents and injured 64 more.  British authorities shared information about the attack, including the name of the bomber and photos of the debris being examined as part of the investigation, with an intelligence network that includes the United States.  Some unprincipled American recipient of the information then promptly leaked the information to the New York Times, which published it.

The BBC is reporting that British officials are furious about the leaks, which could affect the success of their investigation, and have stopped sharing intelligence about the attack and its investigation with American authorities.  British Prime Minister Theresa May also plans to raise the issue with President Trump at this week’s NATO meeting.  Of course, it’s not clear that Trump has any ability to stop the rampant leakiness — he can’t even get his own White House personnel to keep things confidential.

When the profound leakiness in our government invades the intelligence agencies and the criminal investigators, to the point that our allies can’t even trust us sufficiently to disclose information about terrorist attacks that are bedeviling all western countries, then we’ve got serious problems.  Obviously, we want to get whatever information we can about terrorist attacks, so we can use the information to prepare our own defenses and procedures to try to prevent future attacks.  If our allies withhold information because they’re afraid it will be leaked, that not only embarrasses America, it hurts us, too.  And if criminal investigators become as leaky as White House staffers, the confidential investigatory information they provide may help the criminal actor to avoid capture or prevent a fair trial — neither of which is a good thing, either.

The reality is that some things must be kept secret, and if the people in our government can’t keep their mouths shut about the truly secret stuff, then they aren’t qualified to serve in positions where the ability to maintain confidences is a crucial part of the job. We need to determine who is leaking intelligence and investigatory information and thereby imperiling both our relationships with our allies and our own security and replace them.  The leaks have got to stop.

The Comey Canning

As Forrest Gump might have said, any day with the Trump Administration is like a box of chocolates:  you never know what you’re going to get.  Yesterday, we got the decision from President Trump to fire the Director of the FBI, James Comey.  And, to accentuate the bizarre, bolt from the blue aspect of the decision, Comey apparently learned of the decision when the news flashed across the TV screen behind him while he was giving a speech, and he initially chuckled and thought it was a joke.

The White House says that Trump acted on the recommendation of senior officials in the Justice Department, who concluded that Comey botched the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s questionable email practices and, in the process, caused “substantial damage” to the credibility and reputation of the FBI that has “affected the entire Department of Justice.”

FILE PHOTO: FBI Director Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in WashingtonThe Deputy Attorney General, Rod J. Rosenstein, prepared a memorandum citing reasons for Comey’s discharge that stated:  “I cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.”  Among other mistakes, Rosenstein cited Comey’s curious July 5 press conference, where Comey announced that charges would not be pursued against Clinton but then castigated her creation of the servers and her handling of confidential materials.  Rosenstein stated that Comey acted “without the authorization of duly appointed Justice Department leaders” and added: “Compounding the error, the director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation . . . we never release it gratuitously . . . It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”

There is truth the Rosenstein’s statement about a bipartisan consensus that Comey’s handling of the email investigation involved a lot of mistakes; Comey’s actions and his decision to make an abrupt, pre-election announcement of a renewed investigation into Clinton’s email servers were criticized by former attorney generals in both Republican and Democratic administrations.  And only this week, the FBI had to correct misstatements Comey made in recent testimony to Congress about the email investigation.

But there is something very unsettling about the Trump Administration’s abrupt decision to discharge Comey for actions he took months ago, because the decision comes in the midst of an ongoing investigation into Russian influence into the last presidential election and the actions of the Trump campaign in relation to the potential Russian involvement.  Trump’s letter to Comey giving him the boot oddly acknowledged the ongoing investigation, stating:  “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.’’  And Rosenstein has only been at his Department of Justice post for two weeks, which suggests that his first job assignment in his new position was to consider whether Comey should be fired.

Not surprisingly, Democrats are up in arms about the decision, which they compare to Richard Nixon’s infamous “Saturday night massacre” of Justice Department officials, and members of Congress are calling for an investigation.  I think an investigation makes sense, but until then I’m going to reserve judgment and see what develops.  There’s no doubt that Comey had his issues, and it may well be that — unfortunate timing aside — the White House and the Department of Justice had legitimate concerns that he simply was incapable of handling the kind of highly sensitive investigations the FBI must undertake in a non-partisan way.  On the other hand, the timing is unfortunate, and naturally gives rise to suspicions about what really happened here.  A through investigation will help to establish the facts and clear the air.