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.

The Elephant Tranquilizer Tipping Point

It seems like America has been debating what to do about our drug problem for years.

drug-powder-skullWe’ve always had the contingent that urges no tolerance and vigorous enforcement of criminal laws, with swift and sure punishment of offenders.  We’ve got people who argue that some drugs really aren’t that dangerous, and that people who are addicted to other drugs really aren’t evil, they are just dealing with a kind of physical and mental sickness and deserve treatment, not prison.  And we’ve got people who argue that filling prisons with drug offenders doesn’t make sense from a pure economic standpoint in the current era of limited governmental resources.

But most of this debate centers on the people who are users.  What about the people who are profiting — the distributors and pushers and dealers, the people who import the drug and prepare it for sale on street corners?

The introduction of another new substance into our ongoing drug problem is just one more piece of evidence that those people are truly evil.  The new substance is called carfentanil, and it is a form of elephant tranquilizer that is toxic and deadly to humans.  Drug dealers are mixing carfentanil with heroin and selling it, producing a wave of overdose deaths across the country — including Ohio.  The substance is so deadly that even an amount equivalent in size to a few grains of salt can be a killer.

How can you defend someone who intentionally and consciously puts elephant tranquilizer into a drug, knowing that the addition dramatically increases the chance of death when the drug is consumed by human users?  How can you do anything except conclude that the person who takes that step is a monster, who deserves to be hunted down, prosecuted, and imprisoned for destroying people’s lives?

Chicken Or Egg

This morning the news is all about the Cleveland “Facebook killer,” who filmed himself killing an elderly man who apparently was chosen randomly, bragged that he had killed a number of other people, and then broadcast the video footage on Facebook.  Police are currently looking for the killer.

screen_shot_2010_06_26_at_7-30-25_pmIt’s just the latest disturbing link between social media and people who commit bad acts.  How often recently have we read about people engaging in live social media broadcasts of beatings, or rapes, or suicides?  For many of us, Facebook and other social media outlets are all about keeping track of other people’s birthdays, kids, puppies, and meals, but for some sick segment of society, social media apparently is seen as a simple, immediately available opportunity to achieve notoriety and display their violent criminal activity to the world.

It raises the chicken or egg question:  what comes first, the impulse to engage in the bad acts, or the desire to be broadcast doing it?  If it weren’t possible to easily upload a video or stream a live broadcast on social media, would the crimes still have been committed, or is the ability to display video evidence of the bad acts to a presumed audience and obtain a few minutes of depraved fame the ultimate triggering factor?

There have always been predators in our midst; violent criminal acts have been part of human history since the dawn of time.  Still, for some people there seems to be some basic and grotesque connection between social media and wrongdoing, and we are left to wonder:  would the poor man murdered by the Cleveland killer still be alive if the social media outlets weren’t available to be misused?

The UT Clock Tower

On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then armed himself with rifles and ammunition and climbed to the top of the clock tower on the University of Texas Austin campus.  From there he randomly shot passersby, ultimately killing 14 people and wounding more than 30 more.  The inexplicable rampage ended only when police shot and killed Whitman. The Whitman shootings are a reminder that mass killings aren’t only a recent development in American history.

The clock tower is still on the UT campus, at one end of a graceful quad framed by a fountain at the other end.  It’s a fine building, but I’m not sure I could work around it without constantly thinking about that fateful day 50 years ago.

On DUI Standards, How Low Should You Go?

Last month, the Utah legislature passed, and Utah’s governor signed, a measure reducing Utah’s standard for driving under the influence of alcohol.  Under the new Utah standard, which takes effect in December 2018, Utah’s threshold for drunk driving will be a blood alcohol level of .05 percent.  In Ohio, and most states, you can be charged with drunk driving if your minimum blood alcohol limit is .08 percent.

two-cups-of-beer-in-barIn Utah, the debate about lowering the level was a familiar one — on one side, people who have been personally affected by a drunk driver, as well as health and transportation advocates who think that lower standards will produce safer roadways and fewer accidents, and on the other, people in the tourism and hospitality industries who think that tougher standards will hurt their businesses.  The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that all states lower their limits to .05 percent, contending that the stricter rules will deter people from drunk driving.  The American Beverage Institute, on the other hand, argued that a 120-pound woman could be at the .05 level after only one drink, and that a person driving with a .05 blood alcohol level is less impaired that a person driving while talking hands-free on a cell phone.

Part of the area of disagreement is that blood alcohol levels are a variable measure of illegal intoxication — because the same quantities of alcohol consumed will affect different people differently.  Men typically can drink more than women without hitting the limit, and heavier people can drink more than lighter people.  And, some people also question whether lower standards really will deter dangerous drunk driving, rather than simply ensnaring people who had two beers with friends after work — when the real road hazards are the people who are grossly intoxicated and are far over both the .05 percent limit and the standard .08 limit.  Often, the most serious accidents seem to involve serial violators who have been arrested multiple times for DUI violations but never seem to be deterred from drinking and driving, no matter what the standard is.

Drunk driving is one of those areas where there has been a sea change in public perception in my lifetime.  For years, the legal limit in most states was .15 percent, and drunk drivers were often tolerated by police — who might just escort the impaired driver home — and even were the subject of TV sitcom humor.  The recognition that drunk driving is dangerous and can be fatal, is unfair to other drivers, and needs to be stopped was a positive development.  And while some chronic cases keep drinking and driving, I think most people are very sensitive to the need to avoid even putting themselves, and other drivers, at risk, and either go with designated drivers or with Ubering it after a night on the town.

Is .05 percent the right standard?  I don’t know, but I think anything that gets people talking about drunk driving, and thinking about whether they should have one more drink and then drive, is a good thing.