Sunday, April 30, 2006
As always, I love the Alamo and the pre-film clips of real-life '50s pinup Bettie Page doing various poses in a variety of ridiculous outfits was as fun as the film itself. If you see the film there, go a half hour early to get a taste of the lady herself in action. Hilarious! (Great stuff, Alamo clipfinders! Your pre-show clips are my favorite part of going there - okay, the availability of food and booze during the movie is cool, too.) While the films were intended to be sexy and many were banned at the time, by comparison to today's average MTV video they're REALLY quite tame .. and funny, in a hokey kind of way. For whatever it's worth, the generation that's grown up with Christina Aguilera will see this film and wonder what all the fuss was about?
Gretchen Mol did a good job with a less than mediocre script that failed to explore the central questions raised by Page's art, such as it was. Consistently the questions raised, it seemed, weren't answered, and the questions answered were pedantic and trite.
Was she really so "Golly, gee whiz" about it all or was the real Page more self aware and self directed, especially when her career was at its height? A gang rape portrayed at the beginning of the movie is left almost a non-sequitir - what were the psychological effects of this or other abusive incidents hinted at, and how did they affect her choices? Those subjects were not explored.
Neither did the movie enlighten viewers on the First Amendment questions that would have driven her self-defense when Page was subpoenaed to testify before Congress (she waited all day, in the film, then was told her testimony was no longer necessary). The whole matter of government reaction to her work was dropped. What happened? What did she think about it? Nary a word informs us in the film - the Congressional hearings were just an incident filmakers felt it necessary to portray, not an event through which they revealed anything about Page or the effect of her work on American culture and society. Her long relationship with an actor and continued efforts to break into "real" acting bespoke an internal conflict over her own perception of whether what she was doing was artistic or worthy, but the film superficially hinted at the theme instead of exploring it more deeply.
In all, I'd give the acting a B+ or A-, the script a D, and considered it overall viewable but disappointing for failing to draw more out of the story. That said, order a bucket of beer when you get there at the Alamo, and then the movie improves as it goes along.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
Reversing the Tenth Texas Court of Appeals this week, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the appellate court erred in determining a search of Anibal Montanez's vehicle by the Deep East Texas Narcotics Task Force was not "voluntary" because Montanez could not speak English. Instead, declared the CCA majority, appellate judges are obligated to give "almost total deference" to trial judges as finders of fact - in this case, even when interpreting events they can see for themselves captured on videotape. Here's the majority opinion. Three CCA members dissented including Judge Lawrence Meyers, who wrote:
The issue in this case is identical to the issue we unanimously ruled on in Carmouche v. State, 10 S.W.3d 323 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000). The court of appeals did not err by failing to apply a Guzman standard of review because there is no issue of credibility and demeanor of the witnesses in this case. This is not a review of a cold record, rather it is the court of appeals watching the exact same videotape that the trial judge watched and then holding that the trial judge made an incorrect ruling. The trial judge was not in a better position to review the evidence as he would be in a situation of live testimony.Well, that's a nice sentiment but apparently we can blind ourselves to the evidence - at least a majority on Texas' highest criminal court could. The Texas Constitution requires the state to demonstrate through "clear and convincing" evidence that consent was voluntary - but that doesn't mean much when judges can be convinced even when the driver doesn't speak English.
In a situation such as the one before us, when the appellate court has the exact same quality of evidence before it on review that the trial judge had before him in a suppression hearing, it is not necessary to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court, and it is not necessary to give almost total deference to the decision of the trial judge. Satisfying a burden of proof necessarily involves weighing evidence. For a preponderance of the evidence, any evidence that tips the scales is sufficient. For evidence to be clear and convincing, it must be "highly probable or reasonably certain." (3) And, as we all know, the highest burden is beyond a reasonable doubt.
As we stated in Carmouche, "the nature of the evidence presented in the videotape does not pivot 'on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor.' Rather, the videotape presents indisputable visual evidence contradicting essential portions of [the officer's] testimony. In these narrow circumstances, we cannot blind ourselves to the videotape evidence simply because [the officer's] testimony may, by itself, be read to support the. . .holding." 10 S.W.3d at 332.
The ruling comes at a time of growing public concern over abusive search practices at Texas traffic stops. The Legislature last year passed SB 1195 which would have required police to obtain written or recorded consent to perform searches at traffic stops without probable cause, but Gov. Perry vetoed the measure.
So Mexico's goal is to stop arresting low-level addicts and focus limited law enforcement resources on dealers and the cartels. Sounds like a reasonable plan. Now we get to see if the sky really falls.
Supporters of the bill said it was meant to fix major flaws in Mexico's current drug laws. First, it will allow local judges and the police to decide on a case-by-case basis whether people should be prosecuted when caught with small amounts of drugs. Previously, every drug suspect had to be prosecuted, a system that put many addicts in jail while dealers went free after bribing officials.
Second, the state and local police will be empowered to arrest and prosecute street dealers who are carrying more than the minor amounts allowed under the law. Under existing laws, drug crimes were handled only by federal officials. ...
"We are not authorizing the consumption of drugs," said Senator Jorge Zermiño, the bill's sponsor in the Senate. "We are combating it and recognizing that there are addicts that require special treatment. We cannot close our eyes, nor fill our jails with addicts."
Perhaps the biggest benefit will be to remove a big source of drug-related police corruption, which I've argued needs to be confronted on the US side of the Rio Grande, too. AP quoted Drug Policy Alliance Director Ethan Nadelmann declaring that Mexico's legislation will "remove 'a huge opportunity for low-level police corruption.' Mexican police often release people detained for minor drug possession, in exchange for bribes," he told AP.
UPDATE: Talk Left linked to the text of the new law for you Spanish speakers.
NUTHER UPDATE: You had to see this coming: President Fox is scuttling the bill, bowing to US pressure.
Already, one third of federal prosecutions in the United States are for immigration violations - more, even, than drug crimes. "The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommended the prosecution of 65% more immigration cases in FY 2004 than it did in the previous year," according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, and that number's only increasing. According to TRAC's data, even before the recent raids immigration agents were taking more cases to court than the the FBI, the DEA and the IRS combined. A huge and growing number of these derive from Texas' Southern District (Houston).
Now Johnny Sutton in Texas' Western District (San Antonio) appears to have climbed on the bandwagon - his office has "filed criminal charges against dozens of undocumented immigrants for crimes that have long been handled with simple deportation," according to the Austin American Statesman ("Austin seeing change in immigration prosecutions," April 28). "For undocumented immigrants in the Austin area, the chance of being prosecuted remains small, but the shift means they are more likely to face federal prison time or leave the country with a criminal record if they are caught," reported Steven Kreytak.
Hmmmm. If they're "combative or disruptive at the time of arrest," why not charge them with whatever is the federal version of resisting arrest, I wonder? Why turn the immigration case into a criminal charge? One notes that the threshold of being "suspected of other criminal activity" isn't very high, either. And since we're talking about a prosecutor's decision about what charge to file, that suspicion will never be tested with evidence before a judge.
In the past, smuggled immigrants have not faced criminal charges for their first illegal entry.
Because of limited resources, Sutton said prosecutors will continue to focus on filing federal charges against the most dangerous immigrants.
Without discussing the recent cases, Sutton said that prosecutors will consider charges under the illegal re- entry law when the person is suspected of other illegal activity, has a significant misdemeanor record or was "combative or disruptive at the time of arrest."
Assistant Federal Public Defender Horatio Aldredge said that if prosecutors continue to seek criminal charges against a wider sample of immigrants, the system may not be able to handle them.
"It seems to me," he said, "that it's not a very good allocation of resources."
Forget due process concerns for a minute, though. This is bad public policy. Bottom line: Where will it end? With the jobs of so many prosecutors, border security agents and detention facility personnel on the line, we've created a massive industry that's dependant on the US having a dysfunctional immigration policy. If they ever fixed it - if the number of federal criminal cases dropped by a third overnight and tens of thousands of rented detention beds were no longer needed - many thousands of people would lose their jobs.
We're creating large, powerful constituencies with stakes in a flawed system. The Border Patrol's staff has grown more than 1,200% in the past three decades, during which time illegal immigration skyrocketed. Meanwhile, immigration detainees are the fastest growing part of the US prison population. The Dallas Morning News in February predicted a detention bed "gold rush" in the short term based on current prosecution trends.
Amazing: All that to prevent willing employers from hiring willing workers. A rational immigration policy would put most of those folks out of work. We could increase enforcement spending many times over and still not have as big an impact as would simple economic reforms.
Via Bender's Immigration Bulletin
Friday, April 28, 2006
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Of Texans on parole, just 11% of releasees each year are revoked, reported the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in its self-evaluation (pdf, p. 7-8) for the Sunset Advisory Committee. TDCJ's three-year recidivism rate is 28.3%, said the report.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Mexico ManufacturingThat's one reason why it makes a lot of sense to suggest a "Tex-Mex Marshall Plan," as referenced earlier; the economy is like a river - it's a lot easier to steer it in the direction it's already headed. A Marshall-plan-style investment in Mexico coupled with a "green" trade agenda like that described in the above-linked post would do more to reduce illegal immigration in the medium to long run than any new raft of criminal statutes or wall-building boondoggle.Try manufacturing in Mexico & save up to 75% or more on labor costs!Advertise on this site
Incarceration, like law, is a bit different in Mexico. Conjugal visits are permitted; small children younger than six can be locked up with their moms; and men and women peddle goods and themselves within the walls in order to survive. Mexican prisons often do not provide grub. I’ve stood in line with family members who toted a week’s supply of food on visiting day, seen women reel out of cells in disarray after their weekly intercourse sessions with their men. Drugs are commonplace inside the walls, as are gangs. Money can buy anything. For years the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has complained about the posh quarters given to major drug players and how they continue to do business without interference while theoretically being under lock and key.
The women may come in clean, but they don’t stay that way. In Nuevo Laredo, they’re high by 10 a.m., then they spruce up and go off to the men’s area to make some money. By afternoon they return, their necks laced with hickeys. Convicts run the prison, and the guards do as they are told by the dominant inmates. People get killed. And all this goes on with toddlers underfoot.
In Nuevo Laredo’s El Penal II, the cells currently hold 71 women. Some get pregnant while inside. At any one time, there are 4 to 10 kids living behind bars. For many, their options are limited: Go to prison with mom, or go to an orphanage. Once the children reach age six, they are tossed out.Photographer Penny De Los Santos put it this way: “It’s a bad place for kids. These people are in here for murder. Kids have the run of the place, kids are golden, spoiled, but one child might have several caretakers. It’s definitely not safe. Men come and go out of the women’s area all day long.
Monday, April 24, 2006
- Prison conference today: At UT Austin's LBJ School - here's the agenda (pdf).
- The camera never blinks: I was quoted yesterday in this New York Times article on whether surveillance cameras are effective.
- Jail fashion: Clothing for inmates in the Lubbock County Jail was rejected for being the wrong color, so the manufacturer is selling them in New England retail stores.
- I'm in the wrong business: $172,000 pay for a Houston police officer on the DWI task force in one year.
- Hacked: Private info of nearly 200,000 current and former students was stolen from the University of Texas for the second time in three years.
- Keeping cops honest: Detroit PD will start videotaping interrogations for capital crimes. Why? "Number one, it keeps cops honest," Chief Bully-Cummings said. "It's a protection for the citizen that's being interrogated. But from a chief's point of view, I think the greatest benefit is to police because what it does is provide documentation that they didn't coerce."
Sunday, April 23, 2006
The Dallas News' Brooks Egerton tells the story of two probationers - one well-off, related by marriage to a Congressman, and a murderer, the other poor and a teenager at the time of his crime, a stickup netting $2. Both men were given ten years probation by the same judge. But the poor robber violated his probation by smoking marijuana and was given a full life sentence, while the wealthy murderer remains at large with minimal supervision despite numerous violations including four urinalyses testing positive for cocaine. Read the article and you tell me: Where's the justice?
Kudos to Egerton for an excellent report providing a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the probation system.
Via Doc Berman
This doesn't sound good - Texas prison employees were arrested at a record-setting pace in the first two months of 2006, reported the Austin Statesman ("Prison employees arrests continue to climb," April 23):
It might have seemed like a few tough weeks for Texas' prison system.
The system's former gang-enforcement chief pleaded guilty to sexually harassing employees. The personnel chief of the prison school system was arrested after being accused of lewd conduct at a Conroe park. A human resources official was sought as a fugitive after being charged with killing two pedestrians in an alleged drunken driving hit-and-run.
And three guards were arrested separately, one accused of raping a male convict, another of smuggling marijuana into a prison and the third of holding his ex-wife hostage at gunpoint.
Five weeks this spring saw almost two dozen arrests of correctional employees, on an assortment of felony and misdemeanor charges.
But it wasn't just a bad month. It was fairly typical for the state's 38,600-employee prison system, the second-largest in the country.
State records show at least 761 arrests of Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees in 2005. Another 148 arrests have been logged during the first two months of 2006 — a number that, if the trend continues, could set a record.
The number of employee arrests has steadily climbed during the past decade to a record 781 in 2003, the agency's statistics show, even as officials say the number of employees has remained about the same.
"Maybe it's bad luck, and maybe it's because we pay too little. Because we're 2,500 correctional officers short all the time, I guess we can't be too choosy about who we hire," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which monitors Texas' corrections system. "Maybe the problem is where we built all these prisons. Maybe there isn't anything else to do out there but get in trouble."
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Great idea for a niche blog. Welcome to the blogosphere, Prof. Hirsch. Via CrimProf blog.
UPDATE: Prof Hirsch had an op ed on the subject in the Los Angeles Times ("Why the innocent confess," April 25).
- McAllen, October 2005: Immigration Customs Enforcement inspector arrested for allegedly taking bribes to let drug shipments through his lane at a border checkpoint.
- McAllen, October 2005: Three Rio Grande Valley City cops arrested for allegedly taking bribes to escort drug runners through their jurisdiction.
- Brownsville, December 2005: Cameron County Sheriff convicted of accepting bribes and using deputies to escort drug runners through the county.
- Laredo, March 2006: Senior Border Patrol Agent and his brother sentenced to 20 and 17-1/2 years respectively for accepting bribes to allow drugs through a border checkpoint.
- Harlingen, March 2006: A state corrections officer (prison guard) was caught at a border patrol checkpoint with 21 pounds of marijuana in his spare tire.
- El Paso, March 2006: US authorities announced they will extradite rather than prosecute an informant who murdered 12 people in Juarez while working for Immigration Customs Enforcement.
- Zapata County, April 2006: Deputy commander of the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task force was indicted for allegedly directing agents away from trafficking routes, helping smugglers store drugs, and giving out confidential police information.
- El Paso, April 2006: Former Special Agent in Charge of the entire El Paso FBI division (2001-2003) indicted for allegedly taking bribes from a cartel-affiliated Juarez racetrack owner who was his informant.
- Edinburg, April 2006: Five brothers including one current Edinburg police officer and a former McAllen police officer arrested on drug trafficking charges.
On both sides of the border, drug traffickers have corrupted law enforcement officials from small-town cops all the way up to the head of an FBI division. Maybe this much corruption always existed and authorities are only now investigating it - one hopes things are getting better. But on the assumption there's more where that came from, it's safe to say from these examples that drug traffickers have successfully purchased influence at every level of US law enforcement on the Texas-Mexico border.
So how will throwing more money at those same agencies help the problem? Until police corruption is under control, new spending on border law enforcement agencies like Operation Linebacker should start with money for Internal Affairs units, not foolhardy immigration raids.
Friday, April 21, 2006
"The Department of Homeland Security has released a Request for Proposal -- that's the document asking industry if anyone can do what it wants -- for the Secure Border Initiative. Washington Technology has the story:
"The long-awaited request for proposals for Secure Border Initiative-Net was released today by the Homeland Security Department, which is calling the project the "most comprehensive effort in the nation's history" to gain control of the borders.Not everybody thinks spending $1.3 billion on new border security technology is a good idea. Congressman Harold Rogers (R-Ky), who chairs the US House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, told Washington Technology that "the government has spent millions on 'elaborate border technology that, eventually, has proven to be ineffective and wasteful,' such as the Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System and America Shield Initiative. 'How is the SBI not just another three-letter acronym for failure?' he asked."
"The 144-page document outlines the purpose and scope of the border surveillance technology program, which supplements other efforts to control the border and enforce immigration laws."
After the El Paso County Sheriff conducted its sixth recent raid recently capturing more than 200 total alleged illegal immigrants, the Mexican consulate protested to ask the Sheriff to cease its dabbling in immigration enforcement. (The chief of the El Paso PD, by contrast, has said he opposes local officers enforcing civil immigration statutes.) The whole process sounds a little loosey-goosey. Sheriff's deputies explained to a local TV station the sophisticated process by which they decide who to detain when no crime has been committed:
“We padded them down for immediate weapons, turns out they didn't have any weapons on them, so we called border patrol. You can tell they were undocumented immigrants." (Interpretation: Brown skin, check, speaks spanish, check, load 'em in the truck, then.)As I've argued many times, the strategy of using local police to enforce immigration laws invites greater lawlessness, prioritizing fear and xenophobia over public safety. Reported the El Paso Times ("Mexican Consulate criticizes sheriff's role in arrests," April 20):
Critics said that blurring the line between criminal and immigration investigations risks scaring some crime victims away from calling the police for help.That just seems wrong - they have no authority to conduct immigration raids and no probable cause to detain many of these folks beyond suspicions about immigration status. And BTW, since when did Operation Linebacker become a "mandate" for these kind of shennanigans? I hope that's not what the Governor's people told the sheriffs they were supposed to be doing. Those block grants were portrayed to the public as supplementing patrols, not some new "mandate" for local police to start enforcing immigration laws.
"If they (sheriff's officials) want to do joint operations with the Border Patrol, that's fine," [Consulate spokeswoman Socorro] Cordova said. "But in most of these cases, they arrive before the Border Patrol."
Sheriff's officials said the raid was well under their "Operation Linebacker" mandate. The operation put more officers on patrol on the border, thanks to a state grant that pays for overtime. The operation gives the officers no new arrest powers and officers cannot arrest people for immigration violations. But officials said they can turn over the suspected undocumented immigrants they encounter during normal patrol to the Border Patrol.
Via Bender's Immigration Bulletin
Pero no mas. Today when kids misbehave, schools call the cops. Dallas-area police responded to more than 5,000 calls on high school campuses last year, reported the Dallas News ("Police taking a bigger role in school incidents," April 21). The trend toward criminalizing misbehavior in school goes beyond fistfights to low-level juvenalia like using profanity or smoking in the bathroom. Bottom line:
Much of the responsibility for discipline has shifted from the principal's office to the patrol car. Recent events in local schools reflect the trend.
Officials say this trend reacts to the Columbine shootings, but it's counterproductive and sends the wrong message to kids. Teaching that they should go to the police even for minor squabbles is like sending every kid to the emergency room whenever they have the sniffles - the symptoms could be handled with over the counter cold medication, and it wastes the hospital's time and resources. Similarly, calling the cops when a student curses in class or bloodies another's nose in a towel fight (an example in the article) not only wastes officers' time -- it also prepares kids to live in a weenie-world where nobody takes responsibility for their own behavior without some authority figure standing over them.
As of late: A hair-pulling, scratching fight in McKinney left 13 girls facing charges for "inciting a riot." In Irving, swearing in class sparked a $260 ticket. Richardson police were called for teens smoking and disturbing class.
Texas Education Agency officials say they are receiving more complaints from parents about police actions against their students than ever before.
"We hold children to higher standards than we hold adults," said Billy Jacobs, senior director of the safe schools division of the TEA. "We don't leave any room for children to make mistakes."
In an already immature era, infantilizing youth has consequences outside the school. Kids need to be allowed to grow up.
Just as odious, we're infantilizing adults in schools, too - kids need teachers and principals to act like authority figures, not pathetic wimps who call a police officer whenever they need to admonish some brat for swearing. If adults in schools were empowered to act like adults, they wouldn't need to call the cops whenever kids act like kids.
UPDATE: In The Pink Texas has photos.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Jails and prisons don't work. They're meant to protect the community, but two-thirds of all inmates released from prison are rearrested within three years. Prisons are meant to punish criminals, but do so with excessive and unintended cruelty. We need to institute a "No Prisoner Left Behind" program and explore alternatives to simply locking people up.That's a powerful message from a business-friendly source. For Texas, it comes at a time when prisons are full and we must choose whether to build more or find a new path. Lots of interesting stuff here: Federal facilities in Bastrop and Texarkana were included in the national list of "Best Places to Go to Prison." Professor Berman thoughtfully linked to the articles in the series:
Flirting with understatement, the Edinburg police chief declared, “This is the type of profession that the action of one officer affects all of them ... It’s disturbing and disappointing.”
UPDATE: Reported the McAllen Monitor (4-21): "The local police officer who was arrested earlier this week as part of a federal drug sting is the youngest brother in a major family drug operation that dates back at least a decade."
NUTHER UPDATE: A second of the five brothers was also a former Valley-area cop who worked for a few years for the McAllen Police Department, reported the Monitor (4-22).
Tom should know. He and I don't keep in touch as well as I'd like, but he's a first-rate writer and knows this subject from all angles. After college he was a reporter for a Spanish language financial news publication called Financero in Mexico City, and later covered international trade out of New York for one of the wire services, if I remember correctly. Now he runs an organic farm with friends somewhere out in the boondocks in North Carolina (I need to get out there to visit). Tom's suggested solution rightly focuses on the root macroeconomic causes of worker displacement, namely US trade policy. If we want to remove incentives for Mexican workers to come north, he writes, we must begin by:
forging cross-border coalitions to challenge the assumption that state power exists to promote long-distance trade. One place to start: the 2007 Farm Bill, which Congress will soon take up. The bill will govern how the government subsidizes agriculture. Since the 1970s, the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars rewarding bulk production of environmentally ruinous commodities like corn, which also threaten rural livelihoods in Mexico.I noticed not long ago that Iowa Congressman Brian Kennedy came down to Laredo for a photo op to demagogue about immigration reform. I wonder if, when he went back to Iowa, he broke the unhappy news to his constituents that ending pork barrel subsidies for corn must be part of the long-term solution? I doubt he'd be so anxious to campaign on immigration if environmentalists made those the terms of debate.
Let's work to rewire federal farm policy to promote organic agriculture destined for nearby consumption. Ending the commodity-corn subsidy alone will instantly provide relief to beleaguered rural Mexicans now contemplating a hazardous trip north to a nation that both relies on and scorns them.
Via Texas Civil Rights Review
The morning papers bring a few additional tidbits about the latest example of Texas law enforcement complicity with Mexican drug cartels that Grits discussed yesterday: the just-arrested deputy director of the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force, Julio Lopez. Federal investigators say he was moonlighting escorting drug runners through Zapata County, even storing their drugs for them and doling out confidential police data. (See the DoJ press release.)
Before joining the task force, Lopez worked as an investigator for his brother Joe, who is the current Zapata County Attorney. Joe Lopez narrowly won a Democratic primary in March to become a district judge. Reports the Houston Chronicle:
Lopez is the brother of former Zapata County Attorney Joe Lopez, who recently won the Democratic nomination as judge of the 49th State District Court in Laredo. The judge could not be reached by phone at his office late Wednesday.
Julio Lopez, a former investigator for the Zapata county attorney's office, was hired by the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Taskforce in January 2005, Perales-Garcia said.
Sounds to me like the feds ought to be extending their investigation to his former employer - how likely does it seem that this was the first time in a 20 year career this officer stepped over the line? If not, could the County Attorney really know nothing about extreme misconduct by his brother and employee in such a small agency? If I'm a federal anti-corruption investigator, it's sure worth a look. My advice: Follow the money.
I have to admit, it's a wonder to me how this task force is still going in the first place - I thought they'd lost their funding. The SA Express News reports that the task force had been "reinventing' itself recently after the money dried up:
The news came as the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force, administered by the Webb County district attorney's office, was reinventing itself.
In a reallocation of federal grants, Gov. Rick Perry ended funding for the task forces, instead sending that money to new law enforcement groups such as the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition.
In response, the drug task force is in the middle of changing names and missions — adding terrorism and violence to its list of duties — in an effort to receive funding from other sources, said Pete Garza, first assistant district attorney for Webb County.
Well, this oughtta look good on that next grant application, don't you think? I wonder what funding streams they were hoping to tap into? Whatever the source, this can't help. I've argued for years these multi-agency task forces are structurally flawed - they're federally funded, state managed, locally staffed and doomed to fail. The lack of oversight that lets folks like Julio Lopez and Tom Coleman run amok is built right into the system - the problem isn't just in Texas, nor was this the first time this task force has been in the news over improprieties. The same bunch a few years back got in trouble for paying officers unwarranted overtime, reported the Express News:
Well, this oughtta look good on that next grant application, don't you think? I wonder what funding streams they were hoping to tap into? Whatever the source, this can't help.
I've argued for years these multi-agency task forces are structurally flawed - they're federally funded, state managed, locally staffed and doomed to fail. The lack of oversight that lets folks like Julio Lopez and Tom Coleman run amok is built right into the system - the problem isn't just in Texas, nor was this the first time this task force has been in the news over improprieties. The same bunch a few years back got in trouble for paying officers unwarranted overtime, reported the Express News:
This was not the first time the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force has been scrutinized. In 2001 the Laredo Police Department investigated allegations that task force members were being paid for overtime not worked. I guess if the government won't pay cops to do nothing, smugglers always will. (How will a wall stop that?) I suppose I'd rather have taxpayers pay for this fellow to do nothing than have him on organized crime's payroll, but can those be our only options? To hear Governor Perry tell it, all we need to secure the border is more, more, more money spent on the same failed strategies. I don't buy it and this example shows why - one corrupt cop can trump dozens of honest ones. You could raise taxes every day from here to December and never hire enough officers to solve that dilemma. Just as the reason for Mexican immigration is US companies' high demand for labor, the bottom line cause of drug smuggling is US demand for drugs - it may just be impossible to stop illegal border crossings when there's that much money to be made. It's easy to look at Texas' border woes and despair, but real solutions can't just focus there - at the end of the day, getting control of the border must involve reducing US drug demand, targeted investments that spur job growth in Mexico and Latin America (to provide alternate income sources for workers), and regulated, legal immigration sufficient to meet US labor demands. Even then you can't stop a crook from bribing a cop, if both are willing. I don't know how you get there, but what we're doing now isn't working.
This was not the first time the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force has been scrutinized.
In 2001 the Laredo Police Department investigated allegations that task force members were being paid for overtime not worked.
I guess if the government won't pay cops to do nothing, smugglers always will. (How will a wall stop that?) I suppose I'd rather have taxpayers pay for this fellow to do nothing than have him on organized crime's payroll, but can those be our only options? To hear Governor Perry tell it, all we need to secure the border is more, more, more money spent on the same failed strategies. I don't buy it and this example shows why - one corrupt cop can trump dozens of honest ones. You could raise taxes every day from here to December and never hire enough officers to solve that dilemma.
Just as the reason for Mexican immigration is US companies' high demand for labor, the bottom line cause of drug smuggling is US demand for drugs - it may just be impossible to stop illegal border crossings when there's that much money to be made.
It's easy to look at Texas' border woes and despair, but real solutions can't just focus there - at the end of the day, getting control of the border must involve reducing US drug demand, targeted investments that spur job growth in Mexico and Latin America (to provide alternate income sources for workers), and regulated, legal immigration sufficient to meet US labor demands. Even then you can't stop a crook from bribing a cop, if both are willing. I don't know how you get there, but what we're doing now isn't working.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
A reader points me to another Texas drug war scandal involving bad border cops in addition to the two I mentioned earlier - the Deputy Commander of the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force and an accomplice were indicted today for protecting drug traffickers and selling confidential police information. Here's AP's initial coverage. According to the Department of Justice press release:
The Deputy Commander of the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force, Julio Alfonso Lopez, 45, and an alleged accomplice, Meliton Valadez, 32, both of Zapata, Texas, have been indicted for extorting money from drug traffickers to provide protection from law enforcement. United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle announced the unsealing of the 10 count indictment, returned under seal on Wednesday, April 13, 2006, today following the arrest of both men. ...Geez - I've complained before about the bevy of bad cops in Nuevo Laredo, but obviously we're not immune on this side of the border, either. Think how many officer-hours were wasted over the years whenever the deputy commander used his position to direct patrols away from traffickers. Drug runners profit and the taxpayers foot the bill for this kind of expensive sham.
Lopez and Valadez are accused in Count One of the indictment of conspiring with each other and others, beginning in July 2005, to extort money from drug traffickers in exchange for Lopez using his position as Deputy Commander of the Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force to insure the undetected passage of the drug traffickers and their drug shipments through Zapata. ...
The indictment also alleges Lopez and Valadez disclosed information to drug traffickers that they represented to be sensitive law enforcement information; and provided a storage place to store the trafficker’s cocaine. Lopez allegedly used his authority and position to direct task force officers away from areas where the traffickers and their illicit loads were located, and failed to make arrests or seize the contraband or the drug proceeds.
A conviction for any of these offenses (18 U.S.C. § 1951) carries a maximum penalty of twenty (20) years in federal prison, without parole, and a $250,000 fine. ...
The indictment is the result of the investigative efforts of agents of the Laredo Resident Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney John Kinchen.
This is one of the drug task forces that until March 31 was funded through the federal Byrne Justice Assistance program before Gov. Perry took away their money. Perry's decision to de-fund the task forces came just in the nick of time, it seems. If they continued, they were obviously poised to bring down even more scandal and disapprobation on our state.
Hardrick Crawford Jr., who served as special agent in charge of El Paso from July 2001 through November 2003, was charged with five counts — making a false statement in electronic communication, concealing material facts from the FBI, making false statements to the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General and two counts of making false statements in public financial disclosure reports regarding gifts he allegedly received.
Each of the five counts carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Crawford was expected to turn himself in as early as today, officials said.
The charges stem from Crawford's relationship with Jose Maria Guardia, a Mexican citizen who operated gaming houses in Mexico, including a racetrack in Ciudad Juárez.
The indictment alleges Crawford socialized with Guardia, and accepted gifts and favors from him, including trips to Las Vegas and Mexico City, membership and services at an El Paso country club, weekly lawn service at Crawford's house, and a $5,000 per month salaried position for Crawford's wife. The gifts and favors were not fully disclosed in reports required of senior executives, the indictment said.
The article doesn't say so, but this smells like another case where law enforcement protected a criminal snitch in ways that wound up promoting the agenda of an informant instead of reducing crime. It's obvious that in some cases informants are causing crime and certainly lots of headaches for the feds in El Paso.
American greatness and influence depend on immigration and assimilation. The U.S. is the only major country in the world growing at a moderate but geometric rate, while all the others shrink, including the two great peasant giants, China and India. (If you're an investor, bet on India.) Europe is turning into a theme park with fewer and fewer shows and barkers.
If you know that American greatness, with its concomitant problems, comes from immigration and subsequent assimilation--immediately, or in a generation or two--you understand the situation. If you don't, ask an immigrant cab driver in any big city to explain. Immigration and assimilation are our most important comparative advantages in a roiling world. Does it cause problems? Sure. What in the realm of public policy doesn't? (Always answer a question with a question.)
There's nothing wrong with Mexican immigrants. My favorite stats come from the Defense Department, which has data on most everything except who will win the war. They calculate that Mexican-American GIs have been awarded proportionately more Congressional Medals of Honor than any other sub-group in the American military.
U.N. projections show America growing from 300 million to 400 million to 500 hundred million by 2300, but they underestimate.
America is influential now, albeit unpopular in some, but by no means all, places. The Indians like us, which is nice, because they will likely be our most important ally as the years roll on.
Immigrants are our best publicists. They fly home on cheap flights, they e-mail home, they use their cell phones to say America is O.K., and then some. They send home "remittances" to their families, the best form of foreign aid. Immigrants have an average age of 29. They will pay into Social Security and Medicare for 40 years before getting a nickel back. This, we want to encourage!
At its most elemental, size means it is easier to fund a defense force, which is cheaper per person when paid by 500 million people instead of 300 million. That is a particular advantage when other nations are shrinking--albeit some of them getting richer, like the China. It means more influence available for export. All things being equal, which is often the case, a large population yields power and influence. Belgium won't have either.
Diminishment means "old people, in old houses, with old ideas," as French demographer Alfred Sauvy said in the 1930s. It also means empty houses with falling prices, a shrinking market, and a shrinking labor force. ...
In any event, it's a dumb show. A nation that can't keep out illegal drugs, can't keep out illegal immigrants. If we try to do it harshly, we are begging for trouble with Mexico, and with observers around the world. President Bush is on the right track; the road to citizenship should be open, albeit with penalties to make up for prior illegality.
Are we are going to be the great country in the world, or not? I vote yea.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
- Omens. Pink Dome reports that the gavel literally fell apart when Lt. Gov. Dewhurst convened the Texas Senate yesterday. It can only go downhill from there, one would think. Here are the "charges" Gov. Perry laid out for the Lege to work on - no criminal justice angles so far.
- Tyler PAC takes on jail building taboo. Tyler has become the only place in Texas to my knowledge where a citizens' PAC has formed to actively oppose new bonds for jail construction. "It's one thing if you're spending money on good government; it's another thing to spend it on something that doesn't solve problems," Judge Cynthia Kent said. The "No No Committee" opposes two jail proposals - to expand the downtown jail and build a satellite facility on the edge of town - totaling $158 million. Their first meeting was last night.
- Can I see your papers, comrade? A new, permanent border patrol checkpoint has been established 29 miles north of Laredo on I-35. The old one couldn't handle the volume.
- Build a wall, they come by boat. Actually, that's happening already.
- Trust us. Nacogdoches PD wants undocumented immigrants to trust police officers enough to report crimes, reported KTRE-TV. "'We are not border patrol agents. We're not INS agents and we're not there to enforce the federal immigration laws. We're there to serve the needs of the people in our community,' said Nacogdoches Police Chief Jim Sevy. The chief says he wants to involve immigrants in police programs. ... Fear of police and deportation makes illegal immigrants easy targets for criminals. That's prompting police departments nationwide to try outreach programs to build trust with residents. Several are being tried out in Texas."
- Nuther Taser death in Texas. This time in Lubbock.
- When I was in prison, did you visit me? The Amarillo Globe News ran this glowing item on a prison in Belize run by a Texan-financed religious ministry.
- No deterrent. Another 99-year sentence for meth manufacturing, this time in Sherman. The DA was ecstatic, predicting the sentence would serve as deterrent. "I hope every meth cook, drug dealer, and drug user in this county sees that verdict," he said.Fat chance - they should ask their neighbors in Wichita Falls who hand out similar sentences and apparently still think that's not enough. BTW - assuming current incarceration costs at $16K per year, 3.5% annual inflation, and parole after 40 years, this sentence will cost taxpayers more than $1.35 million. Via Drug War Rant.
- Because you wouldn't want them to learn skills for jobs besides selling drugs. More than 15,000 Texas students have been denied financial aid because of a drug conviction, said Students for Sensible Drug Policy in a new report (pdf). Via Tom Angell at DARE Generation Diary.
- Hearne PD prepares for suicide bombers. After racial strife in the last few years surrounding police brutality and selective enforcement in the drug war, the Hearne PD is trying to change its image, the Bryan-College Station Eagle reported last month. Many of the changes sound positive, but one wonders why officers in tiny, po-dunk Hearne, Texas need training courses on "recognizing terrorists and suicide bombers." If you've been to Hearne, there's hardly a building in town worth bombing - maybe a water tower.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Sunday, April 16, 2006
If Christ had died in Texas, he'd have been executed in the "Walls Unit" in Huntsville - the headquarters of the state's prison system. The Huntsville Item today published a slightly odd nostalgia piece on "Old Sparky," Texas' electric chair used from 1924 until the mid- '60s. Use of the electric chair was one of the practices later deemed cruel and unusual under the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution; Texas replaced Old Sparky with doctor-assisted lethal injections, which have recently become subject of similar criticisms.
That means if Christ had died in Texas, the gurney, not the cross, would be the predominant religious symbol for his victory over the grave. Wouldn't that be an odd thing to wear around your neck on a little gold chain?
Friday, April 14, 2006
What else was Judas Iscariot, in the end, but a Roman snitch?
The finally-released Gospel of Judas would recast the pariah disciple as hero - the ancient gnostic text, which has received tremendous press recently, portrays Judas' betrayal of Christ as an act of obedience and faith. According to this rendition, Judas Iscariot followed Jesus' instructions rather than subverting his cause.
I find that possibility fascinating - it would explain a lot. For instance, in the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus obviously knew ahead of time he would be arrested that evening, requesting that his heavenly father "let this cup pass from me." The prediction that Peter would deny Christ three times before the cock crowed could stem from divine pre-cognition, or it could be that Jesus knew the group would be targeted because he'd personally dispatched Judas to turn him in.
Let's say for a moment, just for argument's sake, that the latter explanation from the Gospel of Judas is true. Why might Jesus use a trusted disciple to arrange his own arrest? Here are a few thoughts on the subject, unproven hypotheses all, but at least a starting point for discussion:
- Jesus could have wanted to arrange his own martyrdom thinking it would cause the movement he left behind to rally and grow.
- Perhaps Jesus mistakenly believed the Jewish nation would back him with popular support. The scene where Pontius Pilate asks the Jews who they would rather free, the brigand Barabus or Jesus, may have been a pivotal scene where Jesus' plans went horribly wrong. Perhaps Christ actually arranged Judas' snitching hoping that, at that critical moment, the Jewish people would rally behind the cause. If so, he miscalculated.
- To put the most pro-traditional spin on the episode, assume Jesus knew he would literally rise from the grave, that he was supposed to do so. He might have intentionally provoked his own crucifixion - using Judas as his instrument - expressly as a means for providing redemption and grace for all.
That happens often with informants, even today. Police can never know for certain a person's motive for cooperating, while there are a million reasons why a snitch might lead authorities in directions that coincide with their goals - whether theological, political, or criminal - not the pursuit of justice. A prime example from the criminal justice arena was Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, leader of a South Boston gang who spent 25 years informing on his competitors in the Italian mafia while running his own massive crimnal enterprise. Sure his information led to convictions, but he was using the FBI for his own purposes, not helping them reduce crime.
If Judas was a snitch then he stands as an icon for why snitches to this day are treated with loathing and scorn - count Jesus' disciples, in that case, as early proponents of the "Stop Snitching" meme. But if Judas was really using the Romans for political purposes - if he was Christ's agent, not his enemy - then he becomes a different kind of symbol, a cautionary tale for how easily authorities relying on informants can be manipulated in ways that undermine the interests of the state.
See prior Grits posts on snitching.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found 63 percent of those surveyed backed letting immigrants who have lived in the country a certain number of years apply for legal status and eventually become permanent citizens.The poll was taken before rallies over the weekend and Monday that have dominated the week's news. It'll be interesting to see how those events affect public opinion. See MSM coverage of the Immigration Action Day rallies in Texas from:
In contrast, only 14 percent favored a plan to let illegal immigrants stay and work for a limited number of years before having to return to their home countries — an alternative pushed by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
Another 20 percent said illegal immigrants should be declared felons and offered no temporary work program, a stand that corresponds with the legislation approved by the House.
- San Antonio
- Beaumont/Port Arthur
- Corpus Christi
- El Paso
- Fort Worth
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Outside the realm of overtly criminal organizations, far away from the street-level drug peddlers and others who might view the "stop snitchin" movement as a mere witness intimidation tactic, most Americans don't think it's okay to snitch. According to a recent national survey of 1,436 US workers:
EVEN though one in three workers say they have witnessed unethical activities at work, only 47 per cent are willing to "blow the whistle" on their company or boss, according to a recent survey. Unethical and illegal activities in the workplace, also known as white-collar crimes, include financial fraud, bankruptcy fraud, bribery, insider trading, tax evasion and embezzlement.Before long some savvy marketer will inevitably branch out with the product line - they could be selling those "Stop Snitching" t-shirts in the malls to mainstream America, not just as a novelty item in the 'hood. Hell, you could create an upscale version to sell near Wall Street to people who had to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley. The sentiment against snitching obviously resonates much more deeply than just its application in the justice system or the drug war.
Interestingly, men are more likely than women to report these types of activities, according the 2006 survey conducted by Spherion Corp, a staffing and recruiting company.
I'm surprised, upon reflection, that police unions don't have their own version of the slogan: nowhere does the "no snitching" sentiment hold sway more than among cops themselves. To be sure, some courageous officers come forward in the fact of misconduct by their mates, but they can pay a steep professional price. Snitching among police officers is a cultural taboo. But the baseline sentiment that cops shouldn't snitch on each other, like the whole discussion of snitching, lies in a gray, muddled area, morally speaking, where strongly held values like loyalty and honesty conflict.
The sentiment against snitching represents a commonly held value among a huge swath of the public, not just those engaging in crime. Seeing the results of this survey emphasizes to me that, whatever its root, opposition to snitching is a deeply entrenched part of the American ethos, not just a vehicle for petty witness intimidation, even if on occasion it has become that, too.
See prior Grits' coverage.
Monday, April 10, 2006
Whatever the total, it was a lot of folks and they weren't alone. Apparently 50,000 marched in Houston.
I'm not always a great fan of protest politics, but today was fun. I was especially blessed to spend much of the afternoon with a wonderful bunch of college kids from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition's University Leadership Initiative. Along with many other groups, they worked long hours helping organize the Austin event, even preparing this brief podcast to promote it. Kudos to the whole ULI crowd, especially Ana, Julieta, Rebecca, Charim, Monserat, and Mirla, and to the rest of the organizers on a well-executed event that sent a powerful message - one perhaps encapsulated best in the crowd's recurring chant quoted in the headline.