pissing on the constitution

How’d that happen? How the hell did that happen? How could those flannel-wearing meshback motherfuckers be acquitted of crimes they so obviously committed?

Simple. It’s called jury nullification. Basically, that means a jury decides to acquit the defendants even though they’re factually guilty of violating the law because the jurors believe the law itself is wrong or that it’s been wrongly applied.

It’s infuriating sometimes — and this time in particular — but in the long run, jury nullification is mostly a good thing. The most famous case on American soil was that of Peter Zenger, a journalist for the New York Weekly Journal back in 1734. That’s right, 1734, when this country was still a British colony. Zenger published some snarky shit about the Royal Governor of colonial New York, for which the governor had him arrested and charged with seditious libel. This was a pretty heavy crime back then. Seditious libel is when somebody prints snarky shit about the Queen or her officials.

Remember, Zenger had very clearly published snarky shit about a royal governor. He’d committed the crime. That boy was dead guilty. But the jury acquitted him after about (and I’m not making this up) ten minutes of deliberation. This was the case that set the precedent on which the First Amendment rests — which is that publishing snarky shit isn’t a crime if the snarky shit is true.

Jury nullification in defense of free speech

Jury nullification in defense of free speech

Before the U.S. Civil War, jury nullification was used to acquit defendants charged with harboring slaves in violation of the Fugitive Slave Laws. People were clearly guilty of hiding fugitive slaves, but juries found them not guilty anyway. The same thing happened during Prohibition in the 1930s — juries acquitted defendants who were obviously guilty of breaking both Federal and State alcohol control laws.We also see jury nullification used in some ‘mercy killing’ cases. And, of course, we’ve seen the practice at its worst in cases where all-white juries in the South acquitted white defendants of lynching black men.

So what happened in Oregon yesterday is part of an American tradition. It still makes me completely fucking furious to see these yahoos skate, of course. I’m fairly certain this verdict will encourage more of this sort of shit. It especially saddens and disgusts me that a group of armed fuckwits who seized a government facility will mostly walk while Native Americans peacefully attempting to prevent the physical (and, to them, the spiritual) desecration of their land by a goddamn oil company are being arrested. And we know with mathematical certainly what would have happened if folks associated with Black Lives Matter had pulled the same idiotic shit that the Bundyistas pulled.

Jury nullification in defense of armed seizure of federal property

Jury nullification in defense of armed seizure of federal property

But there it is. The Bundy lawyers were able to convince a sympathetic jury that their clients should be acquitted even though they were factually guilty. It’s true, the Bundys are still in jail and will be tried for other crimes committed in another state — but that doesn’t change the fact that yesterday they successfully pissed all over the Constitution.

The only good news to be found in this is that the Constitution is strong enough that it permits people to occasionally piss all over it.

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the comments

Don’t read the comments. You hear that all the time when it comes to online activity. Do NOT read the comments. They’re poison, they’re radioactive, they’re a blight on humanity, they’re so completely malignant that you’ll lose your will to live. Don’t read the comments. Don’t even look in their direction. They’re seductive, the comments, and part you wants to read them. Don’t give in. Resist that temptation. Teach your children. The comments will pollute your soul, they’ll corrupt your heart. If you value your sanity, do not EVER read the fucking comments.

The comments are this generation’s Vietnam — a dark, dangerous jungle. Once you enter, you are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. There’s no obvious path forward. There’s no clear way out. Visibility is limited, and you’re liable to be attacked at any moment, from any angle, for no apparent reason. You may be innocent when you go in, but you won’t be when you leave. IF you leave. If you don’t get completely sucked into the sunless vortex of comments. Because if there’s one true thing about the comments, it’s this: there’s always another comment waiting for you.

If you tell somebody you’re going to read the comments, this is what they’ll say: Good luck. Good luck? Are you kidding me, good luck? There’s no such thing as good luck in the comments. But people will say it, and they’ll mean it, even though they know it’s hopeless. Let me quote Michael Herr:

…and even though I meant it every time I said it, it was meaningless. It was like telling someone going out in a storm not to get any on him, it was the same as saying, “Gee, I hope you don’t get killed or wounded or see anything that drives you insane.”

Good luck. Never get out of the boat. Don’t read the comments. Sweet Jeebus of the Jungles, do not ever for any reason read the goddamn comments.

You know this. You already know this. You know this as well as you know anything. Do not read the comments. No lea los comentarios. Ne pas lire les commentaires. Inte läsa kommentarerna. Ná léamh na tuairimí. You know this in a dozen languages. Do NOT read the comments.

So why am I pointing out the obvious? This is why:

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And this is why:

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I’m saying this because Donald J. Trump, his campaign, and his supporters are the living embodiment of the comments.

a simple question from the audience

QUESTION: Knowing that educators assign viewing the presidential debates as students’ homework, do you feel you’re modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today’s youth?

CLINTON: It is very important for us to make clear to our children that our country really is great because we’re good.

TRUMP: I look at all of the things that I see and all of the potential that our country has, we have such tremendous potential, whether it’s in business and trade, where we’re doing so badly.

QUESTION: No, really, the question was about kids. In the course of this campaign, are you guys behaving in a way that will inspire kids?

CLINTON: I’ve spent my entire adult life working for children and mothers, And working families. My campaign slogan is ‘Stronger Together’  I’ll fight every day, from dawn to dusk, to make your lives better.

TRUMP: Okay, there was some locker room talk, but c’mon ISIS is chopping off heads and we have no borders, plus Bill Clinton was worse.

QUESTION: Please, listen to the question. Are you guys behaving in a way that you’d want kids to see? It’s a simple question.

CLINTON: Thank you for the question. I have a thirty-seven page policy paper on my website outlining the details of my child care policies. With footnotes. I want to reach out to every boy and girl, as well as every adult, and be the president of every American, whether they voted for me or not.

TRUMP: We gave, like, billions of dollars to Iran. Iran! A lousy deal. Disastrous. I will destroy ISIS, I can promise you that. I’ll hunt down every one of them and strangle them with a necktie. I make the best neckties. A good value. You could choke a bull with those neckties. The best neckties, believe me. A bull, you could choke, is what people tell me.

QUESTION: Okay, look, the question is really simple. Can you guys get through the next ninety minutes without being total dicks? Just the next ninety minutes.

CLINTON: This is an important question. On my website you can read my fourteen point approach to bullying. I think we can all agree that Donald has engaged in bullying behavior, which in my opinion, renders him unfit to hold the high office of President of the United States. He has insulted Muslims, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and, of course, women.

TRUMP: Heads, totally chopped off. Maybe a little bit of flesh still attached, but basically off. ISIS is doing that. We need respect for law and order. And a wall. And I’m not proud that I said some things that men say all the time in locker rooms, other men, not just me and to be honest, let’s face it, this is the real world and it is what it is. I never said I grabbed a woman by the pussy, only that I could if I wanted to because you can do that when you’re a star, and I’m a star, believe me, but I didn’t and never said I did, but I could. Also, we need strong borders. We don’t have borders. There are no borders.

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QUESTION: You’re not answering the…listen, if you could just answer the question I asked.

CLINTON: You make a very good point. Listening is very important. I’ve spent my political career listening. Listening carefully. And I hear what people are saying. They’re saying they need to be safe at school, they need affordable health care, they need for the one percent to pay their fair share of taxes. I have incredibly detailed — painfully detailed — policy plans for each of those problems, and if you had fourteen hours to spare, I’d tell you all about them. I love policy.

TRUMP: Why aren’t you asking about her emails, which were…I don’t want to say this, but I think I’m going to say it…yes, I am going to say it…if I’m president I’ll appoint a prosecutor to look into every corner of her life until we find something to put her in prison, which is where she belongs because she said very nasty things about women, women her husband abused and she was very nasty. And her emails, she deleted thousands of them. She should release all those emails she deleted and go to jail for them. She says taxes, I’ll release my taxes, of course I will. Very soon, very soon, when the audit is done, nothing illegal there, that you can believe, I know more about taxes than the generals.

QUESTION: I…what the…what? I don’t…could you just…why…?

CLINTON: Aphasia, yes I understand. Aphasia is a fairly common medical condition. My plan to improve Obamacare — and specifically the sections dealing with men and women suffering from aphasia — is outlined in mind-numbing detail on my website. Donald wants to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a plan that allows insurance companies to exclude aphasia-sufferers.

TRUMP: Not true. Not true. We have plans. The best plans. Such good plans. Plans that will bigly improve life for people who have like that thing you’re talking about. Aphids. And we’ll get the Chinese to pay for it by making better deals. Obama’s deals are a disaster. A disaster. Trade deals, so bad. And the deficit. I can kill everybody in ISIS with a necktie.

QUESTION: …

CLINTON: Can I get you a glass of water? I got water for union workers supporting Doctor Martin Luther King in 1967. It was an experience that shaped my life and I’ve been getting water for people ever since. I’m proud to have fetched water for working men and women, especially those in coal country, who’ll have to be retrained for jobs in renewable energy fields. See my website for the plan.

TRUMP: A necktie, believe me. But yes, I apologize if anybody was offended by my totally innocent locker room talk. Men talk like that, though. African Americans live in inner city hellholes, but I can bring them jobs. Good jobs. Making neckties, maybe. Something. Why didn’t Hillary do that when she was a senator? She talked, but it was just words. No neckties. None. Disaster.

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QUESTION: Can you maybe just say ONE nice thing about the other?

CLINTON: Donald’s children are okay, considering they’re basically feral greedheads who trophy hunt endangered species. On my website I have a thirty-two point policy for halting trophy hunting and its tragic consequences for species diversity.

TRUMP: Hillary never quits. She just won’t shut up.

QUESTION: Just kill me now.

CLINTON: End of life care is very important to me. I have a policy, you can see it on my website.

TRUMP: I have a necktie. Let me just…I’ll loan it to one of my boys, they’re terrific boys, so proud of them. It’s a Trump necktie, silk, made in Thailand. Terrific necktie, the best.

defending the wrong people

I have a Twitter account that I completely neglect. I have friends, though, who sporadically alert me to Interesting Stuff That Happens On Twitter. It didn’t take long for them to inform me that the Republican National Committee tweeted this:

Exclusive: Republicans Launch Willie Horton-Style Attack on Kaine

Kaine, of course, is Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine. But there are probably a lot of folks who aren’t familiar with the name Willie Horton. He was featured in a racist campaign advertisement used by George H.W. Bush against Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. Here’s the original ad:

This is unquestionably one of the most notorious political attack ads in US election history It was the brainchild of Bush campaign manager, Lee Atwater, one of the most vile and venomous political ratfuckers of modern political history. That’s not an exaggeration. You want proof? Here’s something Atwater said in a 1981 interview:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.'”

Atwater was a sort of evil genius. He gave a lot of serious, creative thought about ways to encode racism into political speech. He was an early adopter of ‘dog whistle’ campaigning, devising methods for emphasizing race that non-racists might not even hear. For example, Atwater shortened Horton’s given name, William — the name he went by — to Willie. Why? Because he thought Willie sounded more black. Atwater said this about the Horton ad:

“By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”

And hey, it worked. Bush won the election. At the end of his life, however, when he knew he was dying, Atwater apologized to Dukakis for the “naked cruelty” of the campaign he ran. A lot of people doubt the sincerity of that apology.

Lee Atwater, with Strom Thurmond and Ronald Reagan.

Lee Atwater, with Strom Thurmond and Ronald Reagan.

Atwater died in 1991. This is 2016, and in 2016 the Republican National Committee is seemingly proud to return to the naked cruelty of Atwater and the Willie Horton style of campaigning. The RNC quickly deleted their tweet about running a Willie Horton ad. The ad is still out there, of course. And the message is still the same: associate your opponent with the ‘wrong people’ — but do it in a coded way that doesn’t appear hateful.

Here’s the anti-Kaine advert:

The ad concludes by stating: “Tim Kaine, he has a passion for defending the wrong people. America deserves better.”

I spent seven years as a criminal defense investigator, working to defend the ‘wrong’ people. I helped defend murderers, rapists, arsonists, armed robbers, gun traffickers, and child molesters. I helped defend them knowing that almost all of them were guilty. They weren’t always guilty of the crime they were charged with, but most of them were guilty of something — sometimes guilty of something not as bad, sometimes guilty of something even worse.

Some of you — maybe most of you — are asking the obvious question: how could you defend somebody you knew was guilty of a heinous crime? It’s a valid question. There’s an answer that I believe is valid, though not everybody agrees — and even those folks who agree with the answer in the abstract find it uncomfortable to accept in practice. I often found it uncomfortable too. Here’s the answer:

Sometimes the police make mistakes.

That’s it, basically. Sometimes the police arrest an innocent person. I like to believe that most often the police are truly certain they’ve arrested the right person — but sometimes they’re just flat-out wrong. And in order to protect the folks who are truly, factually innocent of the crime they’re charged with, it’s necessary to force the police and the prosecutor to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt every single time. Every single time. Even if the defendant is clearly, blatantly, obviously guilty, we have to hold the prosecution to a high standard of proof. Because if we don’t — if we fail to protect the legal rights of every person every single time — then it becomes easier for them to convict those who are truly innocent.

Tim Kaine defended accused murderers — defended guilty murderers. Nobody does that because they support murder. They do it because the believe in — and are willing to do ugly work to defend — the legitimacy of the Constitution of the United States. That may not be popular, but it’s patriotic.

When the Republican National Committee attacks Tim Kaine for defending accused criminals, they’re actually undermining the U.S. Constitution. They’re basically suggesting there are citizens who are the ‘wrong people’ and as such, they don’t deserve the same rights as ‘decent’ people.

Of course, they’ve been suggesting that for a long time. They suggest the wrong people shouldn’t be allowed to marry, they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt, they shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the military or receive food assistance if they’re poor or be guaranteed safe working conditions or receive financial assistance if they’ve lost their job or become citizens of the United States.

They’ve become very good at suggesting stuff about gays and Muslims and women and poor folks and people of color. Because 2016 and you can’t say ‘nigger nigger nigger’ out loud anymore.

which, of course, he has every right to do

A friend of mine — well, not really a friend. An acquaintance, really. A guy I know only from brief discussions online or through email. Anyway, this guy tells me he’s disappointed and dejected about the election. He was an early Bernie or Buster, and vowed he’d never vote for Hillary Clinton. After she got the nomination, he moped for a while, then decided he’d vote for a third-party candidate — which, of course, he has every right to do.

He attached himself to Jill Stein. She was a progressive, he said, and she’d gain a LOT more supporters if only she was given a chance to be heard. Then, sadly, she was given a chance to be heard. He heard her praise the Brexit vote in England; she called it “a victory for those who believe in the right of self-determination.” Then, after she drew some flak from folks who pointed out the Brexit vote was driven in large measure by Islamophobia and racism, he heard Stein revise her opinion and speak out against it. He became disillusioned not just by her swift change of heart, but by her attempt to disguise the fact that she changed her mind. He became even more disillusioned when she appeared to stake out positions that were both pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine, depending on the audience she was addressing at the moment. Then she appeared to suggest that wi-fi might be hazardous to the physical health of children. And finally, she refused to release any of her tax records — which, of course, she has every right to do.

jill-stein-green-placard

So, my disillusioned friend (acquaintance, whatever) decided to support Gary Johnson instead. Okay, he admitted Johnson wasn’t exactly a progressive, but he was a libertarian who believed in legalizing marijuana. My friend said if Johnson was given a chance to be heard, he’d gain a LOT more support from progressive Democrats. Then Johnson, sadly, was given a chance to be heard. And what did my friend hear? This: “Aleppo? What’s Aleppo?” That was bad, but probably forgivable. But failing to be able to name a single foreign leader he admired? Well, that’s pretty much inexcusable. I mean, Johnson has the absolute right to be ignorant of foreign leaders, but it’s not exactly a quality that inspires confidence, is it.

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So here’s my friend — he sure as hell won’t vote for Trump and he’s pretty much lost faith in both third-party candidates, but he’s sworn he’ll never vote for Hillary. What to do? Now he’s talking about just staying home; not voting at all — which, of course, he has every right to do.

He has an absolute right to stay home, sit on his ass, and let other folks shoulder the responsibility for choosing who’s going to run These United States. He has an absolute right to see this election only in terms of himself. If he can’t vote for the perfect candidate, he has the absolute right to sit in a dark room and pout.

And why should he vote? I mean, he’s not gay — so really, what does it matter to him if a Trump administration fights to limit the civil rights of gay folks. And he’s white and middle class, so it won’t disrupt his lifestyle if a Trump administration makes life more difficult for poor black folks. He’s already got a Master’s degree, so if a Trump administration makes it harder for regular folks to go to college, it won’t affect him. And he CAN vote IF he wants to, so who cares if a Trump administration makes it harder for minority communities to vote? And hey, he lives in a red state, which means Trump is almost certain to win his state anyway — so his vote doesn’t really matter, right?

No. Wrong. Very wrong. It matters. Of course it matters. The popular vote may not determine who wins the presidency, but the popular vote matters in terms of authenticity and legitimacy. Even if Trump DOES win that state, the size of the victory matters. It matters whether the victory is by a large majority or by a slim margin.

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It also matters in terms of respect. I don’t really care if my friend hates Hillary Clinton. I DO care if he fails to reject Donald Trump. If his reaction to a Trump victory in his town, in his county, in his state is a noncommittal shrug — then I lose respect for him. If he has a chance to voice his disapproval of Donald Trump and fails to do so — then I lose respect for him. Let me be clear: I think Trump is a popcorn fart; I don’t think he has any real chance of winning. But it’s not enough for him to lose; it’s important that he be soundly rejected by the American people.

If my friend/acquaintance/whatever goes to the polls and votes for Stein or Johnson — or even just writes in the name of Bernie Sanders — I’ll think he’s wasting his vote, but it won’t cause me to lose respect for him. But if he stays home and refuses to cast any vote at all, that makes him a narcissistic, self-centered prick.

Of course, he absolutely has the right to be a narcissistic, self-centered prick.