Wednesday, June 17, 2009

False equivalence

Jonathan Gurwitz is trying to deflect criticism away from conservatives over the recent spate of right-wing violence in the U.S. by making a bogus argument about false equivalency.
Even though there have been no recent instances of left-wing violence in the U.S., Gurwitz claims that both sides are equally responsible.
Last week, he argued that right-wing anti-abortion groups are not responsible for the death of Dr. George Tiller because they are “pro-life”. However, anyone who was critical of the war in Iraq is somehow responsible for the actions of an Islamic fundamentalist who shot and killed an Army recruiter in Arkansas last week.

This week, Gurwitz takes it a step further and tries to put Islamic fundamentalism squarely on the left side of the political spectrum for purposes of equivalency:

...politics is a horseshoe — the further you go from the middle, the more the extremes converge. That explains why the words of von Brunn and Wright are so similar, why the language of the Christian Identity movement is often identical to that of Islamic extremists, why David Duke was a featured speaker at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial conference...

How convenient that Gurwitz can assign Islamic extremists and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the Left side of the spectrum so that he has something to balance against the likes of the Christian Identity movement and David Duke. The only problem is that it is total nonsense. Islamic fundamentalists, like Christian fundamentalists, occupy the far-right side of the spectrum. Their attitudes and views with respect to women’s liberation, gay rights, abortion and civil liberties are almost indistinguishable. It is the same rightwing ideology just dressed up in different cultural and religious trappings.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fire Chancellor McKinney

I am absolutely furious over the fiasco surrounding the resignation of Elsa Murano as president of Texas A&M University.
This is a major black eye for my alma mater and I place the blame squarely on Chancellor Mike McKinney. I want his resignation. Now!
As I noted earlier, McKinney failed to give adequate explanations for his poor review of Murano’s job performance, giving her low marks on a generic assessment form and then leaving all the written parts blank. I thought that showed very poor managerial skills on the part of Chancellor McKinney. What I did not realize at the time, was that McKinney was the one who hand-picked Murano for the position of president in the first place!
Murano was not on the list of people that the executive search committee came up with after Robert Gates left to become Secretary of Defense. She was picked out of the blue by McKinney who championed her and made a big fuss as to how she was to be the first female and first Hispanic president at Texas A&M.
So how is it that just one year later McKinney is hinting to the media that he wants to throw Murano out and take over the position of president for himself? How does that work?
What kind of awful things did Murano do to merit such a sharp turnaround in McKinney’s fickle support? We are given no clue. Only that she apparently did not jump quickly enough when he would bark orders, nor would she say “How high?” on her way up. Would McKinney have made such demands of a white male serving as president? Is that why he handpicked Murano? With the expectation that she would be totally subservient and act as little more than a puppet for the chancellor’s office?
How did McKinney wind up as chancellor in the first place? A former Republican state representative who served as chief of staff for Gov. Rick Perry, he seems like a political crony who took advantage of the governor’s power to make appointments and dole out the spoils of government.
Am I not being fair? Did McKinney really have a legitimate reason for trashing Murano and forcing her to resign over the weekend? Then will someone please explain this golden parachute Murano got?

According to a transition agreement released by the A&M System offices, she will be paid her present salary, $425,000, for the sabbatical year, along with an additional payment of $295,000.
At the end of the year she will begin work as a tenured professor of nutrition and food science, at a salary of $260,000. Additionally, she will have a department budget of $100,000 a year for four years, according to the agreement.

$720,000 to do nothing for a year? And then she gets to come back to a $260,000 a year faculty position??? This is how you deal with someone who does a poor job and has to be removed from their position?
Or is there something more to this?
The next step seems clear to me. McKinney needs to resign and then we need to get a new board of regents who are not all indebted to Rick Perry or George W. Bush.

The best possible verdict

My experience as a juror was very positive, despite the fact that it was a very unpleasant court case we had to deal with. Without naming any names, I want to go over the case a bit and discuss how we came to our verdict (guilty) and sentencing (10 years probation).
The case involved indecency with a minor. The victim was a 12-year-old girl who was 9 at the time of the abuse. The defendant was her uncle by marriage, age 33. The case involved fondling, not penetration, and there was no physical evidence of abuse to back up the girl’s testimony. But we found the girl to be entirely credible and consistent in everything she said from the initial police report, to her interview with a sexual abuse investigator, to her testimony at the trial.
Furthermore, the defendant, after initially denying the allegations, admitted to the family that he had “checked” the girl’s “private parts” after she complained of it itching. Why he would do that and not tell the mother or the aunt was something he could not explain adequately other than to say “I messed up.”
During the evidentiary phase of the trial, the defense seemed to be flailing about trying to drum up doubt anyway they could. But we weren’t buying it. After two and a half days of testimony, we found the defendant guilty on three counts.
But then came the sentencing phase, and suddenly it seemed like the prosecution side was now stretching as they tried to say that the defendant was a “monster” who needed to be locked away. But the defense brought forward their best witness - a probation officer with the sexual offenders division - who explained in great detail what is involved with the community supervision program for sex offenders who get probation. Suffice to say there is a great deal of assessment testing, counseling and monitoring involved, all of which has to be paid for by the defendant.
I did not feel that prison time was warranted in this case for several reasons. First, I did not see the defendant as being a continuing threat provided he receives the counseling and supervision he needs. Second, jail time would likely have only hurt his chances of rehabilitating himself by causing him to lose his job, possibly breaking up his marriage and leaving him a broken and very likely worse individual in the end. By probating his sentence, I felt that we gave him a chance to straighten his life and remain a productive citizen rather than becoming another ward of the state.
Had he been a worse offender - caused injury to the victim, been out stalking other victims and so forth - I think we would not have hesitated to send him to prison. But because he had not yet crossed that line, we felt he could still be reformed given the opportunity.
The one complicating factor for us was that the defendant was still in denial during the sentencing phase. But the probation officer told us that it is common in 99 percent of cases for the sex offender to deny the charges at first and that it sometimes takes several months of counseling before they an accept it.
I hope that the defendant takes advantage of the opportunity that we gave him. His niece is now living out of state and he most likely will not be in a situation to cause abuse again unless he seeks it out. We heard from the defendant’s mother, father, sister and wife all testifying to his good character and promising to support him with any restrictions put on him by the court.
So I think we made the best possible decision in this case. I was proud of the people who served on the jury with me and overall the experience has renewed and reinforced my belief, trust and support for the U.S. judcial system.