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    • Ferguson and the brokenness of America’s “Justice” System
      There isn’t much to say that others haven’t, but let’s go through it anyway: There was never any chance that Darren Wilson would be charged; the prosecutor acted as defense attorney, not as prosecutor; A grand jury, for all intents and purposes does what the prosecutor tells it to; Doing the announcement at 8pm at [...]
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Ditto, Mr. Edsall

I read this book. It was pretty good. 4 sponges

Thomas Edsall, professor of journalism at Columbia University, gives a pretty accurate diagnosis of the problem with the Democratic party in the NYTimes today. In this piece, he speculates on the prospects of Jim Webb, former senator from Virginia. Here are some money quotes:

Webb is one answer to the weaknesses of today’s center-left, the so-called “upstairs-downstairs” coalition described by Joel Kotkin, presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University. Kotkin argues in his recently published book, “The New Class Conflict,” that the Democratic Party has been taken over by what he calls “gentry liberals,” an elite that has undermined the historic purpose of the Democratic Party.

Kotkin contends that

“The great raison d’être for left-wing politics – advocating for the middle- and working classes – has been refocused to attend more closely to the policy imperatives and interests of small, highly affluent classes, as well as the powerful public sector.”

I asked Kotkin what he thought of the themes Webb intends to raise, and he wrote back “I think he’s onto something.”

The Democrats, Kotkin believes, need “someone — Sherrod Brown, Webb, Jon Tester, somebody! — who speaks to the issues of upward mobility and incomes.” Both Senator Brown and Senator Tester have staked out populist positions in support of their working-class constituents in Ohio and Montana.

I’m not sure that Jon Tester would be the right person either. But in general, this is what I think I was trying to get at with my proposal the other day to revive our old blogtalkradio show. We’re not the “gentry liberals”. We might not be Jim Webb’s cohort either but there’s definitely an intersection on the Venn diagram.

Then there’s this:

“Today,” Fiorina writes,

“We have a situation where voters can choose between a party that openly admits to being a lap dog of Wall Street and a party that by its actions clearly is a lap dog but denies it. At least vote for the honest one.”

Asked about Webb, Fiorina replied, “the emotional side of me loves him.” But, Fiorina cautioned, “the rational side is worried about how he would actually behave if he were president.”

Well,  it’s about time that the pundit class openly admits what those of us on this blog have suspected since the day after Super Tuesday 2008. The party was highjacked during the 2008 primary campaign. That’s why the nature of discourse on Daily Kos changed almost overnight. Almost immediately it felt like the guys from Enron took the place over. And the super delegates started falling like dominos with the rush of money into party coffers. We know retrospectively from Michael Lewis’s book, The Big Short, that there were plenty of people who knew the collapse was coming and wanted to set themselves up before the fall. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the bubble was going to burst with very grave consequences for the economy. The traders and bankers put their money on the enabler.

But one thing I disagree with is Edsall’s characterization of Hillary as polished and over produced. Maybe that was the case early in the 2007-2008 primary campaign season. But as the race became tighter and Florida and Michigan delegate numbers were withheld from her win column to create an artificial narrative that she was always behind, she transformed as a candidate and became much more authentic. We all saw her become a different person. That is why she continued to win primaries right to the bitter end and more and more voters responded positively to her as a person. Underdog status didn’t polish her. It forged and hardened her, like steel.

There’s another problem with the current Democratic party opinion makers that I think they need to sit and think about. For all the talk about Hillary being in the pockets of the corporate and financial elite, those donors abandoned her in 2008 for Barack Obama. I find it curious that no one wants to talk about that.

Plus, it’s my sense from reading all the commentary in the past 6 years that the gentry elite has never really liked the Clintons. Anglachel had a series of riveting posts on the subject back in 2008 about how the liberal elite thought of the Clintons as Arkansan podunks who didn’t know which soup spoon to use. They were rather too authentic in their support of working class economic issues. Bill was channeling the Jacksonian/Truman wing while the gentry liberals are all Adlai Stevenson. The class issues are stark and the bridge very hard to span. Maybe that’s where all the misleading “Clinton is a Third Way, neoliberal, DLC loving, puppy eater!” comes from. If you’ve never lived in poverty, crafting policies to address it become a mental exercise for the reader the results of which resemble intellectual masturbation. I don’t remember Clinton being about that kind of process. He rather enjoyed politics and making friends with everyone. He is the ultimate LinkedIn profile.

Nevertheless, I think it would be a good thing for Jim Webb to jump into the race. I think he would appeal to a lot of people in the Appalachia area and a lot of people that the Democrats wrote off in 2008. He might have a following here in Pittsburgh as well. Sure, why not have him run? Hashing out issues of class, opportunity and income would be a very good thing. We don’t hear enough of that kind of campaign rhetoric and the results of the last 6 years shows that Democrats in Exile, such as ourselves, have been completely ignored by the Democratic party. As Edsall speculates, Webb’s political skills might not carry him as far as the White House but he does represent a throwback to the New Deal era and the Tennessee Valley Authority and championing the little guy, not just some carefully data mined groups.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Hillary Clinton.

Serial: Ok, I’m listening now

There’s a point in episode 5 when Sarah Koenig and Dana Chivvas are in the car retracing the route that Jay and Adnan took that fateful afternoon when Sarah makes some point to Dana and Dana says, “oh look, there’s a shrimp sale at the Crab Crib”. Sarah says, “Sometimes I don’t think Dana is listening to me.”

I thought I had the whole mystery figured out the other day and, for all I know, my hypothesis might still be the correct one. But something was lurking in the back of my mind and I couldn’t quite remember what it was. So I went back and listened to episode 4 on Inconsistencies and noticed a big fact that I had missed. This one is about the location of Hae’s car.

According to the map of the crime scene area in Baltimore put together by some equally obsessed fan, Hae’s car was parked at some point at the park and ride lot at the terminal end of I-70 and adjacent to the Gwynnes Falls Trail into Leakin Park where her body was found.  That’s what makes me think this is the work of a serial killer who intercepted her somewhere between the high school and her cousin’s daycare, then drove her to the park and ride, forced her out of the car and into the woods and then killed her not far from the Gwynns Falls Trail in Leakin Park.

But according to episode 4, Jay told the cops in his first interview that Hae’s car was located behind an old bunch of row houses on Edmondson Avenue. That puts the final location of her car at the other end of Leakin Park. I’m not sure how to interpret this yet. It could put Jay right back into the picture, if we are to give his story any credence at all. He knows the location of the car and he is heavily involved in getting rid of the body. Jay admits that he never saw Adnan kill Hae though. So, as far as we know, and provided he’s telling at least the partial truth, he’s the only true physical link to the crime.

So, where was the ultimate location of Hae’s car? Edmondson Avenue or the I-70 park and ride?

We now begin the chaos portion of our program

Did you see the front page of the NYTimes this morning? It’s looking pretty grim. There’s Ferguson, the resignation of Chuck Hagel accompanied by harsh words about Obama’s national security policy, and the soaring costs of generic drugs. I told you guys that generics were going to start increasing in price a couple of years ago.

Is it just me or does it seem like the whole shebang is unravelling rather quickly these days?

Now, I’m not going to say that all of these problems are due to Obama’s naivete, inexperience and incompetence. But I think it is time we put a mute button on anyone proposing we replace him in 2016 with yet another untested, inexperienced first term senator just because they can’t stand, and have a visceral reaction to, the most logical alternative.

Amnesty and podcasts

Sometimes a kid is just a kid.

I’ve had some brief conversations with people about Obama’s amnesty executive order.  To be honest, I haven’t read a lot about it because I’ve been a bit busy with work, applications for better work, classes to help me fill out applications for better work and painting my whole damn first floor. Readers from Pittsburgh who like painting parties- leave comment below.

But in general, there seems to be a general concern that giving amnesty to illegal immigrants is going to lead to higher unemployment. I can’t see this. These immigrants are already here and they’re already working. Besides, none of us unemployed STEM professionals are losing our jobs to illegal Mexicans from Guadalajara. We’re losing them to an out of control financial system that is eating its seed corn and chasing down “get rich quick” schemes because they don’t understand that research is long term and takes continuity and stability. Anyway, I could go on another rant about that but it just makes it harder to find a job.

The other thing I’ve heard is that Obama has done it to help Hillary Clinton’s presidential run in 2016. I had to laugh about that. When has Obama ever done anything to further Hillary’s career? I suppose all that “the Clintons are racists!” shtick back in 2008 was a glowing endorsement as well. Honestly, I can’t see the current batch of Democrats voluntarily doing anything to help Hillary. They’ve always been suspicious of the Clintons. Again, another thing I don’t want to go into because the crazy ideas and conspiracy theories on both sides of the aisle are disturbing and ridiculous. It would take too long to unpackage the amount of willful misdirection that Democratic operatives have done against two of their most loyal servants. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out why Democrats want to scuttle them and would take almost anyone else who could generate the same star power.

The only conceivable benefits I can see to this bold political move, and let’s face it, this is by far the most audacious thing Obama has ever done, is to collect revenue from a previously underground economy, and to turn Republicans into howling shriekers of rage. It certainly takes immigration reform off the table for the next two years, doesn’t it? I mean, the Fox News crew can scream like flaming swamp monsters but there’s not much Republicans can do about it. Making a big effing deal about the landscapers and nannies will be yesterday’s news. They might actually have to do something about the rolling layoffs that make voters think that unemployment is actually worse than the bureau of labor statistics says it is. Keep that in mind because here in Pittsburgh, that is definitely the perception. Unemployment is still pretty bad, people are constantly in fear of losing their jobs and that *is* having a drag on the economy.

Of course, this brings up the new “Republicans will have to prove they can govern” narrative that came out since the midterms. Govern is not what they’ve been aspiring to for the last 30 years. Tearing things apart and auctioning off valuable pieces of government to the highest bidders in the private sector has been what they’ve been up to. Let’s see if the media will shine a light on that for a change. I know, I’m dreaming.

*******************************

The New York Times says that Serial has finally moved the podcast out of nerdville into the “gen pop”. I’m not sure whether to be insulted or not. I’ve always loved podcasts and can recommend many fine podcasters other than public radio spinoffs who have global audiences. Plus, I’m not a nerd. I’m a geek. {{sniff}}

So, while podcasts begin their ascendancy to fame, maybe it’s time Katiebird and I dusted off our old BlogTalkRadio show, Conflucians Say, and provide an alternative in the left blogosphere for talk radio. We occupy a different stratum of the left. We’re not “knit your own sandals” types, though Katiebird has mad knitting skills and I am a “do it yourselfer”. We’re not all retro coffee klatching, “for the ladies only” types like The View. I actually can’t stand The View. The last thing I want to do is water down important topics and assign sides based on personality types. And we don’t fit the typical lefty activist niche either. We don’t really sound like Virtually Speaking and I’m not interested in going in that direction even if we end up covering some of the same topics.

What we are is technologically current, degreed but not Ivy, wide ranging in our interests, intuitive and we have a good sense of humor. We’re both comfortably left but our minds are not so wide open that our brains have fallen out. Katiebird is more of a dove than I am. We both take no prisoners. She seems nice in her comments but she’s not a pushover.

Reviving our podcast going into the year before an election would give us an opportunity to figure out what’s important from a more mainstream left perspective. Besides, we and only a handful of other bloggers on the left, were right about the 2008 election and its outcome. You’d think that would make us a little more credible. Maybe we could snag some interviews. I have a list of people I’d like to talk to on the air.

So, what say you? Should we start a new, topical podcast? And if so, who would you like us to invite as interviews?

Serial: I think I figured it out.

Leakin Park

I intentionally got Katiebird hooked on Serial. Now, I feel like a pusher. “Go on, try it. Are you afraid? All your friends are doing it.”

But yesterday, it all came together for me. Katiebird is still wending her way through the evidence so I’ll go first on a theory of what’s going on with Serial and then Katiebird can tell me where I’m wrong.

I’m working off of a couple of concepts here. The first is that it is very difficult to construct and be consistent with an elaborate lie. If the events never really happened, the mind has to fill in gaps, explanations, timelines. It’s hard to keep all the details straight because it is a constructed memory, not a real one.

The second concept is that of confirmation bias.  Rabia Chaudry, Adnan’s friend and longtime advocate, touches on confirmation bias in her blog. Basically, that is the tendency to look for evidence that supports your theory and throw out evidence that doesn’t. Fox News encourages confirmation bias but it’s hardly the only offender. In general, if you are a consumer of cable news, you are introduced to confirmation bias to one degree or another on an hourly basis. That’s why I don’t watch cable news.

If you have been a faithful listener of Serial, you will have been exposed to all the information you need at this point to come to a completely new and novel explanation of this crime. I’ve gone back and listened to all of the episodes and multiple clues have been dropped in every single one that helps cut through all of the confusion of the timelines and locations and motives. But recently, like, yesterday, I came across a reference on Reddit to another case that brought all of the information into sharp focus.  The item in question is the case of Ezra Mable.

Ezra was a bit player in the Baltimore drug scene until he spent 10 years in prison for the killing of a major Baltimore drug lord. Eyewitnesses actually pointed to a different guy but the cops built a case for sending Mable to jail. They did this by intimidation of witnesses, threatening to take their children away in one case, and constructing an alternative reality that made Mable look guilty. Mable spent the last 10 years in prison getting to the truth. Don’t ask me how he did this from prison. He’s not an educated man but he was determined to prove his innocence. Last year, his conviction was overturned and a whole slew of detectives and prosecutors were accused of misconduct including detective William Ritz. Detective Ritz was also on the Hae Min Lee case. Ritz has since resigned from the Baltimore Police Department after Mable’s conviction was overturned.

Another piece of information came up in the 1998 murder of another Woodlawn teenager. Jada Denita Lambert was found raped and strangled in a nearby park about six months before Hae Min Lee’s disappearance. The murderer, Roy Sharonnie Davis, was already in prison on another charge when DNA from the crime scene was found to match him in 2002.

Ok, let’s go back to the beginning of this story to see if adding corruption and a serial killer makes more sense to the chronology of events than the nonsensical timeline that Jay gave the cops. In this scenario, Hae Min Lee leaves school about 3:00pm to pick up her cousin at daycare but is kidnapped by an unknown assailant. Maybe this happens in the parking lot of the school or at another stop along the way. Katiebird says Hae stopped for gas. The assailant forces Hae to drive to the I-70 park and ride near Leakin Park. He then takes her into the woods via the Gwynnes Falls Trail (see the Leakin Park map), attempts to rape her and strangles her.

Hae’s body is found almost a month later. The cops ain’t got no clues. It could be a serial killer. But if they tell the Lee’s that, they’ll never hear the end of it. The community will demand a full, lengthy investigation and in all likelihood, the crime will never be solved. It will be just be endless years of the Lees getting on their nerves. Serial killings don’t look good on end of year performance evaluations and when you don’t have a motive or any connections to the victims, they’re a pain in the ass to solve.

Enter the old boyfriend.

Pinning it on either Don or Adnan will solve all their problems. Don has an airtight alibi. Adnan does not. Adnan’s whole future depends on one track team coach taking attendance that day. Track team coach doesn’t.

Now, here’s where I speculate all kinds of corrupt police skullduggery. The cops fake a call to the office tipping off Adnan as the killer. They immediately subpoena Adnan’s cell records and find Jenn Pusateri as a person of interest. They bring her in for questioning and threaten her. She gets a lawyer and tells some elaborate lie that Jay helped bury Hae’s body. Then they bring Jay in. They spend hours with him off tape before they start recording his story. Serial hired an expert in police investigations who says that this is probably where there was a deal made with Jay.  Supposedly, Jay tells them where Hae’s car is parked.

I used to think that knowledge of the location of Hae’s car is what solidified Jay’s involvement but now, I don’t buy it. It certainly makes the possibility of a serial killer fade into the background though, doesn’t it? Hae’s car is a serious piece of misdirection. I’m going to bet that the cops found Hae’s car shortly after they found her body. They weren’t that far apart.

The reason why Jay’s story and timeline make no damn sense is because it was constructed in the interrogation room in order to frame Adnan. Oh sure, they can claim that Adnan was the killer because he doesn’t  have an airtight alibi. But that’s all they’ve got. No alibi and this convoluted story of two teenagers driving around all afternoon getting stoned and looking for a place to bury the body in the trunk.

In the Ezra Mable case, the Baltimore PD is accused of “losing” exculpatory evidence that would have proved Ezra’s innocence as well as failing to investigate the guy who really committed the murder. In Hae’s murder case, Jay and Jenn were never given a polygraph, Jay’s house, car, possessions, phone records were never searched. Now, why would you fail to do that? I’ll tell you why. The investigators had no reason to think there was anything to uncover there- because they never did anything wrong. They were just two people who happened to be caught up in the scheme who were pressured to give evidence against Adnan. And they might have had some good reason to suspect that the cops were going to bust them on drug related activities. (There goes Jay and Jenn’s financial aid packages and her sorority membership.) But, in general, the whole story that Jay gives doesn’t make sense because it never happened.

One vital clue to Jay’s cooperation in this case is that he didn’t serve any jail time. It was probably part of the deal. Give us what we want and we’ll see to it that you don’t go to jail for being an accessory after the fact.

So, there you have it. These are the pieces of the puzzle that made sense to me. It’s a simpler explanation that doesn’t require me to reconcile a lot of conflicting timelines. It doesn’t force me to concentrate on subjective evaluations of character that distract from the lack of physical evidence. It resolves the issue of Hae’s car. It explains why Jenn says she didn’t know anything about a murder the first time she meets with the cops but lawyers up the next day when she starts spinning a tale. It explains why Jay doesn’t want to be interviewed. Maybe they can’t get him on being an accessory to murder but perjury is still a pretty serious crime.

It also explains why Sarah Koenig says that Hae’s murder may never be solved satisfactorily. The serial murderer is dead. The forensic evidence from Hae’s murder site may not be available. We may never know where Adnan was on the day of Hae’s death but I’m betting he was at track. There’s no physical evidence tying him to the crime and plenty of reasonable doubt now. I predict he’ll be home for Christmas. The likelier outcome is that Koenig and Glass will win a slew of awards and podcasts will become the new “thing”, even though some of us have been podcast junkies for years now.

Whether Adnan will track down Jay and beat the s^&* out of him is another question. Koenig reports that Adnan is a perfect gentleman in prison, well liked and has won awards for being a model prisoner. But he’s probably learned a thing or two while he’s been incarcerated for 15 long years. We’ll see.

I’m anxiously awaiting Katiebird’s analysis.

All Roads Lead to Jay

Patapsco Valley State Park

I’m talking about Serial again because, let’s face it, politics is pretty depressing right now. We’re like a bunch of alcoholics who haven’t hit bottom yet. Knowing that the bottom is coming is much less interesting to think about than who killed Hae Min Lee.

I won’t go over the new information that was presented today because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. But it is looking more and more like Jay is at the center of all of this. He had the means, that is Adnan’s car, cell phone and time. He also has an eyewitness to cleaning and disposing of the evidence in Jen Pusateri. He also knew where Hae’s car was parked. Lead police straight to it. His timeline is beginning to fall apart badly now. (listen to today’s episode for that)

So, what was Jay up to? If he didn’t actually kill Hae out of jealousy of Adnan and and to get Adnan away from his girlfriend Stephanie, he definitely knows who did it.  No doubt about it.

And what was he doing at Patapsco State Park in the middle of the afternoon around 4:30pm?

One other thing: What was Hae’s exact time of death? Hae was killed and left outside in the middle of winter. Her body must have been a little better preserved than usual. What were the contents of her stomach? What did she eat last and when? Where was all that stuff in her digestive tract? Where’s the forensics report on that?

Getting a jump on Serial,

The next episode of Serial downloads tomorrow and I’m getting an idea of what is really going on with this mystery.  If you don’t want to be spoiled, skip this post. You can also check out the Serial page on Slate in order to catch up with other listeners. I want to talk about who might have killed Hae Min Lee.

First, let me say that I really like the way Sarah Koenig has presented this story. She has had different professional experts look at the evidence, investigation and trial and that is a good thing. It’s important that the analysis converge at some point in order to ferret out the truth.

So far, the cell phone experts say that the call records presented at trial were inconclusive, the innocence project lawyers say the evidence presented at trial does not incriminate Adnan Syed, and the homocide detective consultant who specializes in interrogations says that the police may have made a deal with Jay in order to tie up the loose ends of their theory that Adnan did it. In short, it looks like Adnan Syed was a convenient suspect and the case was built to send him to jail using his “friend” Jay as the primary witness against him.

The one person who we know for certain is involved in the murder of Hae Min Lee is Jay. We know this because he was the person who lead police to the location of Hae’s car. There is no physical evidence linking Adnan with Hae’s body or the crime scene and nothing but circumstantial evidence linking him with the crime at all. The motive, that Adnan killed Hae because she caused him to violate his religious principles and then broke up with him, is silly. The evidence for that is dubious at best and in all other respects, his friends report that he got on with his life and other girlfriends while still remaining friends with Hae.

Let’s do what the innocence project lawyers suggest for a moment and take Adnan out of the picture. That leaves us with a couple of alternative explanations for who killed Hae.  The first is a yet unknown serial killer. There has been a suggestion that another murderer who killed a young woman Hae’s age less than a year before might have been the murderer. The problem with the serial killer theory is that it doesn’t explain Jay’s involvement in the Hae’s murder. The murderer of the previous victim was caught in 2002(?), so while this person might have killed Hae, there has yet to be a link back to Jay.

Jay might have been the killer. So far, he’s the only person directly implicated and he got off with two years of probation for hiding the body. Maybe Jay was forced to cooperate with hiding the body because the real killer threatened to expose Jay’s connection to illegal drug dealing. In other words, the murderer and Jay each had something on the other. Maybe the murderer threatened someone Jay cared about.

There have been other suggestions by both the innocence project team and the homocide investigator that seem to be converging.  That is, the person who killed Hae really hated her and/or Jay is trying to protect someone, i.e. the person who really killed Hae.  We have heard over and over again that Jay would have done anything to protect his girlfriend, Stephanie. We need to take a look at her.

Stephanie has been in the picture from the very beginning. She appeared in the first episode as a bit player. If Koenig were writing a mystery story, it would be best practice to introduce all of the suspects in the first fifty pages. That’s so that the readers are not lead on a merry chase throughout the story only to have the murderer appear in the last chapter without any relationship to the rest of the story. So let’s assume that the murderer has been introduced and let’s look at all of the other suspects. Let’s look at Stephanie. What do we know about her?

Stephanie is in the magnet program of a urban/suburban high school. She is bright, blonde, beautiful. She’s athletic. She runs, so presumably, she’s on the track team with Adnan. Hae is not on the track team that I can tell but she does play LaCrosse with Jay. Jay is not in the magnet program with Adnan, Stephanie and Hae. He is “gen pop”. Stephanie is out of his league in many respects. Jay is from a broken family. He lives with his grandmother. He’s poor. He deals drugs. His prospects are poor. Stephanie is going places. She has a scholarship.

On the morning of January 13, the day of Hae’s disappearance, Adnan goes to Jay’s house and tells him that he should get a gift for Stephanie’s birthday. Adnan has already given Stephanie a gift of a stuffed reindeer. He gives Jay his car and his cell phone. I don’t know but something about this part of the story just seemed weird to me. Koenig picks up on it in the first episode. It sounds like a convenient excuse. Why was Adnan so interested in whether Jay got Stephanie a present? Is it possible that Adnan had moved on from Hae to Stephanie? They were junior prom prince and princess after all.  They had a lot in common academically and extracurricularly. They were in AP Psychology together.

The biggest predictor in who you will fall in love with is proximity. Adnan and Stephanie are spending a LOT of time together. Jay is graduated, not in school and is more of an outsider looking in.

My next questions have to do with Stephanie’s relationship with Hae.  How well did Stephanie know Hae? Were they friendly? Was there any reason for Stephanie to fear Hae or something Hae knew about Stephanie? Where was Stephanie on the afternoon of Hae’s murder? I’d just like to know in order to eliminate her as a suspect. Also, was Jay seeing someone other than Stephanie? What kind of relationship did Jen Pusateri or “Cathy” have with Jay?

I suspect that there is a love triangle, quadrangle, quintangle going on here. Well, this is high school, after all. Hae was the unlucky victim, Adnan took the fall, but it’s the circle around Jay that knows who really killed Hae Min Lee. The circumstances leading up to or involving the murder threatened Stephanie in some way. Who were Jay’s connections and what did they have on him?

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