Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

OK, now the shootings are happening too close

Maybe you don’t see a shooting in Collierville, Tenn. — a suburb of Memphis — as close, but in my family we do.

And not just because my wife is from Memphis.

You see that picture above, taken from a TV news report? The tall guy with the beard is Kevin, our nephew — my wife’s brother’s son. He’s a detective with the police department of Germantown, right next door. Collierville had asked for help from surrounding towns.

Not only that, but his father, my brother-in-law, a retired businessman, was there as well — just not quite as much in the thick of things. He had shopped in that same store the day before. This time, he was passing nearby and saw all the cars with flashing lights headed in that direction, and followed so he could ask the gathering crowd what was happening.

He’s like that. He’s a very sociable, gregarious guy. He’s like his father. Several decades ago when we were in college, my father-in-law was in a bank when it was robbed and hostages were taken. He had always spent a lot of time when he visited that bank on business, talking with the tellers and other employees, asking them what was going on in their lives. In this case, being taken hostage with the other folks there, he ended up being drafted by the robbers to act as a go-between for communicating with the cops outside. They could tell he was the man for the job.

None of us were surprised. Alarmed, but not surprised. Fortunately, he emerged unscathed from the incident.

Anyway… how many of these mass shootings have we seen? And now, they’re getting too close. I’d like them all to go away now…

‘This Murdaugh case is like something out of ‘The Bay'”

I had not really been following the Murdaugh case, although practically everyone who still works at The State seemed to be doing so, in their professional capacities, over the last few months. I skimmed the headlines, and there were a lot of those, so I sort of knew the gist of what had been happening before it got even crazier this past week or so.

How crazy? Well, I missed a call last night at 11:37 p.m., then listened to the voicemail this morning. It was from a night editor at The New York Post. They wanted to see if I’d cover a hearing for them today in the Murdaugh case. I’m still on their stringer list, going back to that time when I “covered” Mark Sanford’s return from Argentina back in 2009, right after I left the paper. I put “covered” in quotes because all I did was take notes at the notorious marathon presser at the State House, while someone in New York wrote the story from watching it on TV. I was just an excuse for them to put a Columbia dateline on the story. But they generously gave me a byline, under the modest, understated headline, “LUST E-MAILS OF BUENOS AIRHEAD.” As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. Anyway, friends of mine in New York saw it, and brought it to my attention. Time has passed, but I’m not sure I’ve lived it down yet. Sigh…

Anyway, I said I was busy — which I was (a second Post editor called me this morning as I was taking my Dad for a medical appointment) — and wished them luck in finding someone.

But I wasn’t writing about that; this is about the Murdaugh case.

Wait, another digression… Any of you ever watch the Britbox streaming service? It’s pretty good. My wife and I have been enjoying it for about a year now. Anyway, the last couple of weeks we were watching both seasons of “The Bay.” It’s a Brit cop show built around a woman who is a family liaison officer with the police department in Morecambe, Lancashire.

Each full season — or as the Brits would say, “series” — tells the highly involved story of a single case. The second “series” is about a lawyer who is shot and killed at his own home in front of his young son. Then, as the protagonist Lisa Armstrong works with the victim’s family during the investigation, things get really complicated. Documents are found that indicate problems at the family law firm. Relationships among members of the family turn out to be unbelievably tangled, suggesting a number of reasons why the attorney was murdered. Someone else — actually, a main character on the show — is killed along the way. It takes every episode just to lay it all out.

So when my wife said the other day, “This Murdaugh case is like something out of ‘The Bay’,” I nodded. Because it is. Except, more people die in this real-life story.

And here’s what’s interesting about that — to me, if not to you. Often, when we’re watching another one of these tangled mystery stories — not just “The Bay,” but all of them, with bodies falling left and right and everything so mixed up you have no idea whodunit — I observe with a knowing tone that murder in real life isn’t like this.

Murder in real life is more like… Well, I remember one from many years ago in Tennessee. One drunk shot another drunk during an argument over what to watch on TV. I remember that one not because it was so remarkable, but because it epitomized the kinds of homicides you usually see — just a straightforward, disgusting mess. No mastermind carrying out a meticulous plot. Just someone who was so obvious a kindergartener could solve the case. Except you don’t even need the kindergartener, because the killer so often confesses. Even when it’s in the first degree.

Anyway, that’s the kind of killing I generally covered during my brief time as a reporter, more than 40 years ago back in Tennessee.

But the Murdaugh case isn’t like that. It’s more like the ones on TV. And we’re all still waiting for the answers to the biggest questions, as if we were on the next-to-last episode of a season of “The Bay,” or “Unforgotten.”

And that’s why the whole country is riveted. By the way, if you’ve been ignoring it much as I had been until now, it’s kind of handy to read the accounts today in national newspapers, because they have to touch on all the main episodes in the story. Here’s the one in The New York Times, and here’s the one today in The Washington Post

Just like a TV mystery. Except, of course, that it involves real people, our neighbors. I don’t know the Murdaughs, but I know people who know them. I know one of Alex Murdaugh’s lawyers, for instance, as do many of you.

And for months, I refused to be entertained by the horror visited upon this family and the people around them. I refused to be a riveted consumer of a latter-day penny dreadful. A made-up story on TV is one thing. This is entirely different.

But it’s become rather difficult to ignore, hasn’t it?

No hate-crimes law? That’s actually a good thing…

The state Chamber of Commerce and other backers of hate-crimes legislation at a recent presser.

The state Chamber of Commerce and other backers of hate-crimes legislation at a recent presser.

I just saw this story in the Post and Courier about the legislative session ending without a South Carolina hate-crimes law being passed.

Well, that’s a good thing — although I’m sure my relief will be short-lived. It’s only a matter of time before pressure from peers and well-intended others — we’re one of only two states without such a law — will have the effect I oppose.

Yes, I know that the motives of those who want such a law are generally kindly, and the motives of many (if not most) people opposing it are abhorrent.

Nevertheless, I’ve opposed the idea as far back as I can recall — here’s a post on the subject from 2007 — and I believe my reasoning is as sound as ever.

This is America, a country where we don’t criminalize thought. We punish actions, not attitudes. There’s a very important reason why all those seemingly different concepts — freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly — are squeezed together into the very First Amendment to our Constitution. They all assert one thing: They say the government can’t interfere with our freedom of conscience. We get to believe what we want and say what we want and write what we want and hang out with whom we want. And we have a legitimate gripe against the government if it sticks its nose in.

I know that many people feel strongly that such a law is needed. But their arguments don’t add up to anything that outweighs the values expressed in the First Amendment.

I’ve written about this a number of times in the past. I summed up my position fairly succinctly in this comment back in 2009 (which I later elevated to a separate post):

Such things should not exist in America. That’s one of the few points on which I agree with libertarians. Punish the act, not the thought or attitude behind it.

Oh, and I assure you that when I agree with libertarians on anything, I strongly doubt my conclusion, and go back and reexamine it very carefully. But this position has stood up to such scrutiny.

Perhaps you can offer something that will shake my certainty, although at this late date it seems doubtful. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard all the arguments, and while I’ve often admired the sentiment involved, I end up shaking my head at the logic.

But have at it…

No, seriously, Nikki: I’ve been tuning it out, too

My response this morning to a headline about Nikki Haley may have come across as mocking, or at least facetious:

But the truth is, I HAVE been tuning it out. Or at least, not tuning it in.

Last night, I dropped in as usual to check on my parents, and they were doing something I never do — watching network TV news — and my mother said something about Cohen being sentenced to prison, while none of the others in all this mess had to do time… and I said I didn’t think that was right. I thought I’d heard the other day on the radio that someone had just finished serving a brief sentence and was getting out…

But I couldn’t name the guy. And I really wasn’t sure about it. It was something I had half-heard, without actively listening… although I tend to have good retention of stuff I heard without paying attention — it’s the secret to how I got through school.

When I hear the name of the guy who just got out of jail, I picture this guy. So don't go by me on this...

When I hear the name of the guy who just got out of jail, I picture this guy. So don’t go by me…

(For the purposes of this post, I did a little Googling. Apparently, four people have been sentenced to time behind bars. This was the guy who just got out, after a ridiculously short sentence — 12 days. I can’t tell you anything else about him. Whenever I hear his name, I picture this guy, so don’t go by me.)

Here’s the thing: The whole enterprise seems kind of pointless to me. I mean, I think the Mueller investigation needs to continue, for very serious reasons: We need to know all we can about the Russian effort to disrupt our elections — the 2016 one and especially future ones. We need to get a LOT more savvy about that stuff, and stop being so absurdly gullible as a people.

But I’m not terribly optimistic that that’s going to happen in a post-truth America.

And anyway, I sense that the reason other people pay so much attention to this investigation and its resultant prosecutions is that they think it has bearing on Donald Trump’s fate.

It doesn’t, near as I can can see. If you’re counting on, say, impeachment, dream on. Impeachment is a political act, and the Senate is in thrall to Trump. And even if the Dems had succeeded in capturing the Senate, impeachment would not have been a viable option. It probably would have exacerbated the sickness in our body politic that produced Trump.

The political significance of the Cohen prosecution has nothing to do with violation of campaign finance laws. It has to do with him paying off a porn star at Trump’s behest. That’s something we knew before the election, and it had zero effect on the people who voted for him. As it continues to do.

That’s how low we have sunk as a country. And you might say my dropping of names of Watergate figures was an act of nostalgia on my part, a longing for a time when facts mattered, and the nation had standards.

I watched “All the President’s Men” again the other night. Such a wonderful film, on so many levels. The wistfulness I feel watching it goes far beyond remembering the days when newspapers were healthy and vital. It goes to a time when, if the public learned that people in and around high public office did bad things, that was it.

Once it reached the Oval Office, and the non-denial denials weren’t working any more, Nixon was toast. And being the master politician he was, he knew that. So he resigned. And in retrospect we can see that maybe he did so in part because of something missing today — a sense of honor, a wish to avoid putting the country through the trauma of impeachment.

We didn’t lose that all at once. It took time. And Democrats who congratulate themselves on still having standards should remember that 20 years ago one of their own did NOT resign, despite having been caught in impeachable acts, including brazenly lying to the American people.

Things are worse now, of course. Facts at least still mattered a bit in 1998. They don’t now, with a shockingly large portion of the electorate.

I appreciate what Mueller is trying to do, and I appreciate him, as sort of the last Boy Scout, a guy who still believes in the importance of facts.

But I just can’t get interested enough to follow the details. So I’m like Nikki there…

 

 

John Courson resigns seat, pleads guilty. So NOW what?

The empty space in the State House underground lot. I shot this in early April .

The empty space in the State House underground lot. I shot this in early April . It’s been vacant a LONG time.

Sen. John Courson has entered a guilty plea and resigned his seat in the Senate.

This is a sad day, as I — like most people who have interacted with him over the years — have always liked and respected him, so this is very disappointing.

If you want comments from someone who is pleased by this situation and will talk with satisfaction about how the senator “got what he deserved,” I refer you to our own Doug Ross.

For me, this is an opportunity to bring up a number of things I’ve been thinking about in the last few days:

  • First, whither the Pascoe investigation? John Monk reports that Courson has “agreed to cooperate with an ongoing investigation into public corruption in the S.C. State House.” Is there an ongoing investigation? Because it doesn’t seem to have “ongone” anywhere in the last few months, ever since charges were dropped against Richard Quinn, Rick Quinn was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor, and the special prosecutor David Pascoe criticized the judge for not sentencing Quinn fils to prison, even though he, Pascoe, had allowed him to plead to a charge that did not warrant prison. Since then, the probe has seemed to be in limbo. Is it coming back to life now?
  • If it does come back to life — or is perceived to be doing so — what does that do to the governor’s race? Does it affect the primary a week from tomorrow? To what extent will the incumbent’s primary challengers try to make hay from this resurrection of the topic, trumpeting McMaster’s long association with Richard Quinn? To what extent will that work? (We’ll discuss later what effect all this might have on the gubernatorial race in the fall, if McMaster is the nominee.)
  • Will this cause the attack on James Smith that did not happen two weeks ago to happen now? I’m still puzzled that the rumored attack did not materialize when expected. Did the attackers have an attack of conscience (I’m trying to consider ALL possibilities, you see)? Will this tempt them to do their dastardly, unfair worst? Given some things I’ve seen happening in the Democratic contest lately (more on that later), very little would shock me.
  • What, if anything, happens in the GOP race for attorney general? Several months ago, it looked like this was going to be a knock-down-drag-out, with the Pascoe probe as the topic dominating everything else. Pascoe was telegraphing like crazy that the public official he most wanted to go after next was incumbent Alan Wilson. Todd Atwater decided to give up his House seat (now being sought by Paula Rawl Calhoon, whose ad you see at right) to challenge Wilson against that background. But with the Pascoe investigation in suspended animation recently, Wilson has been able to run a pretty conventional incumbent re-election campaign, stressing positives in his record rather than going on the defensive. Does today’s development change that dynamic?
  • What exactly did Courson plead guilty to doing? According to John, he had been charged with “misconduct in office, criminal conspiracy and converting campaign money to his personal use by taking kickbacks.” But the report says he has owned up to one count of “misconduct in office.” Since the converting campaign money to his personal use part was a separate charge, does that mean that is dropped? So what has he pled guilty to?
  • If the investigation is “ongoing,” who might be targeted that we don’t even know about? No one who knew Courson would have expected his name to come up (of course Doug knew, something that I type just to save Doug the trouble), so anybody could be a target.
  • Who will be running for Courson’s seat? I know of one person who’s highly likely to run, whom I won’t name until I get confirmation. But beyond the who, exactly how does this unfold? I assume there will be a special election, but does it occur before the election we’re having anyway this year? That Senate district has already gone a full session without representation, so what would be the hurry now, with the General Assembly practically done for the year?

Those are my first thoughts. Others will no doubt occur to me.

If my DNA helps catch a serial killer, I’m totally fine with that

my DNA

My DNA results overview page. I do not “shudder” to share this, with you or the cops.

This morning while working out on the elliptical, I started watching a movie on Netflix called “Anon.” It imagines a near-future in which there is no privacy. Apparently, everyone’s brain is wired to record video of every single second of his or her life — sort of like Google Glass without the glasses. And that data is easily shared wirelessly with other people, and is completely available to the police. The police can even access the last experiences of a dead person, which makes finding murderers ridiculously easy.

Also, you can watch TV or movies without a TV — they just stream in your head — and talk to anyone anywhere without a phone. Which, if an accurate prediction of the future, is really bad news for Best Buy. (First showrooming, now this…)

So since the main character (played by Clive Owen) is a homicide cop, a plot twist is needed to make his job interesting. In this case, the plot twist is that he’s on the trail of a serial killer who has managed to hack people’s digital memories, so that everything in the victim’s last moments is seen from the killer’s POV — so you see the victim being shot, but you don’t see the shooter.

I lost interest in it after 39 minutes, and switched over to “Babylon Berlin” for the rest of my workout. It may have been low-tech, but Germany between the wars was never boring.

But it reminded me of something I meant to blog about a week or so ago.

You’ve probably read about how the Golden State Killer was caught more than 40 years after his crimes when investigators tracked him genetically through a consumer DNA service like Ancestry. Basically, they found links to some of his relatives who had voluntarily shared their DNA info on such databases. Then they found him, and made a positive DNA match to something he’d discarded.

Which I thought was awesome.

But of course, this development immediately led to such headlines as:

The Golden State Killer Is Tracked Through a Thicket of DNA, and Experts Shudder

Data on a genealogy site led police to the ‘Golden State Killer’ suspect. Now others worry about a ‘treasure trove of data’

Really? Experts “shudder?” People worry about a “treasure trove of data” that not only can connect you to a 4th cousin, but help cops determine whether he’s a serial killer? Which would be a cool thing to know before you reach out to meet him or trade family information?

Why? That’s utterly absurd.

Sharing DNA info can lead to some pretty painful results for a lot of people. For instance, you can find out that your “Dad” isn’t really your Dad. This can lead to a great deal of family trauma and upend lives.

I’ve been lucky in that regard. My results have been boring. I am related to the people I thought I was related to in precisely the way I thought I was. There could be surprises in results from folks who have not yet been tested, but so far it’s been pretty vanilla. (Extremely vanilla, in terms of ethnicity — so much for those Ancestry ads that tell of all the exciting, exotic backgrounds people have found in their DNA.)

Not that there haven’t been surprises elsewhere on the tree. Some months ago, my daughter was contacted by a guy who was trying to find his birth parents, who thought a cousin of mine might be his father. Sure enough, he shows up on Ancestry as being right behind a couple of my first cousins in terms of his closeness to me. He narrowed it down to one of my cousins. I don’t know whether that cousin knows about it, because I haven’t wanted to pry.

Something like that can be upsetting to those involved, and I’m very sympathetic to that. But that’s just the DNA service working as advertised.

What these “experts” out there are “worrying” and “shuddering” about is the police being able to use these connections to solve crimes.

This does not worry me. If one of my cousins is a serial killer, I’d kind of like the duly constituted authorities to know that, and act upon it.

And I have trouble imagining a scenario in which that is a bad thing — although I’m sure we’ll see a movie soon that shows it to be a frightening thing…

Deaths at Lee County prison shouldn’t be a surprise

lee correctional

Lee Correctional Institution, via Google Maps

You’ve probably seen this, which made national news:

At least seven inmates are dead and 17 people are injured after hours-long rioting at a maximum-security prison in South Carolina, according to the state’s corrections authorities.

Several fights broke out among inmates in three housing units at the Lee Correctional Institution about 7:15 p.m. Sunday, and it took authorities more than 7½ hours, until 2:55 a.m. Monday, to secure the prison, officials said.

No officers or staff members were harmed, the corrections department added….

We can at least be thankful for that last part. But the fact that an “hours-long” riot can occur at one of our prisons, with authorities unable to stop violence that killed seven, should tell us we were lucky on that score. Two officers were stabbed at this same institution in 2015.

What I said in response on Twitter is pretty much all I have to say before turning the topic over to y’all:

Some people are just rotten, you know that?

bikes 1

I was doing my steps on the USC campus today, and as I walked past the Russell House toward Thomas Cooper Library, something just… didn’t… look… right about the bikes parked at this rack.bike 3

There was something surreal going on, in the Dali sense. Several of the tires seemed to be… melting into the brick surface of the courtyard.

Note the rear tires of the first, third and farthest bikes on the right-hand side of the rack.

Then it registered on me: Someone had taken it on himself to deflate the tires. The first one, with a flayed strip of rubber dangling off it, seemed to have been slashed.

What kind of person does something like that to other people? It obviously wasn’t even a spiteful act aimed at one person, who may or may not have done the perp an ill turn. Everybody was a target…

bike 2

I didn’t know there WERE 20 ‘cities’ in SC

Trashed: A room in my parents' beach house after the break-in in 2016.

Trashed: A room in my parents’ beach house after the 2016 break-in.

I received a release this morning from something called “SafeWise” announcing the “20 Safest Cities in South Carolina,” based on “2016 FBI crime report statistics and population data.”

I immediately assume that this report is using the term “city” loosely, since I was not aware South Carolina had that many of them.

And my assumption is correct, as the No. 1 safest “city” on the list is Isle of Palms, population 4,419. My home town Bennettsville has a population of 9,425, and I have never thought of it as a major metropolitan area.

Anyway, only one place most of us think of, right off the bat, as a “city” in SC makes the list, and that’s Charleston. It comes in 20th. Mount Pleasant, an actual city we are slightly less likely to think of, comes in 6th. So nice going, there.

I was amused to see that Surfside Beach came in third. That’s because in 2016, the year the statistics cover, my parents’ home there was broken into and completely trashed in the search for things worth stealing. The same suspect apparently broke into my uncle’s house nearby — twice.

But I guess such things happen in other places more frequently.

And no, I’m not entirely sure what “SafeWise” is. The release is only moderately helpful. It says, “SafeWise helps families and communities make informed decisions about safety solutions.” As you see, some words are missing. It should say, “SafeWise is a _____ that helps families and communities make informed decisions about safety solutions.”

But if you’re really curious, you can peruse their website.

Rick Quinn won’t go to prison as Pascoe wished

State House

David Pascoe didn’t get his way on Rick Quinn, as the former lawmaker was sentenced to community service and probation Monday.

A judge Monday sentenced former state Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, to one year in prison and then suspended that sentence.

Instead, Quinn will have to do 500 hours of community service and serve two years of probation.

Quinn, 52, a 20-year House veteran known for his political influence, entered a guilty plea to misconduct in office in December. The offense carries a maximum prison sentence of one year.

Quinn’s sentence had been the subject of speculation and a fierce behind-the-scenes legal battle between prosecutors and defense attorneys since his unexpected guilt plea in December….

This is not terribly surprising. Although Pascoe at a recent hearing presented a 30-minute Power Point detailing crimes allegedly committed by Quinn, the Republican’s guilty plea only covered “one, basically, technical violation — failing to report a one-time payment of roughly $28,000 by the University of South Carolina, an institution that lobbies the Legislature, to a company that Quinn had a link to….”

Pascoe had portrayed the younger Quinn as the worst of the worse, saying “There has been no one more corrupt than Rick Quinn.”

And this is all he can successfully pin on him? The prosecutor wanted Quinn to spend a year in prison. But the judge suspended the sentence.

Not that this corruption investigation is over. Sen. John Courson’s trial is coming up.

And we have yet to see whether Pascoe’s allegations about AG Alan Wilson will lead to anything…

Maybe we need to start putting something in the water

Potassium nitrate -- saltpetre, the stuff of many a rumor in the Army

Potassium nitrate — saltpetre, the stuff of many a rumor in the Army

Saltpetre, perhaps?

All these celebrity sexual harassment cases are one thing.

But we also have all these other cases not involving celebrities. Some of them close to home, such as:

SC preacher accused of leading a cult arrested on sexual misconduct allegations

A South Carolina man who has been previously accused of sexual misconduct and of leading a cult in Colleton County was arrested Monday.

Ralph Gordon Stair, 84, was arrested on eight warrants the Colleton County Sheriff’s Department and the State Law Enforcement Division, according to Live 5 News. ABC News 4 has reported he is facing charges of assault with intent to commit first-degree criminal sexual conduct, third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, kidnapping, first-degree burglary, second-degree burglary and three counts of criminal sexual conduct….

And then there’s this really horrible one:

Midlands man accused of sexually assaulting 6-year-old

Words fail me.

Everywhere we turn, there are men who have not only lost control, but whose impulses have become twisted in bizarre and sometimes horrific ways.

And yeah, I know saltpeter doesn’t really work as rumored. I just mention that because it’s the first alleged anaphrodisiac we think of. And no, I don’t want to chemically neuter the good guys who wouldn’t think of doing any of these things.

I’m just thinking how much of this stuff there is going on out there, often right under our noses. And how do you stop all the assaults by aggressors we don’t even know about?

That’s why I threw out the Swiftian proposal of putting something in the water. No, I wasn’t serious. But I wish I could think of something that would put an end to this stuff — without, you know, putting an end to the species…

Rick Quinn quits, pleads guilty; charges dropped on his dad

A very big day on the State House corruption probe front:

South Carolina Rep. Rick Quinn could be sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty Wednesday to misconduct in office in the criminal conspiracy case against him and his father, longtime GOP powerbroker Richard Quinn.

Rick Quinn in happier times.

Rick Quinn in happier times.

Rep. Quinn, R-Lexington, agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count, knowing prosecutors were still seeking prison time. Quinn, 52, resigned his seat ahead of the hearing at the Richland County courthouse, ending 22 years in the House. That makes him the second legislator to resign this year in the Statehouse corruption probe that has focused on the Quinns.

Judge Carmen Mullen accepted the plea deal but delayed sentencing. Quinn also faces a $1,000 fine.

The plea deal dropped charges against his 73-year-old father….

Here are some of the questions these developments raise:

  • Why is Pascoe seeking the maximum penalty against Quinn fils while letting Quinn père get off? Actually, that’s two questions. Let’s take the first: Pascoe is demanding the judge give Rick “every day of that year.” It appears Pascoe is really ticked that Rick refused to cooperate in any way, unlike previous pleaders. (Personally, prison time seems excessive — but then, I think prison should be reserved for violent offenders. Also, I remain confused about exactly Rick is pleading guilty to doing. Maybe it will be clearer in tomorrow’s stories.)
  • Now, the second: If Pascoe’s so bound and determined to nail the son’s hide to the wall, why let the dad off in the same plea deal? Well, unlike Rick, Richard is expected to testify before the grand jury.
  • Uninformed speculation from a couple of attorneys I’ve been chatting with tonight, one of whom was in the courtroom, is that Quinn’s going to help Pascoe bring in a really big fish. Who? Well, considering that some of the biggest Republicans in the state were Richard’s clients, the sky is sort of the limit.
  • John Monk’s story tonight hints that the big fish could be A.G. Alan Wilson — you know, the guy who appointed Pascoe before trying unsuccessfully to fire him. If so, it would be possibly the wildest development I’ve seen in 30 years of following S.C. politics. Think about it: It would be the final round in the biggest grudge match in recent years. Ahab and the whale. Smiley and Karla (if you’re into le Carre). Wile E. Coyote getting the Roadrunner. So much bad blood there that it seems Pascoe should in turn recuse himself and have someone (but who? who would have the authority in such a case?) appoint yet another prosecutor. It sort of boggles the mind….
  • Why does the Charleston paper’s headline say, “Rep. Rick Quinn pleads guilty in S.C. corruption case in deal that drops charges for kingpin father?” (OK, only other journalists will care about this one, I admit.) “Kingpin” is more something you call someone who’s been convicted. Weird to peg someone who just had his charges dropped with such a sensational sobriquet. Maybe there’s something I’m missing here…

This is definitely not over. I think…

 

The other shoe drops: Richard Quinn indicted (Jim Harrison, too)

Scstatehouse

I looked away for a moment on this slow day, and suddenly there was news.

The other shoe has dropped in prosecutor Pascoe’s corruption probe. Actually, several shoes (so maybe that’s not the best metaphor, unless we’re talking about a well-shod octopus):

Republican consultant Richard Quinn Sr., for years a kingmaker in S.C. politics, was indicted Wednesday by the State Grand Jury on a felony charge of criminal conspiracy, as well as a charge of illegal lobbying, or failure to register as a lobbyist.

Since the late 1970s, Quinn, 73, has been one of South Carolina’s premier political consultants. An insider’s insider, he has helped elevate many S.C. politicians to power, nearly all Republicans. His clients have included Gov. Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, all Republicans, as well as Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, a Democrat.

Wednesday’s indictments capped months of behind-the-scenes activity by Special Prosecutor David Pascoe, the State Grand Jury, and nine State Law Enforcement Division agents. Pascoe of Orangeburg, the elected 1st Circuit solicitor, also enlisted the help of three other elected solicitors from around the state.

The illegal lobbying indictment issued against Quinn says he “did attempt to influence the action or vote of members of the S.C. General Assembly by direct communication on behalf of entities which employed, retained or appointed defendant’s businesses and defendant did not register as a lobbyist …”

Until now, the bombshells had been dropping all around the elder Mr. Quinn, but not on him. Now, the direct hit has come.

Jim Harrison, former House Judiciary Committee chairman and current head of Legislative Council, was also indicted, along with ex-Rep. Tracy Edge. And additional charges were brought against Sen. John Courson and the younger Quinn, Rep. Rick.

Yet another shock to the very heart of the S.C. GOP. What next? Pascoe said, “this is still an ongoing investigation.”

Jim Harrison in 2006

Jim Harrison in 2006

Has GOP found a gun restriction it might like?

Several news outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, are leading with this story:

Top House Republicans said they will consider restricting “bump stocks,” the firearm accessory used to accelerate gunfire in the Las Vegas massacre, opening the door to heightened regulation in response to the tragedy.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) both said Thursday that lawmakers will consider further rules for the devices, which allow legal semiautomatic rifles to fire as rapidly as more heavily restricted automatic weapons.

“Clearly that’s something we need to look into,” Ryan said on MSNBC…

Before reading that this morning, I’d heard Tom Cole, a GOP congressman from Oklahoma saying similar things on the radio.

Image from website of Slide Fire, which sells bump stocks.

Image from website of Slide Fire, which sells bump stocks.

Insert joke about temperatures of 31 degrees Fahrenheit being reported in Hades.

A bipartisan move on limiting some way of making it easier to kill lots of people with firearms might feel like progress.

But will it help? I don’t know. Maybe.

An aside… I’m not entirely sure I understand how these “bump stocks” work. It sounds like they harness the recoil to cause the trigger to repeatedly press itself against the shooter’s finger. I think.

Or maybe it magically turns regular ammunition into “automatic rounds,” eh, Bryan?

Meanwhile, I’m puzzling on something that probably only interests me, being a guy who used to spend my days making news play decisions…

If you regularly read British publications (which I do, as I like to know what’s happening in the rest of the Western hemisphere and U.S. outlets don’t tell me), you know that they take a certain view of U.S. news. They have a morbid fascination with what they see as our utter insanity on guns.

Which is why I’m puzzled that, instead of leading with this remarkable bipartisan movement on guns, both the BBC and The Guardian are leading with reports that the Las Vegas shooter may have planned to escape and may have had help. Which is admittedly a strong news development, but still…

help

Whitman had a brain tumor; what’s the explanation for this guy?

shooting

After ex-Marine Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then went to the top of that tower at the University of Texas and shot 15 people dead and wounded 31 others in 1966, he was shot and killed by police. And the autopsy found he had a brain tumor.

So far we have no such pat answers for why Stephen Paddock killed at least 58 people and wounded hundreds, firing from his Las Vegas hotel room. So far, he has no criminal record or known association with a terrorist group. His family is baffled.

The only “explanation” we have so far is that he is one more guy with a penchant for killing and a bunch of guns he shouldn’t have had.

The political reaction has already started, with Republicans gathering for a moment of silence and Democrats saying no, they won’t be silent this time. I suppose over the next couple of days we’ll see the usual pattern of people flocking to stores to buy more guns. Or maybe not, since no one expects this president or this Congress to do anything to restrict the flow of guns or ammunition. And doing so for personal protection in this context makes less sense than usual: what good would another handgun be against a guy firing automatic weapons from cover 32 stories up?

I have no explanations or comforting thoughts to offer at the moment; I just though y’all might be interested in discussing it…

 

Pharma Bro’s going to jail, but we can’t lock them all up, can we?

Pharma Bro

What a weird world we are living in.

You probably saw this last night:

NEW YORK — A federal judge on Wednesday revoked the $5 million bail of Martin Shkreli, the infamous former hedge fund manager convicted of defrauding investors, after prosecutors complained that his out-of-court antics posed a danger to the community.

While awaiting sentencing, Shkreli has harassed women online, prosecutors argued, and even offered his Facebook followers $5,000 to grab a strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair during her book tour. Shkreli, who faces up to 20 years in prison for securities fraud, apologized in writing, saying that he did not expect anyone to take his online comments seriously, and his attorneys pleaded with the judge Wednesday to give him another chance.

“The fact that he continues to remain unaware of the inappropriateness of his actions or words demonstrates to me that he may be creating ongoing risk to the community,” said U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, in revoking his bond.

“This is a solicitation of assault. That is not protected by the First Amendment.”…

And… I think the judge is right, as weird as it is to think of saying “pull Hillary Clinton’s hair” being on a par with yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. (If he’d just said, “I’d like to pull her hair,” that would be one thing. But offering to pay people to do it?)

But everything about this situation is weird. And weird in ways that are fairly unique to the times in which we live.

The strangeness starts with Shkreli himself. His own attorneys defended him with the argument that Hey, he’s a weird guy. He can’t help it. He’s always been this way.

But in the past, did people described as being as “strange” as “Rain Man” rise to make millions in business? Yeah, maybe they did — but their weirdness was easier to hide.

What has changed is the shape and consistency of the public sphere. In the past, a guy like Shkreli might spout nonsense like “Bring me a hair from Hillary Clinton’s head!” from a barstool — until the bartender cut him off — but no one would hear him past the end of the bar.

Now, there’s social media, and any idiot with the ability to create a username and password — not a high bar — can immediately have a reach that mass media outlets in the past would have envied, instantly sharing his ravings with the entire planet without having to pay a dime to do so. And this virtual social sphere, not having had thousands of years to develop customs and standards, is a verbal Wild West.

Outside this blog and other mediated spaces, there are no rules. Of course, some people — being civilized souls — will restrain themselves. Civilization is not entirely dead. But millions of others will not, and will revel in the lack of constraints.

And while Shkreli is an unusual, extreme case, this lack of constraint is particularly common among certain demographic subsets. Forgive me for stereotyping, but I’m mostly picturing disaffected young men, who care nothing for civility toward society as a whole but will go to any extremes to draw the attention — and possible approval, even admiration — of others like themselves.

Whether you’re talking Pharma Bros or Bernie Bros or Neofascist Bros or simply fraternity bros, we are unfortunate enough to live in a time when it’s harder to simply ignore them and wait for them to outgrow it. And of course, the “bro” period lasts much longer than it once did, far beyond the age when they would have done a hitch in the Army and/or gotten married and had kids of their own and otherwise taken on responsibility in the past.

And we can’t just throw them all in jail, can we?

The State Grand Jury is hurting my feelings

Everybody I know is getting called before the State Grand Jury. The latest:

University of South Carolina Harris Pastides was one of the people who testified this week to the State Grand Jury in a secret session.

“He was called as a fact witness,” university spokesman Wes Hickman told The State newspaper Thursday morning in answer to a query.

Pastides is one of an unknown number of people who have testified in an ongoing public corruption probe involving the public relations firm of Richard A. Quinn….

Pam Lackey, Trey Walker. Now Harris? Who hasn’t been called? Next thing you know, John Monk’s going to write that Lizard Man was sighted entering the Grand Jury room.

Future witness?

Future witness?

I’ll tell you who hasn’t been called: Me! What am I? Chopped liver?

Of course, I don’t know anything about the subject of the investigation beyond what I read in the papers. I’d have nothing to tell. You might as well call anybody at random off the street. But I’m not entirely sure, given this growing list of luminaries, that knowing anything about the matter at hand is a prerequisite.

Any of y’all been called? I wouldn’t be surprised. When and where will it all end, Mr. Natural?

About what happened in Charlottesville…

Lee

Y’all, I’ve had quite a few thoughts about this, but they’re all pretty involved and would take me time to develop and I haven’t had the time. But for now, I’ll do what I should have done Saturday — put up a sort of Open Thread devoted to what happened at Charlottesville, so y’all can get a conversation rolling.

Some possible avenues of exploration:

  1. Trump’s statement — As I’ve said many times before, I don’t think the president’s job description should, normally speaking, include issuing statements in reaction to every traumatic thing that happens across the country. But if he’s going to say something, it should be something that, for starters, doesn’t make matters worse. Trump utterly failed to meet that standard. And it wasn’t just his usual complete lack of thoughtfulness or hamhandedness with the English language. We know why he responded the way he did: He does not share the fundamental values of most Americans. He actually values the rock-solid backing of white supremacists, and doesn’t want to say anything that erodes that support.
  2. How do we prevent such violence without violating the 1st Amendment? If the ACLU stood up for the “right” of Illinois Nazis to march through Skokie, surely it would sue to uphold that right with this latter-day group of racist yahoos. And who’s to say the ACLU would be wrong? Personally, I think they were wrong in the Skokie days — sure, the Hitler fan club had the right to say what it wanted, but letting them do it in Skokie is too much of an offense against human dignity to allow it. This case seems fuzzier. Again, yes, they have free speech rights. But they went out of their way to express themselves in a place guaranteed to create as much tension, and likely violence, as possible. Should that be allowed? Does the free-speech clause guarantee freedom of venue? Such as, say, a crowded theater?
  3. If there would to be such a rally in Columbia, would you attend? I mean to protest, or for any other reason. Would you see yourself as having an obligation to show up in public to register your disapproval, or would you dismiss it by staying away and not giving the Brownshirt types the attention they crave? I can see arguments both ways.
  4. What about that Robert E. Lee statue? I hesitate to mention this because I don’t want to dignify the supposed “issue” that motivated the demonstration. But I mention it only to say that I have no position on the “issue.” What the University of Virginia chooses to display or to take down is none of my business, and I think Charlottesville homeboy Thomas Jefferson would back me on that. I feel like we have enough going on here in South Carolina and don’t need to weigh in on what they do up there. I would argue that any of those white supremacists who were not from Virginia lack such standing as well…

Anyway, that’s for starters. Happy conversing…

The Cotton Pigue Mentality lives!

Actually, this is NOT The Cotton Pigue mentality. It's The Bog Trotters Band. I just needed a Bluegrass picture that was old-timey.

Actually, this is NOT the legendary Cotton Pigue Mentality. It’s The Bog Trotters Band, back in 1937. I just needed a Bluegrass picture that was old-timey.

This is a way, way inside joke, but I thought I’d share it as an illustration of how things don’t change much.

Back in the late ’70s or early ’80s, when I was working at The Jackson (TN) Sun, a judge in a nearby county had a case before him that seemed designed to reinforce every right-winger’s nightmare stereotype of the Welfare Queen. A poor black woman had a houseful of kids, and a couple of her daughters had several of their own. All told, there were about 20 people in the household, if I remember correctly — all women and children.

I forget why they were before him. What I recall is that this old white guy (he was not much older than I am now, but back then he seemed ancient) decided to lecture these women and tell them they needed to stop having children out of wedlock. The judge’s name was “Cotton” Pigue.

It caused a bit of a sensation in West Tennessee when that was reported, and as you might imagine, while some had a “You tell ’em!” reaction, others were quite critical of the judge having overstepped the bounds of his job description.

We were discussing it in the tiny editorial office of the paper, as I recall, when a woman said something disparaging about how certain people needed to get over this “Cotton Pigue mentality.”

My good friend Richard Crowson, the paper’s editorial cartoonist and the best bluegrass picker I’ve ever known, got excited: That was the perfect name for a Bluegrass band! The Cotton Pigue Mentality! I don’t think he actually ever named any of the groups he played in that, but it was a memorable inspiration.

Anyway, after not having been heard from in years — no albums, no tours — it seems the Mentality has made a comeback. In Tennessee, appropriately enough:

Judge to inmates: Get sterilized and I’ll shave off jail time

A judge in central Tennessee is hoping to help repeat offenders “make something of themselves” by offering them a highly original and probably unconstitutional deal: reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization operations.

Under a standing order issued by General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield, inmates in White County, Tenn., can receive 30 days credit toward their jail time if they volunteer for vasectomies or contraceptive implants, as NewsChannel 5 reported Thursday.

The order came down quietly in May, and already dozens of inmates have sought to take advantage of it. Thirty-two women have received implants of the hormone device Nexplanon, and 38 men have signed up to receive vasectomies, according to NewsChannel 5….

The Cotton Pigue Mentality lives! I can’t wait for to hear them when they come to town — just for old times’ sake…

The real "Cotton" Pigue.

The real “Cotton” Pigue.

About that question: Can words kill people?

girl

I generally stay away from “people being beastly on the internet” stories because I’m just too busy with politics, policy and pop culture.

But this past week there were two horror stories that totally boggled what little mind I allowed to get distracted by them. Ironically, we had just had a discussion about cruel and unusual punishment when a prime candidate for such treatment was in the news: The monster who dangled his baby out a 15th-story window in a bid for Facebook “likes.” (Note that my link is to the Daily Mail, which seems the perfect setting for such a story.) You know how FB recently added those alternatives to “like”? For this guy, they need to add an “If I ever meet you in person, I’m breaking both of your arms so you can’t do that again” button.

Then there was the case Kathleen Parker wrote about under the headline, “Can words kill people?” It’s about “Michelle Carter’s conviction last week on involuntary-manslaughter charges in the 2014 suicide of her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III.” Excerpt:

At the time of the suicide, Carter was a 17-year-old whose boyfriend spoke frequently of taking his own life. He finally did by filling his parked truck with carbon monoxide. Mind you, Carter was nowhere near. She had no physical hand in the death, although she did text and call Roy, urging him to go ahead and do it. When he had second thoughts and got out of his vehicle, she instructed him to get back in.

Manslaughter? Evil? Or just dumb?

If Carter’s words were Roy’s death sentence, then his death was hers, if not literally, then, indeed, virtually. For her clearly tangential role, which one could as easily interpret as drama-queen excess, Carter faces up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 3.

It is easy to feel outrage at what transpired. Prosecutors introduced hundreds of text messages between Roy and Carter in which she encouraged him to end his life and sometimes taunted him for his lack of courage. In one, she wrote: “You’re ready and prepared. All you have to do is turn the generator on and you will be free and happy. No more pushing it off. No more waiting.”

This alone is enough to make one dislike or even despise Carter. But is it enough to blame Carter for Roy’s death?…

Kathleen concluded that no, it isn’t. I was unsatisfied with that conclusion.

The columnist asks, “Manslaughter? Evil? Or just dumb?” The best of the three would seem to be evil. You read the words she wrote to this boy on the edge, and your blood runs cold. Mine does, anyway.

In terms of how to approach such a thing in the criminal justice system, manslaughter seems inaccurate. And I’m not sure how the law works on aiding and abetting. What should be the charge for being a cheerleader at a boy’s death?

There is evidently something essential missing in this girl, and at the very least it seems she should be confined somewhere until experts can figure out what it is, and whether it’s possible to fill that void.

Because anyone who will do what she did — repeatedly, insistently, matter-of-factly — is dangerous….